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Sedgwick County Puts Its Counselor On Paid Leave

Deborah Shaar
Sedgwick County commissioners voted 3 to 2 Wednesday to put County Counselor Eric Yost on paid administrative leave until further notice.

Sedgwick County commissioners have put their attorney on paid leave until further notice.

Eric Yost is a former district judge and has served as the county counselor for more than three years. He was accused of violating attorney-client privilege in the past year and has been excluded from recent county commission executive sessions.

"We’ve had a lot of turmoil, and this was the next step that the county commission thought needs to happen for us to continue to operate our government," Commissioner Dave Unruh said during a special meeting Wednesday.

Commissioners broke for an executive session, which Unruh said dealt with litigation and personnel issues.

The commissioners then voted 3 to 2 to put Yost on paid administrative leave. Commissioners Richard Ranzau and Jim Howell were the no votes.

"I don’t have any information that he has done anything wrong in my opinion," Howell said. "I think that we are acting unnecessarily and in a way that will continue to harm the county."

Deputy County Counselor Karen Powell will serve as the acting counselor until Yost returns to full duty or the position is filled.

Yost replaced County Counselor Rich Euson, who retired in March 2015 after 34 years of service.

During the Oct. 24 commission meeting, Commission Chairman David Dennis said outside legal counsel was needed for the county-ordered investigation into personnel problems because Yost was part of the problem.

“Eric Yost has provided information to people," Dennis said, "that was confidential in nature, attorney-client privilege.”

In response, Yost’s attorney, Austin Parker, held a news conference last week to defend his client. Parker said Dennis’ statement was inaccurate and contended that Yost was trying to protect Sedgwick County from possible civil liability.

Yost and commissioners Ranzau and Howell have said the FBI is investigating allegations that commissioners Dennis, Unruh and Michael O’Donnell tried to fire County Manager Michael Scholes after learning that Scholes cooperated with a separate, ongoing FBI investigation related to O’Donnell.

The commission said it hired an outside attorney to look into county leadership issues after several high-level county employees voiced concerns.

Dennis said he’s hoping for an “open, external and transparent” analysis into factors that are contributing to low morale and staff issues.

Dennis provided a scope for the personnel review and requested that the outside attorney interview current and former members of the executive team and department directors among others.

A report is expected to presented to the county commission next week.

Follow Deborah Shaar on Twitter @deborahshaar. To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.