County Needs To Take Lead On 4-H Facility At Former Honor Camp

By Lee White

Followers of our Facebook page may remember this story from The Hutchinson News. The story said the state was preparing to tear down the long-vacant honor camps at Toronto and El Dorado. In the case of the El Dorado facility, located just east of town on Twelfth Avenue, Butler County had sought to have the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the land, transfer the long-term lease from the state to the county so it could be used as a headquarters and fairgrounds for the 4-H program. How diligently the county sought the lease transfer is a matter for debate. Diligence was apparently lacking because the Corps declined to transfer the lease.

Until its closure in 2009, the camp benefited the inmate population, the state park, and local governments by engaging low-risk prisoners in work programs and even wildlife rehabilitation. Click here to view a story about the Honor Camp that appeared in the Los Angeles Times almost 32 years ago.

Add it to the list of riches the State of Kansas has squandered. A scant decade ago, Kansas’ fiscal policy — particularly its cash-basis law, which limits borrowing — was a model pundits contrasted with that of debt-ridden California. Today, California is thriving and Kansas is reeling from former Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax cuts that didn’t draw enough new businesses or people to the state to cover revenue losses.

Brownback’s tax cuts were not matched by spending cuts. If they had been, the fiscal crisis that led to the Legislature reinstating income and corporate taxes over Brownback’s veto might have been averted, but the fallout would have been catastrophic. That’s because so many Kansans rely on “government cheese” for their livelihoods. This is especially true in rural areas where school districts dependent on subsidies from Topeka are often the only act in town.

Butler County has more going for it than other parts of Kansas. It is right next to Wichita, yet there seems to be an anti-Wichita mentality and an inability on the part of its leadership to grasp the concept that as Wichita goes, so goes Butler County. Beyond that, making the county attractive to families is a task that has fallen to the cities. Andover does it best, but Augusta and El Dorado are falling in line. Rose Hill is a sleeping giant that would thrive if its leaders could ever quit fighting among themselves.

The county long ago adopted land use policy that encourages people to live in cities. Although I agree with the policy — allowing a bunch of five-acre lots down every road would overburden county services — I believe the county’s role in economic development and promoting the kind of “quality of place” improvements that would spur growth of the tax base has atrophied in recent years.

People complain about the burgeoning drug culture in Butler County, yet they elect leaders who apparently weren’t aggressive enough in selling the Corps on a facility upgrade for 4-H that might save a few kids from becoming part of that seedy world. Residents elect leaders who say there’s no money for a drug task force, yet spend hundreds of thousands of tax dollars a year propping up a jail that has failed to attract enough prisoners from outside agencies to pay for itself amid chronic staffing shortages. Meanwhile, Harvey County — with far fewer residents and a smaller tax base — somehow scrapes together enough to restart its drug task force and little ol’ Chase County houses so many federal immigration detainees that Uncle Sam pays for its entire corrections budget.

What’s wrong with this picture, folks? How come these adjoining counties can get the job done with far fewer resources? I can’t wait to hear the litany of excuses and red herrings, “you don’t live here” chief among them.

Maybe I labor under a misguided sense of duty to the few friends I have left in Butler County and to the legacies of guys who are no longer with us such as Dave Clymer, publisher of The El Dorado Times, and Sen. Frank Gaines. The former is the reason El Dorado Lake exists and that the City of El Dorado controls most of the water rights. The latter is the reason El Dorado State Park exists. Gaines struck a deal: If El Dorado would take the Honor Camp, he’d get his fellow legislators to fund a really nice state park. He may have been a Democrat, but Gaines delivered on his promise. As it turned out, the Honor Camp was almost as big a benefit as the state park and the inmates sure kept said park well-maintained.

Whatever the motive, I penned this letter to Brig. Gen. Paul E. Owen, commander and division engineer of the Southwestern Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Dallas. It is my sincere hope that Gen. Owen will instruct his subordinates to take another look at transferring the Honor Camp lease from the state to the county so plans for a new 4-H facility can move forward. But if that happens, it will be up to Butler County officials to gather a delegation and make their case to the Corps. If they can’t be bothered to “seize the day,” then the voters of Butler County need to replace the three commissioners who are up for re-election this year, especially given the fact that there are myriad other reasons to do so.

