Archive for Thursday, January 25, 2007

County places administrator question on ballot

January 25, 2007

Leavenworth County Commissioners J.C. Tellefson and Clyde Graeber both have made campaign promises regarding creation of a county administrator's post - Tellefson in the 2006 election season; Graeber in 2004.

At Monday's commission meeting, Tellefson, with Graeber's help, was able to keep his vow.

The two voted to approve a motion that would place a referendum on the April 3 ballot asking Leavenworth County voters whether the commission should establish an office of county administrator. Commissioner Dean Oroke voted against the proposal.

"My position has been always that the county can benefit from a county administrator," said Tellefson, who took office earlier this month. "I thought I knew a lot about what the job was and hoped that I could do a good job in the next four years. But it already is quite apparent that it wasn't what I thought it would be. It's a lot."

During his fall 2006 campaign though, Tellefson promised to forego his position on a county administrator in favor of bringing the issue to a public vote.

"I made that commitment," he said.

The decision to conduct a public vote came after Tellefson, the commission chairman, and Oroke defeated an alternate plan by Graeber to create a county administrator post by simple resolution.

"I promised the people I would do this," Graeber explained in putting forth his proposal.

He later said creating the administrator's position by resolution also would allow the commission to abandon the position by resolution, if at some point in the future a majority of commissioners decided the post was unnecessary. If voters create the position, Graeber reasoned, the only way to eliminate the position would be by another election.

"I would have much rather the commission go ahead and create the position and give it a try first," Graeber said.

Nevertheless, he agreed to support a public vote on the issue.

"I decided, 'Well, the only way we're going to get this moving forward is to put it on the ballot,'" Graeber said.

The April 3 referendum will mark the third time voters have weighed the issue in the past 10 years. Voter referendums on a county administrator failed in 1998 and 2002.

Oroke said he voted against both motions Monday because of their lack of specifics. Kansas statutes spell out lengthy duties of a county administrator but contain the caveat "unless otherwise provided by the board of county commissioners."

"I'm pleased to put it to a vote of the people, but I want to know what you're going to tell them," Oroke said after the votes. "Just putting it out there, that's been the problem in why it's been voted down before."

He said there were numerous unanswered questions, including what the job would entail, the salary and benefits to be paid to the administrator, how an administrator would work within the current county structure, etc.

"To mount a good, strong campaign and be proactive, you've going to have to get going with all that (information)," he said.

Tellefson confirmed Monday's action lacked specifics but promised those questions would be answered in plenty of time for voters to make their decision in April.

"If you work from a premise that you want it to pass, the more information that we give people the better off that we're served," Tellefson said. "Absent information, people will vote no. I understand that."

Graeber said he foresaw the commission developing a job description for a county administrator in short order.

"That's something we need to do, and fairly soon," he said.

Tellefson said an administrator could be hired with existing county resources. And he disputed that an administrator would give unwieldy power to an unelected official.

"You'll have people saying, 'Well they're going to build this whole big empire.' No : it's not. It's one person to serve at the pleasure of the board. I'm still the person you get to call at 6 o'clock in the morning with your problems and concerns," he said.

Sidebar

Leavenworth County commissioners weren't the only ones weighing in this week on the idea of creating a county administrator post.

Three county residents spoke at Monday's commission meeting to give their view of the issue.

Bill Mason, a 24-year county resident who now lives south of Lansing, told commissioners he would vote for a county administrator but thought commissioners should reduce their annual $45,999 salary.

"I don't think we need three full-time county commissioners," he said, noting he would favor a change to a five-person county commission so commissioners could better serve their constituents.

Leavenworth resident Al Stevens repeated his long-held view that adding a county administrator was wrong.

He urged that commissioners at least "let the voters have a cut" at any attempt to create an administrator's post.

Louis Klemp, a former commissioner, told commissioners he thought a vote on the issue in April was too early, both for proponents and opponents.

Klemp did, however, offer two suggestions for filling the job.

For a trial basis and as a buffer until a permanent hiring could be made, Klemp suggested the commission hire him.

"I guarantee you, I wouldn't want to be here long," he said.

As for a permanent county administrator, Klemp pointed toward County Counselor David Van Parys.

"There's your administrator right there," he said.

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