Last month, Johnson County Manager Hannes Zacharias was celebrating after being named the recipient of this year’s Edwin O. Stene Award for Managerial Excellence from the University of Kansas. This month, he’s looking for a new job — and many county employees and residents are wondering why.
On a 4-3 vote today, the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners voted not to extend Zacharias’s contract. His final day with the county will be Dec. 31.
After a short debate, commissioners Mike Brown, Michael Ashcraft, Jason Osterhaus and Steve Klika voted against extending Zacharias’s contract. Commissioners Jim Allen and Ron Shaffer sided with Commission Chair Ed Eilert in voting to keep Zacharias in his leadership role.
Eilert issued the following statement to county employees after the vote:
It is with great disappointment that I am writing to inform our county staff that the Board of County Commissioners voted today 4-3 not to extend the contract of County Manager Hannes Zacharias. To provide the 30-day notice, as required in his contract, his service as county manager will end effective Dec. 31, 2017.
As I stated prior to and following the vote, I do not agree with the decision and believe it is not the correct action for our county commission to take. This vote does not reflect in any negative way on the moral, ethical or professional character of Mr. Zacharias, as I and others stated as the vote was taken.
Our county has many successes and achievements which are due to the leadership of Mr. Zacharias since his appointment in August 2009. He brought a wealth of experience in local government to our county and I am extremely grateful for his public service career with Johnson County. I wish him success in his future.
In the coming weeks, we will begin the process to determine the selection of the next county manager.
I very much appreciate all of our county employees’ hard work and leadership which have resulted in the nationally recognized services that our county taxpayers have come to expect from our organization. I trust your demonstrated commitment to the positive results of the organization will continue throughout the transition period. Thank you.
Extension of the county manager’s contract comes up each year, and is seen largely as a procedural formality, with little discussion. This year, however, word started to trickle out that some of the commissioners might look to make an issue of the extension.
District 5 Commissioner Ashcraft said that although he thought Zacharias had done an admirable job in the role, it was time for a fresh perspective.
“He’s taken the organization far. He’s a gentleman. He’s a professional. And I wish him well,” Ashcraft said. “But cities and counties change leadership from time to time. Generally, I think it’s just a good time for a transition.”
District 1 Commissioner Ron Shaffer, the former mayor of Prairie Village was clearly upset with the outcome Thursday afