Part cheerleading and part thanksgiving, Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer’s final State of the City address effectively captured the cautiously optimistic mood in a community with a turbulent recent past and an uncharted future.
His upbeat recounting of successes started with the likely standout achievement of his two terms – the development and activation of a downtown master plan, which continues to rejuvenate the city’s core block by block. As he said, “there are dozens of new places to live, to work, to shop and eat downtown,” with much more coming along Douglas and the Arkansas River.
Brewer also pointed with well-placed pride to the city’s commitment to equip all Wichita Police Department officers in the field with body cameras, and other efforts to improve the working relationship between law enforcement and residents. He could tout infrastructure upgrades, including the new flyover between I-235 and West 13th Street, and firefighting improvements.
Even after Brewer leaves the council bench, Wichitans should heed his calls to help end homelessness and to continue to support the Lord’s Diner as it provides free meals for our neighbors in deep need.
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Brewer surely understated the damage that seven years of aviation job cuts and relocations have done to the local economy and outlook. He was right to highlight the opportunities to boost exports to China and elsewhere and to partner with Wichita State University on a jobs strategy and its innovation campus, but kept it vague when talking about the necessity of economic incentives to attracting and keeping employers.
How can the city be competitive in economic development without the kind of funding that the defeated 1-cent citywide sales tax would have provided? He didn’t say.
Nor did he talk about where the money will come from to repair crumbling water pipes (like the one discovered to be leaking last week), replace bridges, fix streets, keep the buses running and build an up-to-date convention facility – beyond saying that “all of these issues will take a strategic approach and a major financial commitment from our city.”
With so many needs out there, it’s fair to question whether Brewer or anyone at the city should be boasting about maintaining a consistent mill levy rate for a 21st consecutive year.
In a welcome remark aimed at the meddling Legislature, he emphasized that “local elections should not be about party affiliation” and should remain separate from state and federal contests.
Hearing Brewer speak, it was hard not to wonder which of the whopping 10 mayoral candidates who met Tuesday’s filing deadline for the April 7 municipal election, including City Council members Jeff Longwell and Lavonta Williams, will win not only the honor of delivering the address next year but also the daunting to-do list.
“Uncertain times have united us, inspired us and shaped our great city,” said the mayor, who will leave his own lasting mark on the city when he leaves the bench this spring.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman