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Wichita City Council Condemns Member's Alleged Role In Anti-Whipple Ad

City of Wichita/YouTube
City Council members approved a motion denouncing James Clendenin, who denies involvement in a false 2019 campaign ad attacking Mayor Brandon Whipple.

Wichita City Council members voted Tuesday to formally denounce one of their colleagues and two other elected officials accused of putting together a false attack ad against the mayor.

Council member James Clendenin, along with Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O’Donnell and outgoing state Rep. Michael Capps, can be heard on a recording released last week allegedly discussing plans to cover up their involvement in a campaign ad targeting Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple.

The ad, whose claims were quickly debunked, came out ahead of the 2019 general election in which Whipple beat incumbent Mayor Jeff Longwell.

Five members of the council voted to approve a motion condemning the trio’s behavior and expressing support for the investigation the District Attorney’s Office announced Monday. Whipple recused himself from the special meeting; Clendenin abstained from the vote.

Council member Brandon Johnson said he was "extremely disappointed" by the recording.

"Personally speaking, I think that anyone who engages in that type of behavior should not have the honor of representing people in public office," he said. "And I know that, if it were me, I would not stay in this seat."

Jeff Blubaugh suggested the council create a "clean campaign contract" to prevent similar situations in the future.

"We need to focus our campaigns on what we do right for the community instead of spending months and months trying to dig up dirt on people or fabricating things," he said.

"We’ve got to turn this around. We don’t want Wichita known for this."

The council doesn’t have the authority to remove an elected official. The resolution passed Tuesday "demands that Council Member James Clendenin consider the will of his constituents in the City of Wichita’s 3rd Council District as he makes decisions about the future of his term as a City Council Member."

"The voters in [District 3] made their choice for council member Clendenin when they voted for him," said council member Becky Tuttle, "and they are the only ones that are able to change that decision."

The District 3 Advisory Board will hold a special meeting Wednesday night to address the allegations against Clendenin.

In a statement released earlier Tuesday, Clendenin acknowledges his involvement in the recorded conversation, but says he "should not have attended the meeting that has become widely discussed and frequently misunderstood."

He denies "any involvement in the scripting, directing, editing or distribution of the television ad in question."

"Nor did I even know of its existence until after it was produced."

Four county commissioners, the Sedgwick County Republican Party and Republican Congressman Ron Estes have all called for Clendenin, O’Donnell and Capps to resign.

Clendenin, who is serving his second and final full term after winning re-election in 2017, says in the statement he looks forward to "honorably completing" his term in office.

Nadya Faulx is KMUW's Digital News Editor and Reporter, which means she splits her time between working on-air and working online, managing news on KMUW.org, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. She joined KMUW in 2015 after working for a newspaper in western North Dakota. Before that she was a diversity intern at NPR in Washington, D.C.