Daily Archives: March 21, 2012

Ethics Commission fines Wichita Councilman O’Donnell $500 for e-mails

As his lawyer Steve Kearney (left) looks on, Wichita City Council member Michael O'Donnell answers question from the Governmental Ethics Commission.

TOPEKA — The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission has fined Wichita City Council member Michael O’Donnell $500 for using his government computer to send a campaign e-mail supporting a friend.

The commission took that action after deadlocking on a vote to assess a $234 fine.

O’Donnell had agreed to a consent decree acknowledging that his actions violated state ethics law. Before the commissioners deliberated the fine, in both open and closed sessions, their lawyer had recommended that the penalty fall between $25 and $500.

The commission lawyer, Camille Nohe, advocated for a fine closer to $500, citing statements that O’Donnell made to newspapers, including The Wichita Eagle, shortly after the violation came to light.

She also said the fact that O’Donnell sent the offending e-mail during a City Council meeting also argued in favor of the higher end of the agreed penalty.

The e-mail at issue was sent by O’Donnell to 39 people on Oct. 4. It was an invitation to a political fundraiser on behalf of his friend, state Sen. Garrett Love, R-Montezuma.

O’Donnell, a freshman council member who is often on the short end of 6-1 council votes, initially said the complaint was a “political hit job” aimed at muting his conservative voice, including his opposition to an incentive package to spur development of a boutique hotel downtown.

Later, he apologized for criticizing his fellow council members and Mayor Carl Brewer.

Today, O’Donnell expressed contrition for violating the ethics law. Read More »

Brownback writes letter in opposition to ‘Ad Astra’ senate map

Brownback

TOPEKA — A letter from Gov. Sam Brownback says the “Ad Astra” redistricting map senators began debating Wednesday has “two very troubling features” and he urged the Senate to produce a new map.

“‘Ad Astra’ is out of step with the spirit of the ‘one person, one vote’ principle, and thus would be difficult for me to support,” the letter says.

That puts a cloud over the map, which was initially approved by the Senate but later held back for more debate and a final vote next week.

In the letter, Brownback focuses on the change in population proposed in the map, which has been approved by a senate panel. And he argues, as administration officials have before, Leavenworth County should its own senate district.

That’s a flash point for Democrats because it could block two Democrats out of their current districts (more about that). The county is currently represented by Democratic Sens. Tom Holland, of Baldwin City, and Kelly Kultala, of Kansas City. Holland ran against Brownback in the past election with Kultala as his running mate.

Democrats also say Brownback indicated he wouldn’t get involved in redistricting and broke his word by having his chief of staff testify before the Senate Reapportionment Committee.

But Brownback’s letter steers clear of anything explicitly political. Read More »

Senate flips position and approves altered Brownback tax plan

TOPEKA — Nine senators changed their vote on a modified version of Gov. Sam Brownback’s income tax cut plan this morning and helped pass the bill in a 29-11 vote.

Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, said she was told by senate leadership that the Governor’s office had applied a lot of pressure to get them to reconsider the bill.

McGinn was among those who voted against the bill earlier this morning in a 20-20 vote that killed it. But she and eight others changed their vote when the senate abruptly reconsidered the bill. (Others included Sens. Brungardt, Emler, Huntington, Kelsey, Longbine, Morris, Teichman and Umbarger.)

McGinn said she decided that she wanted a bill to bring to a conference committee where select members of the House and Senate negotiate the differences between proposals that have passed one of their houses.

Senate President Steve Morris declined to comment about whether the Governor’s office was involved in the discussions that led to the re-vote.

“There was a lot of interest in making sure we had something to go to conference,” he said. Read More »

Senate votes down altered Brownback income tax plan

TOPEKA – The Senate this morning voted down a heavily altered version of Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax-cutting proposal, significantly reducing the chance that a sweeping income tax bill will be approved during this year’s legislative session.

The 20-20 vote effectively kills the bill unless the Senate decides to reconsider the bill and someone switches their vote.

Wichita Republican Sen. Les Donovan said he was disappointed and said some senators proposed amendments intended to vastly increase the price tag of the Governor’s plan.

The plan, as amended by a Senate panel, would have cost an estimated $105 million. After senators on Tuesday amended the plan to discontinue 6/10ths of a 1-cent sales tax approved in 2010 and retains a long list of tax credits and deductions that would have been eliminated under Brownback’s proposal, the cost ballooned to an estimated $800 million.

Secretary of Revenue Nick Jordan expressed disappointment in the Senate vote, but stopped short of saying the Brownback plan is dead for the year.

Meanwhile, the Senate voted 38-2 in favor of a bill that would give local governments $45 million a year for four years to provide property tax relief. Sens. Chris Steineger and Donovan opposed it. Read More »