Category Archives: Sedgwick County

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.

So they said

“They’re at the end of their rope. Let’s just hope it’s not a hanging rope.” – Sen. Pat Roberts (in photo), R-Kan., before GOP House leaders stripped food stamps out of the farm bill and passed its agricultural provisions

“That’s probably Joe Biden calling me right now, saying he agrees with me.” – Roberts again, on the Senate floor Thursday, as his phone rang during his speech blasting Democrats’ anti-filibuster strategy

“I have some lengthy remarks to make in respect to the sustainable-development Agenda 21 progression here in our country.” – Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau, starting a 10-minute speech at Wednesday’s meeting warning “there’s no issue more important than stopping this particular agenda”

“I just would like to say I enjoy a crunchy locust from time to time.” – County Commission Chairman Jim Skelton, about Ranzau’s reference to the U.N.-related promotion of insects as a sustainable food source

Locals right to take time on state gun mandate

Actions this week by the Wichita City Council and Sedgwick County Commission have confirmed what state lawmakers should have realized – there is a lot to think about when deciding whether and how to allow concealed firearms in public buildings. To allow themselves more time to study their options, the City Council and County Commission voted Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, to ask for six-month exemptions from the state law meant to force locals to accept concealed-carry across their sites. Meanwhile, the Wichita school board will consider a new policy next week to underscore that Wichita schools are gun-free zones even for people with concealed-carry permits – another local reaction that would push back against state action. As Mayor Carl Brewer said: “Just because a state legislator thinks it’s the right thing doesn’t make it right.” Plus, the Legislature would have more credibility on guns if it had gone through with an effort to apply the concealed-carry mandate to the Capitol, but that glaring exemption still stands.

So they said

- “Speedos are not required.” – Wichita Festivals president and CEO Mary Beth Jarvis, pre-empting Mayor Carl Brewer’s question about the new Riverfest Beach Party-

- “I’m a big fan of the turkey leg myself.” – Sedgwick County Commission Chairman Jim Skelton, during a discussion of Riverfest’s highlights

- “It’s easy. Three words: ‘I was responsible.’” – Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., goading former IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman during a Senate hearing on IRS targeting of conservative groups

- “I want to be the hush in the room.” – House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, noting House chatter increases during comments by legislators who frequently go to the microphone and diminishes for those who rarely speak

- “This is about circling the wagons and shooting inward.” – Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, as the House and Senate’s GOP leaders battled over taxes Thursday

- “This is the Washington model for gaining stature in your own community – bringing home the bacon.” – Rep. Nile Dillmore, D-Wichita, on a state budget proposal’s $85,000 for golf tournaments in Wichita and Newton (the latter home to House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades)

Welcome collaboration on law enforcement center

It’s good to see city and Sedgwick County officials communicating about a new law enforcement training center. A joint tour last week of the outdated facility at 37th Street North and Meridian underscored the need to act soon. The governments should try to stick to their earlier commitment to join the Kansas National Guard and build at the new Heartland Preparedness Center at K-96 and I-135, and try to scale back the original plan and $30 million shared cost to fit their current budget challenges. County Commission Chairman Jim Skelton’s (in photo) idea of a design to allow expansion makes sense. But officials need to get moving on the project.

State joins Wichita in cracking down on human trafficking

Law enforcement authorities in Wichita can take pride in having helped pass the state’s new anti-human trafficking law, which Gov. Sam Brownback signed Monday. Because of local officials’ good work investigating and prosecuting such cases in recent years, traffickers now will face tougher justice statewide, as vulnerable victims and survivors are handled with more care and compassion. “Kansas has made great strides forward in the fight against modern-day slavery with this new law,” said Brownback, who was a leader in the global fight during his time in the U.S. Senate. As the bill passed the Legislature unanimously, though, one concern got too little attention: its resulting costs to local governments. In February, Sedgwick County commissioners were told by county staff that such legislation would cost the county about $255,000 more a year.

So they said

“I think we’re all Bostonians this week.” – Sedgwick County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn (in photo), at last week’s commission meeting

“It just reminds you that with public service comes the real possibility that you could be a target.” – Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., about the letters possibly contaminated with ricin that were sent to President Obama and Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.

