Thursday, June 28, 2007

Colorful brick pulled from future Nomar International district

Drivers might get a bit confused if they have to drive over the colorful brick designers envisioned at the 21st and Broadway intersection, traffic engineers say. So they're ditching the bricks. Instead of the circular design seen in the image to the left, the intersection will have brick crosswalks that use three colors of brick and form pyramids. It's not clear if the pillar will remain.

Planners consider the intersection one of the gateways into the proposed Nomar International business district, which aims to revitalize 21st Street. (Learn more about the proposed district on the city's web site.) The city will likely pay about $300,000 to have two large utility poles moved and about $1.5 million to buy the right-of-way to build a larger intersection. That will include buying Sandy's Furniture.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Is the proposed animal shelter too fancy?

The city is considering building a new $6.7 million animal shelter to replace the cramped house and shelter they currently use to register, house and euthanize thousands of cats, dogs and other animals. But the discussion the city council had Tuesday got prickly when Jim Skelton questioned whether designers were adding too many amenities that drive up costs. After all, the very rough cost estimate quoted in 1999 was only $3.3 million -- less than half of the new estimate. Some of the money could be better spent on things like streets, Skelton said, particular in south Wichita. But because the building would be visible from K-96 and Hillside and the new design incorporates three leashless dog parks the public could use, Sharon Fearey said people will want a building that is at least somewhat attractive. (Click on the images above to get a larger view of the proposed layout, conceptual image and site plan.) Designers already made some cuts, though no one said what they were. And, after Tuesday's talk, they're going to look for more places to trim costs.

For years, the city's animal control officials have been working out of a house dubbed the "greenhouse" at 1024 N. Minnesota. The shelter is at 3303 N. Hillside. It was built in 1985, and Environmental Services Director Kay Johnson says the lack of space there leads to an unusually high kill rate, meaning thousands of adoptable cats and dogs are being put down shortly after the required three-day grace period. Last year, 6,300 animals were killed. "That's an unthinkably large number," Johnson said. Under the current plan, the city would pay for their building, the Kansas Humane Society would pay for a similar facility next door and the two would split the cost of excavating the land and building the roads and parking lots. The joint site would make it easier for people to find lost pets, Johnson says, and reduce the number of animals they kill. (Below are images of the existing buildings.)

Monday, June 25, 2007

In the lull of summer...

...Comes a whopper of a Sedgwick County Commission meeting.

Commissioners will grapple with decisions about more than a few contentious issues this Wednesday: the interior design of the planned downtown arena, an update on the arena's budget and cost, the future of the Wichita Arena Technical College and how and when to open proposals for a casino at the Kansas Coliseum.

They will also consider whether the Eagle Valley Raptor Center near Cheney should be allowed to expand, a move owner Ken Lockwood's neighbors protest.

The meeting starts at 9 a.m. at the county courthouse, 3rd floor, 525 N. Main. Or you can watch it live on TV on KPTS Channel 8 or check it out at

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Lavonta Williams asks Democratic legislators for help

Locked in a 3-3 vote with Treatha Brown-Foster, Lavonta Williams, an independent, is asking some of the most prominent Democrats in her district to encourage Council members to change their votes, according to an e-mail she sent last week. On the list were Sen. Donald Betts, Rep. Melody McCray-Miller and Rep. Oletha Faust-Goudeau.

"Presently there is a 3/3 vote and I need one more vote and need to make sure I maintain the 3 that I have," she wrote. "I would be a hard worker for my community, I listen and work well with people, and my word is my bond. Anything you could do would be greatly appreciated. We especially need Sue Schlapp or Paul Gray."

Council members will resume voting at the end of their Tuesday meeting and continue until they choose a candidate. It takes four votes to win. Council member Jeff Longwell, a Republican who is a Pachyderm member, like Brown-Foster, seemed to be the most likely tie-breaker. But he has said that Williams is the best candidate for District 1 and that he's doesn't plan to change his vote. Mayor Carl Brewer, who appointed both candidates to the District Advisory Board when he held the District 1 seat, voted for Williams. He has said he maintains an open mind on the candidates and that information continues to pour in. However, Williams appeared in one of Brewer's campaign ads on TV and it seems he may be returning that support now. Even some of the most connected folks in City Hall say the outcome on Tuesday is anyone's guess. But, unless they change their rules, which sometimes happens, they'll continue voting until someone wins.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Council agenda: District 1, repealing gun laws, paying DETAMC, Inc.

