A feud between Sedgwick County commissioners Richard Ranzau and Michael O’Donnell boiled over Wednesday, with Ranzau accusing O’Donnell of being a vindictive liar and O’Donnell saying he thinks Ranzau is mentally unstable.
Ranzau fired the opening shot at the commission meeting, during a debate over whether to restore a job for a community health surveyor that was cut from the budget last year. O’Donnell voted against restoring the position during budget deliberations this year but reversed that decision Wednesday. The position was restored on a 4-1 vote.
During the debate, Ranzau called O’Donnell a liar who is motivated by political considerations.
“He (O’Donnell) has admitted to me personally that he’s doing this just to be vindictive because he’s angry,” Ranzau said during the meeting. “Advancing public policy for those reasons is not appropriate. Why we do the things here matters to me, and this is a very disappointing and sad day for this commission.”
O’Donnell declined to respond to Ranzau on a point-by-point basis, but said he did not tell Ranzau he voted for the health position out of spite.
“Not only is he wrong, I think it just shows his mental instability,” O’Donnell said when reached by phone after the meeting. “We might have to talk to people at Comcare (the county mental health department) to figure out how to handle it, frankly.”
Reached by phone for a response, Ranzau said: “It’s just laughable. He’s desperate. I think he’s scared. He’s going to lash out, but at some point everything’s going to come out in the open.”
It was the latest round in an ongoing spat that surfaced publicly Nov. 8 when Ranzau accused O’Donnell of abusing his position as a commissioner by trying to cut behind-the-scenes deals to benefit friends and campaign contributors.
Ranzau has always had strong feelings about the community health survey, asserting that its findings have been liberally biased and that it’s a waste of taxpayer money.
In Wednesday’s debate, Ranzau said he respects Chairman Dave Unruh and Commissioner David Dennis, who he said honestly disagree with him.
But he again accused O’Donnell of mishandling his public duties by siding with them.
“The disappointing thing in this is this is being advanced not because it’s good for the community, but because Commissioner O’Donnell got mad at me when I confronted him, personally, about his conduct up here,” Ranzau said. “The very next day he started talking to people about putting this back on the agenda.”
O’Donnell replied: “I hate to get into back and forth, but some of the things that Commissioner Ranzau said were completely not true.”
O’Donnell said he changed his vote because he realized he had made a mistake.
“I was shortsighted,” he said. “It’s not very often politicians say they were wrong, but I was wrong for eliminating that position back in the budget process.”
That wasn’t explanation enough for Ranzau.
“Commissioner, I’d like to know exactly what it was that I said that was untrue,” he confronted O’Donnell. “Did you not stand in my office and tell me that yes, you’re just doing this because you’re mad at me? Did you not tell me that? You didn’t tell me that?”
When O’Donnell appealed to Unruh to intervene, Ranzau continued to press.
“Answer the question,” he told O’Donnell. “You’ve said that I’m not telling the truth. Now answer the question.”
At that point, Unruh told Ranzau, “I need to somehow call this part of the discussion out of order and let’s move on.”
Replied Ranzau: “Mr. chairman, he has implied that I’m lying, and I want him to answer the question.”
Unruh: “I don’t believe he’s going to engage that dialog, you’ll have to settle this some other way.”
Ranzau: “Problem is, Commissioner O’Donnell is not somebody you can trust. He’s being completely disingenuous, and he is lying.”
Unruh: “Commission, we need to refrain from that sort of thing ...”
Ranzau: “The public needs to know you cannot believe a single thing that comes out of that man’s voice, out of that man’s mouth, OK? Every single decision you make, Commissioner O’Donnell, is politically motivated. And you will say and do anything it takes to make yourself look good. And I’m tired of it.”
O’Donnell later criticized Ranzau’s conduct.
“You can’t behave that way in a (government) setting,” O’Donnell said. “It doesn’t matter where you are, if you’re in Washington, D.C., or the Sedgwick County Courthouse, that’s just not an appropriate way to handle that.”
Unruh said his power is limited, and he’s not sure what he’ll do to control any future outbreaks.
“I was not very good at it today,” he said. “I would like to have just ruled him (Ranzau) out of order and stopped the conversation, and if they want to have cross words with one another, they can do it not from the bench.”