Archive for Thursday, May 24, 2007

County proposal spurs debate

Tellefson wants to hire help for commissioners

May 24, 2007

J.C. Tellefson wants to create a new position in the Leavenworth County commissioners office: staff director, a position he envisions as a "direct representative of the Leavenworth County Board of County Commissioners."

Tellefson, who is chairman of the three-member commission, said a staff director would serve as a liaison between the board and other elected county officials and would assist with overseeing and implementing the county's annual budget.

"The reason I drafted this is all of the different balls we have bouncing in the air," Tellefson said at Monday's commission meeting. "The county and the public are much better served if we, as a group, are actually staffing things appropriately; and I don't see how we've been doing this so far. That's been a point of frustration for me."

3rd District Commissioner Dean Oroke was a vocal opponent of adding another staff member, which he saw as a way to insert a county administrator position without bringing the issue to a public referendum.

At its Feb. 12 meeting, the board unanimously voted to suspend a ballot initiative on the county administrator question that had been scheduled for the April 3 general election until August 2008.

"The thing that bothers me most is that the other two members of the board figured they'd probably be defeated in April," Oroke said. "Once the opposition had been put down, they change the name and reintroduce it.

"What's the difference between having a county administrator, a county manager, a chief of staff or any other name we put on it?"

Tellefson said he could not more strongly disagree.

"I don't think that in any way, shape or form that this is a county administrator," he said.

The chairman pointed to examples in Shawnee and Jackson counties, where, he said a "gatekeeper" exists who helps the staff but doesn't take representation for elected officials unless they are not present.

While Leavenworth County voters have turned their thumbs down on a county administrator, in 1998 and 2002 referendums, creating the post doesn't require a public vote.

Both Tellefson and 2nd District Commissioner Clyde Graeber made campaign promises in regard to the creation of a county administrator post Tellefson in the 2006 election said he favored creating the post but promised to forego his position while bringing the issue to a public vote; Graeber promised to push for creating the position when he was elected in 2004.

At Monday's meeting, Graeber called the proposed staff director position a "positive first step."

"I see this as an opportunity to make government more efficient and more responsive to the people," he said.

One county resident, Al Stevens, was present Monday as a strong advocate against the position and any increase in county bureaucracy.

"If you're going to have someone with that much influence over the county, it should be an elected official," Stevens said. "I urge you to attack this problem by lessening the role of government. Don't take on as many things, and you won't have as many balls in the air."

County Information Systems Director Larry Malbrough questioned whether the staff director would play a role in the hiring or firing of department heads.

Tellefson said he liked having the board responsible for such tasks, but Oroke pointed to a line in the draft job description that read, "(The staff director) performs personnel functions related to the selection, evaluation and discharge of department heads."

Tellefson then assured Malbrough and the board that the description was just a draft and was subject to change.

Malbrough also asked, "If I have an issue, would I still have the ability to come before the board? Or would I have to explain the issue to this staff director for two hours and then have to explain it the BOCC again?"

Tellefson said the position would not be a "filter" but it was yet to be determined if the individual would be an assistant to the board, a peer to the department heads or a person that all department heads would go through.

"I don't want to do anything to thwart communication," Tellefson said. "This position will allow us to be more efficient."

When Oroke asked if Tellefson had anyone in mind as a potential staff director, Tellefson said he did not but he had inquired about various people's interest in it around and outside the county courthouse.

Oroke motioned to table the issue until after the scheduled 2008 election, but the motion died for lack of a second.

Ultimately Graeber moved to table the issue for two weeks to allow the job description to be reworked. The motion passed, 2-1, with Oroke opposed.

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