Category Archives: Wichita government

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.

Wichita smart to open China trade office

China is a huge growth market for general aviation companies and suppliers. So it is smart that Wichita is opening a trade office in Beijing this week. Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer will be at the grand opening of the office, which is privately funded and overseen by Kansas Global Trade Services. “We need to be in the game of international trade, and this trip reflects our dedication to helping Wichita companies expand their export opportunities,” Brewer said. In addition to helping boost Wichita’s exports to China, the office hopes to help direct Chinese investment to Wichita.

Airport board premature to nix renaming

Especially at a time when the city is stepping up its commitment to soliciting and heeding public input, the community effort to rename Wichita Mid-Continent Airport to honor President Eisenhower (in photo) deserves better than a brush-off. So it was good to see Mayor Carl Brewer and other Wichita City Council members show enough interest in the idea Tuesday to ask staff to research the estimated costs and to schedule a council discussion of whether to appoint a naming committee. It was premature for the airport advisory board to point to costs Monday in nixing the idea, which has garnered more than 1,500 signatures on an online petition promoted by Jan Harrison and Phil Thompson of KFXJ, 104.5-FM, “the Fox.” As Harrison told the council Tuesday, at least some of the costs could be incurred over time, as items needed to be replaced. And it’s hard to imagine the renaming costs could be prohibitive given the context of a $101 million investment in a new airport terminal.

Some curious reasons to abandon Finney building

Lack of space as well as a cumbersome layout, especially for the Kansas Department for Children and Families, were cited by the Brownback administration among reasons for wanting to move nine agencies and more than 700 state employees out of the Finney State Office Building in downtown Wichita after two decades. So it was curious to read in Mayor Carl Brewer’s September letter to Gov. Sam Brownback that during the unsuccessful negotiations to try to save the city-state partnership, the state had requested a “50 percent reduction in leased area” in the 300,000-square-foot building. Brewer also said that Diane Bidwell, DCF’s Wichita regional director, complained about the presence of sidewalk vendors. And last week the administration told The Eagle editorial board that Finney does not meet the Kansas Corporation Commission’s needs for a “heavy-lift loading dock” and a building that could withstand an EF-5 tornado. Why the regulatory agency has such needs may be unclear, but there’s no doubt that the state intends to exit the Finney building by next October.

Nonprofit move makes sense for NBC

The National Baseball Congress World Series is as much a cultural treasure in Wichita as it is a sporting event, so the city’s recent move to incorporate it as a nonprofit foundation makes some sense. The tournament still will need to find the funds to pay teams and otherwise sustain its operations, but it could benefit from the leadership and oversight of a nonprofit board of directors dedicated to its mission and long-term success. As City Manager Robert Layton said, nonprofit status adds tax deductibility to the reasons for businesses to help the NBC. As the important next steps are taken, it can’t hurt that the revamped 2013 tournament saw bigger attendance and good reviews from participants.

Security changes in Old Town welcome

The stepped-up security measures announced Monday by Wichita Police Chief Norman Williams should help reassure the public about the safety of Old Town in the wake of the Sept. 22 fatal shooting in the nightlife district. The smart moves include increasing police presence in key areas and time periods, better monitoring of security cameras, use of the police helicopter and steps to discourage motorists’ cruising. The patrol statistics over the most recent weekend, including arrests and liquor citations, also sent a welcome message. Now, more eyewitnesses of the shooting should come forward and assist the Police Department, so that the perpetrator can be caught and justice can be served.

Public concerned about Old Town safety

A SurveyUSA poll of Kansans sponsored by KWCH, Channel 12, underscored the importance of safeguarding not only Old Town-goers but also the nightlife district’s reputation in the wake of last weekend’s fatal shooting spree. When respondents were asked whether Old Town was safe, 37 percent said “somewhat,” 27 percent said “not very,” and 16 percent said “not at all,” while 55 percent said reports of violence there make them less likely to visit the neighborhood. Forty-two percent said police could be doing more to make it safe.

Help for standoff victims slow in coming

It’s good to see the city of Wichita close to wrapping up 12 settlements for Southlake Village Apartments residents affected by the 32-hour police standoff in July. On Tuesday the Wichita City Council will consider a $25,500 settlement for Justin Zoucher, leaving only four claims likely to be approved by City Manager Robert Layton and City Attorney Gary Rebenstorf. The total $113,992 payout to the residents seems reasonable and necessary, considering the displacement and damage caused by the ordeal and law enforcement’s use of tear gas, a water cannon, controlled blasts and gunfire. It would have been better if City Hall had acted to help compensate these residents for their losses within days, rather than months.

Should Wichita rename its new airport?

Jan Harrison and Phil Thompson of 104.5 “The Fox” started a petition drive to name the new airport terminal “Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower International Airport.” So far, more than 850 people support the idea, including former Sen. Bob Dole. What do you think? Wichita Mid-Continent Airport is an OK name, but as Harrison argues, it “is not memorable and a bit lackluster.” It’s also a hand-me-down name, as we took it after Kansas City renamed its airport.

Anti-abortion groups causing neighborhood disruption

Speakers from Kansans for Life, Operation Rescue, Word of Life Church and the Kansas Coalition for Life implored the Wichita City Council Tuesday to rezone the South Wind Women’s Center out of its neighborhood at Bleckley and Kellogg. But it’s hard to think of legitimate reasons to rezone a property where physician George Tiller performed abortions for decades (before being murdered in 2009 by an anti-abortion zealot) and to shut down a similar clinic performing a legal procedure. The reasons offered by the speakers Tuesday were heartfelt but unpersuasive, especially because most, if not all, of the neighborhood disruption stems from the anti-abortion groups’ provocative activities. The richest moment Tuesday was when Kansas Coalition for Life’s Mark Gietzen talked about it being inappropriate for children to see graphic anti-abortion signs – then took responsibility for bringing such signs to the site.

