A mailer and a TV advertisement from mayoral candidate Sam Williams about his opponent, City Council member Jeff Longwell, are misleading.
The Eagle reviewed statements made in the campaign material and compared them with the citations listed in the advertisements, with its own reporting and with public records.
Williams and Longwell face off in the general election April 7. Mayor Carl Brewer cannot run again after two terms.
Williams said the advertisements simply present Longwell’s record during his eight years as the City Council member representing west Wichita’s District 5.
“We’re just stating the record. It’s what it is and each person who reads that has their own opinion on what the record shows,” he said when asked about the advertisements.
But Longwell says the move is mudslinging provoked by recent poll numbers that show Williams is trailing him.
The mailer cites as sources Bob Weeks’ Voice for Liberty blog; The Wichita Eagle; KWCH, Channel 12; and the Wichita City Council agenda.
Here are claims made about Longwell in a mailer paid for by Sam Williams for Mayor that arrived in homes earlier this week.
▪ “Took thousands of dollars from out-of-state contractors just hours before awarding them a contract when a local company actually had a lower bid.”
Longwell did receive contributions from people linked to a Detroit-based contractor in 2012, but not hours before the City Council awarded a contract to build the new terminal at the city’s airport.
The actual contract was awarded earlier to a group made up of a local company, Wichita-based Key Construction, and Detroit-based Walbridge. They had what was determined to be the lowest qualified bid at $101.5 million.
Wichita-based Dondlinger and Sons and Indianapolis-based Hunt Construction Group had bid $99.4 million. But the city said it did not meet federal requirements that 7.11 percent of the work go to minority- or women-owned subcontracting firms.
The minority and female participation – or a good-faith effort to get it – was required for the airport to be eligible for federal grants to pay about 45 percent of the project’s cost, The Eagle reported in 2012.
Dondlinger-Hunt disputed the city’s finding and appealed the awarding of the contract. The City Council, including Longwell, voted 5-2 to reject the appeal July 17.
During a run for county commissioner that year, Longwell received a total of $3,250 in campaign contributions from Michigan residents connected to Walbridge, including donations from Walbridge executives on July 16 and July 20.
Longwell said the city had “received information that the FAA was going to pull funding if we didn’t go with the lowest qualified bid. We were not about to lose out on $75 million in FAA funding by overturning the ruling.”
▪ “Supported government handouts for low-paying jobs and then chastised voters when they rejected his plan.”
The assertion cites blog posts and an Eagle article about the City Council voting 5-1 to approve public incentives for developers remaking the old Union National Bank into the Ambassador Hotel.
There is no apparent reference to “chastising” comments in the blog posts or article.
▪ “Diverted federal funding from I-235 and Kellogg to his own neighborhood.”
Longwell did not divert federal funds. In May 2011, the City Council opted to spend $5 million from the city’s share of the countywide sales tax to continue work to build the 13th Street flyover over I-235. The state committed T-Works money for the $50 million project.
Sedgwick County commissioners had to sign off on the project because part of it was on county right-of-way. When they did so in January 2012, commissioners Karl Peterjohn and Richard Ranzau opposed it, saying that the city money used there could have been used toward improvements in the interchange at I-235 and Kellogg.
Later in 2012, the county approved spending $11.7 million for the local match with state money for the $116 million first phase of the I-235 and Kellogg project. The city agreed to put up $78.6 million to get state money to help fund two phases of Kellogg expansion on the east, from the Kansas Turnpike to K-96.
▪ “After 8 years on the city council and 20 in public office, Longwell has never put forth a plan for Wichita water.”
Longwell has repeatedly said he supports the aquifer storage and recovery plan. The ASR facility, northwest of Wichita, pulls water out of the Little Arkansas River and stores it in the Equus Beds, a sprawling underground aquifer where the city has wells. He has said the total cost of replenishing the Equus Beds should be spread beyond Wichita ratepayers to others who draw water from the aquifer.
▪ “Removed money for a new police substation and instead used it for a street and drainage project to benefit a donor/developer’s project.”
In May 2013, the City Council voted 6-0 to add turn lanes on Maize Road at 29th Street, as well as sidewalks and drainage improvements, to accommodate an expansion of the NewMarket development. The city agreed to pay $800,000 with an improvement district in the area paying $475,000.
The council agenda states that the funding was possible by “deferring construction on the Patrol West Substation project currently budgeted in 2014.”
Longwell said this week that it is not uncommon to move project funding around. “That happens all the time. That’s part of prioritizing needs,” he said.
NewMarket developer Jerry Jones has contributed to Longwell campaigns.
A TV advertisement paid for by Sam Williams for Mayor says “Longwell did special favors for the Minnesota guys and he took our money to sponsor an event that paid him.”
Known as the Minnesota Guys, Michael Elzufon and David Lundberg came to Wichita in 2004 with big ambitions and bought 12 buildings downtown. Ultimately, their investments went into foreclosure and their creditors and taxes went unpaid.
The two men each face 61 felony counts of securities fraud and selling unregistered securities. They are scheduled for preliminary hearings in Sedgwick County District Court on May 7.
Longwell thinks the ad alludes to a tax increment finance district the council approved for Exchange Place, one of the Minnesota Guys’ investments.
But the TIF was not executed, he says, since there were safeguards in place.
“To say we voted on a TIF and then to use several years later an indictment article and their photo and tie that to me is several levels of wrong,” Longwell said.
The sponsored event that is referenced is Blacktop Nationals car show. Longwell said it’s standard for the city to offer in-kind services for events like that, and he offered to do about $2,000 in printing business cards and banners for the event.
“I did it more as a favor,” he said, saying that the $2,000 was at cost and not at more than $50 profit. He said he has connections to HGA Advertising, which did some work for Blacktop Nationals, but he has disclosed that connection on his conflict of interest forms with the county.