My apology to City of Wichita Public Information Officer Van Williams


Yesterday, I posted a story entitled: “How the City of Wichita bought off an investigative journalist”, which I am today retracting. In that story, I outline how Van Williams, the current public information officer for the City of Wichita was, at one time, an investigative journalist for the Wichita Eagle, covering corruption stories at City Hall. I stated that the City of Wichita hired Williams as a way to silence his investigative reporting on city activities.

This is a screenshot of that story, which I have removed from this site:

I did not contact Van Williams prior to posting this story. If I had, I would have learned some things that would have negated the story. I did contact Van Williams today, by calling City Hall. They informed me that Williams was out of the office, and took my number. Williams returned my call within three minutes.

First of all, when Van Williams was reporting on corruption at City Hall, much of the investigation was targeted at then-City Manager Chris Cherches, who resigned amid those allegations. Williams was actually hired after Cherches resignation, by then-City Manager George Kolb, who hired Williams with the goal of increasing transparency at City Hall, which is basically the exact opposite of what I posted in yesterday’s retracted story.

Second, having been at the Eagle for 17 years, Williams was paid significantly better than previously stated, which means that money was not a factor in Williams’ decision to leave the paper.

In our conversation, Williams says that he took the job at City Hall for a variety of reasons. In his last years at the Eagle, Williams was covering both City Hall, and sports, at Wichita State University, which was quite tolling. Williams told me that he was looking for a change, and that he was offered the chance to go to work in public service for the community, and that he felt this was a good decision for his family.

Williams and I also discussed his role as a public information officer. Williams points out that coming in and getting the various staff members employed by the City to be comfortable talking with the media has not been as easy to do as some might think. There are also laws and policies that Williams and city employees have to follow when releasing information.

Williams says that he always encourages everyone who works at the city to be transparent when speaking with not only members of the media, but with anyone in the general public who has questions. In regards to Kansas Open Records Act requests, Williams is involved, but the legal department, and the relevant department of the city which actually handles the information being sought both play a role.

Since writing yesterday’s story, I have also spoken with several members of the media, and former members of the media, people I know and respect, who have dealt with Van Williams in requesting information. I have been told, by many, that Van Williams is the best person to go to when seeking information, and that usually, when they have problems getting information, those problems stem from the city’s legal department, and not from the communications department, which Williams oversees.

As the editor of Kansas Exposed, and the author of yesterday’s story, I take full responsibility for the errors in yesterday’s report, both in process, fact and context. Years ago, when I began blogging, I was simply posting opinions on political matters, and very few people were reading those opinions. Today, when I write something, people do read it, and these posts have consequences.

From here on out, we will not be posting any story involving a public official without first reaching out to that public official for comment. I have apologized to Van Williams personally, and he was extremely gracious in accepting that apology. I will also apologize to Van Williams here, publicly. Mr. Williams served our community with honor and integrity as an investigative journalist, and he continues to serve with honor and integrity now, in his role at City Hall.

Are you on the WPD’s documented gang member list?


If the Wichita Police Department places an individual on their documented gang member list, the legal ramifications can be very serious. If arrested, a documented gang member can face significantly higher bonds. If placed on probation or parole, a documented gang member may face stricter conditions than a person who is not on the list will. If a documented gang member is accused of a crime, the department will inform the media that the suspect is a documented gang member, and this information will be presented to the jury as evidence of guilt.

But what causes the department to place a person on the list? Below, is the department’s gang policy, which is based on Kansas state law:

The Wichita Police Department's gang policy.

The Wichita Police Department’s gang policy.

All of this poses the question of how the State of Kansas defines a gang. According to statute 21-6313, a “criminal street gang” means any organization, association or group, whether formal or informal, consisting of three or more persons, having as one of its primary activities the commission of one or more person felonies, person misdemeanors, or violations of the uniform controlled substances act, prior to July 1, 2009; has a common name or identifying sign or symbol, and whose members, individually or collectively, engage in, or have engaged in the commission, attempted commission, conspiracy to commit or solicitation to commit two or more of the above mentioned crimes.

In other words, if you are the mother of a documented gang member, live in that gang’s territory, and have been stopped in a car with your documented gang member child more than twice, you could be on the documented gang member list. I mention this, because it was a question posed in a meeting, some time ago.

Once an individual is placed on the documented gang member list, there is no procedure to have their name removed. If you were in a gang ten years ago, and are no longer involved in criminal activity, you are still on the list. Once you are on the list, you stay on the list.

