As part of Wichita’s downtown revitalization effort, city leaders decided to hire a planning firm. Four firms have been selected as finalists, and a committee is in the process of evaluating their proposals.
Whether or not you think this planning process is wise — and I happen to think it is not — it seems to be the will of the city and the special interest groups that will benefit from this type of central planning. So, it seems, we might as well make the best of it. This would include selecting a planning firm that seems most likely to respect property rights, specifically: (a) rejecting the use of eminent domain to seize property, (b) respecting existing zoning and land use rights, and (c) rejecting the use of TIF districts and other forms of public subsidy. These are the things that I learned are important from my trip to Anaheim’s Platinum Triangle, if a city wants to plan in a freedom-friendly way.
On September 22 and 23, the planning firms will be making presentations to the public. I thought it would be great for citizens to be able to read the proposals so that they would be able to ask intelligent questions at these presentations. Unfortunately, the city won’t let citizens read these proposals, and citizens will not be permitted to ask questions at the presentations.
The City of Wichita, according to Scott Knebel (Principal Planner, Advanced Plans Division, Wichita-Sedgwick County Metropolitan Area Planning Department), doesn’t consider the proposals to be open records under the Kansas Open Records Act. He wrote that in response to my informal request to view the proposal documents. I’ve now made a formal request to the city, and if the city denies access to the records, it will have to cite the provision in the Kansas Open Records Act on which it is relying.
Earlier I said that citizens can’t read these proposals, but that’s not entirely true. If you’re a member of a select committee, you can have them. Government shouldn’t be allowed to pick and choose which select citizens are allowed to see how their tax dollars are to be used, and all citizens have a right to know if government intends to take their property.
The fact that the city doesn’t want to let citizens — except those in a limited circle of downtown boosters — view these proposals and participate in the planning firm selection process is disturbing. It follows a pattern of stacking committees with people friendly to the desired goal, with no desire for dissent to be heard.