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Administrator candidates offer insights
Aware of challenges, three candidates see potential
new deh city adminitrator candidates Scott Hildebrand
Scott Hildebrand

Pubilc meet-and-greet planned

The public is invited to meet the three finalist candidates for the job of Great Bend city administrator during a public gathering. The event runs from 4:30-6 p.m. Thursday at Great Bend Events Center, 3111 10th St. 

For more information or further questions contact City Hall, 620-793-4111. 

 It is a time for the three finalists for the Great Bend city administrator job to meet city officials, leaders and residents. It is also a time for city officials, leaders and residents to meet the candidates.

On Monday morning, the Great Bend City Council announced candidates and the schedule for their visit to the community this week. On Wednesday, the City Council interviewed them, introduced them to department heads and took them of tours of the city. 

Then, on Thursday, Great Bend Chamber of Commerce members are invited to attend the chamber meet-and-greet at 10:30 a.m. at the Great Bend Events Center, 3111 10th St. The public is invited to meet the candidates during a public gathering from 4:30-6 p.m. at Events Center. 

The finalists include: Larry Collins, who served as fire chief and interim city administrator in Ann Arbor Michigan; Kendal Francis, who served as city manager in Coffeyville and city administrator in Lakin; and Scott Hildebrand, who currently serves as the city administrator for Valley Center.

The City Council next meets Monday night, July 2. There will be an executive session on the agenda, but no action is expected on filling the administrator job.

The candidates

Although aware of the turmoil last summer surrounding now resigned Police Chief Clifton Couch and now retired City Administrator Howard Partington, all said they see great potential for growth and unity in Great Bend. They liked a progressive stand and desire to plan for the future.

All three sat down with local media Wednesday afternoon. Below are the results of these interviews:

Larry Collins

“What attracted me to Great Bend? This is the next progression for me,” Collins said. He retired as fire chief in Ann Arbor, Mich., as of May 1 and will complete his doctorate in administration soon.

He has also been the interim assistant city administrator in Ann Arbor and handled other duties from time to time. “So, now is the time for me to actually step forward and take one of the jobs of my own. This is the perfect time for this.”

Why Great Bend?

“I’m looking for a certain profile,” he said. “I’m looking for a community that wants to move forward and do economic development, wants to do a strategic plan, a community where folks come together and there’s not a lot of bickering.”

In other words, “a city with a strong vision of where they want to be,” he said. “I get the sense that this community fits that profile.”

He sees himself as the manager, but answerable to the council and its policies. For example, he cited the commitment to planning.

It is the manager’s job, he said, to take that plan and run with it. “Everybody is clear where you are going.”

“I think the community is engaged,” he said. “That’s what is exciting about the position.”

As far as Partington’s departure, he knew what happened but had limited knowledge of the situation. 

Between 1997 and 2015 when he landed in Ann Arbor, he has served as fire chief in Dayton, Ohio, and Brevard County, Fla. He said he was fired from the Florida job, despite strong performance reviews, due to interdepartmental politics after he and sought a post in another community.

He feels he left Ann Arbor in good shape, having accomplished what he wanted to accomplish.

Now, he looking for a smaller community to finish out his civic career. “I’ve been in big cities. The problem there is they eat you up,” he said.

Great Bend is the ideal size for him.

Kendal Francis

“I am about building relationships,” Francis said. “I think that’s why we are on this earth.”

Francis is a Beloit native who attended Cloud County Community College in Concordia and then Kansas State University in Manhattan. Back in Beloit, he worked 19 years for the water and waste water utilities. 

After rising through the ranks there, he ventured into city administration, first at Lakin then at Coffeyville. He recently resigned from the Coffeyville position.

“My list is long,” he said of why the Great Bend job attracted him. Having family in the area started him looking, but then he took a closer study of the community.

“First and foremost, I’m looking for a place that is progressive and forward thinking,” he said. The community profile provided to candidates listed strategic planning and visioning, both things that are dear to Francis.

