As he cleaned out his office last week in the second floor turret of the Douglas County Courthouse, County Administrator Chris McKenzie joked that the room had never been so organized.
That same line, used more seriously, could be applied to the county itself as McKenzie steps down today after seven years with the county, the last six as administrator. He resigned Jan. 31 to become executive director of the League of Kansas Municipalities in Topeka.
For McKenzie, 40, his top highlight with the county was not a major project such as the South Lawrence Trafficway or the regional juvenile detention center. Instead, he considers his proudest accomplishment as building the county's management team to work closely with each other and with the county commission.
Although teamwork may not catch the public's attention like the 14.1-mile trafficway, it is something that affects people when they deal with the county, McKenzie said.
"They can be sure that the people who have the greatest amount of responsibility in Douglas County government are working effectively together," he said.
MCKENZIE said communication was the key to building the county's team. He has held weekly meetings with the county's department heads for several years, and also informs the commissioners about the salient points of issues they will discuss at their twice-a-week meetings.
"People are much happier with the consequences of decisions when they've been able to participate in those decisions," McKenzie said. "At a minimum, (the meetings) allow us and everyone in the room gets to participate in them to advise other offices of developments that affect more than just the individual office. It's a cardinal rule of communication that if you don't see each other except when you have conflict, that you're probably not going to work very well together."
County Commission Chairman Mark Buhler said the county benefited from McKenzie's efforts "because Chris did a great job of internal organization and getting departments to work together with a common department of administration. That's made the staff as a group a tremendous bunch of professionals."
BUHLER, WHO has served on the commission since last year, said he has been impressed by McKenzie's objectivity in giving information to the commission.
"He's so objective that he can explain two or three sides of an issue and I have no idea what his personal feelings were," Buhler said. "It took me some time to get used to it, because everyone is going to give you an opinion. But it allowed us to think and make decisions and he was more than willing to carry them out."
McKenzie said the information he provides the commission is intended to assist them with their decision-making and help them to take a more far-sighted look at the county.
"I've really tried to strengthen the commission's role as the governing body, not the body that pays the $15 bill to a vendor," he said. "Hopefully the commission now has the opportunity to think more clearly about the future, to look at larger policy issues and what role the county will play in addressing those issues."
MCKENZIE HAS had some rocky moments on the job. In 1988, a couple of county commission candidates called for his ouster because they felt the commissioners could handle their business without him. McKenzie endured the campaign, and talk of firing him ended after the election.
"I tried to deal with it philosophically," he said. "Whenever a public official becomes the object of public debate, especially in a campaign, it always creates some pressure."
One aspect of his job that carried him through those difficult times, McKenzie said, was knowing that the volume and complexity of the county's business justified the "investment in the concept" of having a county administrator, which he added "was, and still is, very solid."
McKenzie said he would draw on many of his Douglas County experiences after starting his new job at the league, which represents 500 cities.
"I think I'm taking six-and-a-half years of incredibly valuable experience about the art of government what it takes to get things done in a political environment and still serve the public interest," McKenzie said.