Remarks to be delivered to the February 3, 2009 meeting of the Wichita city council.
When considering the sale of city-owned land, the city has an obligation to get the best deal possible for the actual owners of the land, which are the citizens of Wichita.
But it seems, according to the agenda report, that the city has already decided on a single buyer for this land, the YMCA. With only one buyer and a seller whose leader has stated that it is “seeking a partnership” with that buyer, citizens are entitled to wonder if their interests will be protected. Citizens should ask if these negotiations are going to be at arm’s length.
(A side question: What does a partnership with the YMCA mean? Is the city planning to do something else besides selling it the land?)
So how can Wichitans be sure that the city strikes a good bargain for its citizens?
Today’s Wichita Eagle editorial is titled “Ask questions about YMCA proposal.” The problem is that we don’t know what questions to ask. We citizens need some help with this.
Mr. Mayor, at your State of the City address last week you said: “This City Council wants to keep building public trust in government.” You also mentioned a desire for greater transparency. This is a great opportunity to start on that path. I can think of a few ways right now.
One way the city can help achieve greater transparency is to release the terms of the offers received last year.
A second way is to conduct the negotiations with the YMCA in the open. Invite news media and citizens to observe. Let citizens ask questions. Release draft agreements before they’re finalized. Televise this on channel 7. Since there is only one buyer, there is no need to keep negotiations secret. There’s no other buyer that could gain from the learning details, as there could be if there were multiple buyers.
Measures like these will let citizens and news media ask the right questions as the negotiations proceed. Otherwise, the deal will be struck, and then it’s too late for questions.
The Mayor and the council don’t know what questions to ask either. Duh.
According to the Kansas Open Meeting Act it is a violation of the law to discuss in private executive sessions the sale of City property KSA 75-4318, 3.f-1 and AG Opn. 87-91.
The City of Wichita violates this law often, consequently, it is not unusual for the elected officials and the staff to make the deals outside of the law to benefit their friends. Past efforts to tape the executive sessions have been denied and unless an insider reports these incidents to the DA nothing is ever going to happen to change what goes on.