City and county officials are back to square one in their search for a joint central inspection director, a setback they insist won’t delay the merger of the building trades oversight groups.
The city of Wichita and Sedgwick County are going “back to the marketplace” with the second search for a chief to head up the merger of the city and county inspection departments. The first search didn’t yield an affordable candidate who shared the city/county vision for a jointly-managed one-stop inspection shop, said City Manager Robert Layton and Ron Holt, the assistant county manager who is Sedgwick County’s point man on the merger talks.
The second search means a new director likely won’t be on the job until late October, but it doesn’t mean that the central inspection functions won’t merge by Jan. 1, Layton and Holt said.
Holt said the original job description for the first search was off the mark. Search No. 2 will focus on a director highly skilled in leadership, with less emphasis than the original search on technical skills in construction. A new director will be on the county’s payroll but report to the city and county and will oversee a staff of about 70 people.
“What we found is that we have the technical expertise, if you will, in the people who are there,” Holt said. “What we found is we need somebody who can lead two separate organizations into a single entity. We needed a person with broader skills. We found very clearly that the technical skills we already have, the building skills, are in place. We have highly skilled people on the county and city side.”
Sedgwick County Commissioner Dave Unruh, who criticized the slow pace of the merger in June, said he’s “trusting the judgment” of the city and county officials working on the project.
“It would be nice to have the perfect candidate, but if they find someone who knows the ins and outs and detail who can handle the administrative side, hire him,” Unruh said. “It would be better to have the perfect guy, wouldn’t it?”
The first search yielded 32 applications, Holt said. That number was cut to seven, with two “having really high, really high salary requirements,” Holt said.
The search ultimately landed back with one of the “high salary” duo, but talks broke off over the director’s control over the merged organization, Holt said.
The new search will move quickly, with a new director on board by the beginning of the fourth quarter of the year, at least two months behind the August goal of the first search.
In the meantime, the merger of the two staffs will begin, probably managed by a professional facilitator. Rumors that the two staffs are already clashing “just aren’t true,” Layton said.
“We do have some teams working on merger issues, with people from the city working with people from the county,” Holt said. “But digging down in the two organizations, those people are just doing their daily work. We’ve done nothing to bring them together as a group.”
Kurt Schroeder, the city’s central inspection director, retired in December. Irene Hart, who supervised code enforcement for Sedgwick County, also stepped aside at the end of the year. Donte Martin is the interim city inspection director, with Bud Lett holding the county code enforcement role.