Category Archives: city council

Brewer presses to end chronic homelessness and beyond

Homeless manMayor Carl Brewer made an impassioned plea to his fellow city council members in a workshop Tuesday, trying to overcome the philosophical differences on the government’s role in ending not only “chronic homelessness” but homelessness in general. That plea came after Council member Paul Gray questioned whether the city should spend any additional money on a plan that the faith-based community might be able to fund. Gray noted that The Lord’s Diner has been run for years with private donations. “If they’re willing to do it, why do we have to do it?” he asked. Council member Sue Schlapp was also skeptical, saying that people tend to donate more when government isn’t involved. “It makes me always nervous to think that if we throw taxpayer dollars in that the rest of the community then backs off,” she said.

Then Brewer tried to change some minds, and he said the city must do its best to end chronic homelessness and then move on to helping others who are a paycheck away from being on the streets. It’s something, Brewer said, that many people sitting on the council and in City Hall may not understand because they haven’t been there.

“I wish there was someway you could flip the script and put the policy makers in the shoes of the homeless person,” Brewer said, using a tone that he has used only a few key topics, such as gang violence. “If there was some way that that could ever happen, I think that people’s attitudes would change. We have never experienced the suffering that those individuals have to suffer.”

Brewer grew up poor, a fact that he has only discussed on a few occasions. And he hasn’t yet brought it up in the context of the plans to end homelessness.

The Mayor also emphasized that some of those on the streets are the people who fought for the country in Iraq and Afghanistan, something that the task force has noted as well. He said many men and women come home only to immediately lose their jobs, leaving them with one last paycheck to live on at a time when they may be struggling to re-adapt to life without explosions and death. Many of them end up homeless, he said. “War does that.”

With clear philosophical differences among council members, it remains unclear how they will vote when they’re asked to endorse the plan April 1.

That’s one busy City Council…

City CouncilWhile several Wichita City Council members were away in Washington D.C. requesting federal money for road, drainage and water projects (not to mention decrying the tanker contract), city officials were busy building a heavy agenda for their March 18 meeting. (Download the agenda here.)

The 482-page reader includes:

  • $320,000 more for snow and ice removal, prompted by a snowy, icy winter
  • Bigger budgets to build three new fire stations due to rising construction costs
  • Mostly minor changes to the city’s building, mechanical and inspection codes
  • Organization of the National baseball Congress, Inc., which the city now owns
  • A lease agreement at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium for the National Baseball Congress
  • A public hearing for anyone to raise concerns about an 8-block tax increment financing district (C.O.R.E. Redevelopment District) generally bounded by Central, Murdock, Santa Fe and Topeka streets (At least two people have already signed up to address this proposal.)
  • A request for proposals to develop a master plan for the New Communities Initiative, a complex and controversial concept aimed at improving a large swath of central and northeast Wichita that include some of the city’s highest crime rates and most visible blight
  • New rules to govern City Council members’ conduct and procedures, which includes new ways for members to censure each other, rules discouraging leaks after private council discussions and a new procedure for filling vacancies on the council
  • The final appointments to a committee that will screen applications to fill the city manager position vacated by George Kolb

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.

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.

The long saga of writing your own rules

More than a year after the city council began reviewing and rewriting the rules that govern its meetings, the tires are still spinning.

No one is quite sure how to deal with the public comment portion of the meetings, which devote up to 25 minutes (five minutes per person) to anyone who signs up two weeks ahead of time to address the council on their topic of choice. (“Choice” is relative here. The council doesn’t allow people to talk about pending lawsuits.) The council, which has frequently brought up off-agenda items (meaning topics it didn’t include on the public agenda), is considering barring folks from straying from their stated topic and from allowing a substitute speaker. That means if John Doe wants to talk to the council during the meeting and gets sick, his wife, brother or son couldn’t take his place and deliver the public message. People only can comment once every four meetings, so the wait for a second chance can be a month or longer.

This all stems from a showdown last year when African-American community leaders, including prominent pastors and a state senator, addressed the city council in support of Sarah’s Ice Cream and Bakery, a minority-owned business facing contract difficulties at the city-owned Wichita Mid-Continent Airport. One speaker was listed, but several people lined up in his place. Several council members criticized then-Mayor Carlos Mayans for not taking control of the situation.

“It turned into a real dog and pony show,” council member Sue Schlapp said this week during a council workshop.

The council hasn’t made any moves yet, instead appointing members Jeff Longwell and Jim Skelton to look into it and make recommendations. What is clear is that the public comments are likely to change.

“Unfortunately, there are some who want to take advantage of it,” City Manager George Kolb said.

Council agenda: District 1, repealing gun laws, paying DETAMC, Inc.

Who will switch their vote for a new District 1 Council member? Will an $80,000 check really be the end of the DETAMC, Inc. discrimination case? Will anyone bother commenting on the repeal of local conceal carry laws that the state overruled this year?

It’s all up for grabs at 9 a.m. Tuesday when the City Council meets.

Voting to break the 3-3 deadlock between Treatha Brown-Foster and Lavonta Williams will be one of the last items council members consider. Their rules require them to vote until someone is chosen. But, to do that, someone will have to switch their vote and explain why they changed their mind after voting 20 times in a row for the same candidate last Tuesday. Or, members could cast votes for one of the other three candidates — Eugene Anderson, Michael Kinard or George Rogers. But that seems unlikely. (For more on the ballots, see The Eagle’s story.)

DETAMC
The DETAMC settlement stems from a lawsuit that was settled in March. Here’s a snippet from a story by The Eagle’s Christina Woods:

“The city of Wichita broke its contract with a welfare-to-work program but didn’t discriminate against the owners because of race, a federal jury found Wednesday.
A jury in Kansas City, Kan., ordered the city to pay more than $50,000 to George and Pamela Johnson, the owners of Diversified Educational Training and Manufacturing Co., or DETAMC.

