Archive for Thursday, April 30, 2009

House Speaker O’Neal says memo doesn’t conflict with his assertions in nepotism probe

O’Neal continues to say he had no input on wife’s job status

April 30, 2009

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— House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, has repeatedly denied having anything to do with the hiring of his wife, Cindy O’Neal, as a staff member to the newly created House Republican Caucus.

But a memo from House Majority Leader Ray Merrick indicates Speaker O’Neal’s office was involved in hiring the caucus staff.

Mike O’Neal faces a complaint before the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission that he violated the state’s nepotism law by assisting in getting his wife the job. He has denied any wrongdoing, saying that Cindy O’Neal was hired by Merrick’s chief of staff Peter Freund, and that her salary comes out of Merrick’s office.

In a Jan. 6 memo titled “Hire of Caucus Staff,” from Merrick, R-Stilwell, to Jeffrey Russell, who is director of Legislative Administrative Services, Merrick says, “My office with the assistance of the Speaker’s office will be hiring a caucus staff: Wade Hopgood, Media and Communications Director, Jenna Keesling, Legislative Policy Director, and Cindy O’Neal Caucus Liaison.”

The start date for the new caucus staff was stated by Merrick as Jan. 5, the day previous to the memo’s date.

In the memo, Merrick explains that Hopgood and Keesling will be full-time while Cindy O’Neal will work full-time until July 1 and then become part-time. “The portions of salaries coming from the Speaker’s office budget are given in the accompanying memorandum from the Speaker’s office,” the Merrick memo states.

A memo from O’Neal explains salary increases for two staffers and how they will be paid out.

In addition, the memo states, “Cindy O’Neal’s annual salary will be $27,000 as set by the Majority Leader’s Office, effective January 5th.”

In follow-up memos written two days later by Merrick and O’Neal to Russell, both legislators stated that Cindy O’Neal’s salary would come entirely from Merrick’s budget.

A state law prohibits state officers from “directly employing, appointing, promoting, transferring or advancing family members” into a state post.

A public hearing on the complaint against Speaker O’Neal is scheduled for May 13. If the Ethics Commission finds that O’Neal violated the nepotism law, he could face a fine of up to $5,000.

On Thursday, Speaker O’Neal said the memo doesn’t conflict with his assertions.

“This doesn’t change anything that I’ve said or any of the facts,” he said.

“I did not advocate for, nor did I participate in the decision to hire Cindy,” he said, adding that he had nothing to do with setting her salary. He said when Merrick wrote that the speaker’s office was assisting with the hiring of a caucus staff, that meant that he and Merrick agreed there would be a “shared staff.”

Comments

Bob_Keeshan 6 years, 2 months ago

I encourage you to read the scanned copies of the memos.

The Speaker is paying 100% of the salary for one staffer, part of the salary for another staffer, and then none of the salary for his wife.

So his contention is that he did have input into the hiring of 2 of the 3 members of the "caucus staff," but no input whatsoever into the hiring of the third.

How convenient. Perhaps the Majority Leader's office would like to release copies of Mr. Freund's schedule so it can be made clear when he conducted interviews for the position of Caucus Liason and how many other applicants were considered.

napoleon969 6 years, 2 months ago

Does anyone really believe that the "Good Ole Boy" network was not at work here? (Wink, wink). Given Mr. O'Neal's lack of a grasp upon the state budget situation, this is just one more reason for Hutchinson voters to get rid of the scoundrel next election.

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