Category Archives: Sedgwick County

Citizens expect nothing less than ‘safe and secure’ jail

countyjailTo his credit, Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter emphasized last week that his “office has a zero tolerance policy against sexual assault and harassment of inmates” and is dedicated to operating a “safe and secure” Sedgwick County Jail. Citizens expect nothing less. It will be up to Easter and his team to ensure that the track record at the jail improves. The community has reasons for concern, including the charges against a former sheriff’s deputy of multiple counts of unlawful sexual relations at the jail and the reported incidents since 2013 of sexual assaults, harassment and misconduct involving inmates. Adding about 250 video cameras at the jail should be an asset in deterring and investigating such cases.

County can be frugal and transparent

closed-doorAccording to statements made at a special meeting of Sedgwick County’s Board of Bids and Contracts on Friday, a sheriff’s official met privately with each of the county commissioners and got their consent to push through an emergency purchase of computers for the Sheriff’s Office – which sounds like a violation of the 2009 state law requiring such “interactive communications” to be open meetings. Assistant county counselor Mike Pepoon said the official was “just briefing” commissioners and “if that’s a violation, we do that all the time.” Chief financial officer Chris Chronis told the bid board that commissioners were told “the transaction will be brought to them on their next available agenda for retroactive approval.” Such meetings happen “all the time”? “Retroactive approval” of a $137,100 expenditure? Wanting to save $80,000 on the purchase was laudable, but fiscal responsibility shouldn’t come at the expense of transparent government.

Knox’s do-it-yourself deterrence of metal theft

mcginncarolyn2Before the Senate Judiciary Committee decided Friday to ask the Kansas Judicial Council to study how to fight metal thefts, Sen. Carolyn McGinn (in photo), R-Sedgwick, noted that she and her husband had been the victim of thieves who did $5,000 of damage to their center pivot irrigation system while stealing $500 worth of copper. Sen. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, questioned whether more government was needed to counter metal thefts. “Mr. McGinn with a shotgun may be the way to go,” Knox said. McGinn’s response: “It’s usually Mrs. McGinn with her daddy’s shotgun in her hand.” Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett and the city of Wichita had supported Senate Bill 418, which would create a centralized reporting system of metal sales to include photos of the seller and product.

Kansas’ image gets another spanking

childcrying1Rep. Gail Finney, D-Wichita, says that her spanking bill is aimed at clearly defining corporal discipline so that there is no longer confusion and ambiguity about what is and isn’t allowable. But her public statements go further, suggesting that there are some defiant children who could use a spanking by their parents or school officials. And her claim that parents are having their children taken away by the state because of a swat on the bottom is not true, said Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett. Coming on the heels of the Kansas House’s attempt to justify discrimination against same-sex couples, this bill – which defines allowable spanking as “up to 10 forceful applications” that may leave “redness or bruising” – gave the national media fresh fodder for their “what’s the matter with Kansas” narrative.

Is climate-change denial now official Sedgwick County policy?

Arctic MeltSedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau left no doubt that he was speaking in his official capacity when he testified last week in Topeka in favor of a resolution that opposes President Obama’s climate action plan. His written testimony began: “The Sedgwick County Commission would like to voice our support for” House Resolution 6043 “and encourage the committee members to support its passage.” In his remarks, he also criticized Obamacare and a short-lived USDA program called “Meatless Mondays.” But does the full County Commission really deny, as the resolution does, that human activity has anything to do with global sea level and that greenhouse-gas emissions have anything to do with Earth’s temperature? If so, it’s at odds with 97 percent of climate scientists and the major U.S. scientific agencies.

So they said

roberts3“In Kansas, we’re bootstrap people.” – Sen. Pat Roberts (in photo), R-Kan., at the Kansas Workforce Summit in Topeka

“You cannot make friends with our adversaries.” – Milton Wolf, Roberts’ tea party challenger, telling a Lawrence crowd that Republicans shouldn’t work with Democrats

“I have yet to see any United States citizen in the state of Kansas who is unable to register to vote because of our proof-of-citizenship requirement.” – Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, despite the more than 20,000 voter registrations on hold because of the law

“A rising tide floats all boats, but it appears ours is sinking.” – Rep. John Edmonds, R-Great Bend, on how Kansas’ economy could be contracting while the rest of the country’s is growing

“They won’t be playing so much ‘Candy Crush’ on their phones.” – Rep. Stephanie Clayton, R-Overland Park, on how lawmakers might respond if committee hearings were viewable online

