By EARL WATT
• Daily Leader
Four years ago when Mark Hall was chosen as Liberal’s city manager, the feeling was not unanimous. Former commissioner John T. Smith and current commissioner Joe Denoyer voted against the promotion of Hall.
But Tuesday, the vote was 5-0 to give Hall a raise, a far cry from the 3-2 vote to hire him.
Over the past four years, Hall has been involved with a number of accomplishments on behalf of the city, but he won’t mention his role in those victories.
He won’t share how he has developed a better working relationship between the various city departments.
He won’t discuss how he worked with the commission to pass, and retire, a four-tenth sales tax to bring the Trailmobile issue to a close.
He won’t take credit for a plan to enhance the parks, streets and sidewalks.
But when it’s time to accept blame for any missteps, Hall is the first to take the bullet.
When the contractors on the aquatics center failed to finish their responsibility, Hall took the blame, but he also stepped in and rallied the city staff to finish the job.
And while other entities raised mill levies across the state, Liberal was able to stay steady thanks to the efforts of Hall in stretching the taxpayers’ dollars.
But he won’t say that.
So the commission spoke out for him.
“I don’t know anyone who can rub two pennies together like Mark can and come up with four,” Liberal Mayor Tim Long said.
Larry Koochel was first elected to the Liberal City Commission in 1989, and over the years he has worked with a number of city managers. But few had the work ethic and dedication to Liberal that Hall has shown.
“We always get compared to Garden City,” Koochel said. “While we had six city managers, Garden City had one. The key to progress is a good city manager with longevity in the community. You hire a new person, they won’t want to do what the previous manager did. We were doing that every two years for a while. But Mark is local, and he is pro Liberal. His saying is we want to make Liberal the city of choice. Mark pioneered that.”
But Hall doesn’t seek headlines, and he practices what he preaches to his staff.
Even though the use of a city vehicle is part of his compensation package, he drives the family car to the store.
“We told him it’s OK to use the car, but he said, ‘If the rest of the staff can’t use their cars, I’m not going to, either,’” Long said. “That’s the kind of guy he is.”
Liberal’s future has been easier to plan with Hall at the helm.
As a Liberal native, Hall knows where Liberal has been and where it is headed. Now he has a hand in helping it get there.
“Anyone can see what the city has planned for the future of Liberal,” Koochel said. “Mark has it all planned out.”
Koochel pointed out that at one time the city had four or five engineering studies on the various elevations in the community so that drainage cold be addressed.
Every time there was a new city manager, there was a new study.
With Hall and consistency at the city manager's office, the city has been able to move beyond the studies and into action.
“He gets things done,” Koochel said. “He takes the next step after studying it.”
“Mark understands what the community wants to be and he plans accordingly,” Long said. “We were talking about striping, and he said, ‘Now you know we are going to resurface that in a while.’ With Mark, he has a plan mapped out for streets as far out as 10 years. He has a map of the money flow to the plan. If you change your city manager, it starts all over.”
Hall’s leadership has helped redefine the perception Liberal has had in city management.
“When I got on the commission we were known as the wild west, shooting at the hip,” Long said. “Now we can accomplish things faster. We don’t spend money twice, three, four or six times doing studies. Liberal is starting to see what having a consistent city manager can do, so we can start being the Liberal we want to be. Garden City and Dodge City does their thing, we are going to do our thing.”
Hall’s approach and commitment has provided what Liberal has been missing.
“Consistency is what we’ve lacked over the years,” Long said. “I am excited about consistency. That’s why so many projects are getting done. Over the next year, we will have more projects approved and going. We don’t have to have more studies to make decisions.”
It’s a thankless job, and that can create a misperception of what Hall does.
“The public doesn’t see it because he never takes credit for anything,” Long said. “They don’t hear the good he does. Never any good about him because he lets someone else take the credit. You can’t please everyone all the time. Some things he does will make someone unhappy, and you hear about that. But you never hear the good things. The fact is he makes the commission look good.”