Who will switch their vote for a new District 1 Council member? Will an $80,000 check really be the end of the DETAMC, Inc. discrimination case? Will anyone bother commenting on the repeal of local conceal carry laws that the state overruled this year?

It's all up for grabs at 9 a.m. Tuesday when the City Council meets.

Voting to break the 3-3 deadlock between Treatha Brown-Foster and Lavonta Williams will be one of the last items council members consider. Their rules require them to vote until someone is chosen. But, to do that, someone will have to switch their vote and explain why they changed their mind after voting 20 times in a row for the same candidate last Tuesday. Or, members could cast votes for one of the other three candidates -- Eugene Anderson, Michael Kinard or George Rogers. But that seems unlikely. (For more on the ballots, see The Eagle's story.)

The DETAMC settlement stems from a lawsuit that was settled in March. Here's a snippet from a story by The Eagle's Christina Woods:

"The city of Wichita broke its contract with a welfare-to-work program but didn't discriminate against the owners because of race, a federal jury found Wednesday.
A jury in Kansas City, Kan., ordered the city to pay more than $50,000 to George and Pamela Johnson, the owners of Diversified Educational Training and Manufacturing Co., or DETAMC.

The Johnsons, who are African-American, had sought $3.9 million in damages.Their lawsuit claimed that a city-led audit of their job-training company was racially motivated. They contended the city held DETAMC to higher scrutiny based on their race. The city's audit alleged the company billed the city for books never provided to students and failed to file required monthly progress reports, among other findings."

Conceal carry repeal
In December last year, the council unanimously passed a bill that made it illegal for people with conceal carry licenses to carry firearms on public property, such as parks. But, when Sen. Phil Journey, a Republican from Haysville and a leading advocate for conceal carry, spotted it, he penned a bill to stop cities like Wichita from further restricting people's right to carry. It passed in Topeka. Several council members now support the repeal -- despite having voted in favor of more restrictions.

And, as always, the entire city council agenda can be seen online in a PDF.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Tiahrt blasts mayors group and KAKE TV for illegal guns campaign

U.S. Rep. Todd Tiahrt is in a showdown with a coalition of mayors (none of which are in Kansas) who say his amendment to a bill in 2003 prohibits public access to a database that tracks all firearms recovered at crime scenes. (See The Eagle's story for more details.) And the national campaign has been localized this week.

A drive-by bill board has been sweeping through downtown, television ads have aired and today there was a full page ad in The Eagle -- all urging Tiahrt to repeal the amendment. Though Tiahrt acknowledges some clarifications could be added to the bill, he stands by it, saying it protects undercover officers. And he blasted the Mayors Against Illegal Guns group that has opened a major campaign against the amendment and KAKE-TV for airing ads.

“We might expect this from the New York Times or an East Coast liberal media outlet with an agenda, but it is very disappointing that KAKE has decided to run this misleading ad,” wrote Tiahrt communications director Chuck Knapp in a statement this week. Since The Eagle ran a print ad from the same group, it seems likely Tiahrt is also upset with the newspaper. (See the New York Times' editorial on the issue that ran in their Sunday edition and a piece by the New York police commissioner in the paper.)

Washington reporter David Goldstein reported the base of the argument like this: "Tiahrt and others say the restrictions are necessary because disclosure could reveal names of undercover officers and informants, or tip off targets involved in investigations related to those weapons. (New York Mayor Michael) Bloomberg and more than 200 other mayors counter that the restrictions handcuff their efforts against violent crime where illegal guns are involved because they can't trace their source."

For more, see the Mayors Against illegal Guns site and Tiahrt's response to the campaign.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Kansas among 22 states that don't lower flags for fallen soldiers

A story in USA Today this morning says that Kansas is among 22 states that don't lower the flag every time one of the state's soldiers is killed overseas. The other 28 states have different policies -- sometimes lowering all flags, other times lowering flags only at request or in a soldier's hometown. The Hall Monitor contacted the Governor's office to see why Kansas decided to keep flags at full staff. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' spokeswoman Nicole Corcoran wrote in an e-mail that Sebelius follows the President's lead and the U.S. code (Title 4, Chapter 1) related to flag protocol.

"In conferring with our State’s Adjutant General very early during the Governor’s first term, it was determined that the best way to honor the memories of our soldiers is to fly our flags high with pride," she wrote. "Our Adjutant General advised Governor Sebelius that some may see the lowering of the flag as defeat and that is not a message we would send to our troops fighting for freedom and the strength of our country. When we lower our flags on the morning of Memorial Day each year, and have a special ceremony with our Governor and families of fallen soldiers, that is our time to lower our flags and encourage all Kansans to do the same. (The President orders the US flag to be lowered at this same period.)"

