Category Archives: Sedgwick County

Union Station TIF deserves public hearing

unionstation1Though Wichita’s downtown reinvention is ongoing, bringing more people and activity to the city’s core, Union Station remains on the to-redo list. The Wichita City Council should take the opportunity on Tuesday’s agenda to set an Oct. 7 public hearing for the establishment of a tax increment financing district to help get the historic property’s overhaul underway. Old urban train stations have proved challenging to redevelop nationally. But owner Gary Oborny’s $54 million plan seems realistic – 275,000 square feet of historic renovation and new construction mixing retail, restaurants and office space. It’s the kind of development needed to further enliven the key corridor between Old Town and the Intrust Bank Arena. And the pay-as-you-go basis for the TIF-funded improvements means “the city assumes no financial risk for the project,” according to city documents. One political aside: Within 30 days of any council approval of the TIF district, the Sedgwick County Commission as well as the USD 259 school board would be asked to approve or veto it. The time frame presumably would dodge any hard-right turn the County Commission might take in the November general election, because those elected won’t be sworn in until January.

Public should be able to see election office work

lehman,tabithaThough some voters said their polling sites had been changed without notification, and there were poll book mix-ups involving the husband and son of candidate Carolyn McGinn, Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman (in photo) is due some credit for avoiding a repeat last week of the problems of 2012. But why the sudden secrecy in her office? First Lehman and county officials denied news reporters the usual access to watch the counting of votes on Election Night. Then organizers of the marijuana petition drive complained that they weren’t allowed to watch as the signatures were counted. The election office is doing essential public business, not dealing with sensitive personnel or legal issues. Maintaining public trust requires that the public, which often means the media, be able to watch the office work whenever it wants, but especially as votes and petition signatures are counted.

Election went more smoothly, but turnout disappointing

votingaug14It’s concerning that some Wichita voters showed up at the wrong polling places Tuesday and said they were never informed that their voting locations had changed. Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman must do a much better job of alerting people to poll changes before the November election – as she has pledged to do. But Tuesday’s election didn’t have the processing problems that delayed and distorted results during the 2012 elections. That’s a relief. What’s most disappointing about the election is the low turnout. Only 18.7 percent of registered voters in Sedgwick County voted in the primary, down from 25.6 percent in the 2010 primary. In one area House race, fewer than 400 people voted.

Court lacking diversity

justiceladyThe glaring lack of ethnic and gender diversity on the Sedgwick County District Court bench came up during Tuesday’s forum for judicial candidates sponsored by the Wichita Women Attorneys Association and League of Women Voters Wichita-Metro. Judge Gregory Waller, a Democrat who has two Republican challengers in the Aug. 5 primary, noted that when he was appointed by Gov. Joan Finney in 1993, he became the third African-American on the Sedgwick County bench (along with the late Robert Watson and Jennifer Jones, now administrative judge in Wichita Municipal Court). Now, Waller said, he is the only African-American judge in the district and one of only three in the state (Shawnee and Wyandotte counties have one each). One of Waller’s challengers, Linda Kirby, mentioned that there are no elected women among the 28 judges on the Sedgwick County bench, though Judge Faith Maughan was appointed to the bench last year by Gov. Sam Brownback. One other woman will be on the Aug. 5 primary ballot: Diane Sherwood, who is vying with Mike Hoelscher to succeed retiring Judge Mark Vining.

Don’t let gang walk go away permanently

gangwalkHere’s hoping Safe Streets’ Wichita Walk Against Gang Violence will be back soon. Such grassroots efforts to deter crime and gangs and to build awareness and community are important. So it was discouraging to see the Rev. Dave Fulton, pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and founder of Safe Streets, suggest that “Wichita has very little interest in nonprofit groups doing crime prevention.” Given the funding pressure that Sedgwick County’s Comcare is under, it wasn’t surprising that Safe Streets’ latest grant request was unsuccessful. Perhaps combining the event with the Black Arts Festival is a viable short-term strategy. Good for Fulton, City Council member Lavonta Williams and others who are trying to ensure the event’s absence is temporary.

