Category Archives: Wichita government

Public meeting was constructive, excellent first step

forumCity officials and all who participated in a “community intervention conversation” last Thursday should be congratulated. They dealt openly and honestly with a difficult subject, and did so in a constructive and proactive manner. The meeting was held in response to recent events in Ferguson, Mo., where unarmed black teen Michael Brown was shot by a white police officer. Much of the conversation focused on ways to improve policing and bolster community and police relations. One of the most concrete and positive outcomes was Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer’s commitment to try to find the money “to man-up every officer with a camera.” More discussions and reforms are needed, but the Thursday meeting was a excellent first step.

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.

So they said

brewer,carl“You can’t get blood from a turnip. They don’t have it to give us.” – Mayor Carl Brewer (in photo), on a suggestion that the city seek $20 million a year from the state to help fund the Equus Beds recharge project

“He’s much funnier. I don’t try to compete with him.” – Former Sen. Bob Dole, on MSNBC, on whether he or Sen. Pat Roberts is funnier

“Is Roberts dust in the wind or will he carry on?” – Headline on a Fox News online story before last week’s primary between Sen. Pat Roberts and Milton Wolf

“Can you believe that? The next Ted Cruz is Barack Obama’s unapologetic conservative cousin.” – Wolf, in the Washington Post, visiting with Eureka voters before losing the primary

How would sales-tax and pot questions affect each other?

marijuanaWhile failing to persuade his former colleagues on the Wichita City Council to postpone the city sales tax vote until after the spring municipal election, state Sen. Michael O’Donnell, R-Wichita, suggested that its passage would be especially unlikely in November if the marijuana referendum also made that ballot. “I don’t believe many of those supporters are going to be supporting a sales tax,” O’Donnell said. The marijuana question seemed doomed by Friday, with the petition short of the needed registered voters’ signatures. But supporters said they would urge the council to put the question to voters anyway. The confluence of those ballot questions in Wichita, along with a competitive gubernatorial race, could make for a larger local turnout and unpredictable outcomes.

Lawrence unveils expanded library; Wichita waits

libraryLawrence residents are thrilled with their newly expanded and renovated public library, which had its grand opening last weekend. The library’s many features include a recording studio, video-editing bays, a performance auditorium, conference rooms and a coffee shop. It also has a “teen zone” that includes large-screen TVs and video game systems. Meanwhile, Wichita’s plan for a new, modern downtown facility to replace the 47-year-old Central Library (in photo) keeps being put off and scaled back. Maybe Wichita City Council members should take a field trip to Lawrence.

Alarm ordinance sounds like ‘Boy Who Cried Wolf’

firetruckwichitaThe city clearly has a problem with security and fire false alarms, and especially with chronic abusers who owe more than $800,000 in false-alarm penalties. The proposed ordinance on the Tuesday agenda of the Wichita City Council could help, including by transferring responsibility for initial registration from alarm companies to users. But council members need to be cautious about refusing to respond to alarms when a residence or business has had more than six false alarms during a 12-month registration period and/or has failed to pay fees or penalties. Yes, ignoring a fire or security alarm in such cases could free up police and trucks for real emergencies, while saving taxpayers money. But “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” seems a questionable model for public safety.

Great to see new terminal will upgrade food, drink

airportnew2Restaurants can be just as important to the airport experience as airline service and building design, so it was great to see that the new terminal at the newly named Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport plans to kick things up a notch. The concession lease agreement with Georgia firm MSE Branded Foods on Tuesday’s City Council agenda calls for an interesting mix of local flavor, with a River City Brewing Co., and national names Chick-fil-A and Dunkin’ Donuts. It limits MSE to charging customers no more than “local area street pricing” plus 10 percent – still a lot, but consistent with most airports’ gouging of what is, after all, a captive audience.

Wichita Public Library’s work, partnerships stand out

libraryThe uncertain support on the Wichita City Council for a proposed new Central Library faded into the background last week as the Wichita Public Library and Cynthia Berner-Harris, director of libraries, were presented with Library Journal’s LibraryAware Community Award. A tribute to the library’s work to promote literacy and lifelong learning and its many partnerships boosting civic engagement and cultural enjoyment, the honor is especially remarkable given the limited per capita funding the Wichita Public Library receives compared with other libraries even in Kansas. Saying some of the library’s programs “have now created national best practices for public libraries across the country,” Library Journal publisher Ian Singer noted the Central Library proposal in telling the council and library leaders: “Hopefully this award demonstrates the value that the library brings.”

Guns still unwelcome at Riverfest

gun3Because much of the Wichita River Festival is held on city-owned property, the new state law preventing local governments from restricting open carry of firearms might seem to conflict with a rule in the event brochure: “Don’t bring weapons of any kind to the festival. The festival footprint is not a legal ‘conceal and carry’ or open-carry area.” But according to the city’s legal department, the festival grounds are controlled by private Wichita Festivals Inc., not the city. “They can establish the appropriate rules of conduct, which would include no open carry,” chief deputy city attorney Sharon Dickgrafe said in an e-mail. “However, they will have to enforce these provisions through their private security.” She added that Wichita Police Department officers “cannot be involved in enforcing regulations that exceed state law.” Though reassuring for many, the continuing gun-free policy surely will rankle those who think the right to carry shouldn’t be curbed anywhere for any reason. The new state law, by the way, goes into effect July 1.

Looming election complicates city’s sales tax discussion

brewer,carlIt would be hard enough in any year to persuade Wichita voters to raise the local sales tax for any reason. But as the City Council sifts through the items that might be funded by such revenue, its deliberations are complicated by the calendar. Mayor Carl Brewer (in photo), who is term-limited, is cast in the role of lame duck. Behind the scenes, as well as on the bench, there is jockeying over who might run next spring to succeed him. Council members surely realize that a united front is their best hope of persuading voters this fall of the necessity of raising the sales tax to address some of the priorities, and that a failed ballot question would have political as well as fiscal consequences.

Belated urgency on contaminated well water

waterfaucetIt’s good news that 10 affected homes have been hooked up to the municipal water supply, with service promised soon to the rest of the 114 homes in west Wichita where officials say private wells were contaminated by dry-cleaning chemicals. “First thing’s first: Getting water service to the folks as quickly and expeditiously as possible,” said Alan King, the city of Wichita’s director of public works and utilities, noting that the process is being streamlined and the fee details will be worked out later with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. “Our No. 1 concern right now is that everyone has healthy water to drink,” is how KDHE spokesman Ashton Rucker put it. Urgency is certainly in order now. But where was it five years ago, when KDHE first detected the tetrachloroethylene, a likely carcinogen, in a monitoring well on West Kellogg?

Wichita has two states pulling for its passenger rail revival

unionstationHopes of one day seeing the Heartland Flyer pull into a renovated Union Station (in photo) in downtown Wichita got the biggest lift yet this week with the joint endorsement from the transportation departments of Oklahoma and Kansas. The officials are right that the extension of the Fort Worth-to-Oklahoma City Amtrak line north through Wichita and Newton would establish an “economic powerhouse of a corridor for industry and commercial business.” Wichita’s prospects for re-establishing passenger rail service depend not on words but on money, of course, so one key will be whether Wichita succeeds in its bid to win a $3 million federal transportation grant to complete environmental studies on a Heartland Flyer extension.

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.