O’Donnell apologizes to council over campaign e-mail flap

Wichita City Council member Michael O’Donnell apologized today to his council colleagues for using his city e-mail to campaign for a friend seeking re-election to the state Senate.

“It was my sloppy and honest mistake, and I am sorry,” he said at the start of a council workshop meeting.

O’Donnell is facing a March 21 hearing at the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission in connection with the incident.

“I will fully cooperate with the Ethics Commission and look forward to resolving this issue and moving forward civilly and in good faith,” O’Donnell said.

Mayor Carl Brewer said he appreciated O’Donnell’s apology and accepted it on behalf of the council.

“It takes a big person to apologize,” the mayor said, adding that he thinks O’Donnell set an example for politicians at the local, state and federal levels.

O’Donnell has admitted he used his city computer to solicit financial sponsors for an Oct. 30, 2011, meet-and-greet on behalf of state Sen. Garrett Love, R-Montezuma. O’Donnell sent the e-mail to 39 individuals.

State law prohibits using any public resources for campaigns for elective office, according to Carol Williams, executive director of the Ethics Commission.

The commission can levy a fine of as much as $5,000 for a violation of the state’s Campaign Finance Act. In practice, the commission has seldom levied heavy fines for first-time violations.

O’Donnell’s contrition today is a marked contrast to his earlier comments on the matter.

He had previously called the matter “a political hit job” by some of his council colleagues, including Brewer, to try to still his conservative voice on the council.

O’Donnell is often the sole dissenter on spending matters.

He is a staunch opponent of a plan by the council to help finance development of a downtown boutique hotel by allowing the developer to keep a portion of the hotel’s guest tax, estimated to be a $2.25 million benefit over the next 15 years.

A ballot measure challenging the council’s decision is up for a public vote today.

A “yes” vote will allow the Ambassador Hotel developer to keep the tax money and a “no” vote would overturn the council’s decision and deny the developer the tax rebate.

After the meeting, Brewer said he doesn’t have any hard feelings over O’Donnell’s initial criticism of him.

“I don’t worry about that,” Brewer said. “It’s part of what comes along with my job, and these (council members’) jobs too.”