- Associated Press - Monday, November 23, 2015

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - The Sedgwick County district attorney on Monday blocked a recall effort against a county commissioner who has faced criticism for his public health budget votes and stance on benefits for people living the country illegally.

The petition for an election seeking the recall of Sedgwick County Commission Chairman Richard Ranzau does not meet the narrow grounds prescribed by state law, District Attorney Marc Bennett said. Kansas allows recall petitions to go forward only for conviction of a felony, misconduct in office or failure to perform duties prescribed by law, he said.

“This isn’t a matter of personal opinion, an endorsement of or opposition to any particular elected official,” Bennett said. “The law makes it pretty clear that it is pretty tough to get a recall petition passed.”

The petition filed by a group activists contends Ranzau has failed to contract for the protection and promotion of public health in Sedgwick County.

It cited as grounds for the recall his vote in January against a federal grant of $2.3 million to prevent and control obesity, diabetes and heart disease. In August, Ranzau also voted for a budget that included $539,069 in cuts to programs providing health education, community health assessments, immunizations, cancer screenings, services to combat infant mortality and services to help low-income residents get medical care. In October, Ranzau rejected $330,000 in grant funds for a nutrition program for women, infants and children.

Advocates were angered by Ranzau’s view that immigrants who are living illegally in the country shouldn’t benefit from a federal program that provides low-income families foods such as milk, eggs, cheese and baby formula.

Bennett said that an official’s position on a vote is not sufficient reason to give rise to a petition recall.

“I think everybody can understand that if it were otherwise every time someone cast a vote that someone disagreed with there would be a viable recall petition. The remedy that is prescribed by law is the ballot box, and if people are dissatisfied with any particular elected official - whether it is a county commissioner or a district attorney - the mechanism for challenging that is to go out and vote the next time.”

Ranzau, who was re-elected in November 2014, became chairman of the commission in January. He said he wasn’t surprised by the district attorney’s decision.

“This is really about policy differences, OK? … But, ultimately, I think this is a victory for the hard-working, tax-paying American citizens and legal immigrants of this country,” Ranzau said.

Sandrine Lisk, one of the leaders of the advocacy group seeking the recall, said members are disappointed and have always believed they have a legally sufficient petition.

“This is by no means over,” Sandrine said, adding that if the petition needs to be amended, the group will do so and refile it as often as it takes to get the issue before voters.

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