For more on flag etiquette and efforts in Kansas, see Beccy Tanner's piece in The Eagle.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Sunflower, George Kolb and a courtroom

It's been months since Sunflower Community Action members protested with residents at City Manager George Kolb's house. They were trying to force the city to clean up a chronically trash-packed yard at 10th and Volutsia. Now the yard has been cleaned. But the story continues. Sunflower will have a press conference Thursday afternoon to say that the city has spent an exceptionally large amount of money and energy to prosecute a brief protest at the doorstep of Kolb's home (as seen in the video below). Then, on Friday, three Sunflower members and a woman who lives next door to the now-cleaner property at 10th and Volutsia will be in court facing criminal trespass and illegal dumping charges for being on Kolb's property and leaving their protest signs behind.

Sunflower's media conference is at 2 p.m. The trial starts Friday at 9 a.m., but Sunflower members will be outside City Hall at 8 a.m. trying to gather support. (Read more about the case in previous Hall Monitor posts.)

Batter up: What the city wants from a baseball team

As The Eagle's Joanna Chadwick reported this morning, the Northern League will be in town this week chatting with potential investors who want to bring a new baseball team to Wichita. If and when the money comes together, one of the first steps new teams will take is a tour of the ballpark. In April, Northern League Commissioner Clark Griffith foreshadowed some concerns about the stadium in The Eagle. "It probably needs some upgrading to realize its full potential," he said. "When you walk in and see slabs of wood for seats, it probably needs some new seats. You can't get away with that now. People expect more, and they expect government people to supply them with more."

The city is already designing improvements to the dugouts, locker rooms, infields and concession stands at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. But whichever teams submit proposals to be Wichita's next baseball team will be asked to outline other potential improvements to the 72-year-old ballpark, according to the city's request for proposals. (See a PDF of the RFP on The Eagle's site.)

Among things the city suggests a new team check out are improvements to general seating, player facilities, the field itself, back of the house operating spaces, press facilities, fan experiences, concession and food service locations and services, merchandising locations and spaces, premium services and seating, advertising and sponsorship opportunities, parking improvements and overall site improvements.

Whew, sounds like a whole new ballpark. And the city suggests a new team identify public and private funds to pay for it.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

New District 1 Council member, wireless Internet and Montel

It has been six months since all seven City Council seats were filled. That ends Tuesday -- probably. Using paper ballots, Council members will choose between five District 1 candidates. On the list are Eugene Anderson, Treatha Brown-Foster, Michael Kinard, George Rogers and Lavonta Williams. First one to get a majority (four votes) wins.

City Council members have already privately held interviews with each of the candidates. At the Council meeting Tuesday, people will see only short monologues from the candidates before the voting begins. But this event might get pushed back a little so that Mayor Carl Brewer can zip over the Center for Health and Wellness to welcome talk show host Montel Williams. (See The Eagle's story about Williams' visit.) Brewer said several times Friday that the District 1 seat is his top priority despite the hoopla with Montel.

The new District 1 member, who will be sworn in a week later, will soon get thrown into the debate over luring a citywide wireless Internet provider to the city. Tuesday, the Council will vote on whether to invite the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to conduct an evaluation of the request for proposals the city let months ago, which only drew five proposals. The Council's poised to approve that. What will follow is meeting of the Knight Foundation's Jorge Martinez, City Council, Sedgwick County Commissioners and the Wichita School Board. Each government entity would be an anchor customer of the wireless company.

See more on the Knight Foundation's role in wireless.

For more, see a PDF of Tuesday's City Council agenda reports.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

It's a bargain: Lunch with President Bush $500, photo $4,600

A picture is worth a thousand words -- or $4,600 if you want one with President Bush. That's the going rate for a photo at the $500-per-head lunch reception Bush will attend to raise money for Sen. Pat Roberts in Wichita on Friday, June 15.