(The notion that once you are on the list, you cannot be removed is being disputed, and may be incorrect. If it is, I will report this as well.)

The Wichita Police Department does not release the names of those who are on the gang list, as mentioned in the policy above. However, they will certainly release to the media that a suspect is on that list, without hesitation. The public should be able to view this list, as a matter of public safety. Don’t you want to know if your neighbor is on the list? Wouldn’t you want to know if you were mistakenly placed on this list?

Kansas Exposed 2.0


Kansas Exposed will be a getting a makeover! Due to an extremely generous donation of $3,000 from an anonymous donor who had their rights violated by a Wichita police officer, we will be making some much needed changes to the site. This being a very recent development, we have not worked out all of the details, but a few things you can definitely expect very soon are a professional logo and a better page layout. We will also be getting rid of those annoying advertisements which WordPress places on the site, and which we do not get any revenue from.

In a related story, the same donor also gave $4,000 to WPD: The Documentary, which is being produced by the editor Kansas Exposed, and some of this money will be used to upgrade camera and audio equipment, which will not only allow us to bring you a much better documentary, but will also improve the quality of Kansas Exposed’s videos.

We are exceptionally grateful to our donor, and we hope we can honor your contribution by bringing justice and transparency to the community.

Updated: Did Chief Williams profit from a backdoor real estate deal for the North Substation?


Update:¬†I was in the City Clerk’s office yesterday, September 16, on unrelated business, and John Philbrick did provide me with documentation showing that part of the property (Tract 25) included in the Shadybrook Addition, which encompasses the North Precinct, the library, and the Bank of America at 21st and Hillside, was obtained from Norman Williams, for $83,000. The property that was obtained from Williams through condemnation is actually closer to where the library sits, which is directly north of the precinct. Philbrick provided this information willingly, and told me that he initially misunderstood specifically what I was asking for in our phone conversation, which is posted below. In Mr. Philbrick’s defense, I did not mention Norman Williams’ name in our previous conversation, because I did not want to tip the City off on what I was looking for. He told me that after reading this article, he was able to find the documents, using Williams’ name as a reference.

Original Post: 

How did the City of Wichita acquire the property that the Wichita Police Department’s North (Northeast) substation now sits on? According to anonymous sources, the City purchased the property at 3015 E. 21st St. N. from former police chief Norman Williams, for significantly more than the property was actually worth, in a backdoor deal with then-City Manager Chris Cherches.

Strangely, neither the City nor the County has any record of the real estate transaction, despite the fact that it occurred during the 1990’s, which is not exactly ancient history.

Williams recently retired from the force after 39 years, and just yesterday it was revealed that Williams was actually on the Brady/Giglio list, which is a list of officers who have instances of dishonesty in their past. Williams was on the list for filing a false report. The department did not willingly release this information, and refuses to comment. However, the Wichita Eagle was able to verify the information through a series of Kansas Open Records Act requests.

Norman Williams

Cherches resigned as City Manager in 2003, after 18 years in office, amid allegations of embezzlement and cronyism.

In our attempts to prove this, we have been stonewalled by the City and the County. Neither entity can account for the purchase of this land. Neither entity can tell us who sold the land to the city, for how much, or even when the purchase was made. According to the City of Wichita and Sedgwick County, records of the transaction simply do not exist.

A staff member with the Sedgwick County Register of Deeds attempted to locate the information, but was unable to find any record of any land purchase for that address. She directed me to call her cousin, the Real Estate Administrator for the City of Wichita, John Philbrick. Listen to my conversation with the staff member at the Register of Deeds:

Philbrick was unable to provide any information in regards to this purchase, stating that the purchase was likely a part of an “assemblage for multiple use”, referring to the library branch and Bank of America location that are located nearby.

Philbrick states that because the land was multiple tracts, and that because the land was sold prior to him being in the Real Estate Administration office, and that because the city did not start centralizing these records until 1994, that he was unable to provide any information on the purchase.¬†Philbrook told me that not only was he unable to provide information on the purchase of this land, but that he didn’t think anyone else would be able to either.

During our conversation, Philbrick asked why I was requesting this information, who I was with, then declined to spell his last name and abruptly ended the conversation. You can listen to my conversation with Philbrick here, and I would suggest you do, to see just how ridiculous this really is:

The City of Wichita’s online records of the minutes for City Council meetings only dates back to 2008, so I was unable to go back and find the council’s discussion on this issue. Sedgwick County’s records for the property show its appraised value, and that the substation was built in 1993, but the site does not provide details on the purchase itself.

