Guest Commentary

County commissioners explain decision on new manager

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We appreciate the Eagle Editorial Board’s recognition of the confidence that we and others who have worked directly with Tom Stolz have in his leadership (“Stolz may be the clear choice for county manager, but keep the process open,” Feb. 8 Eagle).

As leaders committed to thoughtful public process, we also understand the Editorial Board’s position that a public search for the best person to lead a large public organization is usually preferred.

For this important decision, we believe it is our responsibility to consider some of the most unusual and difficult circumstances we’ve personally seen in an organization. This context is an important part of the discussion, so we appreciate the opportunity to directly provide information so the public can better understand what we’ve experienced and learned.

Over the past few months the public learned about the county’s significant issues through news reports. What is difficult to convey through reporting of facts is how deeply this has affected the organization and most importantly, county staff over the past three years. We continue to express appreciation to the county staff for remaining professional and focused on delivering needed services.

We also recognize this has affected the county in our ability to have the full impact we should in making our community better. For nearly six months, the county has faced distractions and loss of staff, limiting proactive opportunities to fully tackle significant issues.

Throughout this difficult time and during the transition of newly elected commissioners, we have been fortunate to have Tom Stolz’ solid, superb leadership. Those of us who work with him every day know how invaluable he’s been in keeping the county steady during the roughest of waters.

For the past couple of months, each of us proactively gathered input from community members, elected leaders, regional professional managers and county staff. The consistent, clear response was that Tom Stolz was the right person, and they hoped we could move quickly to stabilize the organization.

We each had to personally weigh the consistent positive community and staff input and our own experience when we discussed the choices of spending time and dollars on a national, professional manager search process, or a more limited search process. Our belief that we had the right candidate already on board was reinforced when we learned that Tom was the top choice of the external committee in the last nationwide search, three and a half years ago.

Even if we had a search firm help convince other highly qualified, professional candidates with experience in local governments to publicly apply, even with a great resume, they would still lack the local and regional relationships and trust that Tom Stolz has built over decades of successfully having difficult conversations to get things done in our community.

We are fortunate that the person who was a top-rated candidate three and a half years ago is still with Sedgwick County. Tom Stolz is an even stronger candidate today because he has earned more community, staff and commissioner respect.

Sedgwick County has lost nearly half a year of proactive planning during these difficult and unique circumstances. Community partners, staff and even our auditors who evaluate management stability and turnover are ready for Sedgwick County to get back to stable and full engagement in making this community better.

Because this is a key decision, it is also important to have this dialogue with the public. Please join us from 5 to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 13, at the Sedgwick County Zoo Cargill Learning Center to discuss directly with commissioners why we believe Tom is the right leader for Sedgwick County and for an opportunity to hear from him.

David Dennis is chairman and Pete Meitzner is chairman pro-tem of the Sedgwick County Commission.

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