Politics & Government

Sedgwick County commissioner accuses colleague of abusing position

Sedgwick County commissioner accuses fellow commissioner of abuse of power

Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau accused fellow Commissioner Michael O’Donnell of abusing his position in an effort to benefit himself. (Nov. 8, 2017)
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Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau accused fellow Commissioner Michael O’Donnell of abusing his position in an effort to benefit himself. (Nov. 8, 2017)

Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau on Wednesday said fellow Commissioner Michael O’Donnell had abused his position in an effort to benefit friends, campaign donors and himself.

Ranzau made those allegations before asking his fellow commissioners to strip O’Donnell, the chairman pro-tem, of his leadership position. The motion died on a 1-4 vote.

Richard Ranzau File photo The Wichita Eagle

Michael O'Donnell Courtesy photo

O’Donnell did not address Ranzau’s allegations during the meeting, but later dismissed them, saying it was “Richard being Richard.” He added that Ranzau was upset with him because he has repeatedly opposed Ranzau on county issues.

Ranzau said he did not know of any illegal activity by O’Donnell, but said O’Donnell had a pattern of using his influence behind the scenes to guide business to associates.

“From very mundane issues like our supplier for trash bags to larger issues like multimillion dollar land deals, my colleague has attempted to directly broker a variety of deals inappropriately and outside of normal county protocol,” Ranzau said. “The good news is that for a variety of reasons his efforts have almost entirely failed. But that does not change the inappropriateness of his behavior nor does it guarantee that his efforts will not be successful in the future.”

He did not offer details during the meeting. Commission Chairman David Unruh said after the meeting that Ranzau’s allegations were not substantiated.

Ranzau said he had tried to settle the issue with O’Donnell through private discussions, but decided to go public after “a long line of attempts by one of my colleagues (O’Donnell) to use his position and taxpayer dollars for his own political gain, culminating with the idea that we should have a $50,000 slush fund for each commissioner to use as he sees fit without any approval process or staff involvement.”

O’Donnell disputed Ranzau’s accusations.

“It’s not true, absolutely,” O’Donnell said. “I apparently have the support of all my other colleagues. If his accusations were true, my other colleagues wouldn’t have supported me.

“He’s been drumming this up for a while, mainly upset because I’ve sided with Commissioner Unruh and Commissioner Dennis on numerous items.”

On Ranzau’s allegation of a “slush fund,” Unruh said the commission has about a $300,000 contingency fund each year for unexpected office expenses and funding requests from the community. The proposal would have divided that money between commissioners instead of them spending it as a group.

The proposal “would have loosened up the rules a little bit,” he said, but added, “I don’t know that was initiated by Commissioner O’Donnell.

O’Donnell serves as chairman pro-tem of the commission, a largely ceremonial post that runs meetings in the absence of the chairman.

Ordinarily, the pro-tem is next in line to ascend to the chairmanship.

Commissioner Jim Howell seconded Ranzau’s motion, but emphasized that he was only doing that to allow for discussion.

None of the commissioners, including Howell, chose to address the allegations. They quickly voted to reject Ranzau’s motion without comment.

Dion Lefler: 316-268-6527, @DionKansas