Sheridan County Commissioner Wes Bainter (R-Hoxie) says the recall attempt against him is politically motivated, and the allegations of wrongdoing are baseless. Bainter has been a budget hawk in his county, trying to reduce unnecessary spending and property taxes.
It has also brought him into conflict with Sheridan County Appraiser David Stithem.
Stithem’s 2017 employment contract with Sheridan County entitles him to total pay of $83,130 ($62,300 for serving as the appraiser and $20,800 as County Computer Technician). He is also employed as the county appraiser by neighboring Gove County, where the County Clerk confirmed via email that he is paid $51,040 annually. Both counties consider him full-time, although records obtained by the Sentinel show that Gove does reimburse Sheridan for half of Stithem’s benefits. Appraisers are appointed for four years, and Stithem’s Sheridan County appointment is up in June of 2021.
Bainter has objected to Stithem’s having full-time employment in two counties. However, according to Kansas Department of Revenue Spokesman Zach Fletcher, there is no legal restriction on the practice.
Stithem is one of the principals behind the recall and makes several allegations of wrongdoing against Bainter. He says that Bainter signed a letter in support of a housing grant for the “Sunrise Addition” in which his company — Bainter Construction — owns two lots and that Bainter submitted a bid for work to the Sheridan County Hospital.
Bainter, in a response received June 11, said this is simply not the case.
“These lots are located in the new Sunrise Addition to the City of Hoxie,” Bainter said. “[The} City of Hoxie has submitted grant applications to the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation every year since the inception of Sunrise Addition starting in 2013.
Like most grant applications, he said, the city has been successful some years, and not in other years.
“The Kansas Housing Resources Corporation is allocated $2 million per year from the Kansas legislature,” Bainter said. “They distribute this money throughout rural Kansas to help build housing in small rural Kansas towns.
Bainter said that in 2019, Hoxie was awarded $95,202, which was used to pay off the assessments for lots 31 & 36 owned by Bainter– which Stithem claims was corrupt.
Bainter said the truth is more complicated than Stithem alleges.
“In order for the City of Hoxie to receive the grant money, someone has to purchase these two lots from Sunrise Addition and build housing on them,” Bainter said. “When the housing is built and ready for occupancy the grant money is awarded to Hoxie. The invitation to build is open to anyone and everyone who would like to purchase the lots and build the housing. In the case of lots 31 & 36, there was no other interest in the community to purchase the lots or make the major investment in building the housing other than myself and my company.”
Bainter said the allegation was “total crap” coming from people who are not “doing anything to build, expand and create economic development here in this community.”
Additionally, such applications often require letters of support from the county commission, and signatures by the commissioners are generally routine.
Bainter said the hospital allegations in the petition are also a “total fabrication.”
“The proposal I presented to the head of maintenance was an estimate for work the hospital was hoping to do with the help of a grant they hoped to receive,” Bainter said. “However the hospital needed an estimate so they would know who much to apply for in grants to pay for it. This was clarified by the Sheridan County Hospital administrator Niceta Farber, along with the Sheridan County Hospital Board in a letter to the editor published in the Sheridan Sentinel in the June 4th edition.
“I have on many occasions helped our local hospital with estimates and advice on construction and repair questions that have helped contain costs and proceed in the most efficient manner.”
Bainter says the other three signatories to the recall petition are:
- Don Rowlison – Husband of Melanie, who is a long time employee of the Property Valuation Division of the Kansas Department of Revenue, which oversees appraisers’ work.
- Paula Bielser – former Sheridan County Clerk, whose spouse was the County Commissioner unseated by Bainter.
- Mary Adams – a Hoxie resident.
While there is no conflict of interest in Stithem having simultaneous appointments in two counties, whether or not there is a conflict in a county employee spearheading a recall attempt against someone who is — in effect — one of his direct supervisors is an open question.
The Sentinel reached out to the Sheridan County Attorney but did not receive a response.
Stithem insists he is within his rights.
“I am a resident of Sheridan County and a taxpayer,” Stithem said in an email. “There are no laws that would prevent me or any other county employee from carrying out their statutory right to sponsor this petition. I have followed all requirements, and have obtained approval for the petition from the Sheridan County Attorney.”
Stithem also said that he works for the commission as a whole.
“Individual commissioners have no more legal authority to make decisions than a private citizen, and meetings are the only avenue for commissioners to exercise the collective power of the board,” he said. “Therefore, I work for the Sheridan County and the Board of Commissioners, not an individual commissioner.”
Stithem also suggested that Bainter’s attempts to reduce the cost of government and keep taxes down were violations of law.
“Nobody likes to pay taxes, and everyone would like to have them go down,” Stithem said. “If state statutes don’t have to be followed, I’m sure there would be lots of ways to reduce our current tax base. I am a firm believer government can be streamlined without the necessity to break the law.”
It’s an allegation Bainter denies categorically.
“As Sheridan County Commissioner, I have not engaged in any activity that is improper or illegal,” he wrote. “The charges listed in the recall petition are completely false and without merit.”