All of Sedgwick County’s elected officials should be cutting back on their official expenses amid trying times for the county budget and local economy. Judging from her use of her county credit card, County Treasurer Linda Kizzire doesn’t get it.
Nor did she get an opponent in the Nov. 6 election, leaving voters to wonder whether elected officials really are accountable if they always end up running unopposed.
Kizzire, who was appointed to the job by local Republicans two years ago, was singled out for her spending in an article in the Sunday Eagle. She charged more than $13,300 on her county credit card between January 2011 and Sept. 11, 2012, including for out-of-state conferences and pricey steakhouses and for lunches, snacks and motivational seminar tickets for her staff. Some of her spending violated county rules she claimed not to know about, though she’d repeatedly signed a document stating she did. She didn’t provide receipts for some purchases. Kizzire also led county employees in usage of county-provided cellphones last year, with more than $2,000.
Kizzire’s credit-card violations seem technical at worst, and don’t compare to the scandals over a no-bid contract and a secret sexual-harassment settlement associated with past holders of her office. But a county treasurer could be expected to handle money with more care and discretion.
The biggest credit-card spender after Kizzire was retiring Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston, who charged more than $9,400 over those 20 months, including for travel expenses to visit six cities out of state. County Commissioners Tim Norton, Dave Unruh and Jim Skelton charged more than $5,000 each on their county credit cards, mostly for travel expenses to attend conferences.
Some of the trips and conferences treated as routine in good times should be skipped now. And during a period when the county needed to erase a $9.3 million budget deficit, all county departments should have been partners with the County Commission and County Manager William Buchanan in getting the county’s finances on track.
Yet Sheriff Robert Hinshaw recently was alone among the other elected county officials in offering suggestions on how to cut back and help the county budget. And last month Kizzire, Register of Deeds Bill Meek and County Clerk Kelly Arnold expressed frustration that they weren’t sufficiently consulted about proposed policy changes, including on how petty cash and credit cards are handled.
If Buchanan could have been more careful to seek the officeholders’ direct input, the latest Eagle story explains why he was right to pursue changes.
Such conflicts over money also stir memories of the 1998 study saying the county could have saved $900,000 over five years by eliminating the county clerk and register of deeds positions, and reassigning their work to the appointed county appraiser and an appointed county treasurer. And think of how the Internet has streamlined the handling of documents and financial transactions in the 14 years since that study.
At a time when officials should be asking whether each trip and purchase is necessary, voters should question again whether all these countywide elective jobs are necessary.