Monthly Archives: February 2008

Filling vacancies with the flip of a coin

BallotFilling vacancies on the Wichita City Council may soon be slightly less tedious. And if the council has stalemate votes like it did last year, a simple flip of a coin will break the tie. That’s according to a new proposal that the council plans to vote on March 15. Under the plan, council members would cast five rounds of votes in the first meeting in which they’re voting on candidates to fill a vacancy. If they deadlock, they cast five more ballots at the next regular meeting. Still stuck? They cast another five at the next meeting. Still can’t agree after 15 ballots? The mayor flips a coin and the winner gets the position.

Under an earlier proposal, Council members had suggested that the mayor should break the tie. But, given Wichita’s form of government, which doesn’t give the mayor any significant authority that council members don’t have, council members decided not to give the mayor any extra power. Previously, the city attorney had to break a tie. (During the conversation, Council member Sue Schlapp jokingly suggested that “we should flip the mayor.” But the coin ultimately prevailed.)

In June last year, City Council members each cast 20 identical ballots in hopes of filling the District 1 vacancy created when Carl Brewer became mayor. All resulted in three votes for Lavonta Williams and three votes for Treatha Brown-Foster. A week later, the Council on its first round of voting unanimously picked Williams, who will have the position until 2009.

Franchise trash? Create a city sales tax? Silence.

CoinJust seven years ago, City Hall got only 27 percent of their general fund from property taxes. But increasing valuations and growth have bumped the city’s share of that cash to 32 percent of its biggest fund, according to a report delivered to City Council members this week. Meanwhile, almost every other piggy bank of revenue has been slipping. Franchise fees dropped from 20 percent to 17 percent; gas tax (based on gallons used, not the climbing price) has dropped from about 11 percent to about 8 percent; and all that $5.8 million the city used to get from the state is now a big zero because of a change in state law. Also, the money the city gets from franchise agreements with Southwestern Bell have fallen fast as many drop their land lines in favor of mobile phones. Revenue from the phone franchise fees has fallen $2.9 million since 2000, the city’s report showed.

All this has raised the question of whether the city should franchise other services, such as trash. Council members didn’t say a word when city budget analyst Mark Manning posed the question. They also didn’t have much to say when Manning showed that the city would get $60 million a year if it enacted a one cent sales tax. But some cringed at the notion that cities such as Eastborough get a bite ($179,000 for Eastborough) of the county-wide sales tax pie despite not having any known retail activity in their small community. But Council members have repeatedly — dozens of times — rejected any suggestions that the city increase taxes. The Council has raised water and sewer bills, increased court costs and hiked bus fares and the cost of a round of golf at the municipal courses. But it hasn’t touched the mill levy in more than a decade.

To see the city’s quarterly reports, click here.

Report: millions in earmarks for Kansas

u_s__capitol_building.jpgCall them pork. Call them business as usual. Whatever their name, congressional earmarks send hundreds of millions to Kansas to the delight of some and the dismay of others. That’s according to a report issued today by Taxpayers for Common Sense. On the delight side would be the military. Nearly all of Wichita’s earmarks went to the aviation industry, which builds things for the military. Among those was the biggest earmark — $8.3 million, which went to Hawker-Beechcraft for UC-12 replacement aircraft. (See press release.) But the cash also paid for redevelopment of the Dunbar Theater and sent money to Wichita’s school district for technology upgrades.

Sen. Sam Brownback, who stood a couple feet behind Sen. John McCain in an airplane hanger in Wichita last week as McCain lambasted the use of earmarks, leads the Kansas delegation with $87 million in special projects, according to the report. But even with that $87 million, Brownback is way down on the Senate earmark rankings in spot 82. Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts helped secure $54 million in earmarks, the report shows.

In the House, Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Goddard, is Kansas’ biggest earmark advocate with $66 million (he ranks 35th highest in the House, in part because he secured the UC-12 airplane replacement project). Rep. Nancy Boyda, a Kansas Democrat, logged $38 million in earmarks; Rep. Jerry Moran and Rep. Dennis Moore were nearly tied with $8 million a piece.

Who’s in the money? Ron Paul

Blank checkKansans have already invested $1.4 million in presidential campaigns since this race got off to its early start, according to finance documents filed Feb. 1. Even though Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, dropped out, he still has the most Sunflower State campaign cash. But Texas Congressman Ron Paul, a long-shot Republican candidate who will be in Wichita Friday evening, has quietly raised almost $134,000. About $45,000 of that came from the Wichita area. That’s more than Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, who sits in third place statewide with $131,000. (Get a breakdown of all the candidates here. And get a list of Kansas’ biggest donors here.)

Paul and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee both plan visits to Kansas before Saturday’s caucuses. Read more about that here.

Council 2/5: What to look for

Wichita City CouncilAfter two weeks off, the Wichita City Council returns to its Tuesday meetings next week. So what’s up?

They’ll vote on a city manager profile package — AKA what they want in the next big boss. Here’s a peak: 10 years experience in a local government management position or closely related line of work, and a bachelors degree in public administration or related field from an accredited university. That said, they prefer 15 years in the trenches and a master’s degree. The rest of it is fairly routine stuff about having communication skills to deal with a city council, citizen groups and media. We note this quote because it will probably be the trickiest to find in a candidate who’s been under the microscope for 15 years: “Unblemished record of personal integrity and ethical conduct.”

City Council will also vote on an Arkansas River Access plan that includes some 20 new places to drop a canoe between Hutchinson and Oklahoma. That includes at least three sets of rapids that are created by damns and other obstructions along the way. The city will need other local governments to go along with the plan to make it work, and most of the preliminary discussions appear to have gone well, judging from the council’s agenda reports.

And, once again, the public agenda is stacked with people who want to debate a smoking ban. This week, there will be a presentation of a survey that tells what non-profit groups say about the ban. We’ve already heard concerns that a total ban could hurt non-profits that rely on Bingo contests and other smoker-friendly events for their fund-raising. But other non-profits will likely be concerned about the public health components outlined in medical studies. Council members Jeff Longwell and Lavonta Williams have been working on a compromise. It could be another month before a solid draft emerges.