Mayor responds to allegations he played favorites in water treatment plant contract

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WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) -

New allegations have surfaced of the mayor playing favorites with plans for a new water treatment plant in Wichita.

The Wichita Eagle posted an article Sunday headlined, "Wichita's Mayor Steered Multi-million Dollar Water Plant Contract to Friends."   The mayor told KAKE News that's just not true -- pointing to friends he also has within the losing team of companies in the bidding process.

At stake in all of this is your drinking water.  The water treatment plant is aging and a single major breakdown could leave hundreds of thousands without clean water.  But there are questions about how the city is going about replacing the plant.

The Eagle says reporters dug through thousands of pages of emails, contracts, and schedules in a months long investigation that revealed Mayor Jeff Longwell urged the city council to give the plant contract to Wichita Water Partners instead of the larger company with more experience, Jacobs Engineering.

The Eagle says Wichita Water Partners includes several of Longwell's friends with whom he held several hours-long "strategy sessions" before major developments in the bidding process, according to his official schedule.

The mayor responded on social media immediately.  He shared a two-page letter saying the accusations are "simply not true." 

When KAKE News spoke with him Sunday afternoon, he repeated his defense that he had friends with both companies, pointing out one in particular.

"Out of that, what is that 10 company team?  I've got a couple people I'm friends with.  But I'm equally friends with the Jacobs team.  In fact, my appointment to the Wichita Airport Authority Board is part of the Jacobs team and I've been friends with him for years," Longwell said.  "I've played golf with Brent several times,  In fact, I go to church with Brent Wooten."

The Eagle says Wooten is a subcontractor for the Jacobs team, as opposed to the company heads of the main members of the Wichita Water Partners team Longwell had been meeting with. 

The mayor says part of why he supported Wichita Water Partners was because they were locally owned and operated and would keep more dollars local, as well as provide more jobs for Wichitans.

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