Politics & Government

Sedgwick County says Wichita breaking the law to build law-enforcement center

A joint city/county law-enforcement training center is planned for the Innovation Campus at Wichita State University
A joint city/county law-enforcement training center is planned for the Innovation Campus at Wichita State University Courtesy image

Sedgwick County officials on Wednesday accused the city of Wichita of breaking the law with its plan for a city/county law-enforcement training center at the Innovation Campus at Wichita State University.

And county commissioners said that if their legal concerns aren’t addressed by the city, they’ll pull the county sheriff’s office out of the $9.5 million to $10 million project – along with half the funding to build it.

The county has planned to buy half the building when it’s done, but county officials say they don’t want to do that if they think the city hasn’t complied with state law to get it built.

After a lengthy closed session with County Counselor Eric Yost on Wednesday, the commission decided to send the city a letter expressing concern with the way the project is being handled.

“It’s really not fair to the city for them to not understand right now that it’s our intention, or your intention, not to buy half this building if it is not done properly and according to the city code, or state law, on competitive bidding,” Yost told the commission. “Rather than waiting until this building is built, even though it’s not being done according to the law, and then tell them we don’t want to buy half, it’s better to convey that now.”

Part of the issue is whether the city is constructing a building or buying one. Different and stricter rules on competitive bidding apply if it’s a construction project as opposed to a real estate purchase, county officials said.

The city has approved agreements for a developer to build the training center on long-term leased land at WSU’s Innovation Campus.

“Their own city code requires them to own the land that they do a development on through a development agreement, and they don’t own this land,” Yost said. “It also requires that the construction not begin until after the development agreement has been approved by the City Council, but the construction began in December.”

“I just don’t think they can shoehorn this thing in, even under their own city code,” Yost said. “And even if their own city code worked for this, and I don’t think it does, we can’t go by the city code, we’re bound by state law.”

The mayor, city manager and city attorney were not available for comment. City spokesman Ken Evans said Commission Chairman Dave Unruh and Mayor Jeff Longwell discussed the situation after the meeting and “have agreed on a way to work this going forward regarding financing for the Joint Law Enforcement Training Center.”

City officials have said they believe they are proceeding legally to build the center, which is designed to provide classrooms and training spaces for the Wichita Police Department, the sheriff’s office and WSU criminal justice students.

The city plans to pay a developer for the project in 10 installments, leading to the opening of the center in the first quarter of next year, City Attorney Jennifer Magana said last week.

Commission Chairman Dave Unruh said he hopes the city and county can reach an agreement to salvage the deal.

“We’re not saying we don’t want to be a partner in a building, we’re not saying we don’t need a building,” Unruh said.

But he also said, “We have these concerns about the process, the procedure for financing the building, that we think might prevent us from in good conscience buying at the end.”

Dion Lefler: 316-268-6527, @DionKansas