Wichita’s two mayor candidates accused each other of lying at the first debate since the August primary.
The first accusation came after Mayor Jeff Longwell and state Rep. Brandon Whipple were asked about plans for Century II at Tuesday’s debate.
Longwell answered first and said in part that he wants to “listen to the people.”
“We had a forum before the primary,” Whipple responded, “where people showed their vision for where Century II could go. They actually kicked a woman out. There was a woman, it was a public forum, there was a woman there who was showing pictures of Century II because her father was part of the people who created Century II.
“She got kicked out because her opinion conflicted with a public event that the mayor attended. ... Actions speak louder than words. When you are kicking out dissenting voices, then that is not serving the public.”
The Eagle reported in July that a public meeting was held with consultants to discuss the future of the riverbank area that includes Century II. Before the meeting started, Celeste Racette was asked to take away her small display of historical photos, documents and memorabilia that she’d spread out on an unused corner of a registration table. She later left the building.
“Make no mistake folks,” Longwell said, “to sit there and say that I kicked someone out of a meeting is just an outright lie. Remember, not my meeting, I would not have kicked that person out, and it’s just terribly unfair to frame it in that respect.”
Whipple did not directly respond to Longwell accusing him of lying.
Later, the candidates were asked about public transportation. After their initial answers, Longwell said the governor had appointed him to a committee.
“I will take this opportunity to share that I am honored that Gov. (Laura) Kelly recently put me on a transportation advisory committee,” Longwell said.
“That’s a lie,” Whipple interrupted.
Whipple then used the first half of his answer to the next question, concerning city golf courses and parks, to revisit his accusation.
“My opponent is not very good at being 100 percent honest,” Whipple said. “He was not appointed by Gov. Kelly. He was appointed by the secretary of transportation, and it’s only because he’s the mayor of Wichita.”
Longwell did not directly respond to Whipple accusing him of lying.
Transparency, or the lack thereof, was a theme in several answers during the debate. The issue came to a head after Longwell was asked about the process of selling city land along the Arkansas River in the area of the baseball stadium project.
The City Council sold four acres of public land for $1 an acre in a deal where some city staff members acknowledged they didn’t follow city guidelines for selling city property.
“We can always communicate better,” Longwell said. “Certainly, it was a learning opportunity for many of those at City Hall that had been working on that bill for a long time.
“But let me tell you what really didn’t get reported. The previous stadium had a contract where the team paid us $25,000 a year to play there. The new team is going to be paying us up to $600,000 a year. I’ll negotiate four acres away every day for $600,000 every year that we can put into the Wichita city coffers and all of the growth that it’s going to bring that river corridor.
“So at the end of the day, what people are not arguing is how good the deal is. They’re just complaining about the communications, and we can improve that.”
Whipple then challenged Longwell on a proposal to lease part of a public park to private restaurants. It was originally put on the consent agenda for Tuesday’s council meeting.
“A member took it off of that (consent agenda), and it wasn’t the mayor, and said hey we should discuss this, because we are giving away public land,” Whipple said. “And the most telling of that is that he requested a map, which means they were not only going to vote on this, but they didn’t even know what it would look like.
“Moving forward, I don’t believe the ends justify the means when we can have a transparent process and still come up with the means we’re looking for. We can be successful while also being transparent. And you know what, they’re still doing this type of stuff, folks.”
Longwell said the mayor doesn’t put items on the consent agenda, where routine and non-controversial items are typically approved in bulk with a single vote and without discussion.
“So here’s the part that probably disappoints me the most — you have actual people that think the City Council placed that on the consent agenda,” Longwell said. “We had no knowledge of that on the consent agenda. That was placed there by the city manager. And the first time that we saw that consent agenda was on Friday, and so immediately the council said, ‘mister manager, that’s not appropriate, you need to put that on the regular agenda.’
“But if you jump up and down and scream loud enough, and a crowd of people think that that’s true. And that’s just simply not the case.”
Whipple responded: “The truth was it was on the consent agenda and it shouldn’t have been. The truth is the buck should stop with the elected official: the mayor.”