March 29, 2013

Facts are murky in a flurry of fliers

Leaflets in mayor’s race make claims about voting records, allegiances and actions in office.

Here’s a look at four fliers circulating in Wyandotte County ahead of Tuesday’s election between Ann Murguia and Mark Holland:

• A circular slams Holland for statements he made on public transit and utility rates.

The flier was sent by a group called “The Mainstream Coalition Inc.” of Kansas City, Kan. A moderate political group by the same name that has long operated out of Johnson County immediately denounced the mailing as misrepresenting the group’s support of Holland.

“Make no mistake: the Mainstream Coalition DID NOT send this mailer,” a statement from the group said.

Last week, Kris Van Meteren, who has long been associated with conservative Kansas Republicans and a political firm, filed articles of incorporation with the secretary of state’s office claiming the name “Mainstream Coalition.” He could not be reached for comment.

• An anti-Murguia flier had the headline “If Brownback is your guy, Murguia is your gal.” This flier, from a group calling itself Wyco Jobs PAC, questions Murguia’s tax record.

Although Murguia has never voted for a property tax increase, she acknowledges, as the flier claims, that she has voted to raise utility payments and various fees.

The flier also claims that she directed hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to the Argentine Neighborhood Development Association, where she works as executive director, so she could receive pay raises.

County records show the Argentine association received $32,500 in 2008 from a Unified Government neighborhood improvement grant program and $22,500 more in 2009. The money, Murguia said, was used to pay the salary of another association official. But in 2009, Holland pushed a change to Unified Government ethics rules that cut off the payments because of the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Argentine association records filed with the federal government show Murguia was paid $40,000 in 2007, $66,389 in 2008, $70,000 in 2009, $90,000 in 2010 and $70,000 in 2011 for a 35-hour workweek.

• An anti-Holland flier from the Kansas chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a group that advocates limited government, asks: “Why does Mark Holland keep voting to raise your property taxes?”

The flier says Holland voted to increase property taxes 9 percent in the 2012 budget and 4.5 percent in the 2011 budget.

“We decided to educate the citizens of Wyandotte County as to what’s going on,” said AFP Kansas director Jeff Glendening.

Both claims are somewhat misleading. Holland voted to back increases to the tax rate by that much, which didn’t necessarily translate to out-of-pocket tax increases by the same amounts. The impact of the property tax rate increases was offset in some cases by drops in property valuations during those recession years.

Holland said he cast those votes to stave off 30 layoffs to police, 30 more to the Fire Department and 60 others across county government.

“I wasn’t willing to put another 120 of our own families in crisis,” he said.

Murguia opposed both increases to the county’s property tax rate.

The same mailing also claims that Holland voted to give a 50 percent, 10-year property tax abatement “to wealthy developers.” That charge apparently refers to a vote Holland cast shortly after he joined the commission in 2007 for a medical office complex in western Wyandotte County.

Holland didn’t dispute that claim, but he pointed out that the commission has granted many tax breaks in recent years to spur development.

• Another flier, also from the WyCo Jobs PAC, claims that Murguia backed a grocery store in the Argentine neighborhood in exchange for campaign donations from those involved in the project.

Murguia called that an outright lie, although she acknowledged that a number of people involved in the project contributed to her campaign.

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