Wichita, KS – If you’re a homeless person in Wichita, Kansas, City Councilman Pete Meitzner and his associates at The Lord’s Diner will feed you. If you’re caught with a joint and locked up at the Sedgwick County Detention Facility, Meitzner and his political associates will feast on you – and any relatives who try to call you while you’re incarcerated.
Three decades ago, recalls the investigative website Kansas Exposed, Meitzner co-founded a telecommunications company now known as Securus Technologies, which provides telephone and video visitation service — at extortionate rates. Sedgwick County “receives a 71% commission on the gross sales generated by these inmate conversations” in the county jail, notes Kansas Exposed.
When Meitzner first ran for the District II City Council seat in 2011, a profile depicted him as the product of a deeply religious and civic-minded family. He is the former Chairman of Directors at The Lord’s Diner, a ministry of the Catholic Diocese of Wichita that has the admirable mission of serving “a nutritious meal with dignity and respect to anyone who is hungry.”
It’s worth considering whether he has given serious thought to Matthew 23:14, in which Jesus is quoted as condemning “hypocrites” who “devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers.” His prison telecommunications cartel charges the families of people cattle-penned in government cages hundreds of dollars a month to talk to their loved ones. Last year, Securus’s corporate earnings vaulted from $87 million to $114.6 million, most of it extracted from poor but desperate relatives of jail and prison inmates.
This isn’t to say that Meitzner is a stranger to pity: When the FCC proposed a cap of 11 cents a minute and limits on the notorious add-on fees that inflate the cost of communicating with an inmate, Meitzner’s company whined that this might be a “business-ending event,” reports the Huffington Post.
A self-described conservative Republican, Meitzner refers to himself as a “small business owner.” A more honest description would be “government contractor”; an accurate, albeit uncharitable, one would be “prohibition profiteer.”
The Councilman’s Wichita-based consulting firm, Meitzner and Associates, provides telecommunications security for government agencies. Capgemini Government Solutions, for which Meitzner serves as a senior partner, is a half-century-old multinational IT firm that raked in 10.5 billion euros in 2015, most of it by building “public sector” telecommunications and surveillance infrastructure. Its ongoing projects include the effort to create what it calls “Police 3.0” – a seamless, all-encompassing cyber-surveillance state.
On January 17, the Wichita City Council examined Ordinance No. 49-936, a measure that would define possession of an ounce or less of marijuana as an infraction punishable by a $50 fine, rather than a Class A misdemeanor with penalties of up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. All twelve of the people who addressed the Council expressed support for the ordinance, which was placed on the ballot as the result of a petition drive. This turnout was all the more remarkable in light of the fact that “a lot of people are afraid to sign the petition because they are afraid it will make them a target from law enforcement,” according to Wichita resident Allan Ternary.
Resident Janice Bradley did nothing to persuade Meitzner to support the ordinance by referring to it as a product of “local work against mass incarceration.”
“We are five percent of the world’s population, and we have twenty-five percent of the world’s prisoners,” observed Bradley, according to the official Council record. “We have [more] prisoners per capita than places like China, Iran, [and] Russia, which has ramifications for our community locally.” Efforts by local activists to reduce the jail population ‘are stymied by the continual flood of small marijuana arrests and by actions by the Kansas lawmakers who have gone overboard with mandatory minimum sentences by enacting ninety-nine sentencing enhancements since 2006.”
Owing to the state legislature’s relentless escalation of drug prohibition, “our jail went over capacity and was then expanded and filled to capacity again,” Bradley recalled, lamenting what Meitzner finds lucrative.
Following the public’s input, Meitzner expressed appreciation “for the respectfulness” they had shown, said that they offered “compelling comments” – and was the only negative vote among the seven City Council members when a special election was proposed to consider the measure.
To paraphrase Upton Sinclair’s oft-cited observation, it is impossible to get a politician to end a perversely destructive policy when he and his cronies profit directly from the perversion in question.
Wichita voters approved the marijuana reform measure in April, but it was immediately tied up in court by the state government. As a result, Meitzner and his fellow prohibition profiteers in Sedgwick County will continue to benefit from the unremitting growth of their captive “customer” base.