A Wichita City Council member says he’s eager to move past a complaint against him that will go before the state’s ethics panel Wednesday.
Council member Michael O’Donnell has admitted that he used his city e-mail to send out 39 solicitations for financial sponsors for an Oct. 30 meet-and-greet on behalf of his longtime friend, state Sen. Garrett Love, R-Montezuma. Some of the e-mails were sent from the bench during a council meeting.
“It was a mistake on my part, and I’m just anxious to put all this behind me,” O’Donnell said last week.
State law prohibits the use of public resources for any campaign for elective office, so O’Donnell faces a hearing before the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, a nine-member commission appointed by the governor, Legislature and state officials. The current commission chairman is Dan Harden.
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The commission can levy a fine of up to $5,000 for a violation of the state’s Campaign Finance Act. However, O’Donnell said the ethics group rarely levies heavy fines for first offenders.
O’Donnell said he has retained legal counsel and may not appear personally before the ethics commission.
Camille Nohe, the general counsel for the ethics panel, said the hearing will center on the fine, if any, the commission will impose because O’Donnell has publicly admitted the violation.
Nohe said there’s nothing requiring a respondent to appear at an administrative hearing of any sort in Kansas.
“It can often be in a person’s best interests to appear,” she said.
O’Donnell and City Manager Robert Layton said last week that there is no internal City Hall probe of the incident. Both men said that City Attorney Gary Rebenstorf initially gathered facts and evidence in the case, then turned it over to District Attorney Nola Foulston’s office for forwarding to the state.
“There’s never been an internal probe,” Layton said.
O’Donnell apologized to his fellow council members on Feb. 28 for the incident, in contrast to his initial remarks blaming Mayor Carl Brewer for a “political hit job” in retaliation for O’Donnell’s opposition to the Ambassador Hotel guest tax vote.
Generally, ethics hearings last about 30 minutes and are public, said Carol Williams, executive director of the ethics commission, and are similar to a court proceeding, including the presence of a court reporter to record testimony. The hearing is set for 2 p.m. Wednesday in Topeka.
The commission’s verdict in the O’Donnell case, after an executive session to deliberate, will be made public Wednesday.