“I’m not going to make a motion. I don’t even understand motions anymore.” – Sedgwick County Commissioner Tim Norton, amid an hour-long debate and multiple votes on a confusing drainage-related annexation proposal

Case for Riddel Boys Ranch still can be made

riddelboysranchThe good news is that Sedgwick County, area legislators and state officials are talking about the future of the Judge James V. Riddel Boys Ranch near Lake Afton. The bad news, at least as reported after a meeting last week, is that the prospects for additional state funding look bleak. Corrections Secretary Ray Roberts questioned the amount spent on staffing, pointed to a surplus of bed space for juvenile offenders elsewhere, and said if he increases state funding for the ranch he’d have to do so for other programs. If the ranch is worth saving – and it is, saving the county more than $1 million a year by deterring crime, according to one study – the case can and must be made to the Brownback administration and the full Legislature that it isn’t just another juvenile justice program and merits extra dollars for the long term.

Terrorism plot a sobering reminder of danger

grissomterrorThe threat of domestic terrorism just became uncomfortably real for south-central Kansas, with the announcement about a foiled suicide bombing at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport. Congratulations and gratitude are due the federal, state and local authorities whose work and collaboration enabled the incident to end with an arrest rather than a deadly blast. The arrest was a sobering reminder that a dozen years after the Sept. 11 attacks, people out there want to kill and maim Americans, and not only in coastal urban centers.

Grant to Breakthrough Club still leaves challenge

breakthroughclubSedgwick County commissioners’ welcome vote Wednesday to give Episcopal Social Services’ Breakthrough Club $137,500 from their contingency fund moved the club out of immediate danger, as it removed any doubt about the county’s appreciation for all the club does for its members and the community. The meeting also highlighted how unique and effective Breakthrough Club is as a resource for those with serious and persistent mental illnesses. Now the hope is that the grant – half the amount that the club has received from the county since it lost access to Medicaid funding in 2010 – can be leveraged to find sustainable funding. Given the budget pressures the county has seen and expects going forward, its Comcare community mental health agency will continue to feel the need to keep resources focused on clinical mental health treatment, especially for those in crisis.

So they said

robertspat2“We have weakened this body, permanently undermined it, for the sake of this incompetent administration. What a tragedy.” – Sen. Pat Roberts (in photo), R-Kan., reacting on the Senate floor to the rules change curbing the GOP minority’s filibuster power

“This policy will hasten our economic collapse as a country…. I will not soil myself with this garbage.” – Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau, during his 13-minute speech against allowing any county employees to act as Obamacare “navigators”

“Another day, another ACLU lawsuit.” – Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, dismissing the American Civil Liberties Union’s “strange” legal challenge to his proposed dual voter-registration system

“Most people who are complimentary wait until you are walking out the door and then they kind of whisper in your ear, ‘I just want to tell you you are doing a good job.’ People who are more likely to complain and raise concerns are the ones that speak the loudest at town hall meetings.” – Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., who will hold his 1,000th town hall Monday in Marion

“Help, I’ve landed and I can’t take off!” “If this isn’t an air force base, then why is it named after a colonel?” – Thursday tweets from the “Jabara Dreamlifter” Twitter account after the massive cargo plane went to the wrong airport

Commissioners should respect each other

norton,timSedgwick County Commissioner Tim Norton (in photo) should avoid leaving commission meetings early or during debates he finds tiresome. Though it no doubt gets old listening to Commissioner Richard Ranzau drone on and on about United Nations plots to take away our freedoms, Norton should honor his fellow commissioners and constituents by not stepping out of meetings. By the same token, Ranzau and Commissioner Karl Peterjohn should respect other commissioners and county staff and not abuse the “other” time during the meetings. This time is supposed to be for such things as announcements about upcoming events, not for commissioners to grandstand and gripe about national politics. If they want to rant and call people liars, they should do it on their own time.

Commission majority got it right on anti-ACA resolution

skeltonConfronted by Sedgwick County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn’s off-agenda resolution Wednesday to “cease and desist” in participating in the Affordable Care Act and to not accept a $2,400 grant to train Comcare employees in ACA sign-up, County Commission Chairman Jim Skelton (in photo) and Commissioners Dave Unruh and Tim Norton considered the best interests of county residents and, to their credit, voted accordingly. Skelton and Unruh both expressed concern about the short notice and potential consequences for low-income residents. “I think we want the law of the land to change,” Skelton said. “But since the law of the land is what it is, I feel it would be irresponsible for me to deny mentally handicapped people, low-income people, people who are underserved in medical care that come to the county to seek help, because that’s all there is.” Skelton was right: Though the problems that the ACA is experiencing and causing are real, the county commissioners’ priority should be helping county residents.