“Imitation is the finest form of flattery.” – Mike O’Neal, president and CEO of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, on Missouri legislation to slash individual income taxes on business income

After sale, Lincoln Elementary still will serve kids

It looks like something great for the community will come from the Wichita school district’s decision last year to close Lincoln Elementary School, thanks to the school board’s vote Monday paving the way to sell the school to the Child Advocacy Center of Sedgwick County for $260,000 later this month. Staffed by law enforcement officers and others who investigate and fight child abuse, the nonprofit center has been doing its crucial and sensitive work in the awkward setting of the State Office Building downtown. At the former school, it can fulfill its goal of being a one-stop, child-focused crisis center for victims of physical and sexual abuse, human trafficking and Internet crimes. Would taxpayers rather the sale were at a price closer to the appraised value for the property and land of $939,000? Of course. But the community has sorely needed such a center for years now, and as superintendent John Allison said Monday: “This is truly the definition of a win-win.”

Brownback fails his own ‘democracy test’

Gov. Sam Brownback at least brought some badly needed gender diversity to the all-male Sedgwick County District Court Monday by choosing Wichita attorney Faith Maughan to fill the spot left empty by the governor’s appointment of Tony Powell to the Kansas Court of Appeals. Maughan has a good resume, including work with the U.S. Army Reserve Judge Advocate General’s Corps and as a municipal prosecutor and judge. Unfortunately, Brownback shunned the traditional input of the Wichita Bar Association and declined to even release a short list of finalists – odd for a governor who has decried the secrecy of the state’s merit-selection process for appellate judges. And Brownback, who also has spoken of judicial selection needing to pass the “democracy test,” has someone in Maughan who lost the GOP primary for a judgeship by 9 percentage points last August. Plus, her sharply partisan campaign cast doubt on her ability to be fair and impartial, especially should a case relating to abortion come to her courtroom.

Delegation helped protect affordable airfares – for now

Good for area members of the House Appropriations Committee for fighting off an attempt to defund the Kansas Affordable Airfares Program. The $5 million in funding recommended by Gov. Sam Brownback had been stripped out of the budget by the House Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee. Rep. Virgil Peck, R-Tyro, complained that the program was supposed to last only five years and questioned whether it was providing a good return on investment, according to Dale Goter, Wichita’s government relations director. But Reps. David Crum, R-Augusta, Mark Hutton, R-Wichita, and Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, successfully restored the funding, arguing that it was particularly crucial to attracting and retaining Southwest Airlines. The funding likely will continue to be a target, however, as lawmakers try to close the state budget gap.

County right to push back on public-lobbying bill

Good for the majority of the Sedgwick County Commission for passing a resolution Wednesday stating the commission’s official opposition to Senate Bill 109, which would criminalize the direct or indirect use of tax dollars to lobby the Legislature. People around the state might have been confused about where Sedgwick County stood, given County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn’s (in photo) testimony in support of the bill in a Senate hearing last week. The bill risks muting the voices of cities, counties, school districts, law enforcement authorities and others around the state whose expertise is vital to make good law.

Hearing on accreditation was a waste of time

At least state Sen. Michael O’Donnell, R-Wichita, backed away Monday from his bill to prohibit health departments from becoming nationally accredited. But he wasted people’s valuable time by giving credence to the unfounded fears of Sedgwick County Commissioners Karl Peterjohn and Richard Ranzau that the federal government is trying to take over local health departments. As state Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, noted, the Legislature shouldn’t have been dragged into a Sedgwick County dispute. State and local health officials also seemed frustrated. “All of this took time and money that could have been spent in better ways,” said Dan Partridge, director of the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department.

WATC proving value of its degrees

The Wichita Area Technical College is demonstrating the impressive value of its degrees among employers, even in a lackluster economy. WATC’s survey of 90 percent of its fall graduates revealed that 97 percent of them had found jobs already, mostly in the area. Meanwhile, spring enrollment is 19 percent higher than last spring, just as last fall saw a 25 percent increase over fall 2011. Much of the momentum can be linked to WATC’s strengthened partnership with USD 259, and to the state funding made available by the career and technical education initiative promoted by Gov. Sam Brownback. But credit also is due WATC president Tony Kinkel and the elected officials at all levels, led by Sedgwick County commissioners, who pressed ahead with the funding and construction of the National Center for Aviation Training, one of WATC’s three campuses. Because they didn’t let the downturn cloud their foresight about workforce needs, Wichita-area employers are able to look to WATC for the workers they need now.

