Category Archives: Wichita government

Governance switch helped make airport name change possible

midcontinentAs the Wichita City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday to finalize the renaming of Mid-Continent Airport as the Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport, it did so over the objections of the airport advisory board, which voted 10-1 Monday to oppose the change. That remarkable fact – that the citizen board assigned to advise the city on airport matters disagreed with such a historic decision yet was powerless to stop it – was made possible by the City Council’s 1999 decision to replace what had been a governing Wichita Airport Authority with an advisory board. Then-Mayor Bob Knight advocated the controversial change, saying the authority board was too focused on replacing then-airports director Bailis Bell and wasn’t doing enough to bring low-fare service to Wichita. Dave Bayouth, an advisory board member who again urged against the name change Tuesday, also sat on the autonomous authority board and criticized its dissolution, saying in 1999 that “the public does not want more government running anything.”

Nonprofit plan for NBC World Series looks promising

nbctourneyThe city of Wichita seems to be moving the National Baseball Congress World Series toward a secure future via the nonprofit NBC Baseball Foundation. There is even talk of trying to get a TV deal for Championship Week, which would be great for the players, teams and city. In any case, the tournament will need an engaged, hardworking board and a lot of help from community donors, sponsors and volunteers. But the NBC World Series’ rich history is wedded to that of the city and Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. The plan also should be better for the Wichita Wingnuts, which had been overseeing the NBC.

Fallon’s Wichita joke exemplified image problem

arkriverNot all the attention generated by the Shockers’ 34-0 run has been flattering, regrettably. For example, Jimmy Fallon’s monologue on “The Tonight Show” Monday included this: “This is cool. Wichita State will become the first undefeated team in 23 years to enter the NCAA Tournament. When asked how they remained so focused on winning, they said, ‘We play in Wichita. Not many distractions here.’” Though the joke wasn’t cited as the City Council voted the next morning to set up a tourism business improvement district, it certainly exemplified why Wichita needs to improve its image with more and better marketing. The TBID is expected to generate $3 million a year for that purpose.

Ike airport idea started with Eagle reader, former columnist

airportnewJan Harrison and Phil Thompson of KFXJ, 104.5 FM “the Fox,” deserve credit for the petition drive to rename Wichita’s airport after President Eisenhower as the new terminal opens, which led to Tuesday’s City Council decision. Harrison also spent many hours gathering information and talking to city officials and others about the proposal. But it’s worth recalling that the idea started with a September 2004 column in The Eagle by Mark McCormick headlined, “If Wichita’s airport is renamed, we like Ike.” McCormick, then an Eagle columnist and now the executive director of the Kansas African American Museum in Wichita, was championing a suggestion made to him by reader Luke Yakel, who said he’d thought of it during an earlier visit to the Eisenhower Museum in Abilene. On Wednesday, Yakel told The Eagle editorial board he thought it was a great idea and that the timing was right: “I think in the long run it’s going to really pay off, and it’s going to make Wichita, Kan., stand out. It needs a shot in the arm.”

Council seized the opportunity on airport name

eisenhowerCongratulations to the Wichita City Council majority for voting to rebrand the airport and properly honor a famous Kansan in connection with next year’s opening of the new $101.5 million terminal. Tuesday’s 5-2 vote approving the name of Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport was an optimistic statement about the city’s future – in sharp contrast to some of the opponents’ negative remarks at the meeting. And there will never be a more cost-effective time to do better than the “Mid-Continent” name – a ’70s castoff from the airport in Kansas City, Mo. – nor is there a Kansan more worthy of such a tribute than the nation’s 34th president.

So much for 20-year partnership on Finney building

finneybldgThe Brownback administration’s frustrating decision to bail on the city-owned Finney State Office Building is moving forward, though the lease doesn’t expire until Sept. 30. The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services will join the Kansas Corporation Commission, the Kansas Department of Labor and the state Board of Indigents’ Defense Services in the former Ryan International Airlines building at 266 N. Main while the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Kansas Human Rights Commission will go to the Garvey Center – which at least keeps these agencies downtown. Meanwhile, the Kansas Department for Children and Families reportedly wants a 96,000-square-feet site the U.S. Postal Service is closing at 2601 S. Oliver. That means DCF’s more than 550 employees will no longer be working downtown and the agency’s low-income clients will have to adjust to an office that isn’t centrally located or accessible by multiple bus routes. Mayor Carl Brewer lobbied the governor personally to try to save the 20-year city-state partnership by offering a $6 million renovation and a deep discount on rent. He told The Eagle editorial board last week that “we’re disappointed at the fact that they chose not to stay” at the Finney building and said the goal now was to keep it from sitting empty.

