Two new faces join the Sedgwick County Commission

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Sedgwick County commissioners have changed the way things are funded, including the zoo, Exploration Place, and the Arts Council in Wichita.

Some of that has been controversial.

Another controversial move recently from commissioners has been to take away bargaining capabilities for county firefighters in the firefighting union.

However, Sunday marked the swearing in of two new faces on the commission.

Former State Senator Michael O’Donnell and retired Air Force Colonel David Dennis were both sworn-in during a ceremony Sunday afternoon.

Now officially apart of the Sedgwick County commission, both O’Donnell and Dennis say they want to have better relations with the city of Wichita.

“We are going to be working day one to repair those relationships, we are going to be a stronger, united front, when everyone is on the same page,” said O’Donnell.

“We need to work cooperatively, the largest city in the state of Kansas is right here in Sedgwick County, we need to make sure we are working as a partner with them,” added Dennis.

Funding for the Sedgwick County Zoo has been in the spotlight over the past couple of years.

In 2015, commissioners voted and gave the zoo $150,000 in contingency funds.

The zoo was expecting more than $380,000 that year.

Coming off a banner year in 2016, which saw the zoo top $700,000 in attendance, O’Donnell says the relationship with the zoo has to be a priority.

“Right now, because of the long-term funding agreement, because of the relationships the zoo has had with the county for 40 years being upended over the last year, I think you need to do before you start talking about dollars is saying hey, lets get on the same page,” said O’Donnell.

The issue revolving around funding for WIC, or women, infant and children’s program has been a back and forth issue since 201

In October of that year, commissioners had the option to approve $2.2 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Instead, they voted three to two to turn down part of that funding – $300,000 – for the program.

However, this past October, they voted and approved taking on the full amount for the grant to go towards the WIC program.

“Right now, we need to make sure that the healthcare is funded properly, but I don’t plan on opening up anything on WIC,” said Dennis.

With Dennis and O’Donnell coming aboard, Chairman Jim Howell says this will make for a very conservative leaning commission.

“It stands to reason there would be a little bit less of an ideological split between the different commissioners, so I would like to think there is going to be a little bit more agreement, a little bit more peace amongst the five different seats getting things done and moving forward,” said Howell.

The two new commissioners will attend their first commission meeting this Wednesday.

At that time, commissioners will appoint a new chairman for the county commission.