A push for hiring a county administrator to improve county management is gaining momentum from various circles.
Of the 21 counties with administrators or managers, seven have budgets smaller than Marion County’s $27 million annual budget, according to the Kansas Association of Counties.
Marion city council members passed a resolution Monday to pursue all necessary actions to call for the creation of a county administrator position.
Marion councilman John Wheeler, who spoke in favor of a county administrator, said he believes the county’s 12,208 residents would be best served by a professional manager.
He said it seems to him the city moves through meetings in a more timely fashion because a city administrator deals with the day-to-day business of running the city and researching issues, and the council’s time is spent making needed decisions.
The resolution calls for Marion residents to provide county commissioners direction to establish a county administrator position.
Wheeler spoke to county commissioners about creating an administrator position last fall, but his words fell on deaf ears.
“When I got the opportunity to talk to them about it last year, it kind of happened in a hurry,” Wheeler said. “It’s come to my attention that we have one county commissioner who wants to move that direction. It came to my attention late this afternoon there’s another one.”
County commissioner Dianne Novak, who attends Marion city council meetings, said she’s always been strongly in support of a county administrator.
“We are in dire need of an administrator,” Novak said. “They work in partnership with all the elected commissioners and bring it together with research, and help us make it happen with good results.”
Novak said an administrator helps provide services based on merit instead of favoritism.
“You start doing things by the book,” Novak said. “I really think the day-to-day operations should be managed by someone who’s trained.”
Novak believes county commission meetings would flow better and more professionally with an administrator.
Commissioner Ken Becker at Monday’s county commission meeting had a discussion of a county administrator added to the April 3 agenda.
Marion-Florence school board president Jeremiah Lange is also urging creation of a county administrator position. Lange said last week’s county commission meeting inspired him to call for an administrator.
“I have served on the USD 408 Board of Education for six years,” Lange said. “During that time I can assure you, the person in the room with the most knowledge on budget, school law, and school operation was Mr. Lee Leiker, our superintendent. I have served and continue to serve on the board with many bright, talented, and wise individuals. However none of us could have done or could continue to do our job well without a good superintendent.”
The county has a significantly higher budget and a bigger reach, yet relies on three part-time commissioners to manage, Lange said.
“Meeting for a few hours a week to run the county is not an effective model for county leadership in 2017 when there are tens of millions of dollars being spent on an annual basis,” Lange said.
State law calls for a resolution of county commissioners, a special election, and a petition signed by five percent of qualified voters of the county in order to establish the administrator position.