'Unfair' and 'inaccurate': Mayor Longwell rebuts 'Wichita Eagle' article on water-plant project

Published: Oct. 1, 2019 at 7:41 PM CDT
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Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell is responding to this weekend's article in

which accuses him of steering the city's multi-million dollar water treatment plant contract to his friends.

The article says a city selection committee unanimously recommended awarding the contract for the water plant project to Jacobs Engineering. It goes on to allege Longwell urged councilmembers to give the bid to Wichita Water Partners, a group,

the Eagle

says includes some of Longwell's friends, political supporters and people he frequently communicated with.

Eyewitness News anchor Michael Schwanke sat down with the mayor who said the article was an unfair assessment and contained some inaccuracies.

Schwanke: Let's start with the article itself when it came out because you reacted to it what was your initial reaction. Longwell: I thought it was a bit unfair. Certainly, it paints the entire council in a light that's not appropriate. We have seven independent council people that formulate their own opinions and do their own homework and research and at the end of the day the council vote carries the day. And I think we have a council that we should all be proud of. Schwanke: What do you see is the biggest problem in your article in your opinion? Longwell: So, their unfair assessment of one, saying we chose an inferior company or alluding to that, and two, saying that it was strictly based on a friendship I had. The reality is I had a friendship with a member of the Jacobs team, someone who I've been closer to than the other team, and so, it's just an unfair depiction of that and I think we should continue to honor and respect the rights of the council members and their votes and their homework that they do and the due diligence that they do and we've done that on every issue. Truly, I'm proud of this council. They formulate their own opinions even with a wide variety of backgrounds. I can tell you that we have council members that have far different political viewpoints, but oftentimes, we find the common ground and make that decision together. Schwanke: Do you think the article was inaccurate or perceived the wrong way? How would you describe it, or were there any inaccuracies in it? Longwell: So, a couple of inaccuracies. They said that we went from a 'best-value' to 'low-bid.' We did not go to a 'low-bid' contract. We went from a 'design-build-operate' to a 'design-build.' What was said in some of the meetings is price would be a weighting factor in the decision process, but we never once said we were going from a 'best-value' to 'low-bid' ever. The design-build in their own nature don't lend themselves to a low bid. So, that was a flat out mischaracterization of the process. Schwanke: Anything you would've done differently looking back? Longwell: Maybe we should've explained that. I would've explained that to The Eagle had they asked that question before the article came out. Been happy to show them that we never went from a 'design-build-operate' to 'low-bid.' But the reality is we have chosen a company that quite honestly helped us get through phase one of the financing and more than capable of this project and were rated high by the committee. There wasn't that much separation between the two. Schwanke: Looking at the meetings that you had, do you think the optics here may be wrong? Longwell: The optics are what they are, right? So, none of those meetings, in fact, again the reporter didn't ask me about what were those meetings involved. The reality is two of those meetings involved conversations with the American Diabetes Association about some programming we were doing and some encouragement to try and continue support for a worthwhile cause and that's the American Diabetes Association in the city. Schwanke: I think people understand that meetings take place outside of the meeting room, but why were a lot of these meetings not held at city hall since we're considering a half a billion-dollar project and instead we're looking at five-hour strategy meetings on the golf course? Longwell: So, they weren't strategy meetings. That's something that a friend of mine has called those for the last eight years when we would get together and play golf. The reality is he's an engineer so he calls them aerodynamic strategy meetings because we're going to strategize how the ball flies. Schwanke: So, you were playing golf with folks involved in this? Longwell: We did. We played some golf. Some of those folks that were part of this process played golf with the Jacob's team also. Schwanke: What about the other teams though, outside of Wichita as well, who aren't able to play golf? Longwell: We never talked business in those meetings. Schwanke: You had meetings for five hours with someone? Longwell: So, a round of golf takes about five hours, and we never once talked anything about the water infrastructure. We just simply played golf. Schwanke: Were there official meetings held where you did talk about this? Longwell: No, we never did talk about it outside of the official council meetings with these folks. Schwanke: And to your response, you had said you were friends with the other company as well. Longwell: So, Brent Wooden, who was with Baufman is my appointee to the Airport Advisory Board. We go to church with Brent, play golf with Brent and the reporter said he couldn't tie Brent to the Jacobs team. Well, Brent testified at the meeting we voted on this contract on behalf of the Jacobs team. Brent Wooden testified at a council meeting. Schwanke: Can we talk about the Flint connection? Everyone knows Flint and the issues that flint has had. What exactly is the Flint connection? Longwell: There is no Flint connection. So, at one time the Wichita Water Partners had some discussions with a group that was part of the team that was involved with Flint but they dropped them. Schwanke: So, they're not involved anymore. They consulted? Longwell: That's accurate to say. They were consultants on the operating portion of the DBO, but they dropped them long before they ever put in their final bid and they're not part of it today Schwanke: Mayor Longwell thank you for coming in. Longwell: My pleasure. Happy to visit with you, Michael.

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