Topeka Charles Simmons, the states longest-serving corrections secretary, announced Monday that he was leaving that post to become warden of the maximum-security prison outside El Dorado.
Simmons, 51, has served as the states top prison official since August 1994. He joined the Department of Corrections in 1979 as a member of the legal staff at the prison in Lansing.
He plans to become warden at El Dorado on Sept. 30.
Its probably just a good point for me to look at other opportunities, Simmons said during an interview.
As warden, Simmons salary will be $78,436, or 20 percent less than the $97,830 he was earning as secretary. However, the wardens job is in the state civil service, while the secretarys position is not.
Gov. Bill Graves is serving his second and final term and will leave office in January. Simmons said the coming change in administrations was a factor in his decision, though he noted he was first appointed secretary by Democratic Gov. Joan Finney in August 1994 and retained after Graves, a Republican, took office in January 1995.
Simmons said he wanted to remain in corrections and stay in Kansas. The El Dorado wardens position was open because of the retirement of Michael Nelson in August.
Obviously, thats what I know best, Simmons said. Wardens positions dont come open that often. Those are positions that dont turn over frequently.
Graves appointed Roger Werholtz, the deputy secretary of corrections for facilities management, as acting secretary after Simmons departure.
Before Simmons took the job, secretaries tenures often were short. The state has had 16 directors of penal institutions or corrections secretaries since the Legislature created the job in 1957 to oversee what previously had been autonomous prisons.
Three acting secretaries served less than a year, and five secretaries served less than two years. Previously, the longest serving one was the first, Guy Rexroad, who left in June 1962.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing, said Simmons was steady at the helm.
Im very disappointed, Wilk said.
Senate President Dave Kerr, R-Hutchinson, also praised Simmons, calling him a good administrator and the first to see that the department thoroughly examined the effectiveness of its programs for inmates.
Hes done a good job as secretary, Kerr said. He fights hard for the agency, but I also think hes been fairly innovative.
Wilk pointed to policies Simmons put into effect requiring inmates to earn privileges through good behavior, rather than having them start with privileges that could be taken away for misconduct.
Hes done some really progressive things that have been good for taxpayers, good for the institutions and, in the long haul, good for the inmates, Wilk said.
Rep. Doug Gatewood, D-Columbus, who serves on an appropriations subcommittee on public safety, said he thought Simmons advocated construction projects more than program expansions. At the end of August 1994, the state had 6,244 inmates in its custody; eight years later, the figure was 8,843, an increase of 42 percent.
But Gatewood said he still viewed Simmons as a good administrator, considering the states increasing prison population. He said he would give Simmons a B grade.
Wilk and Kerr said they were surprised by Simmons decision. But Gatewood noted that the states financial problems may have been a factor.