State workers at site of shooting had guards, security until Kansas’ privatization push
Wichita ? The head of Kansas’ state employees union and a local lawmaker say a push by Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration to privatize state office space left employees vulnerable during a shooting this week at a Department of Revenue office in Wichita.
The workers were moved three years ago out of the now-vacant Finney Office building, which had guards and security, to a strip mall office that provided no security, The Wichita Eagle reported. On Tuesday, tax compliance officer Cortney Holloway was shot. The suspect, 51-year-old Ricky Todd Wirths of Wichita, owed nearly $400,000 in outstanding tax warrants.
Wirths was charged Thursday with attempted first-degree murder. Holloway was upgraded to fair condition Thursday at a Wichita hospital.
“I think this is ridiculous that we’re allowing guns on college campuses but we’re requiring them and other city buildings to have metal detectors, but then we privatize and we’re allowing just an open house (at the Department of Revenue office),” said Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, a Wichita Democrat. “It’s a madhouse.”
Robert Choromanski, executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, said the larger Finney building with armed guards likely would have deterred a shooting.
“Somebody would have been, ‘Oh, I don’t think I’m going to get away with this. I’m going to get killed or shot,'” he said.
The department is working to improve security at its offices after the shooting, said Rachel Whitten, a spokeswoman for the state agency and Brownback.
“Instead of engaging in speculation, we are reviewing agency-wide security procedures and policies already in place,” she said. “We have always been mindful of security, and the track record of employee and customer safety with zero incidents up until the unique shooting event involving our KDOR tax agent demonstrates that.”
Whitten said she didn’t know if a security review was done when the tax office moved to its current location, which happened before she and Revenue Secretary Sam Williams came to the agency.
The Brownback administration has sought to cut costs and improve government efficiency by reducing the number of public buildings and renting from private landlords.
Until 2014, the Revenue Department’s tax compliance unit and eight other state agencies were housed at the Finney Building. Employees were protected by armed guards hired for the Department for Children and Families. The building was also the regional headquarters for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
When the Finney building was closed, the security detail went with the Department for Children and Families. The tax compliance officers were moved to a storefront office in a strip mall.
House Minority Leader Jim Ward, who wanted to keep state offices in the Finney Building, said it shouldn’t have required a shooting to get a risk assessment done.
“And it should have been done at the time when (Brownback) moved people out of the state office building and moved them all over town and the county,” said Ward, a Democrat who is running for governor.