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Minutes for HB2233 - Committee on Local Government

Short Title

Enacting the municipal historic building act.

Minutes Content for Wed, Feb 24, 2021

The Chair opened the hearing on HB2233.

Senior Revisor Mike Heim briefed the Committee on the bill; he said it requires a city to hold an election before disposing of any building more than 80,000 square feet in size which has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Celeste Racette, Save Century II, provided testimony in support of the bill and traced the history of the Century II building (Attachment 1) and (Attachment 2).  Commenting on the early history of Wichita, she noted that Wichita citizens in 1961 voted to create the Century II building at a cost of $12,600,000, which was paid with city bonds.  She described facets of the construction process and the unique features of the building, which was opened to the public in 1969 and has provided a variety of venues that have attracted and entertained citizens for decades.  She referenced the Save Century II group that collected over 17,000 petition signatures and introduced Karl Peterjohn as a key figure in the petition drive.

Mr. Peterjohn expressed gratitude for the significant support reflected by the petition drive, which only required 12,000 signatures, calling it a "milestone" since the petition drive was done during the coronavirus pandemic (Attachment 3).  He then introduced John Todd, who explained why the bill was needed.

Mr. Todd explained that the petition to the Wichita City Council was rejected; therefore, this bill was needed to address the disparities in city governments.  He stated that Wichita City Council Policy 38 states in part, "Subject to future acts of the legislature, municipal governments may not call for a binding election unless such election is authorized by state statute," and he included Policy 38 as part of his testimony (Attachment 4).  He also noted that Century II is one of only two buildings in the state that fit the provisions of HB2233.

Dr. Walt Chappell, President, Educational Management Consultants, via WebEx testified as a proponent for the bill (Attachment 5).  He commented that the city council often responds more to special interest groups than to ordinary citizens, as evidenced by their rejection of the petition.  He called Century II a landmark that should respect the will of the people expressed by allowing an election to determine the future of the building.

Conferees responded to members' questions:

  • The city council does not believe that the state's constitutional home-rule status authorizes them to hold an election  (Mr. Todd);
  • The Save-Century II group used city policies as the authority for the petition; this rationale resulted in a lawsuit against the leaders of the petition drive (Mr. Peterjohn);
  • The language of the bill is drawn narrowly to protect the League of Kansas Municipalities from undue petitions (Ms. Racette);
  • Being on the National Register of Historic Buildings does not protect a building from being razed; it only sets out certain criteria to be met before action can be taken on a building (Ms. Racette);
  • Parameters are needed at all levels of government to preserve and protect citizen interests (Mr. Peterjohn);
  • The objections of the city council ranged from the petition being drawn too broadly, to using the wrong form, to designating the issue as administrative rather than legislative. (Mr. Peterjohn);
  • The petition had no chance, because the city council had predetermined the outcome (Mr.Todd);
  • The basement occasionally floods, since it is located next to the Arkansas River (Ms. Racette).

Members offered a variety of comments about proponent testimony:

  • Such citizen effort in the petition drive is to be applauded.
  • Century II is a beautiful building that attracts a variety of citizen interests; it is an integral part of the city.
  • The precedent of the state interfering in a city's government should give us pause.
  • Constitutional Home Rule allows a city to administer its government without the state's interference.

There were 27 proponents who sent written-only email testimony.  They are aggregated into one file (Attachment 6).

There were also 19 individuals who sent written-only letters in support of the bill.  These too are collected into a separate file (Attachment 7).

Scott Schneider, representing Associated General Contractors, presented testimony in opposition to the bill (Attachment 8).  He stated that home rule clearly directs the proper place for this issue to be the City of Wichita, not the state.  He commented that the bill opens the door for a variety of problems, and he noted the Save Century II group has not exhausted available local remedies.

Amanda Stanley, General Counsel, Kansas League of Kansas Municipalities, testified as an opponent (Attachment 9).  She said the bill was an unconstitutional overreach--the antithesis of home rule--and would establish poor public policy since it targets only one city in Kansas.  She noted that a court of law has determined that the petition was not valid because it required an administrative decision, not a legislative one.

Jason Watkins, Wichita Chamber of Commerce, spoke in opposition to the bill (Attachment 10).  He said no final decision had been made regarding Century II; the city and the Chamber were working together to develop a long-term vision for the area, which is considered prime real estate.  Until that vision is finalized and accepted, the conversation about Century II will continue.

Brandon Johnson, Vice-Mayor and Wichita City Council member, via WebEx spoke as an opponent of the bill (Attachment 11).  He explained that the city is focused on the entire riverfront area, and when the Riverfront Master Plan is adopted, then the future of Century II will be included in a plan to be submitted to citizens for a vote.

Bryan Frye, Wichita City Council member, said that he agreed with the proponents that the building was an important part of downtown Wichita, but any decisions about the future of the building should to be local.

Jessica Lucas Watkins, Private Sector Partners, submitted written-only opponent testimony (Attachment 12).

Conferees responded to members' questions:

  • The lawsuit was necessary to establish that the petition was administrative in nature. The lawsuit determined the petition was not valid (Ms. Stanley);
  • A non-binding petition is considered advisory, not a mandate (Ms.Stanley);
  • No decisions have been made regarding the future of Century II (Mr. Watkins).

Members expressed appreciation for their individual memories of events in the building through the years but stated their concern about involving the legislature in a local administrative matter. The Chairman congratulated the proponents for their efforts to highlight the importance of the building.

The meeting was adjourned at 10:30 a.m. No further meeting was scheduled.