“I quickly understood the council understood the importance of a strategic plan, and setting goals to reach a long-term vision,” he said. City sales taxes in place to pay for projects showed him the council’s dedication to this. 

He was also lured by Partington’s long tenure here. “I want to find a stable community so I can make a long-term commitment.”

This says a lot about Partington. But, “it also says a lot about the community.”

The size of Great Bend, the amenities and outdoor activities were appealing as well. “It has that small town feel.”

He sees a lot of potential for the city, particularly on the economic development front. The transload facility and the opportunity zones are a strong base for things to come, he said.

“I think I will be able to hit the ground running and make an immediate impact,” he said. He noted water and street repairs that are underway.

“I want to be a part of an organization that values the employee,” Francis said. This seemed to be a focus in Great Bend.

When the Couch matter came up, Francis said he was aware of it. But, “it didn’t concern me in the least.”

He called it a localized issue, but did say he visited with fellow city officials from the area. “I got the feeling from them that it is a remote incident.”

Francis said he will be engaged in the community. “If there are fences that need to be mended, I am supremely confident that I can mend those fences and that we will be a unified and cohesive team.”

He resigned his post in Coffeyville. Although it was an amicable separation and he was not let go, Francis said the city was wanting “to go in a different direction.”

Scott Hildebrand

“It’s been a few years since I’ve been through Great Bend,” Hildebrand said. But, the Liberal native who is currently the city administrator for Valley Center is familiar with the community.

But, he has missed a lot. “You’ve got a lot of neat projects going on,” he said.

“There are a lot of positive things about the city,” he said. From the parks to the waterline replacement effort, the town is making improvements.

“It’s really grown,” Hildebrand said of Great Bend. “It has taken a lot of positive steps and I want to keep it moving in that direction.”

With a law degree from Washburn University in Topeka, he worked for a law firm in Abilene before serving as a staff attorney for the League of Kansas Municipalities. From there, he went to Lenexa as a city attorney and to Rochester, Minn., as a professional standards manager before moving to Valley Center in 2016.

“I’ve always enjoyed working with your small local governments,” he said. 

“We’ve got a lot of good things going in Valley Center,” said. The city implemented a strategic plan and changed how it budgeted, focusing more on results and accountability.

But, Great Bend piqued his interest. The size of the community, as well as the additional services, attracted him.

“It is a full-service city,” he said. “This is a city you see as a career destination.”

There are also a lot of good challenges, he said. “You have a great future in Great Bend; you have a lot of stability.”

It is served by three major highways and has a strong tax base. “There are a lot of great opportunities,” he said.

He also has family nearby. 

“I’m from the outside looking in,” Hildebrand said. He was aware of the issues that convinced Partington to leave.

“I think there is still some frustration in the community and I think there are still some hurt feelings,” he said. “I don’t want to make any big changes,” he said. But he wants buy-in from the community on the strategic plan so residents know where the city is going and can take pride in it.

Transparency is important, he said. “It helps them trust government.”

And, the same goes for employees. He wants to trust and rely on his department heads and not micro-manage them. Ultimately, he loves his job and sees himself as a go-between for the staff and council.

“Amongst city managers, Howard Partington is a legend,” he said. His sudden retirement frustrated city leaders across the state and was a concern to Hildebrand.

But, “city administrators by nature like a challenge,” he said. “That is part of what made me want to apply for the job of city administrator for Great Bend.”

Background

In May, the City Council met in executive sessions to narrow the field of applicants to three.

In February, the council approved contracting with headhunters Slavin Management Consultants to handle the search. The city is paying the Atlanta, Ga.-based firm $15,505 plus expenses including consultant travel, office costs and advertising with those additional costs not to exceed $7,752 (travel expenses for finalist visits to Great Bend were not included).

Since last September, George Kolb of Wichita has served as interim city administrator. Until Kolb was appointed by the council, City Attorney Bob Suelter had been acting as the short-term interim administrator. 

The appointment was made necessary by the Aug. 16, 2017, retirement of Partington, who had been with the city for 36 years. Partington cited stress caused by the controversy between Couch and the city as the reason for his departure.