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Sunday blog II: Hey, Wellington. Perhaps we should send Chicken Little packing

Chicken Little Wellington water tower

 

Commentary by Tracy McCue, Sumner Newscow — Chicken Little seems to have moved to Wellington.

Now the sky is falling. People are moving away. Utility rates will be raised to such high proportions that we may never have electricity again. The city is going bankrupt. The hospital is about to close. The water tower is about to fall smack dab on the roundabout at any second.

But while we are in this utter state of panic, let’s just contemplate these few facts:

The world is 4.5 billion years. The United States is 239 years. Wellington is 144 years olds…

Wellington has survived a tornado, a few industrial shutdowns, the Great Depression, two World Wars, a few floods, fires, a poor decision not to get a community college, and a horse mishap in a Wheat Festival Parade.

We can survive this whatever “this”is.

People, I am exhausted.

I had three separate Chicken Little incidents this week in Wellington where people essentially spectacularly overreacted. By Friday I couldn’t get out of bed in fear someone might have a nervous breakdown because I was using the wrong toothpaste.

First let’s address the utility rate issue. The city council has increased sewer and water rates but has yet to touch electrical rates. Your electrical bill this month is reflective of rates charged over the past few years. So if your electric bill was higher than the month before it’s because it was so blasted hot in June and not so much in May. Your utility bill from June 2014 is a better comparison.

The sewer rates have been raised but it doesn’t reflect the June billing because those rates are established in December to February. The water rates are probably the only thing rising on this bill, but water isn’t what drives your bills to high levels. The bulk of your utility bill will be based on that air conditioner you are running.

Yes, the city will raise electric rates soon. Yes, utility rates are already high, and, yes, they are a hardship for many, many people.

But nothing has changed at this moment that warrants this current hysteria on social media. It’s as if people have been waiting for an excuse to gripe and that time has arrived.

The three mill increase seems like a lot. But let’s remember the Sumner County Commissioners dropped the mill levy 21.424 mills in 2013 because of new revenue coming from the Kansas Star Casino. So even if the city raises mill levies by 10 mills, it doesn’t come close to the mill levy rate of the 2000s.

Also, remember your overall tax bill for next December has yet to be determined because no governmental entity has yet to establish a budget to determine its mill levy. That will come due in late August. If you are concerned about a tax hike, attend the city council public budget hearing meeting on August 18 to voice your objection. It will be much more effective than yelling about it on Facebook.

The hospital? Let’s just relax a little bit there as well. There has been no proclamation that the hospital is going to close. I have sent Sumner Regional Medical Center CEO Leonard Hernandez a list of questions that hopefully will be responded to with the honesty and thoroughness I’ve grown to expect from the current administrator.

I like the leadership at the hospital right at this moment. Dr. Faustino Naldoza made an outstanding quote to a Wichita news station saying that the hospital is in critical care and they (the board and council) are the doctors trying to nurse it back to health.

I’m not willing to speculate on the closing of the hospital. I’m willing to speculate on saving it.

The trouble is, I also believe in a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you think something bad is going to happen, it probably will.

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Why is Chicken Little here?

I’m not sure why Chicken Little has come to roost in Wellington this summer. But he has most certainly been at the Wellington City Council meetings for the past few months.

Panic as the Chicken Little video above illustrates results from suspect leadership and people’s propensity to believe suspect leadership. I’m afraid the current Wellington City Council has not provided much reassurance lately. There seems to be little vision. This sudden public war with the hospital seems odd to me. But maybe that illegal executive session on Monday will help clear the air.

I keep waiting for Wellington City Manager Roy Eckert to step to the plate and imprint his form of leadership. One thing you could say about former city manager Gus Collins is you knew he was in charge regardless how you felt about him. I haven’t gotten that feeling with Mr. Eckert so far. He seems more reactive than proactive. I hope that will change soon.

Mayor Shelley Hansel is off to a rough start. She seems to be more embroiled in meaningless drama and getting her feelings hurt. You’re the leader of the town, Ms. Hansel, thicken that skin. I have known you for a long time. I believe you can do it.

Mr. Jim Valentine, please stop overreacting. Your concerns will be taken in better context if you stop saying insinuating that the city is going to have to declare bankruptcy or that it has misplaced $1.5 million. The Wellington bond rating is currently at A+ with Moody’s which is good. Rumor has it the City of Arkansas City’s rating is much, much worse.

I’m still willing to give this Wellington City Council a chance. Its membership is relatively new and inherited a very tough situation. And they also have help. Wellington City Clerk Shane Shields seems to have a very good handle on numbers. I’d listen to him. Also, financial advisors like John Haas and Lonnie Cooper will provide clarity.

The outcome.

I was at the Wellington swimming pool the other day and saw this plaque on the wall of those who dedicated the opening of the Wellington Aquatic Center 20 years ago. Those serving on the city council at the time included names like Jeff McGovern, John Huck, Leslie Thompson, Mike Kelly, Terry Craig and others.

I started thinking about that group. I knew them well. I was covering the council as a Wellington Daily News reporter. Maybe my mind is slipping, but I tried to think of one memorable meeting – one memorable moment – at one of those meetings. All I could remember was those meetings were dreadfully dull. I also remember those meetings were short. I also don’t remember them having work sessions unless I wasn’t paying attention. I thought executive sessions were just for the Wellington school board.

The thing is, those council members just got the job done. They were too busy running their own business to let the city council occupy too much of their time. Smart people don’t usually overthink things.

And what was their legacy for those dreadfully dull meetings? They brought us a new pool, a renovated downtown, a new public safety facility, the development of Worden Park, a new water line from the lake, many road construction projects, and several other amenities. The 1990s will probably go down in history as Wellington’s most progressive decade.

I don’t see that kind of vision right now. All I see is Chicken Little panic.

Do you know the original Chicken Little story, not the happy-happy Disney version we saw in movie theaters a few years back?

Chicken Little – i.e. Henny Penny – had an acorn hit his head. He goes into a panic and convinces all his friends and family into believing the sky is falling.

Trouble is Henny Penny also gathered a fox, who ends up eating him and all his friends during a “sky is falling” meeting.

Please, Wellington, we have a few issues to resolve.

But in order to do so, let’s gain some perspective, roll up our sleeves, and get to work.

The first thing on the list is to send Chicken Little packing.

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