Retiring Sedgwick County manager lauded for his leadership

Sedgwick County manager Bill Buchanan gets a hug Wednesday from friend and colleague Marla Flentje of Starkey during his retirement reception at Intrust Bank Arena. With him is his wife, Lynn. (June 3, 2015)
Sedgwick County manager Bill Buchanan gets a hug Wednesday from friend and colleague Marla Flentje of Starkey during his retirement reception at Intrust Bank Arena. With him is his wife, Lynn. (June 3, 2015) The Wichita Eagle

It was an admiration party Wednesday night as Wichita’s and Sedgwick County’s top movers and shakers gathered on the third floor of Intrust Bank Arena to thank Bill Buchanan for 24 years of service.

Buchanan’s last day as Sedgwick County manager will be June 16.

More than 100 people praised him for his “tater tot” philosophy, an acronym used to describe his leadership skills.

“Bill has a strong and specific leadership style,” Sedgwick County Commissioner Dave Unruh said in a video tribute to Buchanan. “He is thorough, appropriate, timely, engaging, responsive, thoughtful, open and transparent – tater tot.”

It was a philosophy that through the years was often worked into county budget messages, said Kristi Zukovich, Sedgwick County director of communications.

“It started with a phrase about being thoughtful and transparent,” she said.

Buchanan, 70, is originally from Altoona, Pa., and his public service career has spanned more than 47 years. He was a city manager in Liberty, N.Y.; Franklin, Pa.; and Jackson, Mich., before coming to Sedgwick County in 1991. He said last year when he announced his retirement that he and his wife plan to spend time with their children and granddaughters in Philadelphia, Omaha and Tucson.

While in Wichita, he has served as past president of the International City/County Management Association, has been a member of many local boards for community nonprofit agencies and has acted as an adjunct professor at Wichita State University.

“He is going to be really missed,” said Steve Coen, president and CEO of the Kansas Health Foundation. “He has been a great servant leader to this community, and I am sad to see him go. He will be hard to replace.”

As people mingled, shook hands and hugged the county manager, there were signs and banners throughout the reception reading: “Thanks Bill.” The scene overlooked Wichita’s skyline to the west and the interior of the arena to the east.

Buchanan was praised for the development of the Sedgwick County Zoo, Exploration Place and Intrust Bank Arena – all of which helped host the event.

“Close to 24 years ago, I met Bill as a board member at the Sedgwick County Zoo,” said Scott Ochs, president of the Sedgwick County Zoological Society. “I was a rookie. I didn’t know what I was doing. There was a financial report that lasted all of 2.5 seconds, and as I flipped through the documents, I asked a question on the financials. The entire 32-member board looked at me like I had just grown a third eye.

“I looked across the room, and I saw this guy lean back. He was chewing on a Bic pen with a big Cheshire grin on his face, and it was Bill Buchanan.”

Ochs praised Buchanan on Wednesday, thanking him for his efforts in helping the zoo build its new $10.6 million elephant exhibit.

“The zoo is the showcase of Kansas,” Ochs said. “We are breaking ground on what is going to be not only a national exhibit, but I am here to tell you it is going to make a worldwide impact on the conservation of elephants. I thank you as a world citizen.”

Ochs and the zoo’s director, Mark Reed, presented Buchanan with a bronze sculpture of two bull elephants fighting.

“It represents the good fights you fought for us,” Ochs said.

Exploration Place board member Greg Sevier presented Buchanan with a three-dimensional model of Exploration Place, telling the county manager the science center passed the 3 million-visitor mark earlier this year “because of people like you and your vision.”

A.J. Boleski, the arena’s general manager, gave Buchanan a box of fresh popcorn, an ice-cold beer and a glass sculpture that is given to “every rock star who comes through this arena.”

Buchanan thanked the organizations for their gifts.

“We all know the old adage is that failure is an orphan and success has a thousand parents,” Buchanan said. “The success attributed to Sedgwick County has a thousand parents.

“I am surrounded by talented, incredibly smart bureaucrats who come to the table every day thinking they are servants of the public. … Those are the good people who have made this community what it really is.”

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @beccytanner.