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Archive for Monday, September 29, 2003

Sad scandals

Topeka and Shawnee County appear to be having a string of bad luck with their elected officials.

September 29, 2003

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Another potential scandal in Topeka is a reminder of the importance of electing good local officials and monitoring their activities to make sure the public trust in those officials is well placed.

On Friday, Shawnee County's chief prosecutor filed a petition to remove Topeka Mayor Butch Felker from office. The petition alleges that Felker misused public funds, violated Kansas campaign finance laws and engaged in other misconduct. The allegations focus on payments to a former city administrative officer, a falsified campaign finance report and other irregularities.

In Topeka's mayor-council form of government, the mayor is a full-time employee with significant autonomy and control over city affairs. Felker, who served as Topeka mayor from 1989 to 1997, was elected to a third four-year term in 2001.

Unfortunately, Felker is not the only Topeka official to encounter legal problems in the past several years. Shawnee County Treasurer Rita Cline resigned last year rather than fight an ouster attempt over allegations she misused funds. In 2000, two district judges kicked Shawnee County Sheriff Dave Meneley out of office after concluding he had given false testimony twice and impeded an investigation of his department.

Felker's predecessor as mayor, Doug Wright, pleaded guilty last month to perjury and theft charges and is serving a one-year jail sentence in connection with incidents that occurred while he was in private law practice after leaving the mayor's office.

Some of these cases may have involved actual losses of taxpayer funds. The lack of integrity displayed by these officials almost certainly affected the efficiency with which they and their subordinates served the public.

It's a sad record for Topeka and Shawnee County; certainly a pattern every other local government entity should try mightily to avoid.

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