Grounding Christmas

By Walt Braun

By now you’ve probably heard about the curious case down in Wichita of the Christmas giveaway that went awry.

Well, it hasn’t gone awry quite yet, Christmas not arriving until Sunday. But it will.

It seems that an anonymous person of good cheer and some unspecified fortune decided that he/she desired to celebrate the holiday by renting a helicopter and dropping good old American cash greenbacks from it upon the citizens of the city.

The person has not been identified, but he or she must have little or no previous experience with government because the first thing he/she did was to ask Wichita city officials whether that would be OK. What a naïf!

The city of Wichita government being nothing if not bureaucratic, officials rooted around until they came up with not one but two roadblocks to such a gratuity. The first was a littering ordinance. The second was a requirement that holders of public events involving more than 250 persons obtain a license. Call back in two or three weeks and see whether the license application has gone through yet.

These objections will be dealt with sequentially.

1. Littering. Technically, dropping a piece of paper — even a dollar bill — on the public right-of-way constitutes littering even if, as seems virtually guaranteed in this case, somebody immediately comes along and picks it up. On the other hand, in order to prosecute the case the city would have to produce witnesses at trial who would be willing to testify that they saw the accused do it. This seems nigh onto impossible first because it’s hard to believe that anybody receiving a dollar under such circumstances would be so ungrateful as to testify against the dropper, and second because the donor would be hidden inside the helicopter, and thus unidentifiable. Finally, it is somewhere between difficult and impossible to believe that any littering damage — any at all — would be a burden for any meaningful duration upon the municipality.

2. Licensing. Here the city of Wichita is being officious. If it is truly written that it must take two to three weeks to obtain a permit, then you know what you do if you are the city of Wichita? You waive that provision.  What’s in it for the city — aside, that is, from all the money its staffers can scoop up? Good publicity, that’s what. The kind Wichita isn’t getting by taking the stuffy attitude it did take.

If Wichita doesn’t want this flying Santa, Manhattan should invite him or her up here for the weekend. Our citizens would be delighted to show the donor a good time. As for obtaining the necessary permits, well, Riley County recently demonstrated with respect to the Westar substation now being constructed north of the city that there will be plenty of time afterward to fill out the paperwork.

Merry Christmas.

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