Time For New Leadership

By Lee White

It’s time for Butler County EMS Director Chad Pore to go home to Greensburg and stay there.

Pore, who apparently still lives in Greensburg more than two years after accepting the Butler County position, put his foot in his mouth big time during a September 21 staff meeting. During a discussion of how the 2017 county budget affected his department, Pore said, “One commissioner is not going to be back next year. That’s good.”

The only county commissioner who is not returning next year is Peggy Palmer.

Pore had voiced his displeasure earlier in the meeting that a station remodeling project budget was slashed by about 75 percent.

“The whole thing, I’ll be honest, the whole thing is not what we want,” Pore said. “We want a quarter of a million freakin’ dollars to do a damn remodel that we should be able to have and the reality of it is, above my pay grade says, ‘no.'”

As is common practice, someone with EMS posted the staff meeting video to YouTube. Click here for the link. You will notice that it says “this video has been removed by the user.” That occurred several hours after I posted the video on the Butler County Watchdog Facebook page.

There are two issues here. First, a county department head stands up in full uniform in front of his staff and the public and rejoices at the fact that one of his bosses is leaving. That smacks of insubordination. If County Administrator Will Johnson allows a department head to get away with such behavior this time, what is he going to do when it is directed toward a commissioner he likes (e.g. Mike Wheeler, Dan Woydziak, or Jeff Masterson)?

The second issue involves the video and its sudden disappearance. Pore knew the camera was on him. How do I know that he knew? Because at one point late in the meeting, he asked that the camera be shut off, presumably so he could discuss something he didn’t want the folks out in YouTube Land to see. Then after I post a link to it, the video disappears — removed by the user.

The video’s removal reminds me of the new as-yet-unwritten county policy regarding Kansas Open Records Act requests. Those requests now go to County Counselor Terry Huelskamp, who writes letters at taxpayer expense, apparently in an effort to delay release of the records. In other words, if it makes the county look bad, cover it up! I blame Johnson for allowing this culture of secrecy to permeate the county.

Because I’m often called a liar when I report information that tarnishes the county’s image, I’m careful to have a Plan B. In this instance, I used my phone to make audio recordings of Pore’s utterances from the YouTube video because I anticipated its removal. Click here for the remark about Palmer and click here for the quote about the remodeling budget. I apologize for the audio quality, but I think you’ll hear what you need to hear.

No, I haven’t always agreed with Peggy Palmer, but the people in her neck of the woods seem to like her. They have elected her to multiple terms in the Kansas Legislature — both House and Senate — and the county commission. As evidenced by her candor when a citizen questioned commissioners about Pore’s residency at the July 12 county commission meeting, she’s honest and transparent.

Pore exercised horrible judgment by attacking Palmer in front of his staff and in a public forum. Coupled with his reluctance to move to Butler County, it should be abundantly clear to him, to Johnson, and to county commissioners that an exit strategy is in order. Anything less will demonstrate that Johnson has lost complete control of the organization he is paid so well to manage and that his days should also be numbered.

County Funnels Open Records Request Through Attorney

By Lee White

As expected, the woman who last Thursday requested a list of new hires and terminations from the Butler County Sheriff’s Department for the period beginning August 1, 2016, has received a letter from County Counselor Terry Huelskamp. The Andover attorney said he would get in touch with her to discuss how much time and money it would take to supply her with the records.

In May, this same woman received two years’ worth of the same information for both the sheriff’s department and Emergency Medical Service in three days for $39. One wonders how much taxpayer money the county is paying Huelskamp to write letters such as this one. My guess is, more than $39. Perhaps I should file a Kansas Open Records Act request for the bills.

But what do legal fees matter to the Butler County Commission, County Administrator Will Johnson, and Sheriff Kelly Herzet? Not much of the money comes out of their pockets. Besides, they don’t want another blog post like this one to remind taxpayers that the agency apparently continues to have problems recruiting and retaining deputies.

Public access to records is vital to holding elected and appointed officials accountable. The Open Records Act, although often a tool for journalists, is supposed to apply equally to all members of the public. Just because Johnson and Herzet don’t like the individual making the request — just because the information the records contain might prove embarrassing — doesn’t mean that the law and county policy concerning the law should not apply equally. Does every member of the public who requests records get a letter from Huelskamp? That’s fodder for yet another Open Records Act request.

