Politics & Government

Sedgwick County counselor gets $77,000 payment to leave after flap over FBI probe

Sedgwick County commissioners have agreed to pay County Counselor Eric Yost $77,000 to leave.

Yost has been on paid suspension since Nov. 7, after a news conference where he released details of the commission majority’s efforts to oust County Manager Michael Scholes and confirmed an FBI investigation into whether that effort was in retaliation for Scholes cooperating with federal agents in an 2017 investigation of Commissioner Michael O’Donnell.

O’Donnell faces federal charges of campaign fraud and money laundering. He continues to serve while awaiting a trial now scheduled for late January.

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Under the agreement the commission reached with Yost to resign, he will receive $77,077. That, according to Commission Chairman David Dennis, is equivalent to six month’s salary and a year of county health insurance benefits.

In exchange for the payment, Yost will drop any and all claims against the county and its employees or elected officials, the agreement says.

The agreement also bars Yost from applying for any job with the county counsel’s office in the future. And any job references the county will provide will be limited to positions he has held, pay history, dates of employment and job descriptions.

The vote, taken at a special session Monday morning, was unanimous.

Two commissioners, Jim Howell and Richard Ranzau, said they were sorry to see Yost go. They have been at odds with the the majority of Dennis, O’Donnell and David Unruh on both Yost and Scholes.

Yost initially sought a $250,000 settlement, but that was whittled down in negotiations over the past few weeks.

Commissioners said they approved the $77,000 payment because it would cost less than defending the county in a lawsuit Yost could bring.

With Dennis, O’Donnell and Unruh all wanting Scholes out, Dennis had given Scholes a quit-or-be-fired ultimatum, according to a statement from Yost.

That, Yost said, prompted him to warn Scholes that one of the reasons commissioners wanted to fire him was that he had cooperated with the FBI’s investigation.

According to memos obtained by The Eagle, Unruh had asked Yost for a legal opinion on whether Scholes could be fired for doing that.

Yost initially said he thought the commissioners could do that because the manager owes them a duty of loyalty. But he reversed course in a formal memo and advised that firing Scholes could open the county to legal liability by violating federal whistleblower protections.

In a public meeting Oct. 24, Dennis accused Yost of violating attorney-client confidentiality — a statement he has since said he regrets making.

Yost responded that he didn’t violate legal ethics rules because he revealed information to Scholes to prevent the commission from committing a potentially criminal act, which is an exception to attorney-client privilege.

The agreement approved Monday doesn’t require a retraction or apology from Dennis, which was part of an earlier settlement offer from Yost.

Yost has been replaced on an interim basis by Mike Pepoon, a retired assistant county counselor who has served as interim county counselor in the past. The commission will hire a permanent replacement.

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