COUNTY PROBES ITS COM­MIS­SION­ERS

The Wichita Eagle - - Front Page - BY DION LEFLER dle­[email protected]­chi­taea­gle.com

Sedg­wick com­mis­sion­ers are in­ves­ti­gat­ing their own con­duct in of­fice.

THE COUNTYORDERED IN­VES­TI­GA­TIONS ARE IN AD­DI­TION TO A SEP­A­RATE PROBE BY THE FBI.

Sedg­wick County com­mis­sion­ers are press­ing for­ward with an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of their own con­duct in of­fice, de­spite a dis­pute over the va­lid­ity of an out­side coun­sel’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the county man­ager that was sup­posed to come first.

Com­mis­sion Chair­man David Den­nis said Wed­nes­day that he’s ready to move for­ward with a probe ex­am­in­ing com­mis­sion­ers’ ac­tions and whether they’ve con­trib­uted to low morale and an ex­o­dus of top county em­ploy­ees.

Com­mis­sion­ers orig­i­nally agreed to do that on Oct. 24, but put it on hold un­til af­ter they got a re­port on County Man­ager Michael Sc­holes.

Three com­mis­sion­ers — Den­nis, David Un­ruh and Michael O’Don­nell — have moved to oust Sc­holes. The other two, Richard Ran­zau and Jim How­ell, have been play­ing de­fense to try to keep the man­ager in his job.

The county-or­dered in­ves­ti­ga­tions are in ad­di­tion to a sep­a­rate probe by the FBI into whether the ef­fort to fire Sc­holes may have been mo­ti­vated in part by his co­op­er­a­tion with FBI agents in­ves­ti­gat­ing O’Don­nell last year.

O’Don­nell faces fed­eral charges of wire fraud and money laun­der­ing in con­nec­tion with his han­dling of cam­paign funds. He con­tin­ues to serve while await­ing a trial sched­uled for late Jan­uary.

At Wed­nes­day’s com­mis­sion meet­ing, Den­nis de­clared the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of county man­age­ment com­plete and said it’s now time to move on to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the com­mis­sion­ers them­selves.

He of­fered to col­lab­o­rate with Ran­zau, who has been the loud­est voice al­leg­ing com­mis­sion cor­rup­tion, to set the scope of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Ran­zau agreed to work with Den­nis on that.

“We fin­ished the first one, we need to move on to the next step, be­cause we did have a vote to do that,” Den­nis said. “I would hope that we fol­low the same process we did on the first one.”

Com­mis­sion­ers haven’t re­leased de­tails of what was found in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Sc­holes, cit­ing con­fi­den­tial­ity.

But How­ell said he thinks the in­for­ma­tion the com­mis­sion has re­ceived so far isn’t ad­e­quate.

“If we’re go­ing to call it an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, there are things we’re go­ing to ac­tu­ally have to in­ves­ti­gate to fin­ish up some of the things that are in that re­port,” How­ell said. “I would ask us not to con­sider that fin­ished busi­ness, but to con­tinue to have a dis­cus­sion whether we’re sat­is­fied with the re­port as is. I per­son­ally am not.”

Den­nis said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion had been un­bi­ased and ex­haus­tive, en­com­pass­ing 45 in­ter­views and more than 100 hours of in­ter­view time and doc­u­men­ta­tion.

“I guess I’m rather dis­turbed we do have com­mis­sion­ers at­tempt­ing to dis­credit the in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” Den­nis said.

He noted that the lawyer who con­ducted the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was se­lected by for­mer County Coun­selor Eric Yost.

Den­nis had ear­lier crit­i­cized Yost for what he con­sid­ered a vi­o­la­tion of at­tor­ney-client con­fi­den­tial­ity. Yost had in­formed Sc­holes that his FBI co­op­er­a­tion might be be­hind a quit-or-be-fired ul­ti­ma­tum Den­nis gave him.

Yost has said he told Sc­holes to pre­vent the com­mis­sion from com­mit­ting a crime, and that is ex­empt from at­tor­n­ey­client priv­i­lege.

On Nov. 19, Yost agreed to re­sign, in ex­change for a $77,000 pay­ment to drop any defama­tion claims he might have against the county or com­mis­sion­ers.

Den­nis and How­ell crossed swords again Wed­nes­day over the FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Den­nis said af­ter a flurry of in­ter­views, it’s been six weeks since the county has heard from the bu­reau.

“Last year there was an ex­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Sedg­wick County (the FBI’s O’Don­nell in­ves­ti­ga­tion) and noth­ing, and I re­peat noth­ing, was found re­gard­ing com­mis­sioner be­hav­ior re­lated to any kind of county de­ci­sions or ac­tiv­i­ties,” Den­nis said. “Sec­ond, that the ex­ter­nal whistle­blower in­ves­ti­ga­tion we’ve heard about, pub­licly dis­cussed, it’s now been a month and a half since we’ve heard any­thing on that.”

How­ell, how­ever, said the hia­tus in FBI-county com­mu­ni­ca­tion doesn’t mean the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is over.

“I agree we have not heard any­thing in six weeks, I guess, but that does not nec­es­sar­ily mean that’s not some­thing that’s on­go­ing,” How­ell said. “I don’t know where that is, but by de­sign we’re not even sup­posed to know.”

DION LEFLER The Wi­chita Ea­gle

A probe is planned to ex­am­ine whether county com­mis­sion­ers have con­trib­uted to low morale and an ex­o­dus of top county em­ploy­ees.

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