Politics & Government

Ranzau alleges potential criminal wrongdoing on Sedgwick County Commission

Sedgwick County investigates itself

Sedgwick County commissioners vote to hire outside counsel to investigate personnel issues in the county government. Commissioner Richard Ranzau calls it "shenanigans." (Oct. 3, 2018)
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Sedgwick County commissioners vote to hire outside counsel to investigate personnel issues in the county government. Commissioner Richard Ranzau calls it "shenanigans." (Oct. 3, 2018)

A Sedgwick County commissioner said Wednesday that he refuses to participate in an ongoing investigation of county management because he thinks it is designed to cover up potentially criminal wrongdoing on the commission.

A planned closed session for the commission to discuss the scope of the investigation was derailed when two commissioners, Richard Ranzau and Jim Howell, indicated they wouldn’t participate.

Ranzau said he would boycott any closed sessions on the matter and won’t meet with an attorney the county has hired to conduct the probe.

“I believe it is a cover-up, or an attempt to cover up, commissioner misconduct,” Ranzau said. “Misconduct that very well could be determined to be criminal in nature.”

Ranzau didn’t elaborate and later would not talk about what kind of criminal issue he meant.

None of the other commissioners would comment on the substance of Ranzau’s allegation of potential criminal wrongdoing.

Wednesday’s allegation is apparently unrelated to federal campaign-finance fraud and money-laundering charges that have been filed against Commissioner Michael O’Donnell, who pleaded not guilty and continues to serve on the commission while awaiting trial.

Last week, the commission voted on a 3-2 split, with Ranzau and Howell dissenting, to launch an investigation apparently aimed at evaluating the job performance of County Manager Michael Scholes.

Over about the last year, several department heads who were supervised by Scholes have resigned or retired from county service and some commissioners have expressed concern about the turnover rate in county government.

Ranzau’s comments Wednesday came from the commission bench and were broadcast as part of KPTS-TV’s coverage, but technically fell outside the commission meeting.

After making a statement of his own about the management investigation, Chairman David Dennis closed the commission meeting without letting Ranzau speak.

Ranzau objected seconds after Dennis banged the gavel.

“Wait, I have something to say,” Ranzau said. “I want to respond, commissioner.”

By commission tradition, the chairman decides when the meeting ends, unlike other local bodies where the members vote on adjournment. And Dennis declined to reopen the meeting to hear from Ranzau.

“Commissioner Ranzau, you’re responding outside of the meeting,” Dennis said. “I have adjourned the county board, but you are always welcome to speak.”

Replied Ranzau: “First of all, your actions are inappropriate to not allow me to respond within the meeting. But since you brought some statements up, let me make this very clear. I told the chairman (Dennis) that I will not participate in this scheme to hire outside counsel or any executive session associated with it.”

Dennis said he canceled Wednesday’s closed session because he surmised that Commissioner Jim Howell, who voted with Ranzau against conducting the management investigation, would also decline to participate.

Contacted later, Howell confirmed he hadn’t spoken with Dennis, but that Dennis had read his intentions correctly and he wouldn’t have participated in the closed session.

By commission policy, it takes four members to convene a quorum of the board and hold an official meeting, “so we wouldn’t be able to hold an executive session anyway,” Dennis said.

In his statement during the meeting, Dennis sought to explain why the previously announced closed session had been canceled.

“At our last meeting we had a motion to hire an independent outside agency to take a look at leadership within the county and to give an … unbiased report back to our commissioners so we could review it,” he said. “That action has taken place. On Monday, Commissioner Ranzau and I were going to go over and meet with that outside individual and Commissioner Ranzau declined to attend.

Of the boycott on closed sessions, Dennis said “I hope that they (Ranzau and Howell) reconsider because we need to be open and transparent to our citizens that we’re doing everything that we can to make sure we have good governance here within Sedgwick County and that we have the leadership in place.”

During the meeting, Dennis said he wasn’t sure whether the commission could move forward with the management investigation without a quorum.

But later, Dennis said last week’s vote to launch the investigation was still valid and he plans to push on with or without the dissenting commissioners.

He said he has met with the outside counsel and provided what he thinks the scope of the investigation should include.

Dion Lefler; 316-268-6527, @DionKansas