Archive for Thursday, February 9, 2006

Administrator may be focus of county vote

February 9, 2006, 12:00 a.m.

Updated: February 9, 2006, 11:14 a.m.

Voters may get another chance at deciding whether Leavenworth County employs a professional county administrator.

"I'm not so sure we won't put it on the ballot again in August," said County Commission chairman Dean Oroke.

His comments came Monday evening, hours after Joe Daniels Jr., who served on the county commission from 2001 to 2005, urged the board to take the plunge and hire an administrator.

All three current commissioners - Oroke, Clyde Graeber and Don Navinsky - expressed varying degrees of support for the idea. Graeber supports the position outright. Oroke likes the idea - with some caveats. Navinsky sees the need but wants to keep a promise to abide the public's rejection of the idea in a 2002 vote.

"I guess I'm in the middle," said Oroke, who expressed support for hiring an administrator when he ran for office in 2004.

Daniels urged commissioners to hire an administrator, which they legally can do without a public vote.

"I think that if you will look at that, you'll see a county administrator is going to be some glue that can bind the commission together and come up with some unity that will be better taken care of than just a commission form of government," Daniels said.

Daniels was on the commission in 2002, when county voters turned back a proposal to hire an administrator, 8,299 to 7,314. Since then, Oroke and Graeber were elected to the board, after expressing support in their campaigns for hiring a county administrator.

Oroke, who represents the 3rd District in southern Leavenworth County, said he had given qualified support to the idea if the position could be made by combining existing positions and could be funded with existing dollars.

Oroke previously served on the commission, from 1985 to 1989. And since rejoining the commission, he's found some problems with his idea of combining positions and not increasing funding when creating an administrator's position.

"I'm not saying it can't be done, but it's a little bit more difficult than I thought it would be prior to running," Oroke said.

Graeber, who represents the 2nd District, which includes Lansing, reaffirmed his stance at Monday's meeting.

"I think everyone knows that I'm committed to a county administrator," Graeber said. "I believe having a trained individual on staff to oversee all aspects of county government will produce a better operating system than we have."

Graeber said he had the utmost respect for the time and work his fellow commissioners did, but he said having an administrator would make the commission run more smoothly and efficiently.

"I think the commission can operate better in their representation for the people of Leavenworth County with a professional on staff," he said.

Navinsky, the 1st District commissioner, said he supported having an administrator - a marked change from his early days on the commission - but he said there were considerations other than his personal judgment.

"I believe that this county is ready for an administrator," Navinsky said. "But I also made a promise to my electors out there that I would go whichever way their vote went, and I will continue to honor that promise. But my feeling is that we are ready for an administrator."

Joining Daniels in urging the commission to hire an administrator was Charlie Gregor, executive vice president of the Leavenworth-Lansing Area Chamber of Commerce.

Gregor told commissioners the chamber had supported the idea of a county administrator since 1984.

"We just think that we have reached the point in Leavenworth County where it is time to get a professional advising you all, doing the coordination, acting as your chief of staff and being of assistance on a very professional level," Gregor told commissioners.

He said those who look only at the cost of an administrator were missing the point.

"The fact is we don't talk about, because it's hard to put a finger on it, what will be the increases in efficiency and, therefore, revenue use within the county if, in fact, we had an administrator."

Gregor urged commissioners to use their "prerogative as a governing body" and vote to hire a county administrator, despite public votes in 1998 and 2002 against the idea.

"I think we all know it's inevitable," he said about the day when a county administrator would be hired, "so why are we postponing?"

No one at Monday's meeting spoke against hiring an administrator.

Funding for the position is included in the 2006 county budget, and the remodeled Leavenworth County Courthouse includes office space for an administrator.

Though Graeber suggested drafting a job description for an administrator, commissioners took no action on the issue Monday.

Oroke said he thought the commission would embrace Graeber's proposal to write a job description that outlines the powers and duties of an administrator for Leavenworth County.

"I think we'll gather all that information up and look at it," Oroke said.

The commission could hire a county administrator without voter approval, but changing to a county manager form of government would require voter approval.

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