In case you’re wondering why someone wants these records — not that one is required by law to state a reason — there have been reports of more turnover at the sheriff’s department. Records might help answer these questions:

  • Have five deputies recently left the road patrol?
  • Are road patrol deputies being required to work overtime at the jail because it is still understaffed?
  • Did a contract deputy assigned to Douglass recently leave for greener pastures?

By needlessly delaying a lawful open records request, county officials have more or less confirmed that turnover is still a problem. Instead of just handing over the statistics and letting them speak for themselves, Johnson & Co. have generated more negative publicity for themselves by dragging the process out.

While Johnson continues to hide behind his lawyer, the situation at the sheriff’s department becomes even more dire as experienced deputies leave and quality recruits make themselves scarce. County commissioners already approved more money for jail deputies, according to this story from the Times-Gazette. But the jail isn’t the only issue.

Instead of trying to sweep everything under the rug, how about real leadership and real solutions? Yes, it’s going to take money, but money is only part of it. Why not bring in a human resources consultant to conduct confidential interviews with current and former deputies and to study pay, benefits, turnover, and working conditions and draw comparisons with other departments? I’m not usually a fan of spending money on consultants, but this may be the time to do it and it makes more sense than paying lawyers any day of the week.

Andrews Launches Write-In Campaign For Sheriff

By Lee White

With a post on this campaign Facebook page, retired Wichita Police Lt. Walker Andrews launched a write-in campaign for Butler County sheriff. Andrews came in second in a four-way primary race that incumbent Kelly Herzet won with about 40 percent of the vote. Andrews faces an uphill battle to win a write-in campaign as would any candidate. Voters are used to choosing from the “menu” even if there is no choice or the choices really suck (witness the current presidential race).

I suggested a write-in on election night and encouraged Andrews and the other two losing candidates, Mike Holton and Curtis Cox, to come together in support of the effort. That was not to be, which makes the hill Andrews must climb even steeper. So the question becomes, if I lived in Butler County (thank God I don’t!), would I push the button for Herzet, write in Andrews, or simply abstain?

Without a doubt, I would write in Andrews. The sheriff’s department allegedly continues to suffer from deputy turnover — a major issue in the primary. I say “allegedly” because when a local resident requested the same sort of public records referenced in this blog post, she was met with a delay tactic county administration recently adopted. This tactic involves referring Kansas Open Records Act requests to Terry Huelskamp, an Andover attorney, so he can write a meaningless letter at taxpayer expense to the person who requested the records in hopes that individual will drop the matter or not know what legal steps to take.

Those legal steps are clearly outlined right here on the Kansas Attorney General’s website. I have encouraged the woman who requested the number of hires and terminations at the sheriff’s department since August 1 to follow the procedure outlined on the attorney general’s site and not to let Huelskamp and County Administrator Will Johnson off the hook. Whatever she chooses to do — and whatever Johnson, Huelskamp, and the county commissioners who employ them choose to do — will not happen in a vacuum this time.

Playing games with the Open Records Act only lends credibility to the information others and I have received that the revolving door continues to spin at the sheriff’s department. Instead of proposing real solutions (e.g. pre-employment skill testing, a pay-and-benefits study, or focus groups where current employees can speak without fear of retaliation), Johnson, who made $121,953 in 2015, according to kansasopengov.org, hides in his office and squanders scarce resources on legal fees to cover Herzet’s backside and aid his campaign.

Voters should also ask themselves this question: Who becomes sheriff if Herzet retires before the end of his term? If the answer is Undersheriff Tony Wilhite, be afraid. Be VERY afraid. You think turnover’s bad now…

The issue is really larger than the sheriff’s race. It is about a county that was growing and has become stagnant (projected to grow by only 1,400 by 2019). It is about an administrator who believes he is accountable to no one, least of all the public. It is about bright minds who avoid working and living in the county because of the petty, vindictive, inbred manner in which it operates and because they don’t want to pay Johnson County taxes for Greeley County services. Who can blame them?

Writing in Walker Andrews for sheriff may seem an exercise in futility, but it is a simple way voters can thumb their noses at the status quo. It will also make the people bankrolling Herzet’s campaign spend more of their money. That’s key in a war of attrition. Moreover, it’ll send a message to Johnson and the county commissioners that they will join El Dorado City Manager Herb Llewellyn on the plant-watering detail if they don’t clean up their act.

