A constituent once bought Gwen Welshimer a plant decorated with little plastic deer as a thank-you gift for helping get a deer crossing sign.
Dave Unruh has received T-shirts and paperweights and has attended four free concerts at Britt Brown Arena in seven years as a Sedgwick County commissioner.
Tim Norton sometimes gets candy or nuts from groups that do business with Sedgwick County. He said he places them in the lounge for others to enjoy.
Sedgwick County commissioners don't report such gifts or have a policy on what they can and can't accept. State legislators and Wichita City Council members do. County Commission Chairman Kelly Parks is advocating a code of ethics, including a "gratuity tracking system" that could be put online for voters to see.
The county doesn't have a code of ethics for commissioners or employees, although many employees are members of professional associations that have such standards.
"It's never been a problem," said County Manager William Buchanan.
Employees — or commissioners — accepting gifts for favors "has never been an issue in 18 years," he said.
He noted that Comcare, which provides mental health and substance abuse services to county residents, has its own policy on gifts to help set boundaries with clients.
The county does have a values statement that emphasizes accountability, commitment, equal opportunity, honesty, open communication, professionalism and respect.
"It just doesn't hang on the wall," Buchanan said. "In weekly updates to employees, brown bags and senior management leadership seminars, a lot of those times those values are talked about and discussed and we have a conversation about what we mean. I think that's part of who we are."
The Kansas Association of Counties doesn't track which counties have ethics policies, said Randall Allen, its executive director. Johnson and Wyandotte counties have policies.
A few years ago, the Kansas County Commissioners Association, an offshoot group, drafted a code of ethics for county commissioners.
"The whole point behind that was that it was something that individual boards of county commissioners could take, review, hopefully adopt or revise and adopt," Allen said.
He added he didn't have a hard-and-fast opinion about what is a reasonable threshold for gifts.
"I don't think the incidental meal or coffee mug is going to influence a county commissioner," he said. "I think most reasonable people would say it would not."
Last week, commissioners began talks about an ethics policy.
During the discussion, Parks made a mysterious comment that he had turned some "stuff" over to the FBI. He has since said an FBI agent advised him not to further discuss the reported investigation; he won't go into detail about what he was talking about.
Assistant County Manager Charlene Stevens gave commissioners a draft copy of a code of ethics that would require them to file an annual statement disclosing gifts totaling $40 or more to them or their family members.
That's the rule for Kansas legislators under state law.
City Council members must report any person who gives them gifts or services valued at $500 or more in any 12-month period.
The city's policy for employees bans them from using their position to solicit gifts, donations, discounts or services. Employees can't accept a gift if they believe it could influence their behavior.
The city's policy states that "an occasional non-monetary item of nominal value is not considered a gift, as long as it does not present any appearance of conflict of interest." It defines nominal value as $100 or less on any occasion or in total from one person or organization during 12 months.
Free WSU tickets
If county commissioners began reporting gifts totaling $40, they would have to report the two season tickets they receive each year to Wichita State University men's basketball games.
Each season ticket is valued at $260.
WSU gives commissioners and City Council members season tickets, said Andy Schlapp, executive director of government relations.
"It's just longstanding tradition at WSU to do that," Schlapp said.
He noted that the tickets come from the university's foundation, not from taxpayer money.
"If a commissioner or council member doesn't want the tickets, that's fine. They can give them back to us," he said. "Certain people pay for their tickets or pay for just the ones they use. Everybody uses them in a different way."
Buchanan, Schlapp said, accepts both season passes and makes a donation to the Hugo Wall School of Urban and Public Affairs.
Norton, Schlapp said, pays for the tickets he uses.
"To my knowledge, those are the only two people who have written checks to the university," he said, adding that he's been in the job for a year and a half.
Parks said he used one ticket in 2007 and three last year and made a donation to the university's general scholarship fund. He gave the remaining tickets to Big Brothers Big Sisters, he said.
Schlapp said WSU is not trying to curry favor with commissioners or council members.
"That's surely not our intent," he said. "We want them to participate in our campus."
In addition to WSU basketball tickets, commissioners say they also receive passes to the Sedgwick County Zoo, which gets funding from the county.
County commissioners will not receive perks at Intrust Bank Arena such as box seats or use of suites, spokeswoman Kristi Zukovich said.
Role of perception
Perception is everything, some say.
Allen said disclosure is probably more important than rules about what can be accepted and what can't.
Parks is pushing for a tracking system that could be featured on the county's Web site.
"Any time we give money to an organization or give money to another government entity or vote on certain zoning issues or have regulatory power over something, it's just inappropriate to take gifts and not report them," Parks said.
"I think politicians need to climb up the ladder a little bit in trust. The only way to do that is to be open and transparent on gifts from people we're doing business with."