Concerns about city budget’s targeting of arts

The Wichita Arts Council has raised some worthy concerns about the city’s proposed 2014 budget, which the City Council expects to approve Tuesday. In a letter to City Council members, Arts Council chairwoman Sharon Fearey (a former City Council member herself) questioned the rationale for the proposed $104,000 cut to cultural funding and how the cuts would be made. “The philosophical concern about this issue is whether or not the arts can continue to be the economic driver and the tourist attractions that they currently are when their funding is cut back to 2012 levels,” Fearey wrote. She also questioned the proposed shifting of $500,000 of cultural funding maintenance from the tourism and convention fund to the general budget and the new expectation that CityArts’ cost recovery increase from 39 percent in 2012 to 50 percent by 2015 – which could mean higher fees and fewer classes, programs and jobs at the city-owned Old Town arts center. A closing thought in Fearey’s letter could apply to other parts of the city’s proposed budget: “We are concerned that the budget is being used to determine the future of our city instead of future goals and objectives being used to drive the budget process.”

Too bad west bank selection ended on sour note

As Wichita City Council member Jeff Longwell noted during Tuesday’s council meeting, the selection of a developer for apartments along the west bank of the Arkansas River should have been a happy day for the city. After all, such a residential development has been a dream for decades, and the $24.7 million River Vista apartments, which the council selected on a 4-2 vote, is an exciting project that will help boost downtown’s renewal. Unfortunately, a dispute about how the proposal process was handled soured what should have been a celebration. Too bad.

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.

No shock if Brewer is a mayor against illegal guns

If Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer (in photo) didn’t intend to be counted among New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns, he should get off the coalition’s website. But it shouldn’t be a shock to any citizen, let alone City Council member turned state Sen. Michael O’Donnell, R-Wichita, that Brewer believes in certain gun restrictions, given his voting record and comments from the bench about allowing concealed and open carry of firearms on city-owned property. Even as the U.S. Supreme Court has expanded gun rights in recent years, by the way, it has said the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms “is not unlimited.” As for O’Donnell’s suggestion on Facebook that the mayor opposes the state and federal constitutions: Give us a break.

New, better way to investigate officer-involved deaths

Local authorities have taken a good step in the wake of last week’s 32-hour standoff on South Seneca, which ended with the shooting death of suspect Jared Lee Woosypiti. The investigation of the standoff will be led by Reno County Sheriff Randy Henderson, in what he called a new regional “unified approach in working officer-involved shootings” with a goal of having “the highest level of integrity.” Wichita Police Chief Norman Williams, Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter and Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett have been involved in the new approach. It won’t answer all the concerns of those whose loved ones have died in officer-involved shootings, or address their call for a citizen board to review such cases. But having another jurisdiction lead the investigation introduces some independence and objectivity into the process.

On fireworks, Wichita is out of step with most regional peers

Though one fireworks injury or burned mobile home is one too many, this year’s Independence Day seemed safer and smoother than many in Wichita and Sedgwick County. The nonemergency phone line for fireworks complaints worked as intended, handling 490 calls Thursday night and avoiding the past situation in which 911 callers reporting serious emergencies encountered busy signals. The injuries reported this year were few and mostly minor. And thank goodness for the hard work of firefighters and other emergency responders. But the sky over Wichita on Thursday night was ablaze with evidence of lawbreaking, specifically the ban on anything that shoots projectiles more than 6 feet into the air. And Wichita is out of step with most of its regional urban peers on the issue. Fireworks are banned in Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Des Moines, Little Rock and Kansas City, Mo., though Omaha lifted its ban two years ago. Oklahoma City Fire Department Deputy Chief Kellie Sawyers recently said: “They’re dangerous, they cause injuries, they can cause property destruction and have been illegal in Oklahoma City for over 30 years.” Does Wichita’s fireworks ordinance work if citizens treat it like a joke?

Parking kiosks made for lousy customer service

As little as Wichitans like paying for parking downtown, they found it even less fun to stand in line (sometimes in the rain) at an electronic kiosk to do so. Thank goodness the city turned off the parking pay stations at Century II and the Central Library and went back to using the individual meters, cutting short a three-month test that cost the city $15,000. Maybe the kiosks would work for trade shows and conventions, when Century II patrons arrive at different times. And the idea to allow payment by credit and debit cards was good. But the pay stations were a disaster when 2,200 people were arriving at the same time for each Music Theatre of Wichita performance. They also complicated enforcement, because officers had to print a report from the pay stations to determine whether people had paid. The city may find the system boosted revenue, but it made for lousy customer service.

Fixing leaks faster seems like no-brainer

So the city of Wichita will start making all leaks in water mains a “top priority,” to quote a recent front-page headline in The Eagle about one aspect of the city’s new internal water conservation plan. That’s a smart step but also a head-scratcher – as to how a city that has been warning for months about Cheney Reservoir running dry by 2015 could let a water main leak of any size go unattended for up to two weeks. Residents can report water main breaks or leaks by calling 316-262-6000. Speaking of priorities, city leaders also need to identify where they’re going to find $2.1 billion over the next 30 years to repair and upgrade the water and sewer systems.

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.