Layton tightens STAR bond review; King steps away from projectBy Bill Wilson
The Wichita Eagle
Beth King, a Wichita public relations consultant and the fiancee of City Manager Robert Layton, resigned her consultant’s post Friday with a Kansas City group proposing a $50 million STAR bond entertainment complex at K-96 and Greenwich.
And the city has tightened its staff review and recommendation processes on the STAR bond proposal at Layton’s request.
The actions come in response to a controversy at City Hall in which three City Council members raised questions in an Eagle story Friday about King’s appearance Tuesday with the Kansas City group at the council meeting in light of her relationship with Layton. The city has to approve the STAR bond’s district and plan before it can proceed.
“Although I was retained to provide only media relations for the project, when a media consultant becomes the story instead of pushing the story, it is time to step aside,” King said in a news release.
“The proposed project at K-96 and Greenwich is a substantial one, and my clients deserve a review of their proposal based on only its merits. It is unfair to them for me to continue to serve as their media consultant given the concern of some council members.”
About an hour after King announced her resignation, Layton announced that all staff work and recommendations on the STAR bond proposal by GoodSports will be approved by Mayor Carl Brewer in an effort to enhance the project’s transparency.
“My profession believes in high ethical standards and conditions,” Layton said. “And even if I feel that I’ve done enough to make sure those standards are being met, if my council members have concerns, then I need to take this extra step to address those concerns.”
In the statement, King also reiterated several points made by Layton in Friday’s Eagle story about changes she’s made in her business, King-Merj Public Relations, since her relationship began with the city manager.
“I regret that council members were not clear about my limited role in the project and were unaware of purposeful changes I implemented in my business model quite some time ago to avoid concerns about impropriety or conflict of interest given my personal relationship with City Manager Robert Layton,” she said in a release.
“Most specifically, I now operate under self-imposed restrictions that preclude me from advocating for clients in City Hall, responding to city-issued RFPs and managing city political campaigns.”
King declined to comment beyond her news release.
Brewer said that King’s resignation “really isn’t necessary.”
“But it’s her business and her decision, not ours,” the mayor said. “We respect her decision.”
The three council members concerned with King’s role – Pete Meitzner, Michael O’Donnell and Jeff Longwell – said Friday afternoon they are satisfied with the steps that Layton and his fiancee have taken.
“I’m really sorry for the events that have transpired, and I hope they don’t affect this project going forward,” Meitzner said. “I have the utmost respect for the manager.”
“I’m sad it had to come to this,” O’Donnell said. “I feel substantially better about the project because that presence isn’t going to cause a distraction.”
“I don’t think it needed to rise to the level it rose to,” Longwell said.
“I think we could have all done a better job disclosing what her role was with the project without it rising to front-page news. It brought more attention to it than it deserved, and if her role was intended to be public relations, I have no heartburn.”
Korb Maxwell, the attorney for GoodSports, the Kansas City group seeking the STAR bonds, said the company will retain a different media consultant in Wichita to handle the project going forward.Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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