The Prairie Village City Council on Monday will take up a lengthy series of ethics complaints lodged against the mayor and almost half of the city council that a resident filed two months ago.
Mike Sullinger, who has been an outspoken critic of the city’s housing recommendations and was also part of a group of residents who tried unsuccessfully to have Mayor Eric Mikkelson recalled multiple times this year, submitted an eight-page code of ethics complaint against a majority of the governing body on Sept. 20.
The complaint generally pertains to the city’s controversial housing recommendations and Sullinger’s contention that some of the city leaders who worked on them have a conflict of interest because of their connections to an organization that has attainable housing as part of its area of focus.
The council on Monday is set to consider the city attorney’s recommendation that they reject all of Sullinger’s complaints.
Additionally, the council will consider a series of updates to the city’s code of ethics, including a provision by which city staff and the council could deem repeat complaints “frivolous” and would allow city staff not to accept further complaints from an individual for up to one year.
Complaint alleges conflicts of interest
Sullinger’s complaint alleges that Mikkelson as well as councilmembers Cole Robinson, Inga Selders, Ron Nelson, Bonnie Limbird and Ian Graves all violated the city’s code of ethics at various times over the past year. (Limbird lost her bid for re-election to Stop Rezoning-backed candidate Lori Sharp in this month’s election).
The complaint frequently mentions United Community Services of Johnson County, a nonprofit organization that issued a housing toolkit in 2021 urging local cities to explore options for adding attainable housing stock.
The work of UCS of Johnson County led to the creation of the Prairie Village ad hoc housing committee that developed the set of housing recommendations, which were ultimately advanced by the city council in June 2022.
Opposition to those housing recommendations was the driver behind the forming of the Stop Rezoning Prairie Village group, also known as PV United, that backed several candidates during the most recent municipal election.
Stop Rezoning circulated three petitions earlier this year hoping to put ballot initiatives before voters this fall that would have restricted rezoning in single-family neighborhoods and also remade Prairie Village city government, including cutting the size of the city council in half.
A Johnson County judge deemed two of the ballot measures ineligible to go before voters, but ruled that the third — one seeking to abandon the city’s current “mayor-council” form of government — could legally be allowed to go on a future ballot.
The Stop Rezoning group is appealing the judge’s final ruling.
Allegations are against mayor, most of city council
As part of the complaint, Sullinger alleges:
- Mikkelson has “promoted [the United Community Service of Johnson County’s] agenda in which he has a personal interest (he is a board member).” Mikkelson is listed as a board member on the UCS of Johnson County website.
- Robinson inserted “his views that reflect the potential for personal gain (or stated in the inverse, the potential for a personal loss).” Sullinger’s complaint alludes to the petitions, one of which would have ousted Robinson from the city council had it been taken to the ballot and approved by voters.
- Limbird “voted for her own work” when she voted in favor of advancing the ad hoc housing recommendations in June 2022, when she was also involved with UCS of Johnson County.
Sullinger declined to discuss the complaints in further detail with the Post, but provided the following statement via Facebook Messenger: “The SMP has a history of telling only one side of the story (the city) so all I’ll say is that the ethics complaint speaks for itself.”
Read Sullinger’s complaint in its entirety below.
Mikkelson and one councilmember respond
Mikkelson told the Post via text that there are a few truths in the ethics complaint, but those truths describe “ethical actions, including beneficial examples of good government that should be encouraged.”
He nods to the mentions of his and Limbird’s work with the UCS of Johnson County. This connection has been a focus in both the ethical complaints Sullinger submitted to the city as well as Sullinger’s multiple attempts to recall Mikkelson.
It’s common for elected officials to sit on the boards for nonprofit organizations that have community issues as their focus.
For example, Overland Park Councilmember Holly Grummert currently serves as an officer on the board of the Mid-America Regional Council. Leawood Mayor Peggy Dunn and Lenexa Mayor Michael Boehm, who both did not seek reelection this year, both sit on the Johnson County Research Triangle Authority board.
And Boehm, Dunn and County Commission Chair Mike Kelly all have “Elected Officials” seats on the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.
“Historically, our ethics process has not been abused for personal vendettas, policy disagreements and political purposes,” Mikkelson said. “We cannot allow such divisive harassment to waste taxpayer resources and discourage public service in the future.”
Graves, who did narrowly win reelection this November, told the Post via text that it is important to hold the Prairie Village city government to high ethical standards in order “to prevent conflicts of interests related to self-dealing and graft.”
“Equally important is that all accusations of ethics violations are seriously considered as to their veracity,” Graves said. “This prevents spurious accusations based on grudges, malicious intent, and simple differences of opinion.”
Selders, who also won reelection this year against a write-in candidate, declined to comment for this story.
Robinson, Limbird and Nelson did not respond to the Post’s request for comment.
What the city is discussing Monday
- The city council on Monday is considering the ethical complaints Sullinger submitted two months ago during a council committee of the whole meeting.
- City staff is recommending the council committee of the whole reject all of Sullinger’s complaints, but a detailed memorandum was not originally included in the packet.
- The council committee of the whole is also discussing a proposed update to the city’s code of ethics policy, put together by city attorney David Waters (who also serves as mayor of Westwood).
- Most notably, Waters’s changes call for more specific procedures for how code of ethics violation allegations are raised and considered.
- Other changes include clearer distinctions between expected elected official behavior and enforceable code of ethics violations, revisions to the conflict of interest sections