Politics & Government

Sedgwick County manager to GOP club: Governments can’t be run like a business

Sedgwick County Manager Bill Buchanan speaks Friday at a Pachyderm Club meeting.
Sedgwick County Manager Bill Buchanan speaks Friday at a Pachyderm Club meeting. The Wichita Eagle

Sedgwick County Manager William Buchanan told members of a local Republican club Friday that local governments can learn from private business but can’t and shouldn’t be run like one.

“I would suggest to you that we need to use some business methods, we need to use business processes, and we need to steal the important practices that they use,” Buchanan told members of the Wichita Pachyderm Club.

“But it cannot be governed like a business. … The relationship between customers and businesses is different than the relationship between a community and its citizens.”

Buchanan, the county’s top manager for more than two decades, plans to retire next month. During the luncheon meeting at the Petroleum Club in downtown Wichita on Friday, he reflected on his career in Kansas and elsewhere.

Asked to specify personal successes and regrets, Buchanan said he is proud of his role in helping make county government more professional.

“As you well know, when I got here it was a pretty good-ol’-boy system,” said Buchanan, who took over as manager in 1991. “Relatives were hired, friends were hired without regard to qualifications.

“We have made sure we are a professional, well-run organization, and having helped change the culture was important.”

Buchanan also emphasized the county’s role in protecting its most vulnerable citizens. He pointed to an overhaul of Starkey Inc., a community-based nonprofit that serves individuals with intellectual disabilities, as well as the establishment of a new Child Advocacy Center and a task force that targets chronic homelessness.

“People who have been clobbered by birth, people who have been clobbered because of mental illness or accident or because of aging. … We spend significant time and energy making sure service delivery to those are pretty high quality,” Buchanan said. “Those kinds of issues, I think, are critical to what we do.”

What about things he would like to do over?

“There’s a long list, and I’m not going to talk about them,” he said, smiling.

Asked whether city and county governments could consolidate some services to improve efficiency, Buchanan pointed to several possible areas, including animal control, information technology and purchasing.

“We have to think about ways in which we can share services, and that means some of us are going to lose control – some control,” he said. “But we gotta get over that and get over ourselves and figure out this is the right way to do business.”

One of the event’s biggest laughs came during Buchanan’s introduction, which was delivered by Commissioner Richard Ranzau, part of the board’s new conservative majority.

“He states that his passion is working for the citizens of the community that he serves. But we all know that Bill has other passions,” Ranzau said.

“Recently his passion has been to cut funding for the zoo, Exploration Place and GWEDC,” Ranzau said, a reference to the commission’s recent vote to pull out of the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition. “It was his idea. I tried to tell him not to go there, but he’s been here 24 years, and he’s a little set in his ways.”

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @suzannetobias.