Secretary of State could appoint committee for election commissioner interview process

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WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW)- Sedgwick County commissioners have chosen not to move forward with potential legislation that would give the county more power when it comes to choosing the election commissioner, but have been informed of an alternative process that some said is fair.

This comes after Tabitha Lehman, Sedgwick County Election Commissioner was told by Secretary of State Scott Schwab that she would not be re-appointed for another term. Schwab said Lehman accessed county networks from home while undergoing chemotherapy, which he said is not allowed.

As for the process of choosing an election commissioner, that typically lies in the hands of the Secretary of State, at least for four counties. Those counties are the largest and include Sedgwick, Shawnee, Wyandotte and Johnson. All other Kansas counties elect the county clerk, who is also in charge of elections.

The special county commission meeting on Friday (Jan. 22) was called with the intent to consider new legislation that would give county commissioners the power over the election commissioner. This piece of legislation has been proposed in past years.

“I think it’s important because this commission represents 500,000 people,” said Lacy Cruse, Sedgwick County commissioner. “We need to make sure that we have good representation in all levels including our election commissioner.”

The conversation quickly changed course after commissioners were informed of a process by Secretary Schwab that has been successful in Johnson County and is currently happening in Wyandotte County.

“We interview, we make the decision and recommendation and he hires the person,” said Pete Meitzner, Sedgwick County Commissioner. “He says I want out of the direct decision.”

The interview process would include the head staff member of the Secretary of State’s Office and representatives from the state election office and human resources department.

That process would also include a county’s chairman and representative from the county human resources department.

Some commissioners said this process could work.

“I want to make sure that we have an impartial board that’s going to select the next election commissioner,” said Cruse.

“I think having a non partisan person is crucial in this seat, especially in these times when the political divide is huge,” said Lopez.

Commissioner Jim Howell was hoping to move forward with a piece of legislation as he said the power should be local when appointing the election commissioner. Howell said the proposed process could be good, but he wants it to be more set in stone so that it is in place for future commissions.

“I think it’s better to have local control on these things,” said Howell. “If we had local control in this case, we probably wouldn’t be in the situation we are in today.”

Some county commissioners said they plan to contact commissioners in some of the other counties to hear their opinions.

It’s unclear when the Secretary of State’s plan could begin or if the legislative topic will be brought up again.

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