Politics & Government

Brig. Gen. Michael Scholes named new Sedgwick County manager (+video)

VIDEO: Richard Ranzau on county manager choice

Chairman Richard Ranzau discusses the merits and experience of Brigadier General Michael Scholes, who the Sedgwick County Commission chose as its next county manager Wednesday. (Daniel Salazar/The Wichita Eagle)
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Chairman Richard Ranzau discusses the merits and experience of Brigadier General Michael Scholes, who the Sedgwick County Commission chose as its next county manager Wednesday. (Daniel Salazar/The Wichita Eagle)

The road to Kansas started in Kosovo for Brig. Gen. Michael Scholes.

Three months ago, he was managing North Atlantic Treaty Organization peacekeeping staff members and forces from 31 nations in the once-war-ridden southeast European nation.

“I also had about 10 Kansas National Guardsmen that were on the headquarters staff,” Scholes said. “So I learned a little about Kansas during that year, just working with them.”

He’ll soon manage one of the largest county governments in Kansas.

Sedgwick County commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to approve Scholes as the next county manager, the highest non-elected position in county government.

Scholes will replace William Buchanan, who retired in June after 24 years. The county manager oversees 2,663 full- and part-time county employees, researches issues, sets the weekly commission agenda and carries out the decisions of the five-member board of county commissioners.

“The family and I are really excited about it,” said Scholes, speaking by phone Wednesday afternoon as he and his family drove through Missouri on the way to Wichita. “The chance to work with a great organization like Sedgwick County is just a great opportunity and one I couldn’t pass up.”

It’s a significant career shift for Scholes, a Gulf War veteran and one-star Army general who has served in myriad leadership positions in the southern United States and who has led combat missions in Iraq.

Leaving the military after more than three decades was both an individual and a family decision, Scholes said.

“My father was career military. I was born into it. I’ve always been a part of military service,” he said. “For me, it was just that time. It was the right time to do it.”

Scholes was chosen over three finalists with a background in county government. He has not worked in a local government role. However, several of his jobs in the National Guard involved working with federal, state, county and municipal governments on emergency preparedness and disaster management.

“The chance to actually leave the military and finally work inside the government instead of working with local or state governments is just a great opportunity for me,” Scholes said. “I think it’s one I’m uniquely experienced to be able to perform.”

County commissioners said Scholes will do an excellent job.

“He’s willing to end his career and bring his family here in order to go to work on behalf of this community,” commission Chairman Richard Ranzau said. “We are tremendously honored and fortunate to have a man of his stature and ability willing to be the next county manager.”

Scholes will start work no later than Nov. 15, according to the employment agreement. Ron Holt will continue as acting county manager until then.

Scholes will be paid $165,000 in 2016 and $185,000 in 2017 if his performance is satisfactory. His current annual salary is $120,000.

“He manages people, resources, budgets and has done many things that are very relevant,” commissioner Jim Howell said. “He is a man that will do a lot to get this county a lot of admiration. He does a good job of presenting a very positive image.”

Military background

Scholes, 49, has had a long list of assignments in the military, according to his resume and information from the National Guard and NATO.

He enlisted in the North Carolina National Guard in 1983. After college and assignments in Kentucky and North Carolina, he deployed to the Middle East and served as a support platoon leader during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990 and 1991. He was awarded a Bronze Star for his time in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

He eventually became a battalion commander in the Georgia National Guard, preparing troops before they deployed to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He also organized a response team to help federal and Louisiana authorities with Hurricane Katrina relief efforts in New Orleans.

Later, Scholes directed the Georgia National Guard’s response to local flooding and the 2010 Haitian earthquake.

After he became a colonel in 2009, he became a brigade commander in the Georgia Army National Guard. He was responsible for nearly 3,500 troops and airmen in the 78th Homeland Response Force, covering an emergency response area spanning eight states.

His most recent position in the United States was as a director of operations for a joint task force in the U.S. Northern Command in Virginia. It was responsible for planning responses to a weapon of mass destruction attack.

