With barren walls and only a few stacks of papers and notebooks on his desk, Great Bend Interim City Administrator George Kolb’s City Hall office has a very minimalist feel.
That’s fine with him. The retired veteran city official is only here on a short-term basis, helping to clear the smoke from the recent turmoil surrounding the police department and hold down the fort until a full-time administrator is found.
For now, “I’m just trying to get caught up with where everyone is at,” he said in an interview with the Tribune Thursday morning. As his first month on the job winds to a close, he’s been busy touring city facilities, visiting project sites and chatting with as many people as he can.
“There are a lot of good things going on,” he said. Brit Spaugh Zoo is “a crown jewel,” and the Sunflower Rod and Custom Association Drag Strip and dog park are also great assets.
But, “there are things that need some work,” he said. He cited the Great Bend Municipal Airport, noting improvements are underway.
A city is a city
“My goal is to keep things going,” Kolb said. Elsewhere, there is the ongoing water line replacement, the expansion of Eighth Street between Grant and McKinley and the pending work at 10th and Grant.
Having lived and worked in cities of all sizes, Kolb said they all have their advantages and disadvantages. But, as a native of Detroit, Mich., he has come to appreciate smaller communities (this includes Wichita where he was city manager for a time).
The challenges are the same, regardless of the population, he said. Maintaining infrastructure and services is expensive.
He put in a plug for the quarter-cent city sales tax that is up for renewal on Nov. 7. Money from that tax goes towards street repairs and improvements.
“It’s important,” he said. “It is a sign the city is looking forward.”
Kolb knew he was coming under a cloud. He was aware of the controversy that engulfed now resigned Police Chief Clifton Couch, now retired City Administrator Howard Partington along with other officials, and swept the city into an furor.
“Another goal of mine is to help the city the get past this and move on,” he said. “It’s unfortunate. But every city runs into what I call ‘potholes’ once in a while.”
Great Bend is not immune, he said. “But, you have to learn from it. As a community, you want to grow.”
Looking behind the scenes at the city, Kolb said he is impressed with what he’s seen. “There is a real team environment here, ” and the city’s department heads work well together, as well as independently.
“They’ve been through a lot, too,” Kolb said. “You can tell it was a rough patch, but they got through it.”
It hasn’t impacted their commitment to the city. “I have not seen chips on peoples’ shoulders.”
The City Council appointed Kolb of Wichita on Sept. 18. City Attorney Bob Suelter had been acting as the short-term interim city administrator until a more long-term administrator could be found. There were two applicants.
The council will wait until all the new council members and mayor take office following the Nov. 7 general election to start the search for a permanent administrator. After that, it could take months to find the ideal fit.
The contract keeps Kolb in place until March if necessary.
Kolb is the former city manager for Wichita, resigning in January 2008. He started with Wichita in 2004.
Kolb has worked in municipal government for the past 30 years. Besides Kansas he has worked in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Virginia.
Most recently, he has served as the interim administrator in Valley Center and Wentzville, Mo.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Eastern Michigan University, and a master’s in public administration from the University of Michigan in 1970. He is also a graduate of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
The appointment was necessitated by the sudden Aug. 16 retirement of long-time City Administrator Howard Partington who had been with the city for 36 years. Partington cited stress caused by the flap between Couch and the city as the reason for his departure.
His first council meeting was Oct. 16. The council next meets Nov. 6.