The City of Wichita’s adopted budgets contain one reference to the Northeast Substation as a relocation project, in the 1992-93 adopted budget, listing an expense of $100,000. There is no mention of the station itself in the 1991-92 adopted budget, nor in the 1993-1994 adopted budget.

Page 355 from the City of Wichita's 1992-93 Adopted Budget - 1992 Proposed Capital Investment Project List

Page 355 from the City of Wichita’s 1992-93 Adopted Budget – 1992 Proposed Capital Investment Project List

If the purchase of the land for the North Substation was legitimate, the City of Wichita should have no problem laying out the details of that purchase. The lack of transparency in regards to this transaction is astounding, to say the least. Speaking in general terms, these offices have sales records that can tell you who bought what land from whom and for how much, dating back to the 1800’s.

City of Wichita wants to increase sales tax by 14%


The City of Wichita funnels your tax dollars into “non-profit” development groups that refuse to show us how that money is spent, and now the City wants you to vote in favor of a sales tax increase so they can give these organizations even more of your money.

These groups, Go Wichita, The Downtown Development Corporation, and the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition, get roughly 90% of their overall funding from Wichita tax dollars, but claim that they are exempt from the Kansas Open Records Act, because they are “private” organizations.

The City of Wichita could easily place conditions on the money it gives to these groups, requiring them to show taxpayers how their tax dollars are being spent, but the City refuses to do so. This is not transparency.

For years, members of the Wichita business community, and even one former city councilor, have requested that these groups open their books to show how they are spending Wichita tax dollars, and for years, these groups have flatly refused to do so.

How can the taxpayers of Wichita determine if their money is being spent effectively when these groups do not disclose what is being purchased? What do these groups have to hide? What do we have to show for the millions of dollars that these groups have already received?

These are all questions that the City of Wichita needs to answer before they ask the taxpayers to fork over more money. Why would anyone vote to increase the sales tax, when the City won’t tell us what it does with the money it already has?

Voting “no” this November will send a strong message to the Mayor and the City Council, and more importantly, to the next mayor, and those who will soon be elected to the council, that we expect transparency. No transparency, no money!

You can learn more about the proposed sales tax increase by visiting The Coalition for a Better Wichita.

city hall meme shots 001

What political party does your favorite Wichita news reporter belong to?


These are the registered political affiliations of several Wichita-area journalists, based upon 2012 Sedgwick County voter registration data. It is important to note that any number of these journalists may have changed their affiliation since the 2012 elections. We also must note that these affiliations do not necessarily mean anything. For example, I am a registered Republican, despite the fact that I am actually an independent. I register as a Republican because this is Kansas, and in my district it makes more sense to choose which Republican I want to represent me than it does to choose which Democrat I want to lose.

Some of these affiliations are surprising, and I am impressed with some of these journalists’ ability to report facts in an unbiased fashion despite their political leanings. Others, not so much. I will say that there are great journalists on this list who are registered as Republicans, and great journalists on this list who are registered as Democrats, and there are great journalists on this list who are registered as unaffiliated.

This information is not here to be used to insult any journalists, or question their integrity based upon your own political biases. There are good people in each party, despite what either party’s rhetoric may suggest. This is simply information that I found interesting, and that I thought others would also find interesting.

KWCH

Joan Barrett – Republican

Kim Wilhelm – Republican

Brian Gregory – Unaffiliated

Michael Schwanke – Republican

Pilar Pedraza – Democrat

Melissa Scheffler – Unaffiliated

The Wichita Eagle

Sherry Chisenhall – Unaffiliated

Tom Shine – Republican

Marcia Wertz – Republican

Kelsey Ryan – Democrat

Beccy Tanner – Democrat (definitely not ever Republican as previously reported)

Stan Finger – Republican

Tim Potter – Unaffiliated

Deb Gruver – Republican

Joshua Wood – Republican

Hurst Laviana – Democrat

Dion Lefler – Republican

Amy Renee Leiker – Unaffiliated

Rick Plumlee – Republican

Suzanne Perez Tobias – Republican

Carrie Rengers – Unaffiliated

Dan Voorhis – Republican

Phillip Brownlee – Republican

KAKE

Deb Farris – Republican

Annette Lawless – Unaffiliated

Mike Iuen – Democrat

Lily Wu – Republican

Larry Hatteberg – Unaffiliated

Monica Castro – Unaffiliated

Susan Peters – Republican

KSN

I was unable to identify a single KSN reporter on the Sedgwick County voter registration list, which means that they either do not live in Sedgwick County, do not vote, use a different name on the air than they use to vote with, or have a common enough name that I was unable to make a positive determination (or they are all CGI). I do know that several of the journalists at KSN and the other outlets are recent transplants to the Wichita area, which may also explain why some are not on the list.