Citizen Confronts Commissioners About EMS Director Residency

A rural Rose Hill resident confronted Butler County commissioners at the end of their meeting this morning concerning the residency of Butler County EMS Director Chad Pore. Ladonna Johnson told commissioners she had read on Butler County Watchdog that Pore has been living in Greensburg since he took the director’s job in May 2014. Click on the icon above and turn up your speakers or headphones to listen to the recording of the meeting.

Most of the commissioners who spoke about the issue seemed nervous. One repeatedly promised to look into the matter, but did not give a timetable for doing so. After Johnson stated that Pore lived in Greensburg, Kansas, one of the male voices can be heard saying, “That’s true — three days a week.” In the interest of accuracy and full disclosure of all information that let to this conclusion, the following section of this paragraph was updated at 3:05 p.m. on 7/16/2016 to reflect three days off per week and inclusion of a link to a Facebook screen capture: That would mean that Pore is taking multiple three-day weekends — or at the very least three days off per week — during which he resides 137 miles from EMS Headquarters in El Dorado. Mr. Pore stated in a comment on his Facebook page, which was publicly available to view, that he commutes “two times a week. ” Click here to view a screen capture.

Johnson grilled commissioners about whether Pore was staying at Butler County EMS Station 2 on Ohio Street in Augusta and who was paying for it. She never got a straight answer — just a lot of talk about how EMS stations are typically staffed 24 hours a day.  She also did not get an answer to her question about whether Pore drives a county vehicle to and from Greensburg, but someone on the recording — possibly County Administrator Will Johnson — stated that Pore is on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

At one point, Ladonna Johnson said to the county administrator, “Will, it’s disrespectful for you to walk away while I’m talking.”

The only commissioner who offered an informative answer during the nearly five-minute encounter was Peggy Palmer, who is serving her final term.

“My understanding when he was hired and we were told that, yes, he planned to relocate,” Palmer said. “He understood and all of us agreed and all of us talked about it, give him time to move here, but that we would like to have him as a Butler County resident.”

Palmer’s recollection of the situation appears to be accurate.

“The first thing we did in Kiowa County was recognize that we need to be leaders in patient care,” said Pore, in this Butler County Times-Gazette article announcing his arrival in 2014. “My family lives in the community and they will be living in Butler County. It is very important to me that they and everyone else receives the care they need, when they need.”

One question remains: Just when will Pore and his family begin living in Butler County?

Above are the facts. Listen to the recording for yourselves. Click here to read the earlier blog post about Pore’s residency. What follows is my opinion.

It is obvious that most county commissioners and County Administrator Will Johnson don’t like being held accountable to the public they serve. The administrator, in particular, has failed to deal with this issue for lo these past two years. It begs the question: What else has he failed to deal with while drawing his $121,953 annual salary?

I applaud Commissioner Palmer for her candor during the meeting. Although I haven’t always been a fan of hers, I think she’s the only one who’s trying to do the right thing and it’ll be a loss for Butler County when she steps into retirement in January.

Mr. Pore, you need to make a choice: Kiowa County or Butler County. Mr. Johnson and his supporters on the commission apparently lack the courage to make it for you.

Police chiefs, fire chiefs, EMS directors, and top-level managers of most decent public- and private-sector concerns live close to their work — not just because it’s policy most places, but because they want to set an example for their employees, potential employees, and professional colleagues that living and working in their chosen locale is something they value and enjoy.

Although I no longer live in Butler County, there is a huge difference between a blogger and an EMS director, who gets paid around $70,000 a year and is responsible for those who make life-and-death decisions in emergencies. All of you people who grill me about not living in Butler County: Why don’t you ask Mr. Pore why he doesn’t move there? Maybe you’re afraid of the answer you’ll get, much like Mr. Johnson and the county commissioners (with the exception of Palmer) are apparently afraid of people like Ladonna Johnson.

Butler County EMS Director Commutes From Home In Greensburg

By Lee White

Note: This is not intended as an attack of any on the hard-working EMTs and paramedics serving the citizens of Butler County or any other jurisdiction day in and day out. I’m proud of you, I thank you for your service — including transporting my mother about six weeks ago — and I do not want anyone thinking I’m one of the protester types we’ve seen across the nation recently. I just believe someone needs to hold public officials (i.e. county commissioners and administration) accountable. Because I have the skills, the time, and know the history of Butler County government better than most alive today, I choose to do this. 

