ARCHIVES:

Posts in this section were archived prior to February 2010. For more recent posts, go to the HOME PAGE.

8/13/2005                                                                                       View Comments

Kevin Graham could face two charges of felony check fraud.

BY JOSH FUNK
The Wichita Eagle


School board member arrested

The arrest of Wichita school board member Kevin Graham surprised those who know him.

His fellow board members and others say they want to hear Graham's explanation for the two personal checks police say he tried to cash Thursday from a long-closed account before passing judgment.

Graham, who is pastor of St. Matthew CME Church, did not offer an explanation Friday. He did not return several calls to his home, church and cell phone, and did not answer the door late Thursday or Friday.

Leonard Wesley, the finance chairman at Graham's church, learned about his pastor's arrest from a reporter Friday morning.

"I didn't know anything about it," Wesley said, but he expressed confidence that Graham and the church would be OK.

"I'm sure we'll work through it," Wesley said.

Graham could face two felony check fraud charges, and state law says he could be removed from office if he's convicted.

No school district policies apply in this case, and school officials say they don't know of any other Kansas school board member being arrested on a felony charge, so there isn't any precedent to follow.

According to a police report, Graham wrote two personal checks Thursday, one for $700 and one for $800, and tried to cash them at Sunflower Bank on West 21st Street.

Under Kansas law, writing a bad check for more than $500 is a felony.

He was jailed at 3:05 p.m. and spent about an hour there before posting $2,500 bail, Sedgwick County Jail records showed. A court date was tentatively set for Aug. 25.

Wichita police Lt. Ralph Clark said Graham would not be charged until after the case is presented to the district attorney's office in about four weeks.

The checks, according to the police report, were from Twin Lakes National Bank, which merged with Southwest National Bank last September and changed its name to Southwest National.

Bank vice president Janette Brooks said customers can still use Twin Lakes checks if they have an active account with Southwest, which has six branches in Wichita.

Brooks said Graham closed his accounts at the bank in 2001 and is not a current customer.

Wichita school officials learned of Graham's arrest when superintendent Winston Brooks received a courtesy call from the city manager Thursday evening, district spokeswoman Wendy Johnson said.

On Friday afternoon, Brooks said he still had not been able to talk to Graham.

"I'd like to hear his side of the story," Brooks said. "I care about him as a person."

Brooks said it is too soon for him to say whether Graham should continue serving in the office he won in April.

Graham received 75 percent of the citywide vote and took office July 1.

"I think we need to be real deliberate about this," Brooks said.

State law spells out a procedure for the district attorney or attorney general to oust elected officials from office if they are convicted of a felony, Johnson said.

There are provisions for voters to petition to recall an elected official convicted of a felony, but recalls can't be launched within the first 120 days of an elected official's term.

None of the recommended board policies from the Kansas Association of School Boards addresses the arrest of a board member.

David Shriver, a staff lawyer for KASB, said he's not aware of another instance of a Kansas board member being arrested in the 30 years that he has been practicing school law.

The Wichita district has a clear policy about what happens when an employee is arrested: In a felony arrest, that employee is suspended with pay until the case is resolved.

But Wichita board members Connie Dietz and Chip Gramke said they'd be reluctant to draft a similar policy for board members that could overrule voters.

"Board members aren't held accountable to board members," said Dietz, the board president. "They are held accountable to their constituents."

Gramke said he'd rather leave it up to the voters to rescind their approval if they choose to.

Board members Sarah Skelton and Lynn Rogers said they wanted more information before commenting on the need for a policy. Mostly they expressed shock.

"My first reaction to is I hope that's not true," Rogers said. "It's hard to reconcile with the Kevin I know."

Board members Kevass Harding and Lanora Nolan did not return calls for comment.

Dietz said the accusation should not be a concern for the district because board members do not have direct access to district money, and the only time board members are reimbursed is for board-related travel, which requires receipts.

"I don't see what impact it would have on the school board," Dietz said.

But Gramke acknowledged that it would affect the board.

"Is it going to be a distraction? Certainly," he said.

But that's not Gramke's first concern.

"I'm concerned more for him personally than I am for his status as a board member," he said.

No comments: