Racism at City Hall?

By: Paul Aker
By: Paul Aker

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On Thursday, a KAKE On Your Side investigation made public audiotapes of Wichita's assistant city manager making statements suggesting other key city officials are racist.

Our investigation into allegations of racism at Wichita's city hall has sparked serious concerns with the leaders of some minority groups. Leadership from the Wichita NAACP and Hispanic Chamber of Commerce say our investigation reveals jarring and even tragic information.

The story described how a black business owner lost a bid to renew his contract to haul city waste. Gary Ingram believes he lost it because of racism. Our investigation revealed the city gave the work to a white contractor who charged twelve percent more and did not meet some bid specifications.

We played an audiotape on which Assistant City Manager Ernie Garcia, while investigating Ingram's allegations, makes statements suggesting high ranking city officials of racism.

Garcia: Have you been reading the paper?

Ingram: Yeah, I have and watching the news.

Garcia: Chris Cherches is under a tremendous amount of pressure. He's gonna be gone. And when he goes, Kathy Holdeman goes, Ray Trail goes, and a lot of those guys who don't like people like you and me -- Mexicans and blacks.

Later in the tape, Garcia talked about Dave Warren, the man in charge of water and sewers:

Garcia: that son of a b**** Dave --- when I first came to this town and came to this job, I liked him. Then, about three days after that, I began to see him. He's a racist son of a b**** and a lying b*****d.

Wichita NAACP President Kevin Myles says the story will add to the perception the city discriminates against minority contractors.

Myles says, "When you drive around the city of Wichita and you look around at the various contracting practices going on, whether they be trash collection or construction, you typically don't see a lot of African Americans."

Reaction to Assistant City Manager Ernie Garcia is even stronger from one leader of the Hispanic business community.

Wichita Hispanic Chamber Vice President Bob Hernandez says, "When a person in the upper echelons of city government makes that statement, you have to believe it does exist."

But later Garcia claimed he made the statements to try and win over Ingram's trust.

Hernandez says, "[Garcia] doesn't go around making statements like that to ingratiate himself. I think he believes they are accurate. Unfortunately he doesn't have the intestinal fortitude to back up what he's saying and he should. That's why we pay him our tax dollars."

A spokesman for the city did not return our calls regarding this story. All of the city officials named by Garcia deny they are racists or that racism exists at city hall.

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