He had an opportunity to learn the true history of Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita. But Mayor Jeff Longwell didn’t learn, or maybe he doesn’t care.
“Actually what we found out is when our city fathers put in that park years ago they put the park in on private development land and so the development’s actually not on Naftzger Park. Naftzger Park used to be planted on private development land and so they had to change the boundaries of the park.”
The mayor blamed past city administrations for not being to read a survey. (Click here to view the video starting with this question.)
Chase M. Billingham, who is assistant professor of sociology at Wichita State University, has researched the history of this part of downtown. 1 He submitted a piece to the Wichita Eagle shortly after that episode of Call the Mayor aired. He wrote:
This claim — that the public park was erroneously built on privately owned land — has been one of the most common arguments offered by city officials in favor of their strategy to bulldoze Naftzger Park and rebuild it on a new footprint. This argument has been voiced repeatedly by elected officials and city staff during City Council meetings and public hearings. As the developers of the Spaghetti Works property have begun to build a new mixed-use development there, the city has maintained that it must fix that previous error and restore the developers’ property rights by relinquishing Naftzger Park’s eastern edge.
The claim that Naftzger Park was built on private land is wrong, however, and it epitomizes the disregard for history and due diligence that has characterized much of the city’s disjointed effort to overhaul this key public downtown space.
Billingham then explained the documented history of land ownership in the area, with the upshot being this: “As a result, small areas on the eastern edge of the park did, indeed, sit on privately owned land. But it was not because the park was built on private land; instead, it was because Wichita sold parts of its own public park to private owners for far less than it had paid for the land just a few years earlier.” (emphasis added)
Concluding, he wrote:
When city officials argue that destroying and rebuilding Naftzger Park was necessary, in part, because their predecessors mistakenly built the public park on private land, they are not being truthful. Among other questions surrounding the demolition of that important public space, then, Wichitans deserve to know why their leaders were so eager to relinquish the public access to this land that they had been entitled to for decades.
Why is this incident from March relevant today, two months later? Because on the May 30, 2019 edition of the monthly show Call the Mayor, Longwell repeated the same falsehood.
I’m reluctant to call someone a liar, as a lie means “a false statement deliberately presented as being true” or “something meant to deceive.” But as Billingham wrote, Wichita city officials, including Longwell, are not telling the truth.
Mayor Longwell, along with other Wichita city officials, had an opportunity to learn the truth in both the online and print editions of the largest newspaper in Kansas. If they did not agree with Billingham’s research and conclusion, there are many ways to have a public dialog on the matter. For example, the city has a popular website and social media presences, with the city’s Facebook page being liked by 27,230 people. 2 The city has a communications staff, including a strategic communications director, marketing services director, assistant director of strategic communications, and communications and special events manager. 3 There is a city manager, assistant city manager, six city council members, and a fleet of bureaucrats.
Don’t any of these people care about the truth? Don’t they want to help the mayor of the city present accurate and truthful information?
- Billingham is also the author of a fascinating history of the area, but it was published in an academic journal that is not freely available online. See Billingham, C. M. (2017) “Waiting for Bobos: Displacement and Impeded Gentrification in a Midwestern City”, City & Community, 16(2), pp. 145–168. doi: 10.1111/cico.12235. ↩
- Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/cityofwichita/, observed on May 31, 2019. ↩
- City of Wichita. Meet the Communications Team. Available at https://www.wichita.gov/News/Pages/Team.aspx. ↩