Douglas County leaders: ‘Desire is there’ to work with City of Lawrence on Fire Medical chief hire

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

From left, Douglas County Commissioners Nancy Thellman, Michelle Derusseau and Patrick Kelly discuss how they want to proceed in communications with the city of Lawrence at their meeting on Wednesday, March 13, 2019.

The Douglas County Commission has renewed hope that the county might have a seat at the table as the city of Lawrence seeks to hire the new chief of Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical.

Lawrence City Manager Tom Markus indicated at the City Commission’s March 5 meeting that he did not intend to include a county representative in the hiring process for the next chief of the joint city-county service. County commissioners at their meeting the following day directed Interim County Administrator Sarah Plinsky to draft a formal letter to the city.

In the week since, though, city leaders may have changed their tune.

“From what I understand from what was said on the radio yesterday morning, the city is looking to refine or reconsider the selection process,” Plinsky said, referring to Lawrence Mayor Lisa Larsen’s appearance on a local radio show.

Plinsky said she had sought to provide a more specific update to the County Commission, but the city manager did not have one to share as of Wednesday.

Commissioners said that in the last week, they have widely heard the same messages from their constituents: Work together with the city, and keep asking for representation in the hiring process.

Plinsky said she has drafted a letter that would come directly from the commission chair. It will explain how the commission would like to be involved in the process and “focuses on the collaborative, cooperative nature of the agreement,” she said.

Douglas County Commission Chair Michelle Derusseau said that after previous correspondence with city leaders, she did feel that it was important to formalize the request in a letter. Her fellow commissioners, Nancy Thellman and Patrick Kelly, said they would comply.

“My job is to relay and respond to the concerns of our citizens,” Derusseau said during the meeting, “and I feel like putting it in a formal request, a public request, we’ve done our job.”

She said now is the time to send that letter, particularly if the city is still working on outlining the hiring process.

“I’m encouraged that we got signals from the city that there may be some opening to include us in the process,” Thellman said, having noted prior that the county wasn’t seeking to start a fight or stir things up in a negative way. “We’ll have to wait and see, I’m sure, but the desire is there just to work together, and to work together well.”

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