The Johnsons, who are African-American, had sought $3.9 million in damages.Their lawsuit claimed that a city-led audit of their job-training company was racially motivated. They contended the city held DETAMC to higher scrutiny based on their race. The city’s audit alleged the company billed the city for books never provided to students and failed to file required monthly progress reports, among other findings.”

Conceal carry repeal
In December last year, the council unanimously passed a bill that made it illegal for people with conceal carry licenses to carry firearms on public property, such as parks. But, when Sen. Phil Journey, a Republican from Haysville and a leading advocate for conceal carry, spotted it, he penned a bill to stop cities like Wichita from further restricting people’s right to carry. It passed in Topeka. Several council members now support the repeal — despite having voted in favor of more restrictions.

And, as always, the entire city council agenda can be seen online in a PDF.


New District 1 Council member, wireless Internet and Montel

It has been six months since all seven City Council seats were filled. That ends Tuesday — probably. Using paper ballots, Council members will choose between five District 1 candidates. On the list are Eugene Anderson, Treatha Brown-Foster, Michael Kinard, George Rogers and Lavonta Williams. First one to get a majority (four votes) wins.

City Council members have already privately held interviews with each of the candidates. At the Council meeting Tuesday, people will see only short monologues from the candidates before the voting begins. But this event might get pushed back a little so that Mayor Carl Brewer can zip over the Center for Health and Wellness to welcome talk show host Montel Williams. (See The Eagle’s story about Williams’ visit.) Brewer said several times Friday that the District 1 seat is his top priority despite the hoopla with Montel.

The new District 1 member, who will be sworn in a week later, will soon get thrown into the debate over luring a citywide wireless Internet provider to the city. Tuesday, the Council will vote on whether to invite the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to conduct an evaluation of the request for proposals the city let months ago, which only drew five proposals. The Council’s poised to approve that. What will follow is meeting of the Knight Foundation’s Jorge Martinez, City Council, Sedgwick County Commissioners and the Wichita School Board. Each government entity would be an anchor customer of the wireless company.

See more on the Knight Foundation’s role in wireless.

For more, see a PDF of Tuesday’s City Council agenda reports.

City Council examines District 1 candidates, police contract and a skate park

The Hall Monitor will bet its lunch that no one on the City Council can land a kick flip or pop an ollie, but that doesn’t mean the elected officials are ignoring those who can. The Council is going to vote on building a third city skate park at Edgemoor Park, at 5815 E. 9th St., next Tuesday. It will cost $160,422 (See skate park contract and other Council agenda items).

The Council will also discuss how it’s going to handle the review process to fill the vacant District 1 Council seat and vote on whether to approve a three-year contract with the police union. Council members will also vote on an agreement with the school district for school resource officers and a contract with The Wichita Eagle to print legal publications that are required by law. Last year, that contract was worth almost $200,000, according to the city’s analysis.

What’s the Council up to next Tuesday? Dirt roads n’ beer

It looks like the big issue at the Council meeting will be Sunday sales — that’s right, your representatives may let liquor stores sell you a bottle of wine, a fifth of whiskey or a six-pack of brew on Sundays. Sharon Fearey has made it clear she supports it, but she won’t be there Tuesday. And the rest of the Council has been as clear as a pint of Guinness stout on this issue. They say they have no hardline opinions and want to hear what everyone has to say — although the absence of strong opinion says members are probably leaning toward voting in favor of it. Otherwise it probably would have been yanked off the agenda Friday. Which ever way it goes, a group of 6,701 registered Wichita voters could force the issue to a ballot with a valid petition. (For more, see The Eagle’s story and voter poll.)

After the Sunday suds are voted up or down, the council will reopen its discussion on paving dirt roads. That’s an issue that Council member Jim Skelton says the city needs to look at. He and the city’s street engineers say many of the dirt roads remaining in the city may stay dirt forever if the city doesn’t reduce what it costs homeowners to pave streets. There’s no vote — it’s just something Skelton wants addressed publicly. It should be an interesting first full meeting under Mayor Carl Brewer and newly-elected District 5 Council member Jeff Longwell. And there’s more than just booze and dirt roads…

  • The Council will hear from John Kemp about his opposition to the Boeing landfill near MacArthur and K-15, which the company wants to either give to the city or close.
  • Members will vote whether to sign off on a grant agreement that could give the Kansas Food Bank $297,000.
  • They’ll vote whether to adopt a new neighborhood revitalization plan that could allow some tax rebates for some income-qualified people to use to fix up their homes. (Read more about it in this PDF.)
  • And they’ll review an annual report that shows compliance with their tax breaks, like industrial revenue bonds.
  • See the entire agenda and related reports here.

Going green… and building up downtown at the same time

City Council members say there’s no doubt that more parking is needed downtown, especially with the forthcoming arena and all the commercial and residential developments that have been envisioned in the blocks around it. But they’re also thinking about green space for playgrounds or just benches and trees to give people a place to chill out. Green roofs even came up.

City planners are proposing that 5 to 10 percent of each development, be it a shopping area or office building, should be green space. City Council member Sharon Fearey said in a workshop last week that she’s hoping the city can convince developers to put their pieces together to make larger open areas in the heart of downtown. She also advocated for green roofs, a concept used in many cities to cut down on the heat generated by all the blacktop, cut energy costs in the buildings and offer grassy space in the most unlikely of spots — several stories above ground. Fearey said green roofs could be integrated into parking ramps since many people don’t like parking on the top level anyway because there’s no protection from summertime heat or weather.

Read more about green roofs at this industry website. Read more about these types of concepts in this National League of Cities article. See the green roof atop the new Minneapolis Library here.