City smart to invest in Kansas Aviation Museum

aviationmuseum2The future of aviation in Wichita may be uncertain, but the preservation of its past is in good hands at the Kansas Aviation Museum, which received welcome approval from the Wichita City Council last week for $1.8 million in needed upgrades. The to-do list includes handicapped-accessible restrooms, an elevator, and a heating and air conditioning system for the 25,000 square feet of the former Wichita airport terminal without climate control. The museum has raised $900,000 for the improvements, which should help it attract more facility rentals and better serve visitors.

No more limbo for old Macy’s parking garage

macysgarageDowntown revitalization took another crucial step forward with the Wichita City Council’s approval last week of a $6.85 million plan to repair and reopen the old Macy’s parking garage at Market and William. Getting the deteriorating structure out of legal and financial limbo and back in service will boost the downtown community, and be a plus as state agencies exit the Finney State Office Building and the city seeks a new future for the property.

City smart to recommit to competitive bidding

citycouncilThere was a compelling argument for the private no-bid contract for the construction of the city-owned Hyatt Regency hotel in the mid-’90s, when downtown revitalization was in its uncertain infancy. But that process should not have become the rule, and later proved costly. That is why the Wichita City Council should make permanent its 2-year-old requirement of competitive bidding for any free-standing construction work completely financed by the city. The resolution on Tuesday’s agenda still allows some no-bid contracting for public-private projects, which is a concern. But the policy’s safeguards should serve accountability, as the city strengthens its commitment to competitive bidding and its public benefits.

Kansas gun law, impact on Wichita in spotlight

gun3Kansas’ new gun law and its impact on Wichita were featured in a New York Times article last weekend. The Legislature passed a law last year that allows local governments to prohibit concealed guns in public buildings only if they provide adequate security, such as metal detectors and security guards. “There is no municipality in the state of Kansas that can afford those infrastructure costs,” complained Wichita City Council member Janet Miller. Because of cost and liability concerns, the City Council voted last month to allow concealed-carry permit holders to bring guns into most city buildings, including libraries and recreation centers. Kansas and Nevada are the only states forcing local governments to either provide security or allow guns, the Times reported.

Shared commitment to NCAT is welcome

101910workforceIt’s good to see the city of Wichita and the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce both advocating for restoration of state funding for the National Center for Aviation Training, a priority that also received a lot of stated support at Thursday’s legislative forum. The Legislature docked NCAT’s $5 million funding for the current fiscal year by $2 million, and carried forward that funding level for fiscal 2015. That move, which forced NCAT to pull back on equipment and training, was at the inexplicable urging of some area lawmakers – and at an especially poor time for the state to be undermining its commitment to high-level aviation and other technical training.

Lame-duck lawmakers (and council members) should stay home

airplanetakeoff2Good for leaders of the Kansas House and Senate for agreeing last week to change the Legislature’s travel reimbursement policies to keep retiring or defeated lawmakers from taking trips at the state’s expense. The policy change, which was suggested by House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, has an exception if the outgoing legislator is an officer of a recognized organization or is asked by legislative leaders to represent Kansas at an event. The Eagle editorial board has raised similar concerns in the past about lame-duck Wichita City Council members going to out-of-state conferences on taxpayers’ dime.

Happy ‘Karla Burns Week’

burns0523_br4It’s a rarity for Wichita to deem individuals worthy of a week or even a day of their own. But the honor fit perfectly when Mayor Carl Brewer proclaimed Dec. 17-24 as “Karla Burns Week” to salute “this treasure of Wichita.” The native Wichitan and Wichita State University graduate has shared her big voice and talent with Broadway, the Metropolitan Opera and the world over the years, winning Britain’s Laurence Olivier Award and a Tony Award nomination for her Queenie in “Show Boat.” But she remains a proud and grateful Wichitan. “There’s no place like home,” Burns said, before offering a stirring mini-concert at the City Council meeting. And there’s no performer or Wichitan quite like Burns.

