Petitioners filed a request Tuesday to recall Sedgwick County Commission Chairman Richard Ranzau over his proposal to keep illegal immigrants from participating in a federal nutrition program.
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They say he has rejected the county’s role as a board of public health through health department budget cuts and changes he has made or seeks for health programs, like the Women, Infants and Children nutritional program, or WIC.
“Commissioner Ranzau has willfully and repeatedly failed to fulfill his legal obligation to contract for the protection and promotion of public health in Sedgwick County,” according to a news release from recall organizers.
“He works for the citizens of Sedgwick County and must answer to us.”
Ranzau says he stands by his votes on public health and by his proposal regarding WIC.
“This all started because I took a stand against illegal aliens getting welfare benefits,” Ranzau said. “That’s what this is really about. And I stand by that and I will not be intimidated.”
The recall petition explains, in legal terms, why residents want to remove Ranzau from office. District Attorney Marc Bennett’s office has five days to decide whether petitioners have legal grounds for a recall. If they do, they will gather voters’ signatures from Ranzau’s district in an effort to force a special recall election. The district includes Valley Center, Park City, Maize and parts of northern and central Wichita.
“This recall is about giving the people of the fourth district of Sedgwick County an opportunity to reconsider the continued employment of Richard Ranzau,” said Tom James of Wichita, one of the recall’s sponsors, at a small rally at the Old Courthouse downtown.
Roots of the recall
The Immigrant Advocacy Network called for a recall effort about four weeks ago after Ranzau proposed changes to WIC, which provides checks for young mothers for foods like cheese, cereal, milk, eggs and formula.
“Babies born in this county and children under the age of 5 are U.S. citizens,” said Sandrine Lisk, the network’s director of advocacy. “… Any remark that immigration or citizenship has to do with this is false.”
Ranzau also favored the health department asking its clients about their citizenship status. Immigrant and public health groups said that could discourage some people from going to the department. The county is still weighing whether to do that.
Recall proponents also did not like that the 2016 Sedgwick County budget cut more than $500,000 in health department programs.
“We find Commissioner Ranzau’s actions deplorable, and his ideology detrimental to the provision of critical public health services to the poor and underserved in our county,” the news release says.
Ranzau says the budget does not mean that the county is neglecting public health. “We still spend over $11 million in the health department,” he said.
Ranzau also voted to reject federal grant dollars for WIC and for programs meant to combat obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
“The WIC funding had absolutely nothing to do with benefits,” Ranzau said. “It was overhead costs, which I’ve tried to explain to them, but they don’t care.”
Petitioners say that cut still hurts the programs.
“He has deprived our county of valuable tax public health dollars, allowing that money to go elsewhere to people he does not work for,” James said. “I think we should remove him now before he does any more damage.”
Kansas law says a local elected official can be recalled if he or she is guilty of a felony or misconduct in office or fails to perform duties prescribed by law.
Ranzau opponents say he failed to perform duties related to the protection and promotion of public health. Ranzau disagrees.
“They’re complaining about policy decisions,” Ranzau said. “It’s our job to make decisions about spending and we do that all the time. Sometimes we spend more and sometimes we spend less. Sometimes we start programs, sometimes we end them.”
Now, the district attorney’s office will look at whether “the grounds that they stated on the petition are sufficient,” said Tabitha Lehman, the Sedgwick County election commissioner. If they are sufficient, petitioners would have 90 days to gather at least 9,650 valid signatures from voters in the district.
County elections staff then would have about a month to determine if the signatures are valid. If they are, the office would have 60 to 90 days to set up a special election asking voters if they want to recall Ranzau. Based on that timeline, any special election would occur in May or June.
If a majority of voters decide to recall Ranzau, the Sedgwick County Republicans’ precinct committee for the district would pick his successor, Lehman said.
Ranzau, who was re-elected one year ago, says a majority of his district supports him.
“I’m standing up for the hard-working, law-abiding American citizens and legal immigrants in this county,” he said. “I’ve got their back and I believe they have mine.”
But Mary Ware of Wichita, one of the 106 petition sponsors, said she’s optimistic the recall can be successful.
“We have some hurdles. It’s not going to be the best of weather to go walking streets and knocking doors. But I know there are plenty of people out here that are not happy.”