Jim Howell walked into the Sedgwick County Courthouse on Sunday a Kansas legislator.
He walked out a county commissioner.
Howell resigned his job as a representative in the Kansas House at 2 p.m. Sunday, just as county leaders, supporters, family members and friends gathered to swear in Howell as the new District 5 commissioner representing southeast Wichita and Derby, where he lives.
Also sworn in were incumbent Commissioners Richard Ranzau and Dave Unruh. All are Republicans. Sedgwick County District Court Judge Eric Yost officiated the oath of office.
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Commissioners are budgeted to earn $89,715 each next year. They also are eligible for car and cellphone allowances.
Surrounded by his wife, Leah; five children; and a daughter-in-law, Howell said he began campaigning in September 2013 to take over Jim Skelton’s seat on the commission. Skelton, a former Wichita City Council member who served one term as a commissioner, did not seek re-election.
Howell defeated Derby Mayor Dion Avello in the primary and Democrat Richard Young in the November general election.
“I never thought I’d be here, frankly,” Howell said.
Howell alluded to Romans 13 in the Bible, which calls for everyone to submit to governing authorities, “for there is no authority except that which God has established.”
Howell, however, said, “I don’t want to be an authority over anybody. I want to be a servant.”
He said he would approach his job as a commissioner with a reasonable, rational and problem-solving attitude.
Howell’s first meeting will be Wednesday. When the board splits its vote, Howell likely will form a new majority with Ranzau and Commissioner Karl Peterjohn. During the past four years, those two were in the minority.
The board faces some big decisions this year, including finding a new place for law enforcement to train and replacing County Manager William Buchanan, who will retire July 1. Howell, Peterjohn and Ranzau also have talked of re-opening the Judge Riddel Boys Ranch, which a majority of commissioners voted to close last summer.
Unruh, the District 1 commissioner representing northeast Wichita, and Ranzau, who represents District 4 in the north-central part of the county, including Park City and Valley Center, both said that although board members disagree on some issues, they must work together. When the board splits votes, it typically involves spending.
Ranzau, for example, has voted against all economic incentives for businesses.
“I believe we will come together and work for the individual good of all our citizens,” said Unruh, who for the past year has been the board’s chairman.
Commissioners may have personal goals or ideologies but must serve the county as a whole, he said.
Unruh, who did not face a challenger, is entering his fourth four-year term as a commissioner. He took the oath of office with his wife, Karen, and a granddaughter standing with him.
He said his granddaughter served as a good reminder that the “decisions we make have an effect on future generations.”
Ranzau joked that some in the audience might be expecting a long speech from him. But he assured them they would be home soon if he had anything to do with it.
“My children have informed me they’re hungry and they want cake,” said Ranzau, who was sworn in with his wife, Rachelle, and three children.
Ranzau, who defeated Sen. Carolyn McGinn in the primary and Democrat Melody McCray-Miller in the general election, is entering his second term. He was quick to first thank his family for their support, as he forgot to do so when he last took the oath of office.
“Without them, I wouldn’t be here,” Ranzau said.
He said his family helped him knock on the doors of 10,000 homes in his district. His wife and children make sacrifices, but campaigning was also good family time, he said.
“I do what I do for the future generations,” he said.
And his children learned a lesson.
“They don’t want to be politicians,” Ranzau joked.