Wichita Eagle reporting from yesterday (Past client: Developer admitted embezzling) provides more evidence of the need for improved procedures and greater accountability at Wichita city hall. In this story, investigative journalist Dion Lefler reports that Grant Gaudreau admitted stealing money from a business partner. This comes to light just after the City of Wichita nearly became a business partner with Gaudreau.
Past articles on this website and in the Wichita Eagle (Wichita’s Faulty Due Diligence, Sharon Fearey Doesn’t Appreciate the Wichita Eagle, Wichita TIF Developer’s Ownership Restructuring not Very Reassuring, and Wichita City Council: Put Better Procedures in Place Before Proceeding) document the specifics. But a few new developments and questions have arisen.
First, it’s been reported that Gaudreau has a warrant for failure to pay $12,332 in income tax. I asked Wichita police chief Norman Williams if Gaudreau was subject to arrest because of this warrant. He said yes, he is.
Second, it’s unclear whether Joe Kramer and Len Marotte of the real estate firm Joel LLC were aware of the entire scope of Gaudreau’s problems when they teamed with him to develop the Renaissance Square project. It’s clear, however, that they knew a lot. Their business judgment must be questioned.
Mayor Carl Brewer asked city staff to develop new procedures for vetting potential partners. The problem is that city hall is occupied with some transitions. A new city manager will start work in just about a month. The assistant city manager (now the interim manager) has been looking elsewhere for jobs, and given the mayor’s public treatment of him, I think he’s smart to do so. Three council seats are up for election in the March primary. The city botched a public hearing, but calls it “leadership.”
My recommendation is that the City of Wichita stop participating in public/private partnerships. Instead, work on improving the business climate for everyone, across the entire city. But when the city considers partnering with someone, I recommend that the city hire an outside firm to conduct an independent investigation of potential partners. This is how we can have confidence in the procedures the city is developing.