Promise puts off county change
Two of three Leavenworth County commissioners are convinced it's time to hire an administrator - or, perhaps, a chief of staff - to help with day-to-day operations of government.
But a vote on the issue last week fell short of passage.
County Commissioner Clyde Graeber last week made a motion to establish an administrator's job, but it failed, 2-1.
Commissioner Don Navinsky, who is not seeking re-election this year, agreed with Graeber the county needs an administrator. But he joined fellow commissioner Dean Oroke in rejecting the measure.
Navinsky said he made a commitment to his constituents that he wouldn't vote to hire an administrator unless voters backed the measure.
"I've got to honor what I've said," Navinsky said.
Oroke said he didn't feel comfortable voting to establish an administrator's position without first having a job description and a salary range. And he said that in the past two years commissioners have tightened the county's financial belt and undertaken numerous important projects.
"I understand your point," he said to Graeber. "But can I be assured that administrator is going to be on top of things financially, as we have done in the past year?"
Oroke, who said he agreed to the challenges of the commissioner's job when he took office, said he'd had people ask him not to hire a county administrator.
"I have had no one come to me personally and ask me to hire and support an administrator," he said. "The position has been voted down twice by the public."
Two members of the public - Charlie Gregor of Leavenworth-Lansing Area Chamber of Commerce and former County Commissioner Joe Daniels Jr. - urged the commission to back Graeber's idea.
"I just think that a professional county administrator, to act as a professional adviser to the county commission, is an idea whose time has come," Gregor said.
Graeber said he thought an administrator could save the county money - and more than pay for his or her salary. An administrator could work with department heads on budgets and could handle numerous personnel matters that now fall to the commission.
"The main thing we need to work on is how can we act smarter as we face the challenges down the road," Graeber said.
Navinsky, who will leave office in January, said he hoped the commission eventually would hire an administrator.
"We need it today," he said. "I hope the next commissioner who follows me doesn't lock himself in before the election."
At least one candidate is locked in, though.
Ed Sass, the lone Democrat running for Navinsky's District 1 seat, said, "I think that's honorable that he would keep his word to do what he said he would do. I intend to be honorable and do what the voters want to do, which is no administrator, by a substantial majority of the vote."
Republican Sam Maxwell III said he favored hiring an administrator.
"We ought to study the issue and see how it's worked for other counties," he said. "Once you get it all in line and know it will work, you should present it to the people for a vote. The voters need to vote on that."
And while he has no problems with the current county commission, Maxwell said it's important the county operates efficiently.
"We're not planning for the future," he said. "When you've got that much work ahead of you every day, you don't have time to plan."
And J.C. Tellefson, who is the other Republican seeking Navinsky's seat, said he, too, respects Navinsky for his vote.
"I wish Don had voted for it," he said.
Tellefson said he believed the county should hire whoever is necessary to run government most efficiently.
"I do not support increasing the budget a penny," he said.
And he's committed to not cutting or increasing commissioners' salaries. Some money - about $30,000 annually - could be saved if the county administrator handled budget issues currently worked on by a Leavenworth accountant, he said.
"I support having a county administrator, a chief of staff, someone who helps and advises the county commissioners that does not increase the budget, that does not change the form of government," he said.
Republicans will choose between Maxwell and Tellefson in the Aug. 1 primary election. The winner will face Sass in the Nov. 7 general election.