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New commission really had no choice but to make changes E-mail
Opinion
Tuesday, 09 January 2018 11:07

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L&T Publisher Earl Watt



Since personnel issues have to be handled delicately, I’m sure the new commissioners will be very brief in their explanation of the dismissal of Mark Hall as city manager.

In the end, they really had no choice.

With the Federal Aviation Administration issue still unresolved and an apparent disconnect between city management and the residents they serve, the commission would continue to operate under a veil of uncertainty unless they could provide new leadership that could regain the trust of the people.

In addition, a new employment contract for Hall that was passed after two 10-minute executive sessions where no commissioner received the contract prior, and it was not presented publicly and included major changes including the length of the severance package being quadrupled, automatic annual raises and removing the two-year renewal clause and making the agreement open ended with no termination also damaged public trust.

With a contract like that, the likes of which we cannot find anywhere else in Kansas, the new commission had no choice but to end this agreement as soon as possible to minimize its economic impact on the citizens.

Dave Harrison made it very clear during the summer of 2017 during a candidates forum that voting for him would not result in making a change in city management. Dean Aragon also stated he believed that the city was headed in the right direction with the right management.

That gave the voters a clear choice — keep the current commissioners and stay the course, or change the current commission to receive new city management.

Questions during the forum clearly stated concerns about city management, and the candidates had a chance to address those concerns.

In the end, the voters opted for new commissioners including those that did not state unwavering support for the current management.

Last night’s vote to move in a new direction came as no surprise to anyone who has been watching this real-life drama unfold before our eyes.

So how to we move forward?

First, we have to shift our focus from the past and get back to looking ahead.

The commission’s No. 1 priority should be reaching an agreement with the FAA to remove this cloud of uncertainty around the airport, make sure we have qualified and certified leadership at the airport, and then find out from current staff who wants to be a part of moving Liberal forward.

They started in a positive way by appointing Calvin Burke as interim city manager. Burke was a  current employee who already had city management experience.

Next, the search for a new city manager should begin immediately, and this process should be as open as possible.

Seward County Community College hosted public meetings for candidates for past openings for leadership, and this is a good model that the city should adopt.

When the commission narrows the field down to a handful of prospective candidates, they should schedule public receptions so that the citizens have a chance to get to know the candidates and provide the commission input form these less formal events.

Not only does this give the commission a feel from the public, but it also keeps the process transparent, and transparency will be vital to the success of the new commission after an era of closed doors.

They should also call the Kansas League of Municipalities and conduct an Open Meetings/Open Records forum so that it is clear they understand all the rules, and this forum should be done in an open session so that the general public can see that our new commission has been informed on what they can and cannot do, specifically pertaining to executive sessions and discussions outside of public meetings.

They may find it interesting to know that they cannot discuss issues with more than one other commissioner outside of the meeting. Not one at a time, either. Calling one commissioner and then another to discuss the same topic is a violation of the Open Meetings Act. Discussions that involve three commissioners must be done in public, not in chain calls or emails, texts, etc.

This commission will have a chance to provide a new path forward if they are willing to interact with the public, to seek input from the public, and to inform the public not with the least amount of information possible but the most.

This commission will also have to gain the public’s trust by showing the people’s trust in them was placed in the decision-makers for all of us and not simply as figure heads of a bureaucratic-run politburo.

Liberal is at a new beginning, and there are many reasons to be optimistic.

New businesses have recently opened, and more are on the way.

Now it is time to push for industrial opportunities to balance the recent retail growth, and to engage our agricultural leaders to discover how to best position ourselves with our strongest economic advantages.

Finally, the commission will have the undaunting task of returning confidence to the 1-cent sales tax. For too long it has been referred to as a slush fund, being used for projects that were never discussed or considered publicly despite the effort to create a master plan designed with public input collected by the grassroots Focus on the Future Committee.

In the end, the Commission did what it had to do so that Liberal’s future could move forward with community confidence. We now need to give them the time to build a team that will work as partners with the community se we all move forward.

 

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The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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