Politics & Government

Sedgwick County has a new manager -- and it will pay him $180,000 a year

The Wichita Eagle

Editor’s note: Details about the departure of former County Manager Michael Scholes were incorrect in an earlier version of this story and have been corrected.

Sedgwick County will pay its new county manager $180,000 a year.

The Sedgwick County Board of Commissioners reached an agreement with County Manager Tom Stolz on Wednesday, after a public forum and two weeks of private negotiations.

Stolz steps into the county manager position after the controversial tenure of former manager Michael Scholes, who was paid $205,427 to leave and drop any claims against the county related to his resignation in December.

An investigation into Scholes’ leadership found the former Army brigadier general had an autocratic management style and showed favoritism toward certain employees, according to a report shared with The Eagle last month.

Commissioners’ efforts to oust Scholes came under investigation by the FBI for possible whistleblower retaliation after he cooperated with FBI agents’ probe of County Commissioner Michael O’Donnell. O’Donnell faces federal criminal charges on three counts of money laundering and 23 counts of wire fraud related to his handling of campaign contributions.

Amid the controversies, Stolz has been welcomed as a calming force in county leadership.

“It hasn’t been fun. I think it’s been a rough year on a number of us, but you’ve been great,” O’Donnell told Stolz during the meeting.

The board went into closed session for the second week in a row Wednesday to discuss Stolz’s contract. After 15 minutes, the board reconvened and unanimously approved Stolz’s contract.

Earlier this month the board approved hiring Stolz, who was then serving as the interim county manager, without a national search, saying it would have been a waste of time and money.

Sedgwick County officials did not immediately provide a copy of Stolz’s contract, but Interim County Counselor Michael Pepoon gave an overview of the terms at the meeting.

Stolz will receive an annual salary of $180,000. That’s about $23,000 more than he was making as deputy county manager and $15,000 more than Scholes when he was hired in 2017.

Stolz’s pay will increase at the same rate as regular county employees’ do, Pepoon said. He will get a car allowance and a cell phone allowance at the same scale as other county employees in similar positions.

The first term of his employment will be 18 months. Prior to the end of that term, Aug. 21, 2020, he will undergo a performance review.

If the review is positive, his contract can be renewed for another two years, until Aug. 21, 2022.

After that, his contracts would be renewed on an annual basis.

If Stolz’s is fired without cause during one of his first two terms, he would receive a year’s salary. If he is fired without cause during a one-year term, he would receive six months of his salary. The county would also be on the hook for his health insurance until he turns 65. He is 60 years old.

At the end of each term, the county will pay $5,000 to the retirement account of Stolz’s choice, Pepoon said.

“I believe we’re going the right direction,” Commission Chairman David Dennis said Wednesday. “There’s been a completely different atmosphere in this court house in the last couple months than there has been in the past, and I think that’s attributable to the leadership of Tom Stolz.”

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Chance Swaim won the Betty Gage Holland Award in 2018 for distinguished service to honor and protect the integrity of public dialogue on America’s college campuses. He has been a news reporter for The Wichita Eagle since 2018. You can contact him at 316-269-6752 and cswaim@wichitaeagle.com.