WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Posts on social media are gaining traction after Sedgwick County Commissioners made comments about their jobs and the coronavirus pandemic while their mics were hot before Wednesday’s online budget meeting. (Read the transcript and see video below)
The exchange lasted only a few minutes. A common concern with those voicing their opinions on social media included a comment made by commissioner Michael O’Donnell.
“I guess we should stop talking about the 99 large.” (Laughter)
Commissioner O’Donnell tells KSN News he was talking about the federal aid the county is receiving during the COVID-19 crisis and not his salary as some residents have implied. The budget for a county commissioner is just over $98,000. However, some do take less.
“We weren’t in the middle of a serious discussion. We were just talking to each other, waiting for the meeting to start. No one takes the coronavirus lightly,” said O’Donnell.
While some Wichitans say they’re offended by what was said, some commissioners say they were light-hearted jokes. County leaders say they want to assure the public that they are taking this pandemic seriously, but local business owners say they’re still offended. Many have been without pay for weeks and struggling to create a plan for after the pandemic.
“To have commissioners that are supposed to be leaders really joking that they’ll spend all day talking about something because they’re getting paid for it, it’s a slap in the face for those of us who are working really hard to keep our businesses alive after this,” said Derek Davenport, Urban Routine owner.
Another Wichita business owner, Kenzie Borland, owner of Dead Center Vintage, shared her thoughts on social media, as well. She released a statement to KSN and said she hopes officials take their jobs more seriously.
“It is unacceptable to hear our county commission not take the concerns of the public seriously. As a small business owner, I’ve been out of work for 7+ weeks and hearing the people who were voted to represent us laugh about something so serious is disheartening. I pray that they will take their job more seriously, especially since 17 people have died in our own community from COVID-19.”
Commissioner Jim Howell told KSN in a statement that he was not joking in the conversation.
“Our job quite literally is to discuss issues in open meetings and create appropriate policies. I take that seriously. No matter how long it takes or what the issue is, all should be discussed at length and taken seriously.”
Staff: “Chairman, I have to get setup on here.”
County Manager: “Ok, I’ll give you three minutes.”
Meitzner: “Alright, we have three minutes.”
O’Donnell: “That’s fine.”
County Manager: “Yeah.”
Staff: “I just went by, and the mic’s are hot.”
County Manager: “Okay, mic’s are on.”
O’Donnell: “Mic’s large…so stop talking about the 99 large”. (referring to the $99.6M from CARES act)
Meitzner: (Audible laughing), “Less commissioners.” (Audible laughing)
O’Donnell: “Well, l that Witt company probably is making good money. They’re doing it everywhere saying, heck, we’ll manage this money. Give us one percent.”
County Manager: “Chairman, you don’t wanna have a special meeting this week to do the CAFR?”
O’Donnell: “We could?”
CFO: “We can have finance day for you guys, the audit plus the quarterly.”
County Manager: “Yeah”
O’Donnell: “Well, then we have to keep our coronavirus discussion short.”
County Manager: “Yes, please.”
Howell: “The heck with that.”
Dennis: “That would be unique.”
O’Donnell: “I know but that’s what I’m saying, like maybe we start, maybe we start with the CAFR then“ (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, which was deferred in the previous meeting due to BoCC mtg running long and the Budget Hearing scheduled to begin)
O’Donnell: “Because if we could at least start with the CAFR that could at least control.”
CFO: “Oh yeah.”
County Manager: “Without a phase change week, we could go a week without that.”
CFO: “We could do that.”
Howell: “Without the COVID (discussion)? No way.”
Meitzner: “But I don’t need to hear…”
Howell: “It’s the hottest (most important) topic around man, we gotta talk about it.”
O’Donnell: “We did it for, we talked about it for three hours (laughing).”
Howell: “That’s okay. We get paid to talk, and we get paid to give as much time as is needed.”
Meitzner: “By the word.” (laughing)
O’Donnell: “What?” (laughing)
Meitzner: “Jim gets paid by the word.”
Howell: “No, we get paid to…”
O’Donnell: “For 99 large if you pay him by the word”
County Manager: “Tony, we’re good? Ready? Ready to go? Alright, very good.”
County Manager: “We are starting.”
Meitzner: “He’s not laughing.” (laughing). “I am.”
Howell: “I’m saying, I don’t care if it takes all day.”
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