News

Report: Memo raises question about Kansas House speaker and nepotism

TOPEKA | An internal memo raises questions about House Speaker Mike O'Neal's public statements that he was not involved in the hiring of his wife as a member of the chamber's staff, a newspaper reported Friday.

O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican, faces a May 13 hearing before the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission on a complaint that he violated a state anti-nepotism law. The complaint was filed by Rep. Marti Crow, a Leavenworth Democrat.

O'Neal has said he was not involved in the hiring this year of his wife, Cindy, as liaison to the House's Republican caucus. He has said the hiring was done by Majority Leader Ray Merrick's office, which a top aide to Merrick, a Stilwell Republican, has backed up.

But the Lawrence Journal-World reported Friday that in a Jan. 6 memo, Merrick's office listed Cindy O'Neal as being hired "with the assistance of the speaker's office."

Follow-up memos two days later from both O'Neal and Merrick stated that her $27,000 salary would be paid by the majority leader's office.

All of the memos were to Jeffrey Russell, director of Legislative Administrative Services, who was appointed by legislative leaders.

The speaker said the Jan. 6 document doesn't conflict with his public assertions. He said when Merrick wrote that the speaker's office was assisting with the hiring of a caucus staff, that meant that he and Merrick agreed there would be a "shared staff."

"This doesn't change anything that I've said or any of the facts," he told the Journal-World.

The anti-nepotism law prohibits state officers from "directly employing, appointing, promoting, transferring or advancing family members" into a state post. If the commission concludes the House speaker broke the law, the commission could impose a fine of up to $5,000.

"I did not advocate for, nor did I participate in the decision to hire Cindy," the speaker said, adding that he had nothing to do with setting her salary.

Mike O'Neal has served 25 years in the House, and Cindy O'Neal has worked for the Legislature during its annual sessions for 21 years. Before he became speaker this year, she was secretary to the House Judiciary Committee, and he was its chairman.

  Comments