Sen. Michael O’Donnell sought records about his Democratic opponent from the Wichita school district.
O’Donnell, R-Wichita, sent the school district a request earlier this month for attendance records of members of the Wichita school board from July 2001 through July 2015. That’s the period of time that Lynn Rogers has been on the school board.
When Rogers announced last month his plans to challenge O’Donnell in the 2016 election for the 25th Senate District, he highlighted the senator’s absence during a key education vote. O’Donnell said he wanted to see if Rogers was beyond reproach on that issue.
O’Donnell said he placed the request for Rogers’ and other board members’ attendance “just to see what his attendance has looked like … only because he made a very big deal about me missing one vote this last session.”
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The district provided him with the information on Sept. 3. The records show that Rogers attended 24 out of 25 meetings of the most recent school year and has attended 363 of 380 official meetings during the 14-year span – a 95.5 percent attendance record.
During O’Donnell’s three years in the Senate he has been present for 199 of 212 legislative days, an attendance record of 93.9 percent, according to Senate records. O’Donnell has been present for 981 of 1,002 votes during that time period, 98.8 percent of votes.
The Eagle also filed a records request seeking a copy of O’Donnell’s request and any records it generated.
The district denied that initial request, citing an exemption for “correspondence between a public agency and a private individual.”
The district’s response was sent to O’Donnell’s Hartman Oil account and addresses him as “Dear Sen. O’Donnell.”
O’Donnell works for Hartman Oil when the Legislature is not in session.
Susan Arensman, the district’s spokeswoman, said that unless a person is representing an organization it will “treat them as a private individual” even if they are an elected official.
O’Donnell said he didn’t advise the district that he was acting in a private capacity and “didn’t ask for any special treatment.”
“I consider myself to be a public figure just because of my title of state senator,” O’Donnell said. “So I wouldn’t consider myself to be a private individual.”
The school district later released the records. O’Donnell had released them earlier.
Rogers chalks up the district’s initial hesitance to concerns about being perceived as political.
“I can understand their sensitivity,” he said. “They don’t want to appear that they’re giving me any advantage over anyone else because there could be consequences for them in that regard.”