Whipple says the trip to the White House was no town affair

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Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple answers city council questions regarding a trip to the White House.

Wichita City Council members say they are frustrated Mayor Brandon Whipple visited the White House last week without their approval, which is not required by city policy as he was not there on business of the city and did not use public funds.

Whipple said he did not announce the trip to council – or the public – before leaving because he feared for the safety of his family after receiving multiple threats over the past year and a half.

One of those threats resulted in criminal charges against a former Wichita firefighter who searched for Whipple’s whereabouts in text messages to James Clendenin, a former city council member Whipple is suing for his involvement in a bogus campaign defamation and cover-up.

“Frankly, I don’t want people to know when my wife and three grandchildren are home alone,” he said.

Whipple spent three days in the nation’s capital last week for the New Deal Leadership Conference, an annual conference for Democratic politicians to share political ideas. City council members did not learn of the trip until the end of the conference.

Whipple has been with the organization for seven years and has said he sees it as an opportunity for professional development and networking.

At Tuesday’s city council meeting, the trip sparked a long and heated argument between Whipple and several city council members, primarily Jared Cerullo.

“I’m just saying why haven’t you spoken to this body in advance of this great and productive trip you have made to the White House,” Cerullo said. “I think that’s a good question.”

Whipple said in a telephone interview that the trip was “extracurricular” and not an official trip on behalf of the city and therefore did not need to be disclosed.

“The idea that I have to look for board members and ask them if it’s okay for me to use my own resources to attend a training that I’ve been attending for seven years and will continue to attend is a bit far-fetched, ”he said.

“Being mayor and acting as mayor are separate things,” Whipple told council members on Tuesday.

But council members Cerullo, Bryan Frye, Jeff Blubaugh and Cindy Claycomb disagreed with Whipple, saying it was traditional for the mayor to seek permission before taking a trip that could have political implications. .

“I take offense at that, and this whole town should be offended,” Cerullo said. “The reasonable thing to do would have been to discuss this in advance with your fellow board members acting on behalf of this city. “

Whipple said he did not seek permission from the council because he was not there on town business or the town’s penny. He paid for the trip himself and will be reimbursed for certain expenses by the New Deal organization, he said.

As part of the conference, Whipple received information from White House staff about a $ 1,000 billion federal infrastructure bill to fund road and bridge repairs, public transportation, rail services, climate change resilience and broadband services across the country. Some of this funding is expected to flow to Wichita.

“I don’t think any of us are saying that you broke an ordinance or a law,” Frye said. “I think we are just asking for more transparency, because this has been at the center of your concerns in recent years.

“We have created an ethics committee, and we say that if we want to do it the right way, we should all live by the same rules.”

Whipple told The Eagle that he plans to report the travel reimbursement on his gift disclosure form under the new ethics policy.

“If anyone had any questions about this trip, he could have texted me, he could have called me, he could have walked into my office down the hall,” Whipple said. “Instead, they weirdly used a city council meeting to ambush me about a personal trip when we have a government to do.”

The mayor wonders about the motivations

The trip discussion was the latest point of dissent between the mayor of Wichita and council members, who clashed with Whipple on nearly all of his major political initiatives.

This fall, Whipple actively supported two challengers – Maggie Ballard and Mike Hoheisel – who beat Cerullo and Claycomb in the municipal election, giving Whipple a seemingly friendly majority on the board next year for the first time since taking office in 2020. .

He said he hopes the new board members will help end the “drama” seen at Tuesday’s meeting.

“The people of Wichita want to see us get things done, even though council members don’t like me,” Whipple said.

Not all of the board’s comments were negative. Council members did not question the trip as much as they questioned Whipple’s communications about the trip.

“The fact that you’ve been invited is fantastic,” Frye said. “It’s good for Wichita.”

“I’m not saying it was a bad trip at all,” Cerullo said. “I said, ‘Hey, more power for you if you were invited to the White House.’ This is great for the city of Wichita. I would just expect something as important to have been discussed beforehand with other board members of this body. ”

No taxpayer money

Whipple’s trip is unusual compared to the trips of other council members, as he did not use city funds or seek council approval, Eagle Research has revealed.

City council has a great deal of leeway in funding travel, and it usually approves travel requests without discussing who pays for what and without any description of travel expenses on the city council’s agenda.

The diary reports do not say how much travel is costing the city. And city officials’ travel records are not easily accessible to the public.

Past expense reports are stored in boxes at the Hutchinson salt mines, and the city previously cited nearly $ 50 in delivery and return charges per box to remove them from storage, according to a response to a request from Eagle Kansas Open Records Act.

Board members are required to have board approval only if they are using public funds.

City sponsored trips run the gamut from business conferences and political networking to opening ceremonies and lobbying.

Recent examples of board approved travel include a trip to Las Vegas for Frye and board member Becky Tuttle to attend the National Business Aviation Association convention. Vice Mayor Brandon Johnson, Frye and Tuttle traveled to Oklahoma City for an annual city-to-city trip for the Wichita Chamber of Commerce.

Claycomb received City Council approval to travel to Washington, DC, in 2019 for a conference for White House Women Municipal Leaders.

Johnson was cleared to attend a 2019 conference in Miami for the Elected Youth Conference, an event hosted by the progressive rights organization People for the American Way Foundation.

For several years, the city paid part of the expenses of Frye and other members of the Republican council to attend the annual conferences of community leaders of America across the country. The group describes itself as a “national forum of Republican mayors, city council members and county leaders.”

Chance Swaim, George Polk Award-winning investigative journalist, has worked for The Eagle since 2018. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @byChanceSwaim.

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