Butler County EMS Director Chad Pore continues to reside in Greensburg more than two years after taking the job. Pore served as Kiowa County EMS director prior to accepting the Butler County position on May 14, 2014.

Pore is registered to vote in Kiowa County and voted in the November 4, 2014, general election more than five months after becoming Butler County EMS director. Click here for information obtained from Kansas Voter View. Pore states on his Facebook page that he lives in Greensburg. Click here to view a screen capture. Various Facebook posts also confirm his residency including this one where he tells a friend he commutes to Butler County two times a week.

I have sent an e-mail to Pore, County Administrator Will Johnson, and all five county commissioners informing them of the situation and seeking comment. I will publish any comments I receive in their entirety.

According to mapquest.com, Pore’s residence is 137 miles from Butler County EMS Headquarters at 701 N. Haverhill Road, El Dorado. Mapquest estimates it takes two hours and 18 minutes to cover that distance by road. Detractors frequently complain that I do not live in Butler County. That is correct. I live in Harrisonville, Missouri, which is 172 miles and two hours and 54 minutes away from the EMS headquarters by road, according to mapquest.com.

The difference is, I’m a blogger. If I can’t reach the scene of a disaster in Butler County in a timely manner or if I can’t communicate with someone there by phone or radio because communications have been disrupted, it’s really no big deal. Pore, on the other hand, whose gross pay was $69,859 last year, according to kansasopengov.org, oversees a department charged with protecting the health and safety of more than 65,000 residents.

This blog post dealing with turnover at the sheriff’s department and EMS indicates that most of Pore’s staff, including management, is fairly new. Should disaster strike as it did in Eureka last Thursday night and as it almost did at the Butler County Jail on Sunday, one would think Johnson and county commissioners would insist that department heads live in the community in case their services are needed after hours.

Grant Helferich, who was EMS director until shortly before Pore took over, lived in El Dorado, reared his children there, and could frequently be found at major incidents including the 1991 Andover tornado. I know. I was there.

I drove out to Greensburg on Sunday. I’ll admit I was there looking for a Butler County EMS vehicle parked in front of Pore’s house. I did not see one. I also wanted to see what the town looked like since it was devastated by a tornado on May 4, 2007. It was my first trip to Greensburg in probably 30 years.

No doubt about it: Deep scars remain. I found myself wanting to roll up my sleeves and do something even after all these years have passed. And I realize that taking a good family like Pore’s out of Greensburg hurts that community far more than taking a good family out of Butler County does. Greensburg suffered a double whammy: A year after the tornado hit, along came the Great Recession. That the town is doing as well as it is amazes me. I want to return when I have more time, bring my wife, and examine closely the strides the brave people of Kiowa County have made.

Against that backdrop, I can understand Pore’s reluctance to relocate. But the people of Butler County deserve an EMS director who is part of the community just as Helferich was (and still is). If folks are going to attack me for writing about Butler County from afar, well, don’t you think these same people should have an issue with someone who runs a major county emergency service and lives almost as far away as I do?

And I know it would be difficult to sell a home in Greensburg. I don’t know whether Pore owns the house where he and his family live or whether they’ve tried to sell it. I do know there was no “for sale” sign in the yard when I drove by on Sunday. Giving someone a transition period is perfectly acceptable, but two years is too long.

Then there’s the issue of the paramedics and EMTs who work for Pore. I don’t know how it is these days, but in the 1990s, crews were required to live within a certain radius of EMS stations so they could be on call. If there is any sort of a residency requirement for rank-and-file EMS workers, Pore should lead by example and follow suit.

As much as I sympathize with the people of Greensburg and with Pore for his apparent attachment to the place, I believe county commissioners need to insist that he choose one community or the other. Butler County is the largest geographically in the state. In addition to the weather hazards we all face (even those who live 20 miles into Missouri), Butler County has a major refinery, a prison, and a larger-than-average jail. The potential for a major incident is too great to risk having a top manager so far away. There’s nothing illegal about this arrangement — county commissioners could fly an EMS director in on a Learjet from New York City every week if they wanted to — but it is bad public policy and needs to end.