Williams — King — Minnesota Guys connection raises concern

There’s a triangle of influence and connections that should raise flags of caution as voters decide the makeup of the Wichita city council.

At the center is Beth King, a Wichita public relations executive. She’s well known in city hall, having managed the mayoral campaign of Carl Brewer in 2007. She’s said to be a close advisor to him. Her name is so familiar that when her emails are forwarded among department heads in city hall, she’s referred to as simply “Beth.” No last name is necessary.

The connection that voters should be aware of is this: King is the campaign manager for Lavonta Williams, who is seeking election to the district 1 council seat she holds after being appointed to fill the remainder of Brewer’s term after he was elected mayor.

King is also the public relations consultant for Real Development. This firm — best known for its principals the “Minnesota Guys” — is a beneficiary of Wichita taxpayer dollars in the form of TIF districts and facade improvement loans paid back by special tax assessments.

Lavonta Williams voted for each of the programs the Minnesota Guys wanted. Enthusiastically.

The Minnesota Guys will be asking for more TIF financing, according to Wichita Eagle reporting.

Lavonta Williams, should she be elected to a new term on the council, will be voting on whether to give the Minnesota Guys access to more Wichita taxpayer funds.

Who will advise Williams how to vote? Beth King, her campaign manager, with financial ties to the Minnesota Guys?

It’s a relationship too close for taxpayer comfort.

14 Comments

  • The simple solution to this potential conflict is for voters to elect James Barfield to the city council on April 7th.

  • Beth King also represented SMG on the Arena. Ms. King is financially benefiting from her association with Mayor Brewer and cashing in her chips. Ms Williams’ election will increase her grip on City hall.

  • Sorry JT, James Barfield is an idiot. I wouldn’t vote for him for dog-catcher.

  • BTW, Bob, it’s curious you don’t point out the developers that are supporting Barfed, such as Steve Clark, David Harder, and Nester Weigand. And, having Leffew as treasurer and Bannon on the donation list isn’t exactly a vote of confidence either.

  • Bob Weeks -

    Pat, to the best of my knowledge, developers like Clark and Weigand aren’t asking city hall for subsidy.

  • Well, Bob, it’s not like they haven’t in the past. Furthermore, Steve Barrett and Mike Loveland are beneficiaries of TIF and are commerical realtors with Weigand. As you know, TIF is not a subsidy, it is an incentive. The problem with TIF in the City of Wichita has not been the appropriateness or the times when it has been used, but the implementation. That’s not the developer’s fault, that is city staff’s fault because they’re not smart enough to structure the deal the way it needs to be structured. Anyway, it is disingenious to suggest that our elected officials are corrupt simply because of a relationship that they have with developers and their agents. I appreciate your blog and the forum and service that it provides. However, you should accept some responsbility and integrity to comment fully and accurately on issues instead of just ill-informed hyperbole and innuendo.

  • Bob Weeks -

    Pat, thank you for reminding me about those two, Loveland and Barrett.

    I must disagree with your characterization of TIF as only an incentive. When, for example, a developer says he’s $2.5 million short of what he needs for a project, and after the TIF district is created he has what he needs — what else could you call it?

    TIF districts let developers use their own property taxes to pay for what other developers pay for themselves. It’s an exclusive privilege given to them.

    Please do not again tell me what I know, especially when your explanation is incorrect.

    Then, would you show me where I allege corruption? You’re the first to use that word.

  • Sorry Bob, your explanation is incorrect. Again, you leave out much explanation. Especially on TIF and its use and intent. Perhaps, it’s because you’re attempting to provide a simple answer on a complicated issue that requires in-depth explanation.

    TIF is an incentive, it IS NOT a subsidy. If the development community viewed a project, i.e. Kenmar, as a viable option without TIF, they would do so. However, they do not or the center would have been redeveloped without the incentive. How do we know this? Because the center became blighted. Property values started dropping, tenant lease rates start dropping, the quality of tenant declines, etc.

    The question then, is this a gradual decline good for the community? The answer is no. The free market, i.e. the developers, obviously want to invest their dollars where there is less cost and less risk. Example, say a real estate developer has an opportunity to invest $1M in a new project. Choices are go to 21st and Webb or 13th & Grove. Assuming all other things such as land value, infrastructure, etc., which site is better and offers less risk? Definitely 21st and Webb. Higher demographics, greater disposable income translate into less risk and higher rate of return on investment. The fact of the matter is that redevelopment in older areas of the community inherently are more risky.

    Blight is not good for the community because it cause greater social diseases and contributes less to the economy of the community. Blight is not good because the private sector rarely makes further investment in these areas and they slowly deteriorate in death spiral. There are countless case studies showing this condition all across America.

    Legislation enabling TIF was passed by a Republican legislature and signed into law by a Republican governor. At least someone had some common sense.

    As to your last question……….

    From a Google word search for corrupt, “corruptness: lack of integrity or honesty (especially susceptibility to bribery)”

    From another Google word search for innuendo, “insinuation: an indirect (and usually malicious) implication”

    Bob Weeks – “Who will advise Williams how to vote? Beth King, her campaign manager, with financial ties to the Minnesota Guys?

    It’s a relationship too close for taxpayer comfort. ”

    Methinks it’s pretty self explanatory.

  • Pat, you need to take medicine for your mental condition. You are not very tolerant when you call candidates to the City Council “idiots” when we already have some in the City Council that you probably supported. We have developers in Wichita that manipulate the system including elected officials so don’t blame it on the City staff. The last time that I checked Bob Weeks does do his homework.

  • Bob Weeks -

    Pat, I think you’ve made the case that there is actual corruption. I didn’t go that far myself.

    By the way, if TIF districts are good for the community as a whole, how could it be corrupt to vote for them?

