Roeland Park City Administrator Aaron Otto is leaving his job with the city to take a position with Johnson County government.
Otto is expected to leave the city in June when he will become assistant to county administrator Hannes Zacharias. Otto has been in his job at Roeland Park since July 2011. Although he was working for state government in Topeka when he took the city administrator’s job, Otto has lived in Roeland Park since 2006.
His career path took him to the Pentagon as well as the state capitol before leading Roeland Park for the last four years. Otto was working at the Pentagon during the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, but was in Norfolk, Va., on assignment that morning.
Otto, from Manhattan, Kan., has a bachelor’s from Kansas State and a master’s in public administration from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. After graduate school, he was invited to join the Presidential Management Fellows Program which placed him in the Pentagon as a civilian employee of the Navy working for the chief of naval operations. At one point in that stint he worked directly for Admiral Mike Mullen who would later become the Commander of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
When he left graduate school, Otto said, he thought he was destined for a job on Capitol Hill before the call to work at the Pentagon where he worked on Navy budgets. “That makes you not fearful of big numbers,” Otto said. His Roeland Park office is decorated with hats from Navy ships that he either visited during his Pentagon days or helped fund.
When he decided to leave the Pentagon, Otto had connections back in Topeka where he had interned for Kathleen Sebelius when she was insurance commissioner. Now governor, Sebelius brought him to Topeka to be legislative liaison for the governor and chief of staff for the lieutenant governor. There he focused on agriculture and military issues, including keeping military services in Kansas.
After Sebelius left office, he moved over to the state treasurer’s office where, among other duties, he worked on returning unclaimed property. “Who wouldn’t want to give money back to people,” he says, describing a highlight of the job.
Since he was already living in Roeland Park, where he had friends from college days, Otto was contacted about throwing his hat in the ring for the city administrator’s job. At that point he had no experience managing a city, but had his long history with government management and budgets.
The Roeland Park City Council last month agreed to a new contract for the city administrator with a salary increase and a bonus. The council said Otto had received a excellent evaluation for his work, but multiple executive sessions were held to come up with a new contract before it was approved.