That's an expensive photo, but when Dick Cheney came to Wichita in 2002, the Vice President drew $5,000 from folks who wanted a private meet and greet and photograph. The Hall Monitor dug a little more using Lexis-Nexis and found the Wichita event is a pretty fair price -- if not a bargain -- compared to other fundraisers.
The Prez drew $1,000 a plate and $10,000 per photo at a fundraiser at a Hilton in Milwaukee last July, according to The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
People paid $1,000 a lunch plate in Denver last year, too.
In Tennessee last year, Bush supporters paid $2,100 a plate to attend a fundraiser for Senate candidate Bob Corker, The Commercial Appeal reported.
Californians peeled off the same amount for a photo at an event near San Fransisco last year, The Contra Costa Times wrote. And, down in Phoenix, folks paid $500 for breakfast and $2,100 a photo during a cash-raising event for Rep. Rick Renzi, according to The Arizona Republic. We called the Roberts Victory Committee, which gets the cash, to see how they decided the going rate for a plate and a photo, but haven't heard back yet. The business attire lunch is near the Country Club in east Wichita at the home of Dave and Janet Murfin. Dave is the president of Murfin Drilling Company. No surprise, both Dave and Janet are registered Republicans who have voted in the last three elections. For more on the Bush visit, check out The Eagle's story. Here's a Kansas City Star story about the fundraiser. The photo above shows Roberts next to Bush, Sen. Sam Brownback and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius in Greensburg.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Commissioners to hear arena plea Wednesday

Sedgwick County Commissioners have started each of their last two meetings hearing from people who want a second public vote on the planned downtown arena. This Wednesday, they'll get the other side of the story -- from Joe Williams, organizer of the Web site

In his email asking the county permission to speak at the June 6th meeting, Williams said he would ask the commissioners to not consider putting the arena revote question on the Aug. 7 ballot, when people will vote on a casino. Williams directly targets an arena opposition group that has said it has garnered more than 5,000 signatures from people wanting to vote again on the arena because of changes in its cost and design.

"The reasoning why the re-vote arena group's claim is illegitimate is that the organizational members of the group deliberately miscontrued the facts and information they told to the public and people they coaxed into signing the petition," Williams wrote. Most commissioners have said they do not support a second vote because 52 percent of people approved the arena in 2004. There is talk, however, of holding a public forum to let the public air its grievances and allow the county to respond to them. Commissioners will likely discuss that option on Wednesday.

City to examine the other wireless: cell phone towers

After mediating several fiery disputes between homeowners and cellular phone companies, the City Council is planning to consider amendments to their wireless communications tower guidelines. They'll vote Tuesday to open the discussion, a necessary precursor to an amendment to their zoning codes.

So what's in store? "Controversy," says John Schlegel, the city/county planning director.

Most folks expect a signal on their phone wherever they are in this city of 355,000. But, as companies try to put up new towers to handle more calls, neighbors are fighting to keep the poles out of their backyards -- and even the backyards that are more than a block away. They fear their home values will fall and their view of the big Kansas sky will be ruined. Wichitans aren't unique here -- people across the country have fought off towers and found companies willing to disguise their facilities, hide them or simply find a different location. So the Wichita-Sedgwick County planning department has drafted a plan to outline areas that are acceptable for towers. Schlegel says he expects cell phone companies to dislike that since they have a lot of freedom to place towers now. But, the plan is just a starting point, he said. This month, the City Council will review the plan. Then it will be heard by community people with the wireless industry before going before district advisory boards citywide in August and September. A Council vote on new regulations is expected in November. Check out this PDF link if you'd like to see what the city considers "sensitive" areas. And check out this PDF link for the city's existing policy, which was created in 2000.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Baby steps toward citywide wireless Internet

A little more than three weeks ago, City Council members decided not to start negotiating a deal with Michigan-based wireless Internet company Azulstar for citywide wireless service. Instead, the Council appointed members Paul Gray and Jeff Longwell to travel to a couple cities that already have an Azulstar wireless system to see how well it performs firsthand. But that's not happening yet, either.

Longwell says that the two cities he and Gray were going to visit -- Winston-Salem, North Carolina and Rio Rancho, New Mexico -- aren't fully functional. City officials in Rio Rancho have vented frustrations about Azulstar's service and failure to meet contractual obligations. Meanwhile, Winston-Salem's system has yet to be built. Longwell said setbacks in these cities further justify the Council's cautious approach. "I don't think we're doing a disservice to the public by dragging our feet a little bit," he said in a conversation with The Hall Monitor this week. Longwell hopes to see how Azulstar reacts to the complaints they're facing before moving ahead with contract talk. Futhermore, he says, the city may benefit by waiting as new technologies surface. You can't wait forever because there will always be something new, he said, but in this case a slow approach may be best. "There's no reason for us to get too excited," he said. "It's not like anybody is dramatically ahead of us." Longwell said the issue will likely be discussed at the June 12 Council meeting.

For more on Rio Rancho's problems, see this story.
For an update on Winston-Salem, check this one out.
For an overview of problems cities are having with wireless Internet, check out this AP story.