Reality Check: Wichita’s mayor and city manager committed to support municipal IDs without council vote

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Some Wichita City Council members were surprised Thursday night when Mayor Lily Wu and City Manager Robert Layton announced to a large crowd the city’s commitment to multiple initiatives that haven’t been voted on.

One such commitment was to implement a municipal ID program, an initiative started by previous Mayor Brandon Whipple as early as 2022 that stalled when the state Legislature passed a law limiting how municipal IDs can be used.

A lack of identification can be a major obstacle for homeless people. Federal and state ID cards require a permanent address while photo IDs are required to access services, get hired, find housing or vote.

Vice Mayor Maggie Ballard said she supports municipal IDs but expressed frustration about a lack of communication before the announcement. She said it was her understanding that the ID cards had been dropped from the city’s plans after the Legislature moved to ban municipal IDs as valid forms of state proof of identity and removed them from a list of IDs that could be used to vote.

“It’s important, but I want to make sure we aren’t making commitments that we can’t keep,” Ballard said. “And I’m a little disappointed that we haven’t done it yet if we could have been doing it the whole time.”

Wu and Layton also committed to providing a $600,000 operating budget for a homeless multi-agency campus center, or MAC, in 2025. They also committed to a program to offer free bus passes for people with mental health needs. None of those issues have been approved by the City Council.

They announced the commitments at Justice Together’s Nehemiah Assembly at Century II Convention Hall. Justice Together is an interfaith religious coalition working to address policy issues connected to mental health and homelessness. Sedgwick County officials also attended. The coalition asked the officials in attendance to commit to several of their policy initiatives.

“Thank you very much for the opportunity to make a commitment regarding this ID card,” Wu said. “Immediately after having that question, I reached out to my partners and friends in Kansas City regarding their Fountain Cards, which they just launched in 2024 through their health department.

“So yes, we are emphatically yes.”

At an agenda review meeting Friday, Ballard said she was “shocked” to learn about the commitment while sitting in the audience.

“I’m tired of learning about plans after the fact,” Ballard said. “We need to do something better to improve our communication, maybe during the weekly agenda review. Because when things are told only to the mayor in public meetings, this council can’t follow along.”

Wu responded to Ballard that Kansas open meetings law prevents her from discussing city business with more than two other council members at a time outside of a public meeting, such as the agenda review.

“And it’s opportunities like this where we are able to talk and (be) open,” Wu said. “And we want to be this open and transparent, and, again, we don’t do anything behind closed doors. We’re just trying to get things to a workable situation where we can have discussions about things.”

Wu also sought to clarify that she and Layton committed only to talk about developing a municipal ID card, and it would likely ultimately be issued by Sedgwick County.

“Our commitment is to be at the table to talk about a municipal card,” Wu said. “And again the Fountain Card itself up in Kansas City requires that you submit proof of identification, proof of residency and a completed application provided by the health department. And as you know, our health department is with Sedgwick County.

“So, again, it does require conversations between the city and the county. Because we don’t have anything from our end, it was really a commitment that we will sit together between city and county to talk about this. So, council members will know about what we would like to do together as two bodies to help out with again the challenge that the Nehemiah Assembly has identified as homelessness and mental health in our community.”

Council member Brandon Johnson proposed that council members and the mayor could establish a new process for making commitments to constituents: Whenever they make a commitment on behalf of the city, they should tell the rest of the council at the next agenda review meeting.

“And I only say that because as an activist, a group of us forced (the) city manager and Mayor (Carl) Brewer to commit to body cameras for law enforcement, and they were the only two up there,” Johnson said. “And I know they had conversations afterwards but if a mayor and a city manager were to make a commitment, I think if we have a process set up where we talk about it at agenda review later, that way council was presented with the commitment that was made and then we could discuss it. And I only say that because we had some other actions in mind if a commitment was not made, and sometimes that may be the case.”

Ballard and council member Becky Tuttle pushed back on that idea.

“Could we have it before the commitment is made?” Ballard said. “Yeah, you’d want to discuss it before,” Tuttle said. “That was my concern because what if that commitment was made and like four of us don’t support it,” Ballard said. “We just made this huge commitment to the public that we don’t have four votes on. And I’m not saying that’s the case, I just don’t want to put ourselves in a weird situation.”

“I think that the commitment is if you’re going to do it, that’s a little different rather than work on it,” Johnson said. “… I think it just depends on the wording but I would hate to box anybody in to not committing to something to a group.”

Council member Mike Hoheisel said he agreed with Johnson and Ballard.

“I think there is a point to be made there as to are we making a commitment, or are we making a commitment to pursue something and discuss something? I do think maybe there’s a distinction that should be made, maybe not in this particular case or anything, but just overall that we’ll look at this, we’ll work on it, here are some ideas, and we’ll run it by council because Vice Mayor (Ballard) is right. We do need four votes for any policy that we pursue and just making sure that we actually have the backing to adhere to any commitments that are made.”

This article was republished here with the permission of: The Wichita Eagle