The Election Will Go On: Powell Questions Validity of Montagne's Candidacy for McPherson County Sheriff

By Jolyn Johnston-Myers
October 26, 2016

The election will go on and Jerry Montagne will remain on the ballot for the November 8 general election for McPherson County Sheriff.

Current Sheriff Larry Powell recently raised objections concerning the petitions that were circulated last summer in support of Jerry Montagne as candidate for sheriff.

Montagne ran against incumbent Sheriff Powell on the republican ballot in the August primary. In order to do so, Montagne needed at least 285 signatures from local voters. He got even more than that, but in order for them to be valid, the signatures had to be witnessed by the person circulating each sheet of petition. Sheriff Powell is alleging that Montagne signed petitions that he did not personally circulate.

According to McPherson County clerk Cathy Schmidt, Montagne admitted to signing sheets he did not personally carry, which she says is against the state statute.

Sheriff Powell took the issue to McPherson County Attorney Torrance Parkins who then passed it on to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI), requesting a neutral investigator with the intent of avoiding any potential conflict of interest involving local law enforcement agencies.

The KBI will be starting their investigation into the allegations later in November. In the meantime, Montagne will remain on the ballot and incumbent Sheriff Powell continues to campaign as a write-in candidate. Montagne narrowly beat out Powell in the August primary by 23 votes, making history as the closest primary race ever held in McPherson County.  

No charges have been filed. Montagne is currently on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, according to the county attorney.

The official press release from McPherson County Attorney Torrance Parkins:

Recently an objection was raised by Sheriff Larry Powell concerning signatures on petitions that were circulated prior to the McPherson County Primary election in support of Jerry Montagne as a candidate for McPherson County Sheriff.

Immediately upon learning of the allegations, I contacted the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) and requested that they send a neutral investigator as soon as possible. The decision to involve the KBI was not a statement about the merits or seriousness of the allegations, it was merely intended to avoid any potential conflict of interest. Because the candidates are members of the McPherson County Sheriff’s Department and McPherson Police Department, it would be inappropriate for either law enforcement agency to investigate the details of the complaint.

I was notified today that the KBI will investigate this case, but the soonest an investigation could be undertaken is mid to late November, after the general election. At the conclusion of the investigation, I will request that the Kansas Attorney General review the investigation. It is important that neutral decision-makers are involved in every step of this process to avoid any appearance of impropriety and to ensure fairness to both candidates.

Currently no charges have been filed and no investigation has even occurred; these are simply allegations. Consistent with department policy, Lt. Montagne has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, not as a result of any finding of wrongdoing.

I will continue to monitor the situation and involve all necessary agencies to ensure transparency and neutrality.

Torrance R. Parkins

McPherson County Attorney