Topeka — When state Rep. Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, was elected speaker of the House earlier this year, his wife also changed jobs.
Cindy O’Neal had been secretary of the House Judiciary Committee, which her husband chaired.
But when Mike O’Neal got a promotion, Cindy O’Neal was hired as a House Republican Caucus liaison at $27,000 per year.
O’Neal said he had nothing to do with his wife getting the job.
On Wednesday, the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission announced it was investigating a complaint filed by a Democratic legislator that the speaker violated the state’s nepotism statute.
The decision came after a closed-door session in which the commission heard from a three-member subcommittee of the commission, which had reviewed the complaint.
The complaint by state Rep. Marti Crow of Leavenworth states that Speaker O’Neal violated the nepotism statute “by advocating or causing the transfer of employment as well as participating in an action relating to the employment of his wife, Cindy O’Neal. This is a clear violation of Kansas laws regarding nepotism.”
Speaker O’Neal denied any wrongdoing.
O’Neal said his wife was hired by Peter Freund, who is chief of staff for House Majority Leader Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell.
O’Neal said he had nothing to do with the hiring and has no supervisory authority over her. He said he obtained legal opinions that Freund’s hiring of Cindy O’Neal didn’t violate the law.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “I have a clean conscience about it, so does Cindy and so does the majority leader’s office.”
Cindy O’Neal has worked for the Legislature for the past 21 sessions.
The full Ethics Commission will conduct a public hearing on the dispute on May 20. If the commission determines that O’Neal violated the nepotism law, he could face a fine of up to $5,000.