Sedgwick Co. Commissioners choose new county manager for a new era

Michael Scholes

WICHITA, Kansas — Sedgwick County Commissioners chose the new county manager Wednesday at their meeting. Commissioners had four people to choose from after narrowing that list from 80 people.

On Friday, KSN News sat down with acting County Manager Ron Holt to learn more about the process of selecting the next Sedgwick County Manager, Michael Scholes, and his responsibilities. 

According to the county’s website,

“The Sedgwick County manager is hired by and reports to the Board of County Commissioners.

The divisions listed below are under the direction of the county manager. These directors make up the manager’s senior staff.”

View Sedgwick County’s Organizational Chart.

The final choice, voted and finalized, is Michael Scholes of Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Scholes served as chief of staff for the Kosovo Forces of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Pristina, Kosovo from 2014-2015. He has a master’s degree in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania; a master’s degree in public administration from Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, Georgia; and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from North Georgia College in Dahlonega, Georgia.

The county decided not to go with a candidate with experience in a direct county management position. They also decided against hiring internal candidates.

“I think it’s just a great opportunity, great time, for a person with a new perspective,” said acting county manager, Ron Holt.

Officials across the county say Scholes’ experience in the military has demonstrated his qualifications for the manager job.

“His [Scholes’] entire military career as an officer has been in civil affairs, meaning, working with various levels of government,” explained Holt.

“He [Scholes] worked with several different community governments in trying to carry out his mission there,” said Commissioner Dave Unruh.

“He’s [Scholes has] built organizations from the ground up and he’s been given many missions. He’s mastered them all,” said Commissioner Jim Howell.

Michael Scholes is expected to begin employment in early November, with a salary of $165,000.

“We are extremely impressed with the executive leadership and diverse experience that Mr. Scholes brings to Sedgwick County,” said Sedgwick Co. Commission Chairman Richard Ranzau. “We believe he has strong skills and experience in strategic planning, financial management, problem-solving and crisis management that are essential to help lead the organization as we move forward with the challenges we will face.”

Commissioner Jim Howell says they took input from leaders of several county agencies, along with seven community members, who the commissioners picked to help analyze the finalists.

However, there was not a public forum for the community to better inform themselves about the candidates. KSN asked why.

“I just think the process is as good as it could possibly be,” said Commissioner Jim Howell.

The county’s search team recommended Scholes recommended Scholes. Commissioner Howell says that was sufficient public input for this kind of position.

“The county manager is someone who doesn’t really deal with the public at large. They really manage the resources of people of our organization,” said Howell. “To include the public when they’re not really directly effected by that person, and I’m not even sure necessarily makes any sense.”

Commissioner Karl Peterjohn thought it would make sense to have an input from the community, but said it came down to logistics.

“We tried to bring the public in, but you’ve got the challenge of bringing in folks, if they’re trying to move up, but without causing problems within their current position,” said Peterjohn.

Despite the lack of larger community input, commissioners say they chose Scholes because they needed someone who would look for ways to improve the partnership with agencies and be transparent with the community.

“To rebuild this image, we need to have somebody who’s a cheerleader and that really presents right information to the community,” said Howell.

That’s what commissioner Howell believes Scholes will do.

“He has a wide background in experience. He’s a leader, he’s a communicator, he’s a people person and I think people love to work for him. I think he’ll do a fantastic job for us,” said Ranzau.

Ron Holt will continue as the acting county manager until Scholes takes his position.

Sedgwick County opened a national, executive search to replace Bill Buchanan, who retired on June 15. That search was completed through an outside hiring firm. The fee to hire the firm was $16,500, with paid expenses not to exceed $7,500.

Since Bill Buchanan left his position in June and Scholes will begin working in November, Holt tells KSN that there was enough salary savings to cover the entire cost of the hiring process. It was not a line-item on the county’s budget.

The organization and authority of local county elected officials and hires can be explained on the Sedgwick Co. website. To view it, click here.

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