Blind opposition to Obamacare hurts people, county

Sedgwick County Manager William Buchanan said it best: Even if you don’t like the Affordable Care Act, “that’s no reason to hurt people who are in need.” Yet county commissioners Karl Peterjohn (in photo) and Richard Ranzau want to reject a small grant to train county mental health employees to help clients sign up for insurance. “Our policy has been opposition to having anything to do with Obamacare,” Peterjohn said. Such blind opposition not only hurts people but also hurts the county government. Helping people get insurance could reduce unpaid bills at Comcare, the county mental health agency. It might also help reduce the Sedgwick County jail population – something Peterjohn champions.

One area ballot uncounted due to voting law

Before local elections were held Oct. 8 on proposed funding projects, more than 100 voter registrations in Derby and nearly a dozen in Colwich were “in suspense” for lack of proof-of-citizenship documents, among more than 18,000 such registrations statewide. The individuals had been contacted multiple times, according to the Sedgwick County Election Commissioner’s Office. In the end, according to Deputy Election Commissioner Sandra Gritz, “there was only one provisional ballot due to lack of a citizenship document” in the area elections – meaning the would-be voter’s ballot didn’t count.

Stable funding for Exploration Place welcome

Good for the Sedgwick County Commission for approving a five-year funding agreement last week for Exploration Place, which will enable it to count on receiving more than $11.4 million through 2018 – and to plan accordingly. The 13-year-old attraction has weathered some uncertainty and funding cuts, but has found stability and strong attendance under president Jan Luth. It’s hard to imagine the community without Exploration Place’s fanciful and enlightening exhibits, or iconic presence on the Arkansas River.

Wichita among Kansas capitals for STDs

“Nearly three-fourths of reported cases of gonorrhea in Kansas occur in just three areas – Wichita, metropolitan Kansas City and Topeka,” the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. Of the 4,447 cases of gonorrhea statewide during the past two years, 1,654 were in Sedgwick County, 724 in Wyandotte County, 377 in Johnson County and 437 in Shawnee County. The cases of chlamydia weren’t as concentrated, with the four counties accounting for 35 percent of the 21,740 cases statewide: Sedgwick (5,535), Wyandotte (2,369), Johnson (2,782) and Shawnee (1,624). These are the state’s most-populous counties, so you would expect more cases of sexually transmitted diseases there. Some smaller counties actually have higher rates of STDs. For example, in 2012 Sedgwick County’s chlamydia rate per 100,000 people was 566. Counties with higher rates were Wyandotte (747), Geary (762), McPherson (679) and Riley (574).

So they said

“This cycle of school finance litigation must end. It is the Legislature who has the power of the purse and they must decide how (to) solve this issue in the long run.” – Gov. Sam Brownback (in photo), in a statement to Associated Press about the school-finance lawsuit before the Kansas Supreme Court

“You don’t hire a coach to manage decline.” – Brownback again, to National Review, on his efforts to stop Kansas’ population loss by eliminating state income tax and reforming government

“Constitutional rights are not subject to local control.” – Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau, thanking the Legislature for the law that led the commission to open more county-owned properties to concealed-carry of guns

“My treat is to dress up like Richard Nixon and answer the door and go, ‘I’m not a crook,’ OK? I like doing that.” – Sedgwick County Commission Chairman Jim Skelton, as commissioners discussed Halloween candy during a “get to know your county commissioners” moment at last week’s meeting

“We really don’t want to use that.” – Kansas State Board of Education member Carolyn Campbell, to a proposal to include the politically loaded word “progressive” in a pro-schools postcard campaign aimed at the conservative Legislature

“I would say the surrender caucus is the whiner caucus, and all they do is whine about the battle, as if they thought being elected to Washington was going to be an easy job.” – Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, on the congressional colleagues who were eager to accept a Senate compromise

Ranzau’s scrutiny of tree removal paid off

When he successfully challenged why Sedgwick County would clear some trees on private property on East Central within Minneha Township, Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau made a point as important as the $47,000 he saved county taxpayers. Elected officials who scrutinize expenditures and demand answers of staff may be a pain in the neck at times, but they’re also doing their jobs. In this case, the scrutiny paid off.

