Despite a policy change, the Wichita city council still votes for no-bid contracts paid for with taxpayer funds.
In the current campaign for Wichita mayor, one candidates says he never has voted for no-bid contracts: “[Longwell] also takes issue with the claim he has ever voted for any no-bid contract, something he says his voting record will back up. ‘That’s the beauty of having a voting record,’ he says.” Mayoral candidate Williams decries ‘crony capitalism’ of critics, Wichita Business Journal, March 12, 2015
We don’t have to look very hard to find an example that contradicts Longwell’s claim of never voting for a no-bid contract. Minutes from the August 9, 2011 meeting of the city council show that there was discussion about the no-bid contract for the garage benefiting the Ambassador Hotel. Then-council member Michael O’Donnell questioned if the city was getting the best deal for taxpayers, since the garage was to be built with public funds. O’Donnell was told that the no-bid contract was at “the developer’s request.” These developers include principals and executives of Key Construction and Dave Burk, all who have been generous and consistent funders of Longwell’s campaigns.
But we don’t have to go back that far to find voting for no-bid contracts paid for with taxpayer funds. Longwell has voted several times in favor of the Exchange Place project, starting when it was a project of the Minnesota Guys. The latest such vote was on March 3, 2015, when Longwell voted in favor of a project that contained this benefit, according to city documents: “The City will also provide TIF funding in an amount not to exceed $12,500,000 for the acquisition of land and construction of the parking structure.”
This garage, to be paid for through public funds, was not competitively bid. Despite the garage being pitched as a public good, most parking spaces are for the exclusive benefit of Exchange Place.
Impetus for change
The votes by Longwell and others for no-bid contracts sparked the city manager to ask for a change in policy. The Wichita Eagle reported in 2012:
The days of awarding construction projects without taking competitive bids might be numbered at City Hall if City Manager Robert Layton has his way, especially with public projects such as parking garages that are part of private commercial development.
Layton said last week that he intends to ask the City Council for a policy change against those no-bid contracts.
Three years later, Longwell and others are still voting to spend taxpayer funds on no-bid contracts.
Minutes from August 8, 2011 meeting
Council Member O’Donnell stated and we will not being going out to bid to find the best
deal on that and are just awarding.
Allen Bell Urban Development Director stated that is the developer’s request. Council Member O’Donnell asked if that is City precedent and that with a government project in the tune of $6 million dollars, does not have to be sent out for bid?
Gary Rebenstorf Director of Law stated we have Charter Ordinance No. 203 that has been adopted by the City Council, which provides a procedure to exempt these types of projects from the bidding requirements from the City and has to meet certain requirements in order for it to be used by the Council. Stated the most significant is that there has to be a public hearing and has to be a 2/3 vote by the Council to approve this development agreement that sets up this type of project.
Council Member O’Donnell stated he is glad the media is here to pick up on that because he thinks that $6 million dollars is a lot of money and to just award that to a contractor that has special ties to campaign finance reports of everyone on the City Council except himself, seems questionable.
The city council must believe that the public is as intellectually limited as the council is if they think that the voters in Wichita will not recall the “bait and switch,” when the city moves back to “no bid” crony-friendly contracts at city hall.
This is another reason to move these low turnout city elections to November.
Perhaps the local news media would give these elections the attention that is given to state and federal elections. Of course, I don’t remember any “fact checks” for liberals and Democrats (I repeat myself but there are also a number of liberal “moderates” in the GOP too) in 2014’s election news coverage.