By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
The Seward County Commission has censured one of its members.
Following the receipt of a letter from Petroleum Industry President David Miller and the release of statements which showed Commissioner C.J. Wettstein had used his county credit card for personal business, Monday, the board voted to pass a resolution to edit any comments made by the commissioner.
Miller’s letter described Wettstein’s conduct at the recent Gas Compressor Institute, alleging Wettstein had used his position to solicit business at the event.
At Monday’s meeting, commission chairman Jim Rice gave Miller the opportunity to speak about the matter. The PIE president kept his comments to a minimum.
“I sent a letter to you describing my complaint,” he said to the board. “I think it stated fully what the complaint was. I made it knowledge to you. What you choose to do with it is your business. I’m satisfied that I wrote you a letter.”
Wettstein apologized to Miller for his conduct at the institute.
“The letter was very explicit,” Wettstein said. “Ever once in a while, I do a real stupid stunt. Distributing the envelope with my business information at the Gas Institute was a very stupid stunt. I apologize. I should never have done it. What I did was wrong, and I did not use good judgment. Once again, I do apologize to the Gas Institute board, and it will not happen again.”
Commissioner Doug LaFreniere said the conduct, as well as the use of the county’s credit card, is a bad reflection on the board.
“Actions and perceptions are everything,” he said. “We appreciate having your function here, and it is our responsibility as commissioners to police ourselves.”
Rice said more needed to be done than simply an apology.
“I think that this particular subject deserves a little more consideration,” he said. “Commissioner Wettstein handed out personal information packets for business for personal gain without permission from PIE. At last year’s event, Mr. Miller states Wettstein was quite insistant that because he was a county commissioner, he should be provided a booth at no charge.”
Rice said those two particular instances caused a great deal of concern for him.
“I just wanted to put before the commission ‘Is there a desire to censure or perhaps ban commissioner Wettstein from participating in any future Gas Institute events as a representative of this commission or of Seward County?’” he asked of the board.
LaFreniere said he appreciated the apology from Wettstein, and he said it is sometimes easy to get wrapped up in the duties of a commissioner.
“There’s been some other issues that arose,” LaFreniere said. “I want to be sure that everybody understands that one commissioner has no authority whatsoever. To serve as a commissioner, I look at it as an honor and a responsibility and nothing more. It’s not a privilege, and it’s not a perk. You shouldn’t treat it that way. It’s a huge responsibility, and people look at us to address issues.”
LaFreniere said he was disappointed with Wettstein, who has served as a commissioner for 18 years.
“I know there are some events that have happened here, but they didn’t happen 18 years ago,” LaFreniere said. “They happened under my watch. I was elected, also, and these things can’t go unnoticed.”
A memo from county counsel Dan Diepenbrock showed in March, Wettstein had charged his county credit card for rooms at a hotel in Dodge City. LaFreniere said the county needs to develop a policy of having commissioners surrender their credit cards to the county administrator.
“I don’t go anywhere in the middle of the night where I need a credit card,” he said. “We need to surrender our credit cards to the administrator. When we leave, check them out, and when we return, check them back in. We had a situation here where charges were put on the credit card we weren’t aware of.”
LaFreniere said he also believes there needs to be rules in place to help prevent events such as these from happening again.
“That is our responsibility, and I think we need to address that,” he said. “I take responsibility because I was the one that nominated commissioner Wettstein to be chair. I thought with 18 years, I’d learn something from him. It’s the last series of events sitting in this office with which I’m very disappointed. I’m hoping we can move forward, but I feel we do need to censure, and we have to police ourselves.”
LaFreniere made the motion to pass a resolution to censureWettstein. The board voted 4-0 with Wettstein abstaining to pass the resolution.
Diepenbrock’s memo also referred to a Kansas statute which allows the commission to initiate ouster proceedings that involve a civil lawsuit filed by either the county attorney or the Kansas attorney general.
“According to KSA 60-1205, the attorney general or county attorney shall investigate any written complaint that a public official has committed acts that may be conduct that would result in forfeiture of and ouster from office,” Diepenbrock said. “If the attorney general or county attorney find reasonable cause for the complaint, the attorney general or county attorney shall institute proceedings to oust such officer.”
Under this statute, the commission does not have the authority to remove or suspend an individual board member.
Diepenbrock said, ultimately, it would be up to a judge to determine whether the alleged conduct of Wettstein amounted to “misconduct while in office” or the violation of a state penal statute “involving moral turpitude.”
Commissioner Randy Malin made a motion to forward all the information of the matter to Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt. The commission voted 4-1 with Wettstein voting against doing so.
Diepenbrock’s memo likewise stated all elected officials are subject to recall by the voters. The procedure involves obtaining a required number of signatures on a sufficiently drafted petition and, ultimately, a recall election.