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Wichita mayor asks if council member O’Donnell can be censured for incorrect testimony

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012, at 5:23 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Sep. 11, 2013, at 10:12 a.m.

Two weeks before he leaves the Wichita City Council for the Kansas Senate, Michael O’Donnell has landed in hot water with his council colleagues.

Mayor Carl Brewer said Wednesday afternoon he will ask legal staff to determine whether O’Donnell can be publicly censured or reprimanded for misrepresenting the city’s flood control plans on the Bowllagio project during testimony Wednesday before the Sedgwick County Commission.

“I don’t think that you’ve heard the last of this one,” Brewer said.

O’Donnell said he told county commissioners they didn’t need to support the Bowllagio project for flood control improvements because the work was already contained in the city’s 10-year capital improvements plan.

Those remarks are not true, said Brewer and several council members. The project has never been included in the city’s CIP.

O’Donnell said Wednesday afternoon he misunderstood the city’s intentions, and said he’s prepared to publicly apologize to his council colleagues for the testimony he gave to the county commission.

“I misunderstood where the CIP was going with it, so I don’t mind correcting my statement,” O’Donnell said. “I don’t mind apologizing if I did something wrong.”

A review of City Council minutes reveals that O’Donnell made the same mistake – and was publicly corrected by Scott Lindebak, the city’s stormwater engineer – on Nov. 20, during a public hearing on the Bowllagio project.

From the Nov. 20 official council minutes:

“Council Member O’Donnell stated these improvements are at least earmarked to be completed in the CIP.

Scott Lindenback (sic) Storm Water and Utilities Engineer stated these improvements are not in the CIP. Stated there were two projects in the CIP, Dry Creek overflow and The Dell.”

Asked if those minutes were correct, O’Donnell paused and then said, they are “not in error.”

“From what I understood, they’re in the CIP … I thought we were going to improve that area, that flooding. I knew the city is going to address these issues, and that’s what I was trying to reiterate,” he said.

During the same meeting, council member Jeff Longwell told the council that it would be at least 2020 before the Bowllagio flooding project – which would benefit 40 homes – could be addressed in the city’s capital improvements plan.

The issue has been sent to City Attorney Gary Rebenstorf to determine what action the council can take.

Vice Mayor Janet Miller said she’s anxious to hear O’Donnell’s explanation.

“It’s very unfortunate if council member O’Donnell went over and provided inaccurate testimony to the county commission this morning,” Miller said. “Whether it was intentional, I cannot say.”

Council member James Clendenin said he’s “not happy” about O’Donnell’s testimony, which he watched on television.

Clendenin said he picked up the phone and called city staff “to find out what I was missing” in O’Donnell’s testimony.

“The fact is, I wasn’t missing anything,” he said.

The county commission voted 5-0 against the Bowllagio project, a 86.5-acre entertainment district that would have been eligible for tax increment financing if the county and Goddard school district had concurred with the City Council’s Nov. 20 approval.

County Commissioner Dave Unruh said the CIP issue had no impact on his vote against the Bowllagio project.

“I think all of us understood that it doesn’t have any funding attached to it,” Unruh said. “I came to my position primarily because I thought this should be a CIP project and not connected to an economic development project, especially one that could go ahead without county funding.”

O’Donnell defeated Tim Snow in November to win the District 25 Kansas Senate seat.

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or bwilson@wichitaeagle.com.

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