A unified Barton County Commission appreciated the plight of Denise Rankin, the former Great Bend woman accusing the County Attorney’s Office of botching the handling of the sexual abuse case against her ex-husband. But, sadly, commissioners told her Monday morning there wasn’t much they could do to help.
“This commission feels a lot of sympathy for you and a lot of compassion, and we are frustrated with the way things are,” commission Chairwoman Jennifer Schartz said. She said this is not the first elected official with which the commission has butted heads, bringing up the problems with former County Treasurer Kevin Wondra.
Tying the commission’s hands is the fact that County Attorney Amy Mellor is an elected official, giving commissioners no control of that office. And, Assistant Count Attorney Doug Matthews was appointed by Mellor.
“There’s just not a lot the county commission can do,” she said. “We can say ‘Amy, do your job.’ But, what good does that do? We don’t have any power to make any kind of a change.”
The best thing that can happen is a recall election, Schartz said. “That would be something you could work towards that would have a positive result.”
“Personally, I commend you for having the courage to stand up and say something,” Commissioner Homer Kruckenberg said. Referring to Matthews who had served as county attorney prior to Mellor, “I do know that for years, the county attorney has sat on his hands and not done anything and spout legalese to cover for himself.”
But, “that’s about all I can do, but I can go on record as saying that I endorse what you are doing,” Kruckenberg said.
“I think it’s unrealistic to think the Barton County Commission can change the entire judicial system,” Commissioner Alicia Straub said. But, “there are things you can do, the power lies in the people and that is where you need to go.”
Denise Rankin’s plea
“I am coming to you again,” Denise Rankin said. “I have been watching your county commission meetings. I approached you guys over a month ago and asked for you to organize a task force to look into your County Attorney’s Office for their incompetency in getting stuff to trial.”
However, since that Feb. 12 visit, “I have not seen anything. I have not heard anything so I am approaching you guys to see if you are even looking into it and what you guys’ status is on it.”
She is waiting to see the county contact the Kansas Attorney General’s Office to investigate. Among other things, she accuses Matthews of denying her attorney access to meetings held with him.
Denise Rankin’s ex-husband, Jeffrey Rankin, pled guilty in early February to two counts of sexual exploitation of a child. He originally faced 31 criminal charges in Barton County District Court, including rape and aggravated indecent liberties with a child under 14 years old, but those were dismissed as part of the plea agreement.
The original charges alleged crimes against two minors, dating from as early as July 1, 2011. This involved the alleged molestation of Denise Rankin’s two daughters and is the case she feels Matthews and Mellor have bungled.
“I am looking to you guys for your mercy,” Denise Rankin said. “You have the opportunity to get a task force together to hold your county attorneys accountable.
“We just need answers,” she said. “And we need to know that the people we elect are being held accountable.”
She feels Mellor is not taking Matthews to task for his inaction in her case and others, and a task force could look into these matters. High-profile cases like the murder of Great Bend teenager Alicia DeBolt are handled while smaller cases are often neglected.
“What pressure are you guys putting onto her?” Denise Rankin said.
Here’s the rub
Barton County Counselor Carey Hipp asked about the status of letters and complaints that were going to be filed by Denise Rankin’s attorney Stacia Boden with the Attorney General’s Office. She didn’t know where those stood, but said “letters are in the works.”
Denise Ranking said other victims have come to her and she has asked them to file complaints as well.
“One of the things we have discussed is some kind of a letter from commission, that we are in support of some kind of investigation,” Hipp said.
“The citizens need to know what’s going on,” Denise Rankin said.
“We’re certainly not trying to keep anything from the citizens,” Hipp said. “But, things really are organized differently at the county level. This is an elected position.”
Matthews is not elected, but he is appointed by an elected official. “We have limitations on what we are allowed to do,” Hipp said of this checks-and-balances system.
“We are not sure that we can do exactly what you want us to do to make a difference,” Hipp said.
“You guys are in charge of your community,” Denise Rankin said. Law enforcement can only do so much and it is up to the commission to do what it can so the county can prosper.