November 7, 2012

Legislature-bound O’Donnell may leave Wichita council post by year’s end

Newly-elected state senator Michael O’Donnell, a Wichita City Council member, is leaning toward leaving his city post before the end of the year.

Newly-elected state senator Michael O’Donnell, a Wichita City Council member, is leaning toward leaving his city post before the end of the year.

O’Donnell’s Wednesday afternoon announcement comes a day after he edged out Timothy Snow by 300 votes for the 25th District state Senate seat representing the Twin Lakes and Riverside areas, along with parts of south Wichita.

City officials said that O’Donnell is legally able to retain his council seat while serving in the Kansas Legislature. But O’Donnell said Wednesday he’s opted not to do that.

“Right now, stepping down before the first of the year is the best thing for me to do for my district,” he said. “Could I keep both? Sure. But that’s not the right thing to do.”

O’Donnell, 28, represents the 4th City Council district in south Wichita.

The timing of O’Donnell’s resignation dictates how the City Council may replace him.

Based on a preliminary legal review, City Attorney Gary Rebenstorf said that if O’Donnell steps off the council bench before Jan.1, his council-appointed replacement will serve until the city elections in April. Then, that replacement will have to run for the chance to fill the remainder of O’Donnell’s term – two years.

It’s similar to the scenario when Jim Skelton left the City Council for the Sedgwick County Commission in 2010. However, Skelton’s immediate replacement, Roger Smith, served until the next election with the understanding he would not run to fill Skelton’s unexpired term.

O’Donnell said he won’t seek such a guarantee from his replacement. “Of course not,” he said. “It wouldn’t be fair.”

O’Donnell can suggest a replacement, but the council makes the final decision.

If O’Donnell steps aside after the first of the year, his replacement will serve for the remaining two years of the term.

O’Donnell’s future council plans moved to the forefront last week, when fellow council members asked him to clarify his resignation plans should he win the Kansas Senate seat. The request, council members said, came in the wake of persistent reports that O’Donnell was floating the dual-political-roles idea in the community.

But retaining the two jobs would essentially create an absentee City Council seat during the Legislature’s 90-day session, something O’Donnell said he didn’t want to do.

“It might be different if I was on the Topeka City Council, given the travel,” he said.

Mayor Carl Brewer said O’Donnell’s dual political roles are “rumors we’ve been hearing for a while.”

“And according to Gary (city attorney Rebenstorf) it’s something perfectly legal if he wants to do it,” Brewer said.

Brewer said members of the Wichita chapter of Americans for Prosperity — a group that appears frequently before the council to criticize public subsidies for private developers — have been encouraging O’Donnell to keep both jobs.

“That would be pure speculation,” said Susan Estes, field director for the Wichita chapter.

“Well, AFP might have,” said John Todd, who coordinates volunteers for the chapter. “But I don’t think I have.”

Estes and Todd said that O’Donnell has been helpful in their battle to stop the city from choosing business winners and losers with its economic development policies.

“I certainly have thought about losing a very friendly ear on the council,” Estes said.

Rebenstorf said Monday he’s not sure when he’ll have a final recommendation on the process to replace O’Donnell.

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