Wichita Mayor Misleads Public on Police Cameras


Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer recently told an auditorium full of people that he intends to put cameras on all Wichita police officers by the end of the year, after the issue was brought up by countless people at Thursday evening’s #NoFergusonHere meeting, a meeting that intended to prevent the further deterioration of police/community relations.

Support for body cameras on police officers and for an independent citizen review board with subpoena power were two of the most prevalent demands from the crowd of several hundred. Unfortunately, the city, under its current leadership, does not appear to be in favor of either of these measures.

The way the mayor and city manager framed their answers to questions about these issues in the meeting, and in later statements to the media, you could get the impression that they want cameras on police officers, and that they want an independent review board to have the power to investigate allegations of police misconduct.

However, a closer look at what the city is actually saying reveals exactly the opposite.

In the meeting, Mayor Brewer attempted to appease the audience by saying he would instruct the city manager to look into getting body cameras on every Wichita police officer by the end of the year. While this is obviously not a realistic plan (getting cameras on every officer within one year of today might be a more realistic timetable), this slight exaggeration is not the problem.

The problem is that the Mayor and City Manager do not have the power to force any Wichita police officer to wear a body camera. Just months ago, the city agreed on a settlement with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), which is the police officers’ union. Under the terms of that settlement, the department can no longer reprimand or restrict the duties of any officer for that officer’s refusal to wear a body camera.

Even if the city can find a way out of this settlement, which is unlikely, City Manager Robert Layton has clarified the city’s actual plan in regards to police body cameras, in a news interview that took place shortly after the mayor made his statement. Layton says that the mayor’s goal is unrealistic and that the department will more likely be adding a few cameras by the end of the year and then proceeding with a “phased implementation” to get the rest of the department fitted.

The problem with this is that this was the plan, all along. The department had already planned on adding a handful of new cameras by the end of the year, and has already been conducting a phased implementation. Unfortunately, at the current pace of this phased implementation, it will take 25 years to get the entire department fitted with cameras.

Again, we cannot ignore the fact that the department does not have the authority to require any officer to wear a body camera. Based upon this set of facts, it becomes clear that the mayor’s promise to fit the entire department with cameras by the end of the year was little more than political grandstanding. In reality, the city has not changed its stance on the issue of cameras, at all.

To better understand the issue of body cameras and how the mayor really feels about it, you can watch this video, from earlier this year, when Kansas Exposed editor Mike Shatz addressed the City Council to request that all officers be outfitted with body cameras. The mayor actually said that if we wanted the funding for these cameras, that we could hold a fundraiser to get the money. Evidently, when Shatz sarcastically mentioned the possibility of a fundraiser, the mayor thought he was being serious.

In regards to a citizen review board, with subpoena power, the city manager mentions two review boards that currently exist. One is a review board that exists of members appointed by the city manager (this is not independent) and that board has never reviewed a single case, despite having been assembled years ago. The second board mentioned is the Racial Profiling Advisory Board (RPAB), which is independent, and which is doing a fine job of investigating instances of racial profiling.

The problem with the RPAB is that it has no real authority, no subpoena power. It’s scope is currently limited to instances of racial profiling, and the department simply ignores the findings of this board. The RPAB submitted, to the department, 100 cases of racial profiling, and the department actually denied all 100 cases. By broadening the scope of the RPAB and giving that board subpoena power, the city could easily empower a real citizen review board, but that does not seem to be in the plans.

If the city is serious about cleaning up the department and regaining trust within the community, hollow promises and the continued policy of denying any problems actually exist is not a wise strategy. How can we trust the department when the department clearly does not trust the community enough to let us know what is really happening?

How unfortunate for the community that Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer decided to exploit the death of Mike Brown for political purposes, rather than using this opportunity to offer real change.

Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer

Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer

 

You can view the #NoFergusonHere meeting in its entirety: