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Wichita Councilman fined $500 by Ethics Commission

By   /   March 22, 2012  /   3 Comments

TOPEKA — City Councilman Michael O’Donnell admitted fault in seeking contributions for a state senator via email sent to friends from his City of Wichita computer and was fined $500.

At a civil fine hearing held by the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission on Wednesday the only matter to be decided was the amount of the fine.   Both sides agreed to the facts of the case.

City Councilman Michael O'Donnell faced the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission in a Civil Fine Hearing on Monday for his use of a City of Wichita computer to send solicitation emails for a state senator

Commissioner John Solbach, Lawrence, suggested a $234 fine would be the sufficient for O’Donnell, and possibly others, to learn a lesson from the incident.  Later Solbach explained there was nothing special about the $234 amount he picked.

Solbach’s motion failed on a 4-to-4 tie vote.

Ethics Commissioners Sue Krische, Dan Harden, and Kyle Krull agreed with Solbach, but Commissioners Carol Foreman, Glenn Kerbs, Mark Simpson, and Sabrina Standifer thought a larger fine was appropriate.

New ethics chair Dan Harden said “$500 is an excessive amount considering what we have done previously in substantially similar cases.”  Harden said the $234 figure was “somewhat more” than what had been levied in the past in similar cases.

The vote was largely along party lines even though the Commission is considered non-partisan.  Solbach, a Democrat, was joined by three Republicans in supporting the $234 fine.  All four wanting a larger fine were Democrats.

At a similar hearing in October 2011  the Commission voted to fine State Representative TerriLois Gregory (R, Baldwin City) only $150 for sending campaign solicitation email accidentally from a state-owned computer.

Wichita City Councilman Michael O'Donnell fined $500 by Ethics Commission

After Solbach’s amount failed, Commissioner Glenn Kerbs, Dodge City, made a motion for the fine to be $500.

Earlier Ethics Commission General Counsel Camille Nohe discussed four Wichita-area news articles about statements made by O’Donnell about the ethics matter.  Nohe said O’Donnell had said “I did it” but then “cast the shadow of blame to other people.”  Nohe said that was why she thought a fine closer “toward the $500 mark” was appropriate.

Kerbs said he “didn’t think the [$234] fine was adequate” for the violation.

“It’s not an excuse that you hadn’t been trained yet,” remarked Simpson.  “It’s up to you know how to act appropriately.”  Standifer asked O’Donnell earlier:  “You needed someone to explain to you” the computer was city property?

Kerbs’ motion passed on a 5-to-3 vote.

Voting for $500 fine:  Foreman, Kerbs, Krische, Simpson, Standifer,    Voting against $500 fine:  Solbach, Harden, Krull.

New Ethics Chair.  New makeup of Commission?

Governor Browback appointed Dan Harden to be the new ethics chair in February and the meeting on Wednesday was the first one he chaired.

Harden started the meeting by thanking former chair Sabrina Standifer for her years of service on the Commission.

Standifer will stay on the Commission until either re-appointed by Gov. Sam Brownback, or until the governor appoints someone else.  Standifer’s term expired Jan. 31, 2012.

Other members of the commission that will continue to serve even though their terms have expired and they have not been re-appointed include:

  • Carol Foreman, appointed by Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice, term expires 1/31/2012.
  • Glenn Kerbs, appointed by Attorney General, term expires 1/31/2012.
  • Kyle Krull, appointed by Secretary of State, term expires 1/31/2012.

Twitter Minutes

Live tweeted by @KansasWatchdog on March 21, 2012 using hashtag #ksethics.

Some corrections from the live tweets were made below.

  • 12:00 Plan to live tweet from Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission at 1 PM.  Hashtag will be #ksethics.  Agenda : http://t.co/QZ6tXdVO #ksleg
  • 12:01 #ksethics Hearing for Michael O’Donnell, Wichita City Commission, should start about 2 PM at Ethics Commission mtg.  Will live tweet that.
  • 12:02 #ksethics Today’s Ethics Commission meeting will have a new chair as Dan Harden takes over,  http://t.co/Om7Sbz8B   #ksleg
  • 13:05 #ksethics Dan Harden, new Ethics Chair, calls meeting to order.  Harden thanks former chair Sabrina Standifer for her service.
  • 13:08 #ksethics Exec Dir Carol Williams giving her report.  Explaining lobbyist report for Feb 2012.
  • 13:10 #ksethics Kris Van Meteren appearing in person.  His recent Ethics complaint would only be considered in closed session later #ksleg
  • 13:11 #ksethics Carol Williams giving legislative update.  One bill might bring school districts/ballot petitions under Ethics oversight. #ksleg
  • 13:13 #ksethics Williams explaining letter from legislators she received only yesterday.  Solbach:  “We shouldn’t set aside precedent”
  • 13:15 #ksethics Legislators asking about gifts to spouses.  Solbach thinks legislature should change law, commission shouldn’t change opinion.
  • 13:16 #ksethics Commissioner Solbach thinks gifts to legislator’s family should be considered gifts to legislator per the law.  #ksleg
  • 13:17 #ksethics Ethics Attorney Camille Nohe says opinion was about spouses but law was silent about spouses/relatives.  #ksleg
  • 13:19 #ksethics Chair Dan Harden says there is no reason for an immediate response.  Letter was only received yesterday.  No motion about letter.
  • 13:20 #ksethics Five civil penalty assessment orders  to go out today.  Several to school board/city officials.  One lobbyist.
  • 13:24 #ksethics Suzie Honeyman, treasurer for Hope for America PAC, asking for waiver of $60 penalty.  Commission votes 6-2 to waive penalty.
  • 13:26 #ksethics Maria Moreno, treasurer for Committee for Economic Growth asking for waiver of $170 penalty.  Motion to waive dies for lack of 2nd
  • 13:29 #ksethics Ron Robertson, treasurer for Steve Wright, asking for waiver of $300 penalty.  No motion.  No waiver.
  • 13:31 #ksethics Commission votes to go into closed executive session till 1:50 to consider opinion.
  • 13:32 #ksethics KWCH from Wichita shows up to cover civil fine hearing of Michael O’Donnell that starts at 2 PM.  KWCH will have video report.
  • 13:35 #ksethics O’Donnell, Wichita city councilman. Hearing will be about 39 Emails he sent from city computer in support of state senator #ksleg
  • 13:52 #ksethics WIBW and court reporter here for O’Donnell hearing.  So far I have not seen O’Donnell
  • 13:57 #ksethics Attorney, commissioner Kyle Krull to be presiding officer of hearing.  (I’m having network problems now, tweets will be limited)
  • 13:59 #ksethics O’Donnell and attorney have signed in for hearing in a few minutes
  • 14:03 #ksethics Ethics attorney Camille Nohe announces consent decree. 2 pages long.
  • 14:04 #ksethics Consent decree from Michael O’Donnell acknowledges misuse of City of Wichita computers.  Solbach says executive session needed.
  • 14:06 #ksethics Attorney for O’Donnell is Steve Kearney.  Asking O’Donnell questions about ethics training of use of computers.
  • 14:07 #ksethics O’Donnell showing schedule of League of KS Municipalities about ethics training.  Ethics training offered 2 months before elected.
  • 14:08 #ksethics O’Donnell says ethics matter has been “very embarrassing” to him.
  • 14:09 #ksethics O’Donnell says he publicly apologized to mayor and council about his statements.   Says it was “bad judgment”
  • 14:10 #ksethics Solbach asks about suggestions about fines from O’Donnell and attorney.  Attorney says it was result of being new to office.
  • 14:11 #ksethics O’Donnell’s attorney says client missed window of opportunity for training; “something on the lower end of scale” should be fine
  • 14:12 #ksethics Ethics attorney Nohe says O’Donnell’s public statements to Biz journal, others about being conservative.  “I did it, but”
  • 14:14 #ksethics O’Donnell’s attorney says “how relevant is it” how/why he was reported for offense
  • 14:15 #ksethics Commissioner Simpson asking how much money was raised from Emails.  O’Donnell does not know.
  • 14:16 #ksethics Commissioner Kerbs  asking “why relevant” was not related to fine.  Wichita city councilmen brought up issue first.
  • 14:19 #ksethics Commissioner Simpson asks “was it an accident” or “do you think it was OK”.  O’Donnell says it was a “sloppy error”
  • 14:20 #ksethics Commissioner Standifer asking about training.  “You needed someone to explain to you” computer was city property?
  • 14:22 #ksethics O’Donnell’s attorney says personal email not a problem unless there was express advocacy.
  • 14:24 #ksethics Ethics attorney explaining exhibits including 4 news articles
  • 14:25 #ksethics Ethics Chair asking if before pressing button if O’Donnell considered if “this was right thing to do”.  O’Donnell says “no, sir”
  • 14:26 #ksethics O’Donnell’s attorney:  “He understands without question the gravity” of the situation.
  • 14:28 #ksethics Ethics Commission to go into executive session till 2:45 PM to consider O’Donnell matter
  • 14:31 #ksethics Lobby of Ethics Commission office quite crowded during closed executive session considering O’Donnell matter.
  • 14:32 #ksethics Ethics attorney says commission is “quasi judicial” in their consideration of the O’Donnell matter. Exempt from open records.
  • 14:47 #ksethics Solbach makes motion to accept consent decree and make fine $234.  Krebs says fine is not adequate.
  • 14:49 #ksethics Harden say $234 may be higher than other similar cases.
  • 14:50 #ksethics Solbach says $234 fine is sufficient
  • 14:51 #ksethics Motion for $234 fine fails on 4 to 4 vote
  • 14:52 #ksethics Motion for $500 fine now on the table
  • 15:17 #ksethics Wichita City Councilman O’Donnell fined $500 by Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission. Says he will pay fine with personal funds.
  • 15:18 #ksethics Ethics commission on 4-4 vote rejected $234 fine for O’Donnell.  $500 fine motion won 5 to 3.
  • 15:20 #ksethics O’Donnell met with press after being fined $500 by ethics commission. #kwch will have video report later. Will put ours on Youtube
  • 15:21 #ksethics After O’Donnell hearing the ethics commission has gone into 2 closed executive sessions.   Will be in closed session till 3:40
  • 15:22 #ksethcis Motion to go into closed executive session would allow discussion of complaints, possibly one filed by Kris Van Meteren.  #ksleg
  • 15:41 #ksethics Closed executive session extended till 3:55
  • 15:55 #ksethics Commission extends closed executive session till 4:10.
  • 16:12 #ksethics Out of closed session.  No motions of any kind.  Next meeting to be on April 18.  2 PM civil fine hearing Lisa Wisdom
  • 16:18 #ksethics Commission Solbach said there was nothing special about picking the number $234 he picked for O’Donnell fine.

March 2012 Document Packet

p. 1:  Agenda

pp. 2-4:  Minutes from Feb. 15, 2012 meeting

pp. 5:  2012 Legislative Session Update

pp. 6-9:  Letter from legislators about Ethics’ opinion about KSA 46-237; related documents

pp. 10-11:  Civil Penalty Assessment orders

pp. 12-15:  Requests for Waiver of Civil Penalty Assessments

pp. 16-17:  Notice of Hearing In the Matter of Michael O’Donnell, Wichita City Councilman

February 2012 Lobbyist Report (broken out separately because of size)


Contact: Earl F Glynn, earl@kansaswatchdog.org, KansasWatchdog.org

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