Monthly Archives: October 2011

Wichita councilman assails city hall critics

By Bill Wilson

In the midst of a routine debate over the refinancing of the Old Town Marriott, the growing disconnect between City Hall and a group of free-market proponents erupted Tuesday morning.

Council member Pete Meitzner, one of three new councilmen on the Wichita bench, went after two frequent critics of the city’s economic development policy, accusing them of hiding their motives and of misstating the truth on the projects they criticize.

Meitzner unveiled his tough stance as the meeting opened. Susan Estes, the field director for Americans For Prosperity-Kansas, who was continuing the group’s criticism of the Ken-Mar development revisions approved last week by the council, had just concluded her remarks when Meitzner asked her bluntly if she was speaking as a private citizen or representing a private group. Estes outlined her association with AFP, a free-market group which appears weekly at the council to voice its opposition to public funding for private development projects and has been vocal in its opposition to Project Downtown, the city’s downtown revitalization plan.

But the new councilman reserved his strongest criticism for blogger Bob Weeks, whose Voice for Liberty in Wichita blog trumpets the same values as AFP. Read More »

Sedgwick County CFO apologizes for “sticky fingers” statement

Sedgwick County chief financial officer Chris Chronis sent an e-mail today to all county employees apologizing for a statement he made Tuesday that “some of our employees have sticky fingers.”

Chronis was talking about charging a fee for taking payments by credit card when he made the comment, which raised the eyebrows of many elected officials and staff. Chronis said paying a fee to credit card companies to process payments by plastic is a cost of doing business and is preferable to taking payments by check or cash. He later told The Eagle that he didn’t mean there was a theft problem at the county, but he said anyone can be tempted when handling cash.

County Manager William Buchanan said Tuesday that there were not any problems with employees stealing cash. That was echoed by Treasurer Linda Kizzire.

Here is Chronis’ e-mail:

“Yesterday in commission staff meeting, we had a discussion about imposing a credit card fee to users who pay real estate and motor vehicle taxes with credit cards, in an attempt to reduce our county expenditures by more than $1 million.  The county currently does not impose any fee on those who choose to use credit cards to make payments.  In my presentation of my recommendation that we not change our current process, I presented information that placed Sedgwick County and the employees of this organization in a negative light.  I am sorry that I did that.  I am sorry I used the phrase “sticky fingers” when explaining to commissioners my view that we should not take action that could cause more people to pay us with cash instead of credit cards.  I am sorry if my words implied that county employees were dishonest.  Those were my words, but that was not my intent.  I should not have used those words or made that implication.  For that I apologize.

I know Sedgwick County employees are honest, and I am honored to be associated with them.  I regret that my words may have damaged the good reputation Sedgwick County has earned.”

County CFO: “Some of our employees have sticky fingers”

Sedgwick County chief financial officer Chris Chronis today raised some eyebrows when he said “Some of our employees have sticky fingers” during a discussion about whether the county should begin charging customers a fee to pay taxes and other bills by credit card.

Chronis is against passing on the fee for using plastic to customers, saying credit- and debit-card transactions are preferable to payments by check and cash.

“Employees sometimes steal cash, constituents sometimes steal from the county by paying us with bad checks,” he said in an e-mail to commissioners and other county leaders. “Neither opportunity exists with credit card payments.”

He repeated that message today during a meeting with commissioners and staff.

Treasurer Linda Kizzire took exception to Chronis’ comments and said she knows of no problems in her office with staff stealing money.

“I’ve got excellent cash control policies and procedures in place, and if there was a problem, I would deal with it very swiftly and promptly,” Kizzire said after the meeting. “None of my staff are sticky- fingered thieves.”

County Manager William Buchanan agreed.

“We do not, have not had a problem with theft,” he told The Eagle. “Employees in the treasurer’s office or elsewhere that handle cash have not, in my 20 years here, taken things that did not belong to them.”

Asked later about his comment, Chronis said theft was not a problem at the county.

” My point was not that county employees are less trustworthy than other people, but rather than human nature being as it is, in any large group that’s given easy access to a lot of cash, someone may succumb to temptation.  The more payments we receive via credit card, the less the temptation,” he said.

Bridge design: Council likes windmill, birds and clouds

The City Council today unanimously approved the artwork to beautify the planned bridge over the Big Ditch at 13th Street.

The artwork will feature a stylized windmill, along with birds flying among clouds.

Dominant colors will be shades of green and brown to reflect the colors of the changing Kansas seasons, said James Armour, the city engineer.

The windmill theme was chosen because of the proximity of the bridge to Windmill Road and because windmills are an image evocative of the plains, Armour said.

The cost of the artwork will be absorbed into the total budget of the $55 million bridge project, he said.

City Manager Robert Layton said it is unknown how much the artwork is adding to the cost of the bridge.

The bridge is being built to help alleviate traffic problems for residents of the populous northwest portion of the city. It will connect to the I-235 freeway and create more options for westside/downtown commuters.

Only one resident addressed the council during a public hearing on the artwork.

Larry Herron said he appreciated that the planned artwork features pictures only, unlike the freeway overpass at Kellogg and Hillside, which has a sundial and a poem incorporated into its design.

Herron said he could only pick up the first word of the poem as he drives down Kellogg and he much prefers the simpler approach being taken for the 13th Street bridge.

“That’s just right for me,” he said. “I am very much enthused by the way it looks.”

Council member Jeff Longwell, who represents the west side, remarked “we’re a very conservative area, but at the same time, we want something that’s special.”

He said the bridge design represents “the best of both worlds.”

Handcuffed City Council approves subsidy shift to Wal-Mart project

Developers who received $2.5 million in city subsidies to renovate a northeast Wichita shopping center have diverted the money to develop a Wal-Mart neighborhood grocery store at the site.

And on Tuesday, the City Council retroactively changed the development plan to reflect a reality they can’t change.

The Wal-Mart project is already underway at the site of the former KenMar shopping center at the northeast corner of 13th and Oliver. One of the main commercial buildings at the site has been mostly torn down.

The council also approved using city tax funds to back the development plan instead of borrowing the money through bonding, because the changed plan will not generate enough new property tax to pay back the city’s investment. Under the new plan, the developers have agreed to pay the city about $10,000 a year to cover the shortfall. If the city had gone forward with bonding the project at a higher interest rate, the estimated shortfall would have been about $42,000 a year.

The project is being managed by the Rev. Dr. Kevass Harding, pastor of DellRose United Methodist Church and a former member of the Wichita School Board. He said he embarked on the project because the shopping center, situated behind his church, has been a haven for drug dealing and prostitution.

His company, H.H. Holding LLC, paid about $2.2 million — $827,000 of which was city funds — for the property.

H.H. sold roughly half of the land to Wal Mart for about $1.9 million.

H.H. retains the rest of the site and plans to redevelop it in a style consistent with Wal-Mart’s project, documents show.

Council member Michael O’Donnell questioned why the city hadn’t gotten a share of the profit from the sale of land for the Wal-Mart since it had fronted the developers a significant share of the purchase price. Read More »