A forum on water issues featured a presentation by Wichita city officials and was attended by other city officials, but the city missed a learning opportunity.
This week Kansas Policy Institute held an educational form on the issues of water in the Wichita area. The event featured four presentations with questions and answers, with most being about one hour in length.
This was a welcome and important event, as the city is proposing to spend several hundred million dollars on an increased water supply. It is likely that citizens will be asked to approve a sales tax to pay this cost. It’s important that we get this right, and citizen skepticism is justified. The city has recently spent $247 million on a water project that hasn’t yet proved its value over a reasonably long trial. A former mayor has told audiences that he was assured Wichita had adequate water for the next 50 years. It was eleven years ago he was told that. Wichita’s current mayor has admitted that the city has not spent what was needed to maintain our current infrastructure, instead pushing those costs to the future.
Most of the information that Wichitans have access to is provided by city government. So when an independent group produces an educational event on an important topic, citizens might hope that Wichita city officials take part.
And, Wichita city officials did take part. The second of the four presentations was delivered by Wichita public works director Alan King and council member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita). City governmental affairs director Dale Goter and council member Lavonta Williams were in the audience.
But after this presentation ended, the four city officials left.
What did they miss? They missed two additional presentations, or half the program. The city officials did not hear a presentation by Dr. Art Hall of Kansas University which presented novel ideas of using markets for water resources. Particularly, how Wichita could secure increased water supply by purchasing water rights and using the infrastructure it already has in place.
In the final presentation, the audience asked questions that the presenter was not able to answer. City officials like public works director King would have been able to provide the answers.
I understand that city council members are part-time employees paid a part-time salary. Some have outside jobs or businesses to run. But that’s not the case with the city’s public works director or its governmental affairs director.
Come to think of it, where was the city manager? Assistant city manager? Other council members? The city’s economic development staff?
Where was Mayor Carl Brewer?
If you’ve attended a city council meeting, you may have to sit through up to an hour of the mayor issuing proclamations and service awards before actual business starts. Fleets of city bureaucrats are in the audience during this time.
But none of these would spend just one hour listening to a presentation by a university professor that might hold a solution to our water supply issue.
I understand that city officials might not be the biggest fans of Kansas Policy Institute. It supports free markets and limited government.
But city officials tell us that they want to hear from citizens. The city has gone to great lengths to collect input from citizens, implementing a website and holding numerous meetings.
About 70 people attended the KPI forum. Citizens were interested in what the speakers had to say. They sat politely through the presentation by the two city officials, even though I’m sure many in the audience were already familiar with the recycled slides they’d seen before.
But it appears that Wichita city officials were not interested in alternatives that weren’t developed by city hall. They can’t even pretend to be interested.