Government transparency

Wichita needs transparency from its agencies

Wichita needs transparency from its agencies

When the Wichita city council delegates spending to outside agencies such as Visit Wichita, it should insist on the same transparency requirements the city itself faces. The Kansas Open Records Act is designed to give citizens access to data concerning their government. In the words of the Kansas Attorney General, "An open and transparent government is essential to the democratic process." The preamble to the Kansas act states, "It is declared to be the public policy of the state that public records shall be open for inspection by any person unless otherwise provided by this act, and this act shall…
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Missing from Wichita city documents: Sales tax

Missing from Wichita city documents: Sales tax

It would be simple for the City of Wichita to include additional relevant information regarding economic development incentive decisions. When the Wichita City Council makes decisions regarding economic development incentives, the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University prepares an analysis for the city. The purpose of the analysis is to determine benefit-cost ratios for overlapping governmental jurisdictions, purporting to show that these jurisdictions will receive more in benefits than they pay in costs. An example of the analysis for a large project is here. The city does not make this analysis document available to the…
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Wichita should post fulfilled records requests

Wichita should post fulfilled records requests

When the City of Wichita fulfills records requests, it should make those records available to everyone. When governmental agencies like the City of Wichita fulfill records requests, they could also publish the records on their websites. When records are supplied electronically to requestors, this is an additional simple (and low cost) step that would leverage the city’s effort and increase its value. Some federal agencies do this. For example at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website, there is a page titled FOIA Library. An example entry on this page is titled "Executive Orders on Travel Records." The explanation for…
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Wichita legal notices an easy start on the path to transparency

Wichita legal notices an easy start on the path to transparency

Kansas law requires publication of certain notices in newspapers, but cities like Wichita could also make them available in other ways that are easier to use. As Wichita's new mayor takes office, there are a few things the city could do to increase the availability and distribution of government information. An easy project to accomplish would be placing legal notices on the city's web page. Kansas law requires that many legal notices must be printed in a newspaper. That law needs to be changed. Newspapers resist this reform, as it might mean a loss of revenue for them. (That's right.…
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Wichita water plant contract

Wichita water plant contract

Wichita should consider discarding the water plant contract in order to salvage its reputation and respect for process. This week the Wichita City Council will consider approving a contract with Wichita Water Partners to build a new water treatment plant. It's a controversial matter that likely played a significant role in the recent mayoral election. Wichita Eagle reporting by Chance Swaim in the story Wichita’s mayor steered multi-million-dollar water plant contract to friends traces through the issues. The most important thing is that the city receives a reliable water plant that meets its needs. Currently, the city operates a plant…
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Wichita consent agenda reform proposed

Wichita consent agenda reform proposed

The Wichita city council will consider reforms to the consent agenda. Next week the Wichita City Council will consider changes to the form of city council meetings, specifically the consent agenda. [1. Wichita City Council agenda packet for November 19, 2019, item V-2.] A consent agenda is a group of items -- perhaps as many as two dozen or so -- that are voted on in bulk with a single vote. If the consent agenda is passed, each individual item on the consent agenda is also considered as passed. An item on a consent agenda will be discussed only if…
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For Wichita, another agenda surprise

For Wichita, another agenda surprise

Wichita city hall again places a controversial matter on the consent agenda, where it might pass without notice. Should the City of Wichita lease part of a new park to a private entity for its exclusive use? That's what the Wichita City Council will consider this week. But there are issues apart from the lease itself. The subject of the item this week is Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita. The new building on the east side of the park has ground floor retail space, including a restaurant. To have an outdoor patio area in which alcohol is served, the restaurant's…
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Wichita checkbook updated

Wichita checkbook updated

Wichita spending data presented as a summary, and as a list. As part of an ongoing transparency project, I asked the City of Wichita for check register data. I’ve made the data available in a visualization using Tableau Public. This visualization is updated with data through August 13, 2019. Of note, the city does not make this data available on its website. To learn more about this data and use the visualization, click here.
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Wichita airport hotel ownership unclear

Wichita airport hotel ownership unclear

The Wichita City Council plans to use the consent agenda to vote on an item containing confusing language. For the Tuesday June 25, 2019 meeting of the Wichita City Council meeting, item No. II-17 concerns the city leasing land to a company wanting to build and operate a new hotel near the airport. [1. Wichita city council final agenda packet for June 25, 2019. Available at https://wichita.gov/Council/Agendas/06-25-2019%20Final%20Council%20Packet.pdf.] The agenda packet holds this language: "Upon execution of the lease, WEH will provide a $2 million good faith security deposit in escrow with the Airport to ensure timely construction of the hotel.…
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In Wichita, respecting the people’s right to know

In Wichita, respecting the people’s right to know

The City of Wichita says it values open and transparent government. But the city's record in providing information and records to citizens is poor, and there hasn't been much improvement. The City of Wichita is proud to be an open and transparent governmental agency, its officials say. Former Mayor Carl Brewer often spoke in favor of government transparency. [1. For example, in his State of the City address for 2011, Brewer listed as an important goal for the city this: "And we must provide transparency in all that we do." See https://drive.google.com/open?id=1xgx96BEXALDEgLBRcQdz2Kg0_W5x3e2J.] When the city received an award for transparency…
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