Calling 911 shouldn’t mean being put on hold

phonedialingBecause Sedgwick County can’t predict when the average 1,400 calls a day will come in to the 911 center, it’s not surprising that dispatchers sometimes are all busy. But even if a two-minute wait is unavoidable at times, such delays should not be treated as acceptable by county officials. And as officials work to avoid queuing up 911 callers, residents should think again about whether that 911 call is really necessary. It’s nuts that, as Kim Pennington, director of Sedgwick County 911, told The Eagle, “We have people calling us to get the phone number for the jail, people calling us about what time they have to go to court, calling us asking us when it’s going to quit raining. We had a lady three weeks ago in Derby call because McDonald’s didn’t make her double cheeseburger correctly.”

Here come ripple effects of mortgage fee repeal

taxrevenueThe proponents of phasing out the mortgage registration fee prevailed at the Statehouse, dismissing concerns about what the move would do to local governments’ budgets or delivery of services. But Sedgwick County got a glimpse of the consequences Wednesday, as Register of Deeds Bill Meek announced his office will no longer handle passports and also asked county commissioners for one or two more staffers to deal with the next five years of mortgage-filing confusion. Plus, the county must prepare for the loss of an estimated $2 million to $3.7 million a year of mortgage registration fees by 2019, after losing $59 million in revenue due to state reductions since 2009. The banking and real estate lobbies had a point about the unfairness of the fee, but legislators and the governor were awfully quick to take the drastic action of a repeal – and too dismissive of the likely local reaction.

Sheriff’s Office wise to pull out of training session

Good for the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office for pulling out as a sponsor of an anti-terrorism training session this week. The training is being conducted by John Guandolo, who resigned from the FBI after it was revealed that he had a sexual relationship with a confidential source. He has since made wild claims about the Obama administration, including that CIA Director John Brennan is a secret Muslim who was recruited by foreign intelligence agents. Muslims were understandably concerned about Guandolo training law enforcement officers.

Sheriff’s Office shouldn’t have scheduled Muslim conspiracy theorist

What was the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office thinking when it scheduled John Guandolo to conduct a terrorism threat training session next week? Guandolo resigned from the FBI after it was revealed that he had a sexual relationship with a confidential source. Since then, he has been making a living peddling Muslim conspiracy theories. He has fed the idea that President Obama is a Muslim and that administration officials are helping Muslim Brotherhood agents infiltrate the U.S. government. He claimed that CIA Director John Brennan is a secret Muslim who was recruited by foreign intelligence service operatives. Guandolo bragged to The Eagle that, “I am the only one in this country doing this program or anything close to it.” That should have been a big red flag to the Sheriff’s Office.

Skelton stood up for science regarding prairie chicken

lesserprairiechickenOn Wednesday the Sedgwick County Commission added its voice to the many others in Kansas opposing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s recent decision to list the lesser prairie chicken as threatened, voting to send a letter to Gov. Sam Brownback endorsing legal action challenging the federal move. Commissioner Karl Peterjohn proposed the letter, which calls the federal listing “harmful to important agricultural and energy interests in Kansas,” and persuaded Commission Chairman Dave Unruh and Richard Ranzau to support sending it. But Commissioner Jim Skelton, before joining Commissioner Tim Norton in voting “no,” lashed out at the move. “There’s no way on Earth I’m going to support a letter by us supporting a bunch of politicians in Topeka that want to trump trained biologists and scientists…. It burns me up. It’s bad policymaking, and it goes against the grain of what good sportsmanship and outdoorsmanship means.”

State keeps dumping on local governments


Correction: An e-mail that House Speaker Ray Merrick wrote about the phaseout of the mortgage registration fee was focused on Johnson County only, not all county governments.

House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, had some nerve to say that “there is no need” for county governments to increase their mill levies due to the phaseout of the mortgage-registration fee on homebuyers. The state has been dumping on local governments for years, imposing and then underfunding mandates and eliminating revenue-sharing programs. Sedgwick County spends about $150 million per year to provide services mandated by the state, yet receives only about 15 percent of the funding needed to pay for these services. The county also has lost about $59 million in revenue since 2009 because of state actions. It estimates that the loss of mortgage-registration fees will cost it as much as $3.7 million when fully implemented. Instead of lecturing and off-loading on local governments, the state needs to support them.

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.