By Shirley Koehn
Remarks by Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer at the August 9, 2011 meeting of the Wichita City Council referenced the discussion and testimony just prior, dealing with an agenda item scheduled for a vote (Letter of Intent to Douglas Place LLC). Mayor Brewer’s remarks were disconcerting and seemed aimed at scolding both members of the public and one council member for voicing opinions differing from the council majority.
Members of the public speaking about the issuing of a letter of intent to Douglas Place LLC raised legitimate questions as to the procedures. Logical procedure would be first the required public hearing (with published notice to allow time for public participation), followed by council vote at its next meeting. Reversal of this order lends itself to doubts by the public as to whether this was actually an open procedure. The question raised by one council member as to whether the construction contracts (building of the parking garage) should be open to bid seems a legitimate question, not one intended to malign anyone’s integrity. It was also noted that the developer in question made a $500 contribution to each council member’s last campaign, except to the council member speaking (who is usually the dissenting voice on public private partnerships). The campaign contribution relation to the frequency of the developer’s seeking public subsidies is probably a factor any good investigative reporter or member of the public might question. In the interest of transparency, relevant contribution(s) should accompany public documents coming before the council. (It is a common for such statements regarding financial interest, ownership, etc to be made in the interest of transparency). Judging by the mayor’s remarks, it appears that once elected, each council member is to forget his core values and acquiesce to the majority of the council.
It is the responsibility of council members to protect public interests, not to protect interests of a select group. I think Mayor Brewer is confusing legitimate public inquiry with attacking the Mayor and members of the council. Have we reached the point where a council member cannot question the majority or when a member of the public cannot challenge the procedures and conclusions of the council?
I have spoken several times before the council. The first time, I received what might be called a reprimand for essentially being uninformed. The comment from Mayor Brewer was to the effect that the mayor and council were elected to do the city’s business and they know best. Since that time I have seen the same sentiment voiced to newcomers.
In spite of this, I and others continue to make our voices heard. We work hard to research, to operate on as much fact as we can find and be respectful of the positions the Mayor and Council members hold. At the same time, I believe members of the public, from various socioeconomic levels deserve to be heard, with respect, by the mayor and council.
“A major source of objection to a free economy is precisely that … it gives people what they want instead of what a particular group thinks they ought to want. Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.” — Milton Friedman