Following a closed-door session and cryptic pronouncements from the bench, a divided Sedgwick County Commission has decided to hire outside counsel to conduct an investigation of personnel matters within the county.
Commissioners declined to state the reason for the investigation, but sources within county government have previously told The Eagle that some commissioners have been concerned about a high rate of turnover among department heads who report to County Manager Michael Scholes.
The decision to launch the investigation came Wednesday after a half-hour meeting of commissioners behind closed doors.
The motion to close the meeting specified that only the five commissioners themselves should return to the chamber, with Scholes and County Counselor Eric Yost to come back in only if requested.
It passed on a 3-2 split vote with commissioners David Dennis, David Unruh and Michael O’Donnell in favor; commissioners Richard Ranzau and Jim Howell against.
However, both Scholes and Yost did return to the chamber and took their usual seats in front of the commission bench about a minute after the public session resumed.
Two commissioners did clarify after the meeting that Yost is not a subject of the investigation.
He was excused in favor of outside counsel because his job duties include representing the elected commission and the hired staff, which could be deemed a potential conflict of interest were he to investigate the in-house matter, said Dennis and O’Donnell.
The open session leading to the probe started with a motion from Unruh: “Mr. Chairman, I would move we retain the services of outside counsel to investigate Sedgwick County for personnel issues.”
Ranzau said he thinks the scope and objectives of the investigation should be determined in advance and put in writing. Dennis agreed to that request and appointed Ranzau to work together on that with the outside counsel, who was not named, and to present it to the other commissioners for approval in another closed session next week.
Ranzau still voted against the investigation, “considering all the shenanigans that’s been going on around here.”
Ranzau did not elaborate on what shenanigans he meant and was unavailable for comment after the meeting.
Howell voted with Ranzau and said he doesn’t want any actual investigation started until after the written scope and objectives are finished.
In the meantime, he invited employees to come talk with him if they have issues.
“I’d just like to encourage anybody that has concerns about whatever’s going on in Sedgwick County, I have an open door,” he said “Please come talk to me and I’ll be glad to hear you and I would love to know more about what’s really going on.”
Almost all county government employees report to Scholes or one of his designees.
According to the county’s most recent organizational chart, the only direct employees who report solely to the commission are Scholes, Yost and the county appraiser
Appraiser Mike Borchard recently retired after nearly 30 years of county service and that department is being run by an interim manager.
The county also has interim department heads running Human Resources and Emergency Management. The chief of Emergency Medical Services recently retired, the fire chief is retiring at the end of the year and the county just recently finished replacing its communications director for the second time since 2016.