Fluoridation still making gains, though not in Wichita

waterThough Wichita voters strongly rejected water fluoridation (again) last year, 2012 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 6 million more Americans had optimally fluoridated water that year than in 2010 and 15 million more than in 2008. The total was 210.7 million people, or 74.6 percent of the U.S. population on community water systems. In Kansas, 63.6 percent of the people on such systems receive fluoridated water, compared with 76.4 percent in Missouri, 72.4 percent in Colorado, 71.2 percent in Nebraska and 70.1 percent in Oklahoma. Because of water fluoridation’s proven ability to reduce tooth decay and loss, the CDC counted it among the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.

Mayor’s apology didn’t walk back concerns

brewer,carlMayor Carl Brewer’s spoken and written apologies to city staff this week came across as reflecting the holiday spirit as well as his regret for hurt feelings he’d caused with some recent comments. In clarifying what may have seemed like a sweeping indictment of city employees for several missteps, Brewer also made a special point of praising City Manager Robert Layton. “I have full faith and confidence in his ability to continue to lead us,” Brewer said in the written message. But it’s significant that the mayor didn’t walk back his stated concerns, which had been seconded and expanded upon by several fellow City Council members in a Dec. 8 Eagle article. Certain matters related to water, downtown and economic development could have been handled with greater care this year – a fact that could complicate the city’s challenges next year, especially if it asks voters to approve a sales-tax hike.

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.

No local say on guns in public buildings

gunconcealedThe new state law requiring cities, counties and other public entities to choose between providing costly “adequate security” or allowing concealed-carry of firearms in their buildings is prompting the Wichita City Council and other governing bodies to throw up their hands and welcome the guns, our Friday editorial notes. The day-to-day impact of expanded concealed-carry may be as negligible as that of the 2006 Kansas Personal and Family Protection Act itself. Still, the 2013 legislation makes a joke of local control.

So they said

morannew“Washington will change the way you think. It will kind of mess you up. That’s why I travel back and forth from Kansas to D.C. every week.” – Sen. Jerry Moran (in photo), R-Kan., in Marion, at his 1,000th town hall meeting

“Does this midnight New Year’s Eve race include Breathalyzers at the start or the finish line?” – Vice Mayor Pete Meitzner, as the City Council passed an ordinance blessing GoRun Wichita’s special 5K

“So you’ll be able to go ahead and run then, vice mayor, with immunity.” – Council member Janet Miller, when the answer was “no”

“We’d like to get engaged before we announce we got married.” – Kansas Commerce Secretary Pat George, suggesting the Brownback administration was blindsided by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon’s recent speech advocating a truce in the economic development border war

“In my opinion, the worst family in the world is better for a child than the best foster home.” – Kansans for Liberty’s Craig Gabel, in the Topeka Capital-Journal, about the group’s 2014 goal of curbing the state’s capacity to remove kids from homes

“Did you realize you’ve been getting dumber?” – Rep. Annie Tietze, D-Topeka, joking to a crowd in fluoridated Topeka about proposed legislation to force cities to tell water users about the (scientifically disputed) dangers of fluoridation

Mandela was an inspiration

mandelaGov. Sam Brownback was among the many U.S. and world leaders to react to the death Thursday of former South African President Nelson Mandela (in photo), 95. “Nelson Mandela was a great man who stood up for his principles and human rights,” Brownback said in a statement. “He was an inspiration to many, including myself.” Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer said that Mandela “embodied unsurpassed courage and commitment to equality.” President Obama ordered flags to half-staff until Monday. His presidential proclamation said that “the United States has lost a close friend, South Africa has lost an incomparable liberator, and the world has lost an inspiration for freedom, justice and human dignity.”

