Wichita city hall again places a controversial matter on the consent agenda, where it might pass without notice.
Should the City of Wichita lease part of a new park to a private entity for its exclusive use? That’s what the Wichita City Council will consider this week. But there are issues apart from the lease itself.
The subject of the item this week is Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita. The new building on the east side of the park has ground floor retail space, including a restaurant. To have an outdoor patio area in which alcohol is served, the restaurant’s patio must be fenced in. Furthermore, the proposed patio sits on park land, which requires execution of a lease.
The problem is that plans for the fenced patio were not known by the mayor, the city council, or the public until last week when the city council agenda for its September 10, 2019 meeting was released.
Not only that, the item was placed on the consent agenda. That’s a section of the meeting where a number of agenda items are considered and voted on in bulk without discussion, unless a council member asks to “pull” an item. The consent agenda usually holds non-controversial items.
But the redesign of Naftzger Park has been controversial. There was much community discussion about the design, and not everyone was happy. The park and the surrounding development have received millions in taxpayer subsidy, which adds to the controversy.
So it’s surprising that anything involving this park would be handled on a consent agenda. But in February the council considered an error in the park design, correction of which cost $115,000. That was passed on the consent agenda with no discussion.
Now, another matter regarding Naftzger Park was placed on the consent agenda, and it is definitely controversial, as is any plan to lease city park land to private interests. Credit to Wichita City Council Member Bryan Frye (district 5, west and northwest Wichita) for objecting to the consent agenda placement, according to Wichita Eagle reporting.
The city has had other trouble with its consent agenda. This summer the lease of airport land to a hotel developer was placed on the consent agenda. The lease was found to have errors and the matter was delayed twice.
According to the minutes of the July 16 council meeting, Mayor Longwell referenced “a mistake made by staff to put this on consent agenda without the knowledge of any Council Member.”
On the same matter, the Wichita Eagle reported: “‘We really don’t like, in this case, last-second changes that are brought to us,’ Longwell said. ‘And it’s not fair to the community to have last-second changes presented to the council and then ask us to vote on it.’” A few days later the newspaper reported, “On Friday, Longwell said he plans to ask the council to change its policies so “every negotiated agreement goes on a regular agenda, not consent.”
Someone didn’t get the message, it seems.
Should the city lease part of Naftzger Park for exclusive private use? That’s an issue worthy of discussion. But two things are certain:
Any lease should have been part of the original discussion on the redesign of Naftzger Park two years ago.
And, stuff like this shouldn’t be on the consent agenda.