A local non-profit organization, held in high esteem, seeks to purchase property owned by the City of Wichita. So what’s the problem?
During his State of the City address for 2009, Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer revealed his plan for a partnership between the city and the YMCA. So far this partnership has revealed itself in the city’s plan to sell some city-owned land at First and Waco Streets to the YMCA.
The problem is that Longwell is a member of the advisory board for the northwest branch YMCA. This is possibly a conflict of interest. It certainly is the appearance of a conflict of interest, and for that reason, Longwell should step away from the negotiations.
At the same time, the YMCA should request that Longwell be replaced with another council member.
I’m not accusing the YMCA of any wrongdoing.
I’m also not accusing council member Longwell of any wrongdoing.
But I’ve talked to several elected officials and many citizens about this, and only one has thought there wasn’t a problem with this arrangement.
This is especially confounding to me in that I’m sure there is probably no actual conflict of interest — at least as these things go — but its appearance is beyond doubt in the minds of most citizens.
A representative of the YMCA told me that the board Longwell serves on is an advisory board with no decision-making authority.
I asked Longwell if he could understand how people might think there is a conflict of interest, and he said he could appreciate that position. He added that’s why there is more than one city council member representing the city, and, of course, it takes four votes on the council to take any action.
Furthermore, he told me that he was out of town and missed a meeting, so he hasn’t been present at the negotiations.
I’ve talked with several people who have reminded me of the good things the YMCA does for Wichita and the surrounding area.
So why can’t the YMCA and the city conduct these negotiations in a way that eliminates even the slightest whiff of any appearance of a conflict of interest?
People are wondering, especially when it is likely that the land will be sold for much less than what some believe it to be worth.