In 2000, a bridge was built by the City of Wichita near Mark Gietzen’s house. Vibration from the construction process damaged Gietzen’s house. Nearly ten years later, Gietzen has not been compensated for damages.
It’s not that Gietzen hasn’t tried to receive payment for his damages. The mayor of Wichita at the time assured Gietzen that he would be compensated. There’s been a number of lawsuits. But so far, that hasn’t happened.
Besides Gietzen’s house, there are three other houses that are damaged, according to Gietzen. Two houses are owned by Vietnamese immigrants who don’t speak English. They’ve not been compensated for their damage, either.
Some of the evidence of wrong-doing is striking. For example, the company performed a soil test on Gietzen’s property. The soil they took to test, however, was topsoil that had been placed there during landscaping.
Gietzen has an estimate of $96,000 for repairs. Besides that, he’s been harmed in other ways. He hasn’t been able to refinance his mortgage to a lower interest rate. If he had wanted to sell his house, there would have been problems.
Gietzen believes that when the city treats citizens as he’s been treated, it’s bad for the city’s image. He also believes that his political activism — he’s a noted pro-life activist, very dedicated to his cause — is hurting his case.
When Gietzen brought this issue to the attention of the council at the November 3, 2009 meeting, former Wichita Mayor Bob Knight spoke on behalf of Gietzen. (Knight was mayor at the time of the incident. Most of his testimony that day is available below.) Summarizing the case, Knight said: “His house has been severely damaged by a public works project of this city that I love, and to cast Mr. Gietzen, with his resources, against government, against a large corporation … I happen to think Mr. Gietzen has been caught in a catch-22. I have confidence enough of this council, and manager Layton, and Gary Rebenstorf to figure out a solution to this, and to hold him harmless. He should be held harmless.”
Knight also said that Dondlinger’s legal counsel may be doing what’s legally correct, but there’s more at stake than that. It’s the credibility of our city, he said.
At the November 3 meeting, Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, with support from several council members, asked Wichita city manager Bob Layton to look into this matter. On Saturday, Gietzen received the city’s response, which is to deny liability for damage.
Gietzen will bring this issue before the council at its meeting tomorrow.
Gietzen and the other homeowners that suffered damage should be compensated for their damage. The fact that the other homeowners are immigrants who don’t speak English is a new factor in this case. Hopefully they will be able to seek redress for their damages, too.
Mayor Knight is absolutely correct in his assessment of this case. For the City of Wichita to hide behind contracts that shield it from liability is unconscionable. If Dondlinger (or its insurer) won’t take responsibility for its action, it seems that the city needs to revise its contract, or find a responsible contractor.
The fact that Gietzen’s politics may play a role in this is troubling, too. The original Wichita Eagle story reporting on the November 3 city council meeting carried a headline that referenced his anti-abortion activism. I don’t imagine that Mayor Brewer is a fan of Gietzen’s politics and his activism. That, however, should play no role in the settlement of this case.