Last summer, Scholes became the chief of staff for the Kosovo Forces, a NATO-led peacekeeping force. The multinational group has operated in Kosovo since 1999, after NATO nations conducted airstrikes in Kosovo aimed at ending human rights abuses by the Yugoslavian government.

His time at that post ended on June 9. The next day, several thousand miles away, Buchanan attended his last county commission meeting.

No public hearing

Scholes emerged from a selection process that started with 85 applicants.

After advice from a consulting firm, S. Renee Narloch & Associates, and interviews with some applicants, the county said it had settled on four candidates in early August.

Two were Sedgwick County employees: Health and Human Services director Tim Kaufman and Metropolitan Area Building and Construction Department director Thomas Stolz.

The fourth finalist was Lake County, Ill., assistant county administrator Ryan Waller.

A panel of county employees and a panel of representatives from community groups and coalitions interviewed the finalists, as did commissioners.

There was no public hearing for residents to meet candidates or ask them questions.

“With regards to the county manager, they don’t have a direct connection to the people,” Howell said. “They are basically managing agency leaders and working with community partners. That’s what they do.”

He said the county manager position is less connected to residents than a position such as the police chief. The city of Wichita conducted a public forum Monday with two finalists for that job.

“It’s a really good idea to use the public for something like the police chief,” Howell said. “I’m not sure it makes the same level of sense to me on positions of administrative leadership.”

Commissioners say they got plenty of input during the process, which stretched for months.

“Our community panel had people who’d be engaged with the decisions of county government,” commissioner Dave Unruh said.

Community leader

Ranzau and Howell called choosing a county manager one of the toughest decisions they’ve made in office.

But they said they found the right person for the job.

“We believe he has strong skills and experience in strategic planning, financial management, problem-solving and crisis management that are essential to help lead this organization as we move forward,” Ranzau said. “The people that know him have nothing but good things to say about him.”

Commissioner Karl Peterjohn said Scholes will build on the strengths of Sedgwick County government.

“I expect him to be a true community leader in the years to come,” Peterjohn said.

Unruh said Scholes stood out based on his education background and “his ability to work with a variety of local governments.”

Scholes is well equipped to come in and immediately learn the ins and outs of the county government, Howell said.

“Someone who is a general in the Army has had to take a lot of different missions over his career path,” he said. “He’s gone places and built organizations from the ground up. Is that not what we need in Sedgwick County?”

Scholes said he was looking forward to putting down roots in Sedgwick County, as he and family drove to Wichita to find a house and enroll his children in local schools.

“I just look forward to getting out there and getting started.”

Reach Daniel Salazar at 316-269-6791 or dsalazar@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @imdanielsalazar.

Scholes’ education, work

Here’s a look at Michael Scholes’ education and work background

1965: Born in Germany

1983: Enlisted in North Carolina National Guard

1988: Received bachelor’s degree in business administration at what is now the University of North Georgia. He also received his officer’s commission from the ROTC unit there.

1988-89: Stationed in Fort Knox, Ky.

1989-90: Platoon leader, Fort Bragg, N.C.

1990-91: Served in the Gulf War

1991-92: Assigned to Fort Bragg

1992-96: Assigned to Fort Knox (appointed captain in 1993)

1996-99: Assistant professor of military science, Georgia Military College

1998: Received master’s degree in public administration, Georgia College and State University

1999-2000: Senior armor trainer, Fort Stewart, Ga.

2000-04: Georgia state area command plans officer

2004-08: Counterdrug coordinator, Georgia National Guard

2005-06: Battalion commander, Georgia National Guard

2008-10: Director of operations at Joint Force Headquarters in Marietta, Ga.

2010: Received master’s degree of strategic studies, Army War College

2010-13: Brigade commander, 78th Troop Command

2013-14: U.S. Northern Command Joint Task Force director, Fort Eustis, Va.

2014-15: Kosovo Forces, chief of staff at NATO headquarters

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