Last year a political science professor, a keen observer of Kansas politics, told me that city or county managers shouldn’t be in office more than four or five years. After that, he said, they gain too much power. They know too much: all the secrets, where the bodies are buried. Think of J. Edgar Hoover and his reign.
If managers are to serve their councils or commissions — instead of the other way around — sometimes a change needs to be made, just for the sake of change.
This alone is enough reason for change in the Sedgwick County manager’s office after 18 years of manager Bill Buchanan.
There are reasons specific to Mr. Buchanan, too, that argue for his dismissal.
Two Sedgwick County commissioners have told me of frustrations with getting information from the county manager’s office or other county offices and departments. If legislators — that’s the role of the county commissioners — don’t have access to information, they can’t make good laws. They can’t do their job.
Another reason to remove Buchanan is his opposition to the property tax reform measure Proposition K. Opposing reform allows him to make empty boasts as he did in his 2006 Wichita Eagle op-ed in support of a property tax increase: “Sedgwick County has worked through difficult times in the past eight years without raising the mill levy.” Rapidly rising assessments allow rising spending without tax increases. He knows that.
Finally, there’s Buchanan’s relationship with the business community, which, according to his many prominent supporters, is the reason why the county needs him.
There is a vigorous campaign led by the Wichita Chamber of Commerce‘s Bryan Derreberry in support of Buchanan. A commenter on a Wichita Eagle story referred to the “pro-business Buchanan.” Unfortunately, “pro-business” doesn’t mean “pro-capitalism.” In Wichita and Sedgwick County, many businessmen choose to operate not by competing in free markets, but by gaining favor at Wichita City Hall or the Sedgwick County Courthouse. This favor comes in the form of TIF districts, industrial revenue bonds, STAR bonds, forgivable loans, subsidy, outright grants, historic and other tax credits, and other incentives and programs. While much of this originates in Wichita City Hall, the county approves of most of it, and in some cases, gives its explicit or implicit consent or manages the program.
Derreberry and his chamber are for all of these programs that enrich business at the expense of consumers, taxpayers, and free market competition. That’s why the chamber opposed Commissioner Karl Peterjohn last year in his bid for election. Its political action committee spent a huge sum — nearly half of its entire political budget — in favor of Peterjohn’s opponent.
By all accounts and by his own words, Mr. Buchanan favors all this government interventionism.
For these reasons, the Sedgwick County Commission should dismiss their county manager.