It was a time for The City of Great Bend to say farewell to Interim City Administrator George Kolb Monday afternoon. The reception at the Events Center recognized the veteran city official who stepped into the breach last fall following a summer of controversy within the community.
“I think you guys should be good,” Kolb told the group of city employees and civic leaders gathered for the event.
Kolb had to give the city 30 days notice and with the new administrator chosen he did so. So, his last day will be Aug. 17, but he has indicated he might leave sooner if recently hired new City Administrator Kendel Francis’ transition into the position goes smoothly.
Francis was named Great Bend’s next city administrator by the mayor and council July 16. Francis served as city manager in Coffeyville and city administrator in Lakin.
But, Monday’s event wasn’t about Francis, nor was it about past strife. It was about saying goodbye to the man who kept the city on an even keel as the seas calmed.
“It’s been kind of busy,” Kolb said of Monday. “I bet Kendel thinks he’s been drinking out of a fire hose.”
He was met with applause as he entered the hall. As he relaxed with cake and punch, he was congratulated and thanked for his efforts by several city employees.
This wasn’t the first interim gig for Kolb, who is technically retired from the public administration game. “I’ve been down that road before.”
But, now, he is looking forward to more time on the golf course, and traveling to Michigan and Arizona to visit grandchildren and other family members.
Kolb came to Great Bend 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 was found.
He had to get up to speed in a hurry, and learn the ins and outs of the city. But, he came to a conclusion.
“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
His goal was to keep things going, Kolb said when he started. There were already several projects in the works, such as the ongoing waterline 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.
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 a furor.
“It’s unfortunate,” he said. “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’s been 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, 2017. 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 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.