El Dorado’s City Manager Search Presents Opportunities, Challenges

By Lee White

I’ve been observing local government in El Dorado for a long time. The very first news story I ever wrote was for the Butler Community College Lantern in 1981 and concerned the untimely death of Mayor Max G. Main. In the ensuing 35 years, El Dorado has had only four city managers: Dick Chesney, Stan Stewart, Gus Collins, and Herb Llewellyn. Although I’m often the town’s harshest critic, that’s a record to be proud of.

“Last two years and you’ll have the best job in Kansas,” the late Mr. Stewart wrote in an e-mail to Collins. Of course, Collins didn’t, but that’s a story for another day. What that statement says, however, is that the position of El Dorado city manager had value and importance beyond what it might have had in a city of similar size. I believe that’s as true today as it was a dozen years ago. As the city commission begins the process of hiring Llewellyn’s replacement, it will be important to market the uniqueness of the community and to demand that candidates possess the skills and education to handle an organization with more “moving parts” than most other cities its size.

Particularly during Llewellyn’s tenure, the city’s role has expanded beyond basic services such as utilities, streets, and police and fire protection. El Dorado extended its reach from industrial parks into residential real estate with acquisition at a tax sale of lots in the Constant Creek development on the west side. BG Products Veterans Sports Complex has undoubtedly elevated the community’s image regionally, but nothing’s free. Technically, a new governmental entity called the “sports authority” runs the place, but it collects little revenue of its own. It depends on funding from the college, USD 490, and the City of El Dorado as illustrated in this recent Times-Gazette story about maintenance costs.

Then there’s Prairie Trails, the old El Dorado Country Club, that the city acquired in 2010 and has heavily subsidized with tax dollars and labor ever since. Recently, the city bought more golf carts and reconstructed the front nine greens. There is certainly an argument to be made that a golf course is an important community amenity and an economic development “draw;” however, the facility has been frightfully expensive for a town of El Dorado’s size to operate. Factor in stagnant wages, an overabundance of golf courses in the Wichita area, and waning interest in golf nationally and there exists for any city manager a real political and financial challenge.

Topeka presents what is the worst sort of issue for local government and business alike: instability. Although voters sent packing several of Gov. Sam Brownback’s uber-conservative supporters in the Kansas Legislature, political turbulence is likely for years to come. Funding, particularly for infrastructure projects and social services, will be scarce as lawmakers struggle to balance the budget. It will take at least one more election cycle to determine which direction voters will take the state.

Without a doubt, the El Dorado city manager’s job is not one for amateurs. Now is not the time to try any “bold experiments.” The successful candidate must be educated. A master’s degree in public administration is essential. He or she must have experience formulating budgets and managing multiple subordinates either as a city or county manager in a relatively smaller setting or as an assistant in a larger one. A couple of examples come to mind. Stewart was city manager of Abilene before accepting the El Dorado position. Kathy Sexton was assistant Sedgwick County manager before becoming Derby’s city manager.

I encourage city commissioners to avail themselves of the League of Kansas Municipalities’ interim city manager program if that becomes necessary. The plan is to utilize a search firm to find Llewellyn’s permanent replacement and that’s a great idea.

Although I understand some candidates feel the need to keep their job searches secret, I would encourage the commission to introduce two or three finalists to the public. Commissioners also need to make sure that the baggage a candidate has is acceptable. Don’t rely on the headhunter to research the applicants’ backgrounds. At the very least, Google them and search their local newspaper for stories about them.

To someone who has been away for awhile, El Dorado looks better than it has in years. The trick will be to catch a rising star as city manager to keep the momentum going. To potential applicants reading this blog post, I encourage you to accept the challenges I’ve outlined. El Dorado, by virtue of its broad range of programs, could provide you with a wealth of experience you just couldn’t get even in a somewhat larger city.

County Commissioners Discuss Sporting Events, Make Board Appointment

By Julie Pots

 

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Gary Wartick addresses county commissioners

Butler County commissioners on Tuesday conducted a work session on the subject of issuing Gary and Deborah Wartick special permits to continue holding more than two cross country running events per year at their private residence.  Several area citizens voiced their concerns regarding dust, school bus parking, speeding vehicles and the possible damage being done to the township roads.  The commissioners listened to all citizens, including Mr. Wartick, but did not make a decision regarding the granting of special permits to continue this practice.  One access route to the Wartick’s property uses a road maintained by Spring Township, another route uses a road maintained by El Dorado Township.   A different area of concern brought up by a resident not living in the area was the potential for accidents.  The citizen was concerned that although the Warticks operate an insurance company on the premises and purchase insurance for these events, that policy may not protect any participants or attendees, and may cover only the insured.

Several school districts along with the Butler County Community College hold events on the property at several times during the calendar year.  Mr. Wartick is also employed by Circle School District as a cross country coach.

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Flinthills Services CEO Kathy Walter and board appointee Norm Duncan speak to commissioners

Commissioners also appointed Norm Duncan to an at-large position on the board of directors of Flinthills Services and the Community Developmental Disabilities Organization of Butler County. Duncan is branch manager of Bank of the West in Augusta, but lives in Sedgwick County. Commissioners recently amended the Flinthills Services by-laws to allow an individual who resides outside the county but is employed locally to serve on the board. Duncan said he became interested in Flinthills because his son has a disability that includes autism.

Rose Hill citizen Julie Winslow spoke to Butler County commissioners during the public comment period regarding open records requests sent to the county for processing.  She cited three incidents that she wanted to put “on record:”

1) Several months ago she requested statistics from the sheriff’s office, and after passing that request through the county clerk’s office she received a telephone call from Sheriff Herzet and Undersheriff Wilhite explaining that they had a new computer system that they weren’t able to use yet

2) Winslow also stated that six other unrelated requests were made specifically to the sheriff’s office as well – those requests were made recently by the Citizens for a Better Butler County – and all six requests were immediately referred to Terry Huelskamp, the attorney for the Board of Commissioners and were responded to in six separate letters stating that basically the information would take time to gather.  She advised that nothing further had been received nor has the cost of gathering such information been supplied as is required by law

3) Speaking on behalf of a citizen in Pleasant Township, Ms. Winslow also presented several records to the board that were “incident reports” received from the sheriff’s office where much of the information on the reports were redacted before the records were released to the requestor.

Ms. Winslow stated that these were public records containing no personal information such as social security numbers or birthdates.   She also stated that she has received multiple such county records and not once had any information ever been redacted.  Commission Chairman Jeff Masterson, of Andover, said he  did not know why the redactions were done to these records nor was he or other commissioners aware of public records being handled through the board’s attorney, and that he would check it out and let her know.  Ms. Winslow asked if the information would be received at the next commission meeting but Mr. Masterson would make no promises as to when he might have that information for her.

I recently spoke with Ms. Ladonna Johnson regarding questions she asked the commission a few weeks ago (click here for the Watchdog article) on behalf of the Pleasant Township Coalition as to 1) Why Butler County EMS Director Chad Pore is being allowed to live in Greensburg, Kansas 2) Why he is allowed to ‘hotel’ at the Augusta EMS facility three nights per week free of charge  3) When or if he will be moving, to Butler County.   Ms. Johnson also did not understand why the county just gave him a $5,000-per-year raise given the circumstances.  Chairman Masterson has not yet responded to any of those questions either.

Click here to view county commission agendas and minutes and to listen to audio of this and other meetings.