Voters ‘in suspense’ a local problem in Derby, Colwich

The statewide problem posed by the 17,000 voter registrations “in suspense” is an imminent threat to voting rights in two area communities. According to the Sedgwick County Election Office, 104 voter registrations were on hold as of last week in Derby, where residents will vote Oct. 8 on a 10-year, half-cent sales tax for a park project, the library, and the Derby Fire and Rescue Department. Eleven would-be voters were in similar limbo in Colwich, where residents will decide Oct. 8 whether to build a $1.65 million swimming pool complex. Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman told The Eagle editorial board that her “office has sent these applicants multiple notices and called them” (if they provided a phone number) and provided sample ballots. In order to vote, she said, they must submit proof-of-citizenship documents to her office by 11:59 p.m. Oct. 7. Never mind that the U.S. Supreme Court has said it’s sufficient for people to pledge they are citizens, and that a year ago these voter registrations would have been good to go.

Blame Legislature if Comcare newly welcomes guns

Sedgwick County’s plan to open many more of its buildings to concealed handguns comes as no surprise, given the cost of doing otherwise under an intrusive new state law requiring public entities to allow guns in buildings that do not have “adequate security measures” such as metal detectors and armed guards. But it’s sobering that the proposal calls for Comcare, the county’s mental health agency, to allow concealed-carry permit holders to bring guns to its facilities. Maybe creating “additional stress or barriers for people walking in the door to get help just didn’t make sense,” as County Manager William Buchanan put it. But it would have made even more sense if lawmakers had heeded public safety concerns and permanently exempted community mental health centers statewide.

Elephants need new home

It would be a shame if the Sedgwick County Zoo lost Stephanie and Cinda, the two female elephants that have been on exhibit since 1972. But that’s what will happen if it doesn’t add another elephant by September 2016, per accreditation standards. And the zoo can’t add another elephant at the current exhibit area, which is too small and out of date. So here is hoping the Sedgwick County Commission can increase the zoo’s operational funding, which will give the zoo the financial stability it needs to launch a fundraising campaign for a new elephant exhibit.

Peterjohn nominated but didn’t ‘appoint’ Weeks

Sedgwick County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn objected to a WE Blog item Thursday stating that he had “appointed” libertarian blogger Bob Weeks to be on the airport advisory board (the Wichita City Council declined to accept Weeks). Peterjohn said he doesn’t have that authority and that the full County Commission approved the nomination. During the July 10 commission meeting, county counselor Richard Euson said that each county commissioner “has the ability to nominate a member to the airport authority.” Peterjohn made a combined motion including his nomination of Weeks and Commission Chairman Jim Skelton’s nomination of Dave Bayouth. There was no discussion, and the vote was unanimous.

Peterjohn’s comment was inappropriate

It was no shock that a majority on the Wichita City Council, given a choice Tuesday, declined to add libertarian blogger and activist Bob Weeks to the airport advisory board – though surely Mayor Carl Brewer did not mean to suggest that there is no room on such city boards for debate and dissent. What was shocking was that Sedgwick County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn (in photo), who had appointed Weeks to the spot, called the council “ethically challenged.” It’s one thing for Weeks and other private citizens to push the baseless narrative that the mayor and council majority are corrupt for having given the airport terminal contract to Key Construction, whose co-founder Dave Wells is a longtime friend of the mayor who has contributed to council members’ campaigns. It’s quite another thing, and inappropriate, for a fellow local elected official to chime in.

County stepped up to help citizens dispose of debris

Kudos to Sedgwick County for stepping up to help people dispose of debris from recent storms (in sharp contrast to the “it’s not our problem” approach of the city of Wichita). The county’s tree debris site at 63rd Street South and Meridian will be open through the end of this month. So far, it has received more than 15,000 truckloads of debris. The county also is offering coupons allowing residents to dispose of up to 1,000 pounds of bulky waste at two area solid waste transfer stations. To request a coupon, which must be used by Oct. 17, call 316-660-9110 or go online to sedgwickcountyservices.org/coupon/trash.

Second driver’s license office in county can’t open too soon

Details are sparse about the Kansas Department of Revenue’s plan to open a second driver’s license office in Sedgwick County, which was reported to county commissioners Wednesday by County Treasurer Linda Kizzire. In any case, the overdue move is worthy of celebration. Wherever and whenever a second office opens, it will have to be an improvement over the status quo. The three- to six-hour waits this summer and last in Wichita’s single driver’s license office at 21st and Amidon have been infuriating and absurd. And the state’s explanations have been as unsatisfying as the text-messaging system meant to reduce the on-site waiting. The situation also has been bad at the Andover office. So some Wichitans desperate to renew their licenses or get learner’s permits have been forced to drive even farther – sometimes paying extra fees because of the state’s failure to accommodate the demand in Wichita. Especially with more upheaval predicted during a computer upgrade, the state is right to do something to help Sedgwick County drivers.