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Airport naming panel self-reports open meetings violation

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, March 13, 2014, at 11:14 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, April 8, 2014, at 12:20 p.m.

The Wichita City Council’s airport naming committee has self-reported a violation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act, city officials and District Attorney Marc Bennett confirmed Thursday.

The violation occurred Dec. 17, 2013, when an unannounced meeting was held to consider the new airport name, said naming committee member John Hennessey, also a member of the city’s airport advisory board. Hennessey has publicly opposed the airport renaming.

The meeting included an agreement by a majority of the naming committee to keep details about their deliberations private, Hennessey said.

“It goes back to this: The decision was already made by the mayor and the committee that sought this,” Hennessey said. “This is a true backdoor deal.”

City officials declined to comment Thursday. Bennett was traveling Thursday morning and couldn’t offer specifics.

City Manager Robert Layton would only confirm the violation. He declined to elaborate on Hennessey’s remarks, citing Bennett’s investigation. Layton also declined to elaborate on whether any city staffers were disciplined as a result of the violation.

Vice Mayor Pete Meitzner, the ranking council member in town this week while Mayor Carl Brewer and others attend a national convention, also declined to comment. The city’s director of law, Gary Rebenstorf, did not return a call seeking details about the violation.

The committee, which recommended the airport be renamed Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport – a recommendation approved by the City Council – was appointed by the council in November. The appointment came after Wichita radio personality Jan Harrison spearheaded a drive to rename the airport – as a new $110 million terminal is being constructed – after Eisenhower.

The City Council approved the renaming last week, at a cost to the city of a little more than $140,000. The new name has been mired in controversy, with the council inadvertently omitting Wichita from the name that was approved Tuesday. The cost of the switch has angered some community members.

Bennett said his office received the violation complaint early this week. The District Attorney’s Office can levy a fine against the committee and/or order members and any involved city staffers to undergo open meetings training. The maximum fine for one open meetings violation is $500, D.A. spokesman Dan Dillon said by e-mail Thursday afternoon.

The nature of the committee’s work – as a short-term advisory citizen panel – also could affect the DA’s ruling, Bennett said.

“Sometimes when you have these committees that are short-term and put together quickly, people just don’t know what the laws are, or they forget,” Bennett said.

Contributing: Amy Renee Leiker of The Eagle

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or bwilson@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @bwilsoneagle.

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