Politics & Government

Sedgwick County manager search: private vs. public experience

William Buchanan announces his retirement after 24 years as Sedgwick County manager.
William Buchanan announces his retirement after 24 years as Sedgwick County manager. Wichita

The search for a new Sedgwick County manager is just beginning, and it’s already turning into a fight over whether to hire from the government sector or private business.

Commissioners Richard Ranzau and Karl Peterjohn expressed a strong preference for bringing in a manager from the business world – with government experience optional at best.

“I think having experience running inefficient government operations is not a plus in the candidate as far as I’m concerned,” Ranzau said. “I want someone who can compete in the private sector.

“There’s a big emphasis here on public stuff, and I think we need to take that out and open it up equal to the private sector.”

Added Peterjohn: “I want to make sure we’ve got a layout here that folks who are within the sound of my voice and that (television news) camera over there would feel comfortable tossing their hat in the ring – or bonnet.”

Commissioners Dave Unruh and Tim Norton said they favor hiring a manager with education and experience in governmental operations.

“I don’t believe that everybody in the public side is inefficient … because I’ve seen folks in the private side that have run businesses into the ground and done terrible things to their companies,” Norton said. “Don’t think private-side guys are always the smartest and the best at making those decisions. They can screw it up as bad as what we call bureaucrats.

“I would prefer somebody who has been in the wars in the public sector and understands it.”

The fifth and deciding vote will join the commission in January, when state Rep. Jim Howell leaves the Kansas Legislature and is sworn in to the County Commission seat he won in the Nov. 4 election.

Touching off Round One of the government vs. business fight Tuesday was a request for proposals to hire an executive search firm to assist in recruiting county manager candidates.

The person eventually hired will take over the county’s top staff job when longtime County Manager William Buchanan retires June 15.

Caught between the conflicting factions at Tuesday’s meeting was Assistant County Manager Ron Holt, charged with drawing up the specifications for the proposal, including the basic outlines of the county manager applicant qualifications.

He promised the commission language that would say a manager accredited by the International City/County Management Association is preferred, but applicants with private sector experience will be considered as well.

“We’ll find some language that’s something that gets there,” he said.

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or dlefler@wichitaeagle.com.

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