Near the end of a long discussion about a code of ethics for Sedgwick County commissioners Tuesday, Chairman Kelly Parks said he had turned "stuff" over to the FBI and implied an investigation was under way.
He later refused to explain his remarks, and other commissioners said they didn't know what he was referring to. The FBI declined to comment.
The comments came when Parks and commissioner Dave Unruh were discussing ethics at a staff meeting.
At one point, Parks snapped: "I just turned some stuff over to the FBI."
"You what?" Unruh said.
Parks appeared to instantly regret the comment.
"I probably ruined the investigation," he said. "That's fine. Thank you."
"What are you talking about, Kelly?" Unruh said.
"I don't want to say any more," Parks said.
Interviewed immediately after the meeting, Parks declined to discuss his comments. He said he was on his way to the FBI.
"I've got to talk to them right now and tell them what I did," he said.
"This is not something that's recent, but it is something I felt terribly uncomfortable with."
Parks' remarks at the meeting mystified other commissioners. Gwen Welshimer and Karl Peterjohn said later that they knew of no investigation and didn't know what Parks was talking about.
"I was rather taken aback, and I don't know what to say," Peterjohn said.
County Manager William Buchanan also said he didn't know what Parks was talking about and knew of no investigation.
"I have no clue," Buchanan said.
"I've not talked to the FBI. The chairman has not talked to me. I have no idea what that might be."
Bridgett Patton, FBI spokeswoman, said the FBI never confirms or denies an investigation.
Parks, who champions an ethics code for commissioners that would include disclosing gifts that might influence their decisions, had said earlier in the meeting that he was dismayed when he found out commissioners receive free tickets to Wichita State University basketball games. WSU receives some property tax money from the county.
Unruh told Parks his decisions regarding the university weren't influenced by the tickets.
"Perception is everything," Parks replied.
Commissioners received a draft for a possible ethics code modeled on one used by the Kansas Association of Counties.
The code would include seven principles governing their conduct and would require them to make an annual disclosure statement of their finances, relationships, gifts and interests that could affect how they vote on the board.
Parks passed out a gratuity tracking sheet that he said he fills out. It lists meals and gifts and their estimated values, as well as who provided them.
He said commissioners should disclose all gifts they receive in the interest of transparency
Unruh questioned whether people cared about every minor gift commissioners receive from organizations they visit.
"Do you think citizens want to know when someone gives us a coffee cup?" he said.
Unruh said commissioners fill out disclosure information when they run for election every four years.
Tim Norton said the sense of ethics is inherent in each commissioner.
"I don't understand why we think we've got all these bad things happening in the county," Norton said. "I think everybody works pretty hard to understand what their internal ethics are and how it applies to life as a public servant."
"Some of this is so onerous and restrictive," he said of the tracking system.
Norton said the commission probably can subscribe to Kansas County Commissioners Association's code.
Peterjohn wanted to know how broad the code should be, and whether it should apply to county employees and other elected officials as well as commissioners. Many county employees already belong to professional associations that have ethics codes.
The county plans to survey other municipalities and counties to see what codes they have.
Other governing bodies in Kansas that have ethics codes include Wyandotte and Johnson counties, the city of Manhattan and the state.