Known as the “Dry Wit of Wichita” (I made that up), Jeff Longwell can be ornery, humorous, and self-aware at council meetings. We had a fun chat about his 10 years on the council.
Q: At the May 9, 2017 council meeting, you were not actually there. Vice Mayor Janet Miller was running things. Here is how she started off:
Vice Mayor: For those of you who are wondering why I’m here and the mayor is not, his orneriness has finally caught up with him. He is home with kidney stones! He’s probably watching, so our thoughts are with you and I’ve told you not to be so ornery!
I’m not a medical doctor, but I DO believe orneriness IS the cause of kidney stones. Were you watching the meeting at home?
A: I was. I was in and out of taking pain medication. I was battling probably in the worst phases of my very first kidney stone.
Q: How much more pain did it cause you that she was bringing up your kidney stones on TV in front of the whole city?
A: [Laughs] Yeah, there’s not much you can hide as a public official! The nice thing is I received a lot of sympathy from people all over the city.
Q: I want to ask about the joint meeting between the Wichita city council and the Sedgwick County commission from June 27 of this year. You were negotiating a contract for ambulance services that the county provides. I don’t know if you’ve read The Art of the Deal, but in a negotiation, you are supposed to go in with your last acceptable alternative in mind–then threaten nuclear war with North Korea. What was your strategy?
A: [Laughs] I didn’t need a strategy to get them to deal. We held all of the cards! We had the option of signing the agreement or voiding the agreement and doing something on our own.
Q: I noticed you cracking some jokes in the meeting. Do you use humor as a negotiating tactic?
A: I use humor sometimes to drive a point home without trying to make people defensive. My humor’s a little dry at times. It takes a while before you fully understand my humor.
Q: If you came out of a council meeting and couldn’t help a citizen or you voted in a way that made people mad, how long would that stick with you?
A: Oh, wow. We don’t have the luxury to dwell on votes. What I like to tell people: it’s great to have robust discussion. But once that vote’s been taken, everyone should act as if that vote was unanimous.
Q: Have you ever had second thoughts about anything that’s happened in a council meeting?
A: There’s some times where I’ve remained totally quiet and just let people talk and later regret, “why didn’t I say something?” Because what we often forget is what it looks like from the other end. If someone is making statements that aren’t necessarily true and we don’t counter that…oftentimes we say, “thank you. Okay, next speaker.” If we don’t counter those mistruths, at some point many in the community will go, “you didn’t say anything, so it must be true.”
Q: You’d err on the side of inserting yourself into the argument?
A: I think sometimes we have to.
Follow Mayor Jeff Longwell on Twitter: @jefflongwellict