    Or, if they’re good for the public interest, I wonder why TIF applicants like the Hardings make the maximum contribution to their city council member right before their application goes before the council? Can you answer that, Pat?

    Finally, Pat, the fact that TIF is sometimes used in blighted neighborhoods doesn’t mean it’s not a subsidy.

    In fact, we should stop using the word subsidy, and use the word gift. That’s what it is.

    “Build a shopping center here, and will give back to you your (increase in) property taxes.”

    That’s how TIF districts work, and that’s why they’re a gift.

  • wichitator -

    Pat is trying to defend some interesting positions that need a closer examination. Pat defends TIFs using the common “blight,” argument but like the advocates for TIFs often do, does not or cannot define it, except when the politically selected developer sees it.

    Pat provided a number of definitions in Pat’s last post, but did not define “blight.” Pat should not be concerned about problem, since the legislature and other public bodies have also struggled with these definitions.

    The recent Wichita debacle with the downtown TIF involving Grant Goudreau (sp?) was egregious enough that even the Wichita Eagle covered it in their reporting. This should make all TIF advocates a reason to reconsider their position. The city gives a TIF to stheir preferred developer who was without funds.

    If TIFs were really good, why limit them to one small area. Let’s make the entire city a TIF district. Or, why not the whole state? It is also interesting that TIFs generally cover areas that are far from the worst shape in this community.

    An even better idea would be to provide all taxpayers and not just the politically favored few (who provide plenty of donations to their favorite elected officials) with lower property taxes.

    Actually, it seems like most of downtown is already covered in TIFs and the only assumption using Pat’s position was that downtown was fully “blighted” before these numerous TIFs were put into place.

    I will accept Pat’s point that TIFs are needed to help the politically approved developers in “blighted” areas like downtown for purposes of this discussion. However, if TIFs are so successful, why should they be limited to “blighted” areas? Politically connected developers who operate with politically impunity in the areas where the political structure operates with TIFs (Chicago is big and has been for a long time in TIF use) have made it possible for any building to be “blighted”.

    I have seen John Todd provid public presentations of how the “blighted” excuse has allowed the politically favored recipients of these TIF powers to squeeze out the private property owners who have parcels the “politically authorized developers” want all over this country. Mr. Todd has quite a collection of pictures of allegedly “blighted” properties that have been condemned for the benefit of redevelopment from the politically connected developers. He has made some interesting public presentations of these photos.

    However, let me make this historical point. In Wichita the use of TIFs goes back to the Gilbert Moseley groundwater pollution district. This first TIF was several decades old. Since TIFs that allow tax funds to be used to build parking garages with tax funds have been called successful by certain candidates, that data has not been reported in the news media. The public data reported on the TIFs has been sketchy at best. TIF recipients have claimed success but only in providing the most general terms.

    What is really needed is clear and regular public reporting on TIFs that would make it clear to the citizens of this community the financial results from this special treatment and authority provided by state and local government authorization. I hope this is a point where all of the posters, regardless of their position on the current status of Wichita TIFs can agree.

  • Bob, you didn’t use the word corrupt, but you sure are the one who intimated it by suggesting that Councilwoman Williams takes her marching orders from others.

    Wichitator, finally some good discussion. Actually, as you may know, the state statutes, 12-1770, define “blight”and in doing so give a bright light as to whether or not a project is eligible. That’s also why TIFs cannot be used citywide. As you note, the problem with the CORE TIF was the implementation by not vetting the developer. As with any business partnership, we should “know” who we are getting into bed with.

    I would like to see John Todd’s presentation sometime. I do not disagree that TIF can be abused or that it may have been around the nation; however, from a local perspective, I’m not aware of any private property rights abuse.

    You make several excellent points about accountability. I would heartily agree that better financial analysis, reporting and transparency are needed. As I said in one of my earlier posts, the problem is not so much as the intent of the TIFs being approved, but the implementation.

  • Developers, and their key business associates/beneficiaries (real estate brokers, construction contractors & unions, business insurance brokers, bankers, constrution equipment leasing companies, lumber yards, and concrete/asphalt companies, etc.), OWN City Hall.

    This is nothing new, here, nor in almost any other city in America. As most urban-affairs professors can tell you, with a touch of sadness, this has been going on a long, long, very long time.

    A quick check of the various mayors and city councilmen in jail around the nation reveals that most are there for convictions of developer-related corruption. (Ditto for most county government officers, and countless legislators, a few former members of Congress and all 4 imprisoned governors. Illinois Gov. Rob Blagoevich (sp?) will likely soon join them, as a result of a gov’t sting that started with an investigation of developer-related corruption).

    A check of the occupations of Wichita city council members (and city commissioners before them) and their immediate families, shows a disturbing percentage who are either in the development industry, or have an immediate family member (spouse, parent, sibling, or child) who is.

    More directly, a check of the list of contributors to city political campaigns says more clearly than words who OWES who, and thus who OWNS who. In my own district, the sad fact is that BOTH city council candidates’ campaigns were largely (chiefly?) financed by development interests.

    And the media hardly mentioned it.

    Yet the main use of time at a city council meeting is the (often hours-long) planning agenda, where the city council reviews and approves applications from developers wanting to rip up something that affects the city, and put down something else that will affect it, often largely at massive direct or indirect expense to the people of Wichita.

    There is a simple “quid-pro-quo” (Latin for “this for that”) trade: The developers pick candidates and fund them, the candidates get elected to the council and reward the developers with “YES” votes, and the developers fund their next campaign, and the cycle goes on, and on, and on…

    Till someone gets careless while a (rare) attentive reporter or public official is present to witness the mischief, and make it a “scandal.” Then the developers retreat quietly, until the next election, when they start the process again, with someone new.

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