A Conversation With Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer
Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer will give his eighth and final state of the city address on Tuesday night. Brewer is term-limited and will be replaced after municipal elections this spring. KMUW’s Sean Sandefur sat down with Brewer to discuss last year's state of the city address and what's happened since.
In last year’s state of the city address you mentioned infrastructure. With the failed sales tax in November, what can the city do?
Those things are not going to go away. We put it on the ballot, it failed, and so it still doesn't change anything. We still have to find a way to fix it. I mean, that is a necessity for our quality of life here in the city of Wichita.
If I had my way, we'd have all of our streets completely redone and we'd have that job taken care of within the next five years. But, financially we're not going to be able to do that and certainly it does present some additional challenges. We used to be able to get federal grants to help us each year, but the federal government is cutting those funds and certainly as you can see, the state has some financial challenges, and so, we're going to figure out how to do it ourselves. So, I can't say we're going to get it done in five years. But certainly if we really focus on it, we'll get it done in 10-20 years.
Water was also a big concern in last year’s address; could you talk about the city’s drought protection?
We can run into a drought any time, and we're still behind on the total amount of water we should have and we're still certainly asking the state to help us. We're not exactly sure how much help we're going to get during this session and of course, sometimes at the state level they see other things that are more of a priority than our water. We're still investing in it, we're still moving forward.
Will the city be using rate hikes to help fund water improvements?
Rate hikes are still on the table. We don't have any choice but to do the rate hikes in order to be able to provide the services that individuals need.
In last year’s address you had mentioned body cameras. Can you talk about the city’s purchase of body cameras?
We had to figure out what was the best thing to get and whether we had the funding to be able to sustain it.
In this particular case, we made the decision to go ahead and move forward and I think we did a very good job of going out and doing the research. Will there be hiccups, as far as technology and cameras breaking down? I can't tell you. I was talking to some other cities and they were pretty excited. And then we started looking. They had bought the cheapest model they could get. But it's not my place to tell them that we think you're going to have some problems.
Is the city’s goal still to provide every police officer with a body camera by the end of the year?
We will make it happen. We're going to make sure that all field officers that are on the street will have body cameras on them. But, they just won't come in, let's say, in November, all of sudden you see all the officers with body cameras. I think the first set is scheduled to come in the April timeframe. You'll start seeing increased numbers of body cameras coming in.
Has the city come up with protocol for how and when the body cameras would be used?
The police department is handling all of that. My understanding is that any time [a police officer] comes into contact with citizens the cameras will be on. It shouldn’t matter if a police officer comes in contact with a kid trying to cross the street, it's good to have it on. If a police officer gets a call and has to go to a scene, it's a good idea to have it on.
Public safety was a big topic in 2014. The city held “No Ferguson Here” meetings in response to the events in Ferguson, MO. What are some things that came out of all of this?
The city council has made some commitments that we will actually meet with the Wichita Ministerial League and talk with them about things they're hearing in their churches or seeing in their communities, so you always have this line of communication that's open so that we can address issues. One of the things I've been pushing the city manager to do is to have sensitivity and cultural awareness training for all city employees. We're a large city. We're a very diverse city. If you're going to be a city employee or city servant, then you need to make yourself aware of the various different cultural differences.
You mentioned transit in last year’s address. With the failure of the one-cent sales tax, what kinds of conversations are you having about transit?
We have to figure out how to get individuals back and forth from work, the doctor, or shopping. Just in Wichita and Sedgwick County alone, there's approximately 30,000 people that don't have drivers licenses. That's a lot of people. I've ridden the bus, and when it takes me a half a day to leave from downtown to go out west and then turn around and work my back, and it's noon, that's too long.
You mentioned goals for public transit in last year’s state of the city address, such as running later at night and on Sundays—due of the defeat of the sales tax, should people forget about those goals?
No, we can’t forget about that. If we intend to go ahead and support our businesses here in our community and provide them with a skilled workforce, then we're going to have to provide them with some kind of transportation to get their employees to and from work on time. And that's going to mean second and third shift.
The final thing I’d like to ask you about is the economy and jobs. Again, going back to the failed sales tax—will the city still set aside money to attract business, to attract entrepreneurs?
Well, you're talking about that bad word: incentives.
The city's going to have to do something. Whether we like it or not, other cities are [providing incentives] and businesses aren't going to walk away from it. If we choose not to do it, and we certainly have that right, you'll see the next generation going some place else where they can get a job. Nobody’s going to say, ‘I just really love these people here and I'm just going to stay here.’ When you have somebody down the highway offering several million dollars, what do you think is going to happen? They’ll be going down the highway.
There's a huge battle going on between Kansas and Missouri. The governors are feuding because Missouri is saying, ‘We're going to take your businesses.’ Nobody's hiding it. Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, everybody—every state is doing this.