Politics & Government

Dog-bite dissident gets kicked off Sedgwick County animal board

Sedgwick County commissioners kicked George Theoharis off the county animal advisory board. Theoharis also serves on Wichita's animal and bike advisory boards.
Sedgwick County commissioners kicked George Theoharis off the county animal advisory board. Theoharis also serves on Wichita's animal and bike advisory boards. The Wichita Eagle

In a tense meeting, Sedgwick County commissioners on Tuesday removed a member of the Animal Care Advisory Board after other members complained he was combative and too persistent in pushing for a dangerous-dog ordinance.

George Theoharis, a neighborhood council leader who is also a member of Wichita's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board, was ousted from the county's animal board on a 4-1 vote. Only the commissioner who nominated him, Jim Howell, voted to keep him.

A second member of the animal board, Daniel Kruse, quit in sympathy with Theoharis.

Theoharis threw the commission a curve when he read Kruse’s resignation letter, implying it was his own. When he concluded reading the letter, he said he hoped it wouldn’t count against the five minutes' speaking time he was allotted to defend himself.

“That’s from Daniel Kruse that is on our board,” Theoharis said. “He is the one resigning. I’m not resigning. I’m doing good things for the county. You’re going to have to fire me."

Theoharis said he has pushed hard for a dangerous dog ordinance like Wichita's, which he helped pass, because he had been told that not a single dog has been deemed dangerous in the unincorporated county for five years.

Howell and Commissioner Michael O’Donnell sought to delay the ouster vote for a month to give Theoharis and the board time to work things out. But that died on a 3-2 split.

“There is dysfunction on the board ... and the dysfunction on the animal control board is caused by one individual,” said Commission Chairman David Dennis.

Dennis said he met with Theoharis and told him that other members would resign if he stayed on the board.

“His (Theoharis’) response to that was let them resign, he’ll find people that will replace them who ... agree with him,” Dennis said.

Theoharis interjected from the audience: “I did not say that, sir. I said we’ll replace them. I did not say they would agree with me.”

Dennis responded by repeating his allegation that Theoharis wanted to replace the other commissioners with people who agree with him.

“He wants to do it his way, he has a combative attitude. It’s obvious from his outburst just now when we’re conducting a business meeting,” Dennis said.

Replied Theoharis: “You’re lying about me. What do you want me to do?”

Debbie Parks, Commissioner Richard Ranzau’s appointee on the board, spoke for the removal of Theoharis.

She said he continually raised the issue of passing a dangerous dog ordinance despite meeting minutes showing a majority of members didn’t want to consider it.

“Working as a team and having a person that totally and constantly is belittling what we are doing, it’s very disruptive to our meetings, it puts everybody on edge,” she said.

She said that’s causing other members to think “Oh dear, what are we going to have to do now when it clearly states in our minutes that that issue is not a big deal?

“We tried talking to him in person at a meeting,” she said. “That hasn’t worked.”

Kruse’s resignation letter said if he continued to serve, he would feel tentative about offering his thoughts on issues “for fear a precedent is being established today to oust anyone not thinking of like mind.”

“It was my belief advisory boards were established with the understanding they would be made up of people across Sedgwick County with different ideas and backgrounds to get a wide variety of views about any subject,” the letter said. “It is a sad day when a caring person such as George Theoharis is condemned for those very ideals.”

Dogs bite 4.5 million people annually, reports the CDC. Each year, more than 6,000 letter carriers will be victims of dog attacks.

Dion Lefler, 316-268-6527, @DionKansas