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City, Go Wichita to develop transparency guidelines for city-funded activities

The Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau gets more than $2 million from the city every year, and it’s difficult for the public to know just how the money is spent.

But after criticism over a lack of transparency among government-funded entities, particularly leading up to the defeat of a 1-cent city sales tax in November, the city and Go Wichita plan to develop disclosure guidelines for city-funded activities.

“We’ll start with the assumption of openness and then move backwards from that to determine if there’s anything that ... could jeopardize their activities, specifically the attraction of conventions and conferences,” said City Manager Robert Layton.

“It is competitive, and there’s always that desire for confidentiality by the prospect.”

The decision to create the guidelines “comes out of discussions at the council table the last few years when the Go Wichita contract has come up for renewal and some concerns have been expressed by residents about lack of openness and transparency regarding expenditures of city funds,” Layton said.

On average, about 88 percent of Go Wichita’s yearly budget comes from city allocations, which are collected by the city from hotel stays, said Susie Santo, president and CEO of Go Wichita.

On Tuesday, the council will consider giving $2,356,851 to Go Wichita for 2015.

“We do need to make sure that we address, obviously we want to be open, but be mindful of needing to protect confidential, proprietary and trade secret information,” Santo said of the disclosure guidelines.

“We just want to make sure we’re not opening up our playbooks for other cities to see exactly how or who we are going after to bring business here.”

In the first part of 2015, the city also plans to adopt disclosure guidelines for other government-funded entities such as Wichita Downtown Development Corporation and the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition, Layton said.

Last month, parts of the bid document for Wichita getting the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in 2018 were redacted, including how much Go Wichita had budgeted for activities related to a $250,000 Fan Fest.

Annual allocation

The agreement to develop the guidelines is part of the City Council’s approval of Go Wichita’s annual allocation.

Of the proposed $2.3 million for 2015, $196,404 will be advanced to Go Wichita each month.

An additional 2.75 percent fee charged by hotels with more than 50 rooms will be collected through a new Tourism Business Improvement District to go toward Go Wichita for marketing purposes. Go Wichita estimates that fund will generate another $2.3 million each year, according to city documents, and 2015 is the first year the fees will be collected.

Go Wichita also is requesting a $150,000 contingency fund to help attract conventions to the area.

The city started funding convention activities in 1976, Layton said. The Chamber of Commerce was the convention vendor from 1976 to 1980, when an independent convention and visitors bureau was established.

Reach Kelsey Ryan at 316-269-6752 or kryan@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @kelsey_ryan.

City funding to Go Wichita

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

Go Wichita

$2,291,542

$2,272,637

$2,359,490

$2,472,822

$2,572,021

Source: City of Wichita

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