Archive for Monday, March 23, 2009

County prepares for commission transition

March 23, 2009

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The Douglas County Commission will lose its most experienced member when Charles Jones steps down soon because of his increasing job responsibilities at Kansas University.

Although the remaining commissioners — Jim Flory and Nancy Thellman — are only two months into their first terms, both say they are confident the commission can move forward during this tough economic climate.

“I think the focus of the commission will still be relatively similar to what it was before — that is, just looking at the basics starting from the bottom up,” said Flory, a former Douglas County district attorney and federal prosecutor.

When Flory and Thellman took office in January as new commissioners, Jones moved into a leadership role as chairman and had asked administrators to look into several efficiency and cost-saving measures as the county prepares for a tough budget session.

As chairman, Jones has been out front on efforts to try to save money. He said it wasn’t time for business as usual.

Former commission chairman Bob Johnson, who had taken note of Jones’ leadership on the commission, said the resignation caught him off-guard.

“When someone is serving on a body, and they’re deliberative and that person leaves, then you have to assume that creates a vacuum,” Johnson said. “You cross your fingers and hope the next person is even better at the job.”

Jones, a commissioner for 10 years, said he wanted to concentrate more on his increasing responsibilities as director of the Kansas University Public Management Center.

He filed official notice to resign last Monday, and on April 4, Democratic precinct committee members in Jones’ district will select his replacement. Jones said he will serve until the replacement takes office.

In an interview last week, Jones said the county would be in good shape even if a third newcomer joins the board.

“Both Nancy and Jim have a great feel for policy, and the staff is excellent. It’s not like they are flying alone,” Jones said.

County Administrator Craig Weinaug and Pam Madl, the assistant administrator, have long tenures on the county staff.

Jones said a dismal budget and, most likely, cuts to departments and social services will drive the county’s agenda.

In recent weeks he had asked administrators to look into several areas for savings. Thellman said the county should do what it can to assist social service agencies, especially as demand increases in tough economic times.

Flory said, “What we want to do is get the best services based upon the revenue we have. The biggest bang for your buck.”

Thellman and Flory said they will continue to benefit from the administration’s experience, but they have both picked up on how the county works during their first two months in office.

“We have gotten up to speed fairly fast. We both have significant background in Douglas County,” Flory said.

Thellman said she hoped the new commissioner would bring a cooperative attitude to the table as the county tries to tackle tough budget issues and also gain in economic development.

“(Good things) are not going to happen until everybody puts their arms down and starts being willing to listen to each other,” she said.

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