Arts won seat at table on Century II planning

century2bWhen the Wichita City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to proceed with a design and planning study of Century II, a formal $30,000 to $50,000 consideration of the performing arts’ needs and potential was included. That was appropriate – and a relief after the initial push for a study mostly focused on facility improvements that could bolster Wichita as a convention market. In addressing the council, Music Theatre of Wichita producing artistic director Wayne Bryan noted that quality-of-life issues are an important part of planning Wichita’s future. He also confirmed that Century II’s arts tenants draw more than locals; for example, Music Theatre’s 75,000 attendees over a summer include about 15,000 from out of town and even season ticket holders from Colorado, Arkansas and Oklahoma. “Maybe some of them have private planes. I don’t know, but they show up every two weeks in the summer to come see the shows,” Bryan said.

City wasn’t expecting state help on airport-name cost

airportnew2House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, said last week that if Wichita chooses to rename its new airport after Dwight D. Eisenhower, it shouldn’t count on the state helping pay any of the cost. That’s fine, as the city wasn’t expecting any state help. Cost estimates presented to the City Council included replacing state highway signs. That estimate of about $140,000 is exaggerated, apparently based on the possibility that the highway signs would need to be much larger to accommodate the full, formal name of the new airport – rather than just say “Eisenhower Airport.” Other cost estimates also seem greatly exaggerated, including $375,000 for a monument sign. Similar signs at other airports have cost much less, and the airport likely would want a new monument sign regardless of whether the name changes.

Taking more time to engage arts on Century II

century2bGood for the Wichita City Council for opting to take more time to consider the performing arts before diving into a Century II planning and design study aimed at increasing Wichita’s ability to attract conventions. The council voted 5-1 Tuesday to wait until next month to approve the study, which will spend up to $240,000 in funds that had been earmarked for Century II improvements to instead look at whether to gut and redo the blue-domed convention facility or tear it down. As Wayne Bryan, producing artistic director of Music Theatre of Wichita, argued so persuasively to council members, any look at Century II’s future should thoroughly consider the needs of and possibilities for the performing arts, including the programs at area universities. Despite the official assurances that the arts are crucial, this process has been too fast and too convention-focused so far.

So they said

“I got to check something off my bucket list today. I added twine to the World’s Largest Ball of twine in Cawker City, KS!” – Gov. Sam Brownback (in photo), on Facebook on Monday

“Everything is in limbo, or until the 1,000-pound gorilla keeps thumping its chest or goes away.” – House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, on the Kansas Supreme Court and its pending school-finance decision

“Maybe it’s not Eisenhower. Maybe it’s the infamous Pete Meitzner.” – Mayor Carl Brewer, kidding the vice mayor about the possible scope of the airport renaming

“Just man up.” – Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, telling Politico his advice to his 230 Republican colleagues in the House, while also acknowledging another anti-Obamacare shutdown is unlikely

“John Bardo’s got guts.” – Kansas Board of Regents chairman Fred Logan, praising the leadership of Wichita State University’s president

State: $6-a-foot Finney lease worse deal for taxpayers

The editorial board observed (“Rethink Finney decision,” Oct. 18 Eagle Editorial) that the state is paying $14 a foot to lease the new driver’s license office in Derby while rejecting the city of Wichita’s offer of a $6-a-foot rate at the Finney State Office Building. In response, Department of Administration spokesman Chuck Knapp said the state charges state agencies for state-managed space (including the Finney building) at the current rate of $15.25 “to pay for debt and operating expenses on all state-owned and -managed space.” So “taxpayers are actually getting a better deal,” Knapp said, when state agencies “enter into a lease directly with a private entity.” After 20 years, the state has given notice it will vacate the Finney building in downtown Wichita next fall.

Few taking advantage of city water-conservation rebates

Maybe the August rains washed away public awareness of this, as they helped replenish Cheney Reservoir to its current 97 percent level: The city of Wichita is offering rebates to encourage water conservation, having set aside $1 million in June to be available through December to help residents buy water-efficient appliances such as dishwashers and low-flow toilets ($100 rebates) or rain barrels ($75). The program applies to purchases made since May 1. But only $201,000 in rebates has been paid out for 2,100 such purchases. “Don’t delay, take part in the rebate program before the money runs out!” the city’s website urges. But so far it seems more likely that time will run out first.