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Burke brings wealth of experience as Liberal’s interim city manager PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 17 January 2018 10:22

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ELLY GRIMM
• Leader & Times



In the aftermath of the Jan. 8 meeting of the Liberal City Commission, which included not only Al Sill’s announcement of his retiring from the Liberal Police Department but also the termination of Mark Hall as Liberal’s city manager, many were curious who would lead the staff moving forward. 

City of Liberal Water Department Director Calvin Burke was appointed interim city manager during that meeting and as Burke tells it, it has already been a busy week and a half for him in his new position. 

“When I came to Liberal, I came to serve in the best capacity I could do in whatever position the city needed me, and I’ll continue to do that,” Burke said. “It wasn’t really something that was expected. Initially, I thought it would be just one or two days because the League of Kansas Municipalities has a pool of retired city managers they send out to serve as interim managers. However, that pool was empty at this time, and the commission is currently doing an active search for a new full-time city manager and whether or not I’ll throw my name into the ring to be considered as permanent, I don’t know yet. Right now, I’m just trying to help everything get through and help get the city in the direction the commission wants it to go and how they feel it should go.”

Burke brings a wealth of experience, having worked in other cities in various positions, including working with the City of Bennington from May 2006 to Nov. 2013 as the city operations manager, and the City of Delphos from March 2005 to May 2006 as assistant city superintendent. Burke has been serving as the City of Liberal Water Department Director since arriving in Nov. 2013. 

“One of the biggest things with any operation is the operations side, that’s my strong point as far as operations and how to do things. Over the course of my career, I’ve chosen to be more involved in the operations side of things and give trust to my financial guys and HR people to help guide those directions,” Burke said. “I feel the most important thing in any organization, whether it’s private or public, is how it operates because especially municipalities, that’s mainly operations and maintenance and keeping things going. That’s my biggest area of expertise, the nuts and bolts of what makes things work.”

In the short time Burke has been in his new capacity, there has been much to do. Just at the meeting when he was named interim city manager, Burke swore in Dennis Mulanax as the new Liberal police chief and also reappointed Debbie Giskie as the Liberal Municipal Airport manager. 

“The biggest challenge of course, with the turnover, was reassuring everyone this wasn’t a mass firing. Yes we may want to look at some personnel and look at taking our leadership in a different way, but we aren’t looking to just start eliminating people,” Burke said. “There has been some tension but we did have a department head meeting recently with everyone and the city commissioners that it wasn’t a mass cleanout but the intent was to take existing personnel and guide them in the direction the city feels they need to go.”

One project Burke mentioned is a wastewater treatment plant, which has been a topic of discussion for quite some time.

“We reached out to National Beef to work out an agreement for a wastewater plant, which has been a topic for quite some time,” Burke said. “It’ll probably be on the agenda in the future. The first thing is we need to have the city commission approve and authorize the building of a standalone plant, approve the loan and commission Earle’s Engineering to design it. I really don’t have the authority, most city staff doesn’t have the authority, to work up a Plan B until the commission says ‘Let’s stop and look at this’ because National Beef’s such a big part of the community, so we don’t want to alienate them, we want to work with them as much as we can while keeping the interests of the city as a whole on hand. Lately the City’s gotten a bit of a black eye, and we want to clean some of that perception up and be as transparent as we can. A lot of decisions ultimately are mine, but I’m wanting to make decisions with the direction of the commission. Collaboration is a really big deal for me so we can take the city forward. We want to be as transparent as we can and go in the direction the majority of the community wants us to go.”

That transparency is one of the things Burke said he wants to help improve. 

“One of the things we’re working on implementing that’s been a bit of a black eye in the public is all the city’s projects,” Burke said. “Even if it’s something as simple as putting up a gazebo in one of the parks, we want to make sure the city employees and the public are all on a level plane as far as projects so there aren’t any hard feelings and everyone follows the same rules. We want to clear up that perception and make sure people know the City follows the same rules as everyone else.”

Overall, Burke said, he is ready to take on the tasks associated with his new position at City Hall. 

“From my standpoint, I want everyone to know I’m going to do the best job I’m capable of doing,” Burke said. “I’m more than willing to talk to people, so they can call me here at City Hall if they have something to say. As we progress, if there’s anything the media or public needs to know, I will be as transparent as possible.”

 

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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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