Sex-trafficking law could cost county $255,000 a year

Because of the aggressive measures taken by Sedgwick County officials, including a staffing reduction of more than 10 percent in the past couple of years, the county’s chief financial officer, Chris Chronis, was able to report to the County Commission last week that the county would avoid a budget deficit again in 2013. But among the reasons for “heartburn,” Chronis said, is the bill targeting human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children, Senate Bill 61, being pushed by Gov. Sam Brownback and Attorney General Derek Schmidt. While acknowledging the importance of the issue, Chronis told commissioners that because the bill “would cause certain juveniles to have to be housed in the county’s juvenile corrections facilities,” the annual cost to the county would be about $255,000. “That is a new cost to Sedgwick County if that bill should be passed,” Chronis said. And it did pass the Senate the next day, on a 38-0 vote, and head for the House.

Save money by meeting less

Good for leaders at the Statehouse and the Sedgwick County commissioners for trying to reduce costs by trimming the time spent in session. Legislative leaders of both parties have endorsed plans to shave 10 days off the usual 90-day session, which would mean not pushing the usual big decisions to the wrap-up session and risking overtime. And next week the Sedgwick County Commission begins its schedule of one fewer meeting a month, which will save about $10,000 a year in TV broadcasting costs as it frees up staff time. Both changes will require better planning and efficiency, to ensure they don’t lead to rushed and bad decisions or missed deadlines. But taxpayers can applaud the efforts to save money by meeting less.

New judges, assignments at District Court

As the Legislature debates judicial-selection reform for the appellate courts, the Sedgwick County District Court is going through major change as well. Two newly elected judges, Dave Dahl and Steve Ternes, were both assigned to family law. Judges Tim Henderson, Eric Commer and Eric Yost are the newly assigned presiding judges in juvenile, family law and probate, respectively, and the Probate Department has relocated from the Courthouse to the Juvenile Courthouse, 1900 E. Morris. And more change is coming, in the wake of Gov. Sam Brownback’s appointment of Judge Tony Powell to the Kansas Court of Appeals; the governor will accept applications and name Powell’s replacement. It was surprising to see Judge Richard Ballinger reassigned from probate to civil, given how Eagle letter writers and others cited his expertise and long tenure as presiding probate judge in supporting his successful re-election bid in November. Ballinger recently told The Eagle editorial board that the change was not his preference. Chief Judge James Fleetwood said Friday that the probate changes make for a “more efficient use of staff and supervisory personnel” and that Yost had some impressive and creative ideas for how to manage resources. “I am convinced it’s a good move,” Fleetwood said.

So they said

“It’s not a long walk across the rotunda.” – House Speaker Ray Merrick (in photo), R-Stilwell, promising better communication and less conflict between chambers in the 2013 Legislature

“Given that you won’t have a situation where the House Republican leadership has declared war on the Senate Republican leadership, it can only get better.” – House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, on the upcoming session

“I have member after member after member say, ‘Agriculture? Let’s cut it.’ It’s going to be tough sledding, folks.” – Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., speaking to the Kansas Soybean Association about agriculture’s weakening political coalition in Congress

“We’re Kansans. We’re Americans. We want our steaks hot, our beers cold and our politicians – temporary.” – Milton Wolf, a radiologist and blogger who is President Obama’s cousin, in a Washington Times commentary criticizing Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran for their fiscal-cliff votes and combined 46 years in Washington, D.C.

“I bought a toilet at a local store lately and I’m telling you, you probably want to get off that thing before you flush it because it sucks anything down.” – Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Skelton, at Wednesday’s meeting, after Commissioner Karl Peterjohn expressed relief that he owns “a toilet that actually works”

Ranzau won’t rest on Agenda 21

What might have been a routine contract approval at Wednesday’s Sedgwick County Commission meeting turned into a 30-minute debate revisiting the county’s participation in a $1.5 million regional planning process, with Commissioner Richard Ranzau (in photo) renewing his objection to the United Nations’ old Agenda 21 document and warning that the “sustainable development ideology” could turn Kansas into California. “We are doing exactly as we’re instructed by our masters in Washington, D.C., one of which is the EPA,” Ranzau said. That brought a welcome push-back from Commissioner Dave Unruh, who chairs the Regional Economic Area Partnership, which is coordinating the planning. “I find that offensive and repulsive that someone would suggest that elected officials in south-central Kansas have some foreign master hidden behind somewhere that is telling us what to do, is controlling our thoughts, controlling our actions,” Unruh said, urging Ranzau to “tone down the rhetoric.” But Ranzau spoke for nearly five minutes more as he criticized the “attempt to deny reality” about Agenda 21, which he called a “business plan” that was “created by a group of socialists for socialists.” As Unruh and the other two commissioners who support the planning stressed, any decisions related to the grant will be made locally. But people should expect sustainability, planning and Agenda 21 to take more flak this year, including at the Statehouse.