A majority of Sedgwick County commissioners have lost trust in commissioner Michael O’Donnell to continue in his elected position and are exploring official options.
Commissioners David Dennis, Jim Howell and Lacey Cruse posted statements on social media Sunday suggesting O'Donnell resign immediately. Cruse is also calling for an external investigation into O'Donnell's behavior.
The fallout follows media reports that O’Donnell was involved in a plan to blame others for a video critical of Brandon Whipple during the 2019 mayoral campaign. The information in the video was false and those accused of being involved – including O’Donnell, City Council member James Clendenin and Kansas Rep. Michael Capps – were heard on a recording released this weekend conspiring to blame Sedgwick County Republican Party chairman Dalton Glasscock for the video.
On Monday, Commission Chairman Pete Meitzner said after listening to the recording, he was "saddened, angered, and disappointed in their actions, and these deceptions coming from elected officials."
Meitzner says legal processes are being followed in this matter, including the active defamation lawsuit.
"As the Board of County Commissioners for Sedgwick County, the actions available to us on this matter are very limited and we are in consultation with our county counselor. All five of us are uniquely elected by the people and do not have authority over one another," Meitzner said.
O'Donnell has said that he was not involved in the video and only gathered funding to support fellow Republican Mayor Jeff Longwell's reelection campaign. Whipple defeated Longwell.
Also on Monday, Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said his office has begun an investigation into the recording in cooperation with the Wichita Police Department and the Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office. Once the investigation is completed, Bennett said his office will determine whether further legal proceedings are appropriate.
Commissioner Dennis said in a statement that he supports the investigation and hopes it can "proceed quickly because the people of Sedgwick County deserve to have trust in their elected officials."
The Sedgwick County Republican Party called on O'Donnell, Capps and Clendenin to resign earlier this month. It renewed its call this weekend.
“We have stated from the beginning that this type of politics and actions would not be supported by the Sedgwick County Republican Party,” the party said in a statement. “We have said, and repeat, that those involved in this video ad campaign and the misinformation campaign are not fit to serve in public office and should step down.”
Dennis posted on his Facebook page Sunday night that “I join the Sedgwick County Republican party in calling for Michael O’Donnell and those involved in the video ad to resign.”
“It is vital that citizens have trust in their elected officials, and the recording demonstrates a clear breach of honesty and the values that we as Commissioners swore to adhere to.”
Dennis, a Republican, said he “will be doing my due diligence on Monday to understand our legal options beyond a request for a resignation.”
He also called for the commission to hold a special meeting either Monday or Tuesday.
Howell, in a post on his Facebook page, also agreed with the county GOP's call for O'Donnell to resign.
"The people of Sedgwick County deserve representation that is ethical, above reproach and honest," Howell wrote. "The actions of these men in the 'Protect Wichita Girls' scandal is reprehensible and embarrassing to our community."
Howell, Republican, said he scheduled a meeting with the county legal department to explore official options.
Cruse, in a statement posted to her Facebook page, also is asking for a special meeting. Cruse, a Democrat, said the county should conduct an external investigation “to ensure no county resources were used in this plot to again ruin innocent people’s lives.”
“As a representative of the people, I’m not sitting back and watching anything play out. This is not the time to remain silent, nor fall in line.”
O’Donnell is serving his first term on the commission. He is currently running for reelection against Democrat Sarah Lopez in the District 2 race.
His campaign attempted to get Lopez disqualified from the race last summer, saying she didn’t live in the district. The claim was dismissed by county officials.
O’Donnell has endured turmoil during his first term, including a federal trial on charges related to his political campaigns and an FBI investigation into county leadership.
In March 2019, a jury acquitted O’Donnell of nearly all charges related to his state and county campaigns, but were deadlocked on five charges of wire fraud and money laundering. The county later decided not to pursue an internal investigation into the commission.
Capps’ reelection bid ended when he lost in the Republican primary last August.
Clendenin represents District 3 on the City Council, which covers much of south Wichita, like O’Donnell’s district does. His term ends in 2021, and he is ineligible to run again because of term limits.