Wednesday, July 28

Will voters hold the Wichita city council accountable?

By John Todd. A version of this appeared in the Wichita Eagle.

Now that the “Minnesota Guys” are facing felony charges for fraud related to downtown redevelopment, will the Wichita City Council members who were involved also be held accountable?

I read the February 23 Eagle article, “Kansas securities officials files suit against Minnesota developers” with great interest. I remember Michael Elzufon and David Lundberg speaking at a Wichita Independent Business Association luncheon in 2004. They boasted that they purchased their first building in downtown Wichita for $0.89 cents per square foot and that after rehabilitation costs they were selling the same space for $200.00 per square foot. 

Like many in the crowd, I was pleased to see a privately-driven market-based solution to downtown redevelopment and thanked the Minnesota Guys for the economic uplift. I asked, “Will you be tapping into the Wichita public treasury asking for taxpayer incentive programs to make these projects work?” Their answer was an emphatic “No!” 

It didn’t take long for the City of Wichita’s economic development staff to begin working on millions of dollars in incentive programs for the Minnesota Guys that a majority of our City Council members and the Mayor approved.

Citizens who questioned the incentives before the City Council were put in our place and told that we did not understand the need for public incentives for downtown redevelopment to occur, and were often labeled in newspaper editorials as the usual “anti-tax” group opposed to progress.

Will any of our elected city officials who were responsible for checking the credibility of the Minnesota Guys be held publicly accountable for their role in promoting their lavish projects through generous public incentive programs?

It will be interesting to see if Wichita voters have better memory than those who are supposed to safeguard the public trust and whether they will re-elect the City Council members who were in office during this time period or vote them out of office in the April 7 municipal election. 

John Todd