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O'Donnell Resigns After DA Announces Plans To Remove Him From County Commission

Sedgwick County
Michael O'Donnell apologizes to fellow commissioners last month for his role in a fake political ad. He resigned Friday.d.

The tumultuous tenure of Michael O’Donnell on the Sedgwick County Commission has ended.

O’Donnell resigned immediately late Friday afternoon after the District Attorney’s Office released a statement saying it was prepared to initiate ouster proceedings next week.

O’Donnell, a Republican, knocked off a four-term incumbent in 2016 to win his seat. Since he took office, he was indicted on federal charges related to the spending of campaign finance money and became embroiled in a political scandal involving a false attack ad in the 2019 mayoral campaign.

It was the attack ad against mayoral candidate Brandon Whipple, and the subsequent attempt to blame others for its production, that led to O’Donnell’s downfall. The local Republican Party called on him to resign, as did his four fellow commissioners.

“It has been an honor and privilege to serve in the greatest community and work for the wonderful people of Sedgwick County these last four years,” O’Donnell said in a statement released Friday by the county. “I am proud and humbled by how much we have accomplished, even in unprecedented times, for this region, county, and my district.

“Thank you to my parents and family, friends, colleagues, and supporters for your love, guidance, and support. I look forward to this next journey in my life.”

In a tearful apology to the commission last month, O’Donnell said he would resign after his term expired in January. And he said if he won a second term, he would not serve, but instead let party officials pick his replacement.

O’Donnell trails Democratic challenger Sarah Lopez by 125 votes in the 2nd District race. The county began the process of canvassing provisional ballots on Friday and will announce official results Monday.

If O’Donnell loses, local GOP officials will select a replacement to serve until his term ends Jan. 10.

While county commissioners were calling on O’Donnell to resign, the District Attorney’s Office announced it was conducting an investigation along with the Wichita Police Department and Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office.

District Attorney Marc Bennett said in a statement Friday that “there is evidence which indicates ouster proceedings are appropriate against Commissioner O’Donnell.”

According to state law, a person can be forced to forfeit their public office if they “willfully engage in misconduct while in office.”

Bennett’s statement said he contacted O’Donnell’s attorney on Friday to let him know his office would begin legal proceedings next week to remove O’Donnell from the commission. Bennett said O’Donnell then resigned.

O’Donnell remains part of a civil suit filed by Whipple, who is now Wichita’s mayor, against him, City Council member James Clendenin and state legislator Michael Capps. They also were involved in the video that falsely accused Whipple of sexual harassment when he was a legislator on Topeka.

An audio recording released last month caught O’Donnell conspiring with Clendenin and Capps to create a cover-up plan for who produced the video. The secretly taped conversation came from a meeting last November after the campaign video appeared.

The audio recording suggests the politicians plotted to blame Sedgwick County Republican Party Chairman Dalton Glasscock for the video.

O’Donnell apologized for taking part in the plot to blame others but continued to deny any involvement with the creative process for the video. He said he only raised funds for what was supposed to be a billboard campaign to support incumbent Mayor Jeff Longwell.

The Wichita City Council last month censured Clendenin and asked for his resignation. Capps' term ends in January.

Bennett said more information regarding Clendenin and Capps will be made public next week.

Only 36, O'Donnell already had won elections for the City Council and state Senate when he defeated long-time incumbent Tim Norton.

Two years into his term, he was indicted on federal charges of wire fraud, bank fraud and money laundering. The charges accused O'Donnell of taking money from his campaign accounts and using it to pay himself and his friends.

He was acquitted in March 2019 on 21 federal counts of wire fraud. A jury couldn't reach a verdict on five other counts.

Tom joined KMUW in 2017 after spending 37 years with The Wichita Eagle where he held a variety of reporting and editing roles. He also is host of The Range, KMUW’s weekly show about where we live and the people who live here. Tom is a board member of the Public Media Journalists Association, serving as small station representative, a volunteer coach for League 42 and an adjunct instructor in the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University.