Politics & Government

Sedgwick County DA: No grounds to recall Commission Chairman Richard Ranzau

Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett speaks to reporters about his decision on the proposed recall of Commission Chairman Richard Ranzau.
Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett speaks to reporters about his decision on the proposed recall of Commission Chairman Richard Ranzau. The Wichita Eagle

Petitioners don’t have legal grounds for a recall of Sedgwick County Commission Chairman Richard Ranzau, the county district attorney said Monday.

A group seeking to recall Ranzau contended that he has failed to protect and promote public health. They’re upset over proposed changes to a federal nutritional program, health department budget cuts and the county’s rejection of federal public health grant money.

The commission doubles as the Sedgwick County board of public health.

But District Attorney Marc Bennett said Kansas law does not require a county commission to do anything specific about protecting and promoting community health.

“It is not a duty to vote a certain way,” Bennett said. “Any particular vote, one way or the other, is not going to be sufficient.

“If it were otherwise, then any time someone cast a vote that someone disagreed with, that would be a viable recall petition,” Bennett said.

Also, he said, the county’s public health role belongs to the whole board of county commissioners, not just to the chairman.

“The power is held by the collective: the commission, not by any individual,” he said.

‘The law makes it pretty clear’

Ranzau represents Sedgwick County’s District 4, which includes Valley Center, Park City, Maize and parts of northern and central Wichita.

Petitioners had announced plans to try to gather signatures from more than 9,500 voters in Ranzau’s district to force a special recall election. For that to happen, they needed Bennett to find sufficient legal grounds for a recall petition to be circulated.

They cited Ranzau’s votes to cut Sedgwick County health department programs in the 2016 budget and to reject federal grant money for a program meant to combat obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Ranzau also voted to trim administrative costs in the federal Women, Infants and Children nutritional program and proposed blocking illegal immigrants from receiving WIC benefits. That served as the catalyst for the recall effort and was cited in the recall petition.

Kansas law says a local elected official can be recalled only if he or she is guilty of a felony or misconduct in office or fails to perform duties prescribed by law.

“The law makes it pretty clear that it’s pretty tough to get a recall petition passed,” Bennett said.

Bennett said his decision was not a comment on commission politics nor Ranzau’s positions on public health.

“This isn’t a matter of personal opinion or an endorsement of or opposition to a particular elected official.”

Both sides react

Ranzau, who has stood by his actions, said he was not surprised by the decision.

“This is about policy decisions, and that’s what elections are for,” he said. He has won two general elections, one in 2010 and one in November 2014.

“I’m going to continue to give the hard-working, taxpaying citizens and legal immigrants of this county a voice,” Ranzau said. “I will not allow them to be silenced.”

Sandrine Lisk, the advocacy director for the Immigrant Advocacy Network who announced the recall effort last month, said the decision robs District 4 voters of a chance to reconsider choosing Ranzau as their representative.

“It seems District Attorney Bennett has substituted his decision over something the voters of Sedgwick County should be making,” Lisk said. “The truth or falsity of the allegation lies with the voters of Sedgwick County.

“We hope this is not a partisan decision by the DA’s office to protect a fellow Republican,” she added.

Lisk said the petitioners’ lawyers will consider appealing.

“We knew going in that this would be a long fight with opposition. It is by no means over,” Lisk said. “We certainly expect to regroup, refile and keep filing this petition as often as it takes for Ranzau to go.”

They would have to file the appeal with Sedgwick County District Court, according to DA spokeswoman Georgia Cole.

Daniel Salazar: 316-269-6791, @imdanielsalazar