WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O’Donnell has admitted that it is his voice on a secretly recorded audio file that was made public last week. The people in the audio are discussing how to shift the blame for the production of an attack ad in 2019 against then mayoral candidate Brandon Whipple.
During a special Sedgwick County Commission meeting Wednesday morning, O’Donnell spoke publicly about the recording for the first time.
“I reiterate my statements that I had nothing to do with the creation, production, script, or initiation of the Protect Wichita Girls video in last year’s mayoral election,” he said.
Protect Wichita Girls was the name given to the ad.
O’Donnell maintains he just raised money for billboards, and the money ended up being spent on the video. He goes on to say that he did take part in a meeting about covering it up.
“Following the video’s production and release, I did make serious errors in judgment by partaking in an effort to cover up who actually produced the video and shifting the blame to those who had nothing to do with it,” O’Donnell said.
“Though I never acted on the comments in that conversation, it was terrible,” he said. “I deeply regret my actions.
“There is no excuse for my actions,” he said. “And no excuses are going to be given here today.”
The four other commissioners adopted a resolution censuring O’Donnell and asking for his resignation. The resolution also asks that if O’Donnell wins reelection Tuesday, Nov. 3, that he refuse to take office. O’Donnell abstained from the vote and apologized to the commissioners.
“Lacey, Pete, David, Jim, I’m sorry, sorry for the distraction, and the embarrassment. You deserve better. You are all honorable people. I did a dishonorable thing. I understand the action that we are taking today. I don’t regret you for it. I would do the same thing if I was in your shoes because it was wrong.”
O’Donnell went on to add that 2020 has been a bad year and tearfully apologized to his 2nd District constituents.
“For me, for all of us, and our community, I think I changed a lot since that video happened. I lost my father in February, and he is not here for me to talk to and get counsel on that issue. That is not an excuse for my actions because they were wrong,” O’Donnell said. “In closing to my constituents, my actions in the aftermath of this video were terrible, and once again represented in a serious lapse in judgment. I apologize for my actions. You the citizens of District 2 deserve better, and I will be better.”
Mark Schoenhofer, O’Donnell’s attorney, submitted a court filing Tuesday stating that Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple’s lawsuit was frivolous and filed to try to impact the results of the Sedgwick County Commission 2nd District election. “In closing to my constituents, my actions in the aftermath of this video were terrible, and once again represented in a serious lapse in judgment. I apologize for my actions. You the citizens of District 2 deserve better, and I will be better.”
Commissioner Lacey Cruse said the only way out is a resignation and for O’Donnell to ask for forgiveness.
“To claim that an innocent man did this, I believe is disgusting,” said Cruse. “This could’ve ruined his marriage. He has three sons. It’s disgusting. It’s sad.”
Cruse said this is not the first time she has seen behavior like this, though.
“I did hear conversations about the billboard,” said Cruse. “About sexual harassment claims and it would be Brandon Whipple’s name on a billboard. Sexual harassment claims, I did hear that conversation.”
Cruse said she notified Mayor Brandon Whipple of that conversation she overheard. Cruse now encourages voters to voice their opinions through voting.
“I feel like [O’Donnell] can do what he wants, but I think the public already knows what they should do and they should do it on Tuesday,” said Cruse. “Vote him out.”
The Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office has opened an investigation into the ad involving O’Donnell, Wichita City Council Member James Clendenin, and Rep. Michael Capps, Kansas District 85.