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  • Last modified 175 days ago (June 16, 2022)

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A brighter future
is within our grasp

In the darkest hours of World War II, newscaster Gabriel Heatter would begin his uplifting newscasts with a catchphrase, “There’s good news tonight.”

The same optimism may be appropriate this week for the city of Marion. For the first time in two decades, it’s poised to select a city administrator who possesses the experience, education, and fresh ideas necessary to help lead the community out of economic doldrums and political rancor.

For 20 years, a progression of administrators has come to the job without college degrees in public administration and without prior service in other communities, where they could learn pitfalls to avoid and opportunities to seek.

They tried their best, but at some point in their service, each became a divisive figure. We have no desire to dwell on the past, but it’s important to note that although progress sometimes was made, transformative change proved elusive.

We as a county now work more closely together than ever in the past, but there remains a friendly competition among its two largest communities.

Hillsboro recently hired an administrator with the type of credentials Marion is seeking — an administrator who will give Hillsboro an advantage in dealing with outside contractors and business and industrial development.

Hillsboro’s administrator has a master’s degree in public administration with an emphasis in city and county management and public finance. He has focused his entire professional life on doing the type of job he’s being asked to do in Hillsboro, and that will be clear to anyone seeking to do business with Hillsboro.

He is credentialed by the International City/County Management Association. He spent almost eight years as city administrator in a slightly smaller community and almost three years as assistant city manager, finance director, and economic development director for a much larger one. He also was a program manager for the Public Policy and Management Center at Wichita State University.

That doesn’t guarantee he’ll be a great city administrator, but it certainly is a meaningful head start. It also means that, whenever people from outside the community consider doing business with Hillsboro, they will take him — and Hillsboro — seriously.

Having a degreed, certified, and experienced administrator also may save taxpayer money. Greater efficiencies can be expected of city workers, and less need for outside advice should translate to smaller bills for such things as legal services.

In May, according to bills submitted at Monday night’s city council meeting, Marion consulted its city attorney 38 times at a total cost of $3,054.25. In April, it was 41 consultations costing $2,265.00. In March, it was 21 times for $2,985.00. At that pace, Marion is looking at using its city attorney 400 times this year at a cost equivalent to 3.228 mills on the city’s property tax levy.

All of that may not go away with a better trained, more experienced manager, but at least some of it should.

The question we face this week is whether the city council will follow through on its earlier commitment to hire the best and brightest, or will council members be afraid of change and worry too much about city employees becoming upset if a new administrator holds them to higher standards.

Council members had a perfect example to test their resolve this week when they considered a proposal that essentially would outsource city building and code inspections to a Council Grove inspector hired by Herington.

The best answer council members could have given Monday was to wait until after they interviewed administrator candidates two days later and see what each candidate thought of the idea. They, after all, are who will have to live with the situation.

Unfortunately, none of us knows who the candidates are or what they might say about the plan, but it would have been interesting to get their opinions before acting to accept or dismiss a plan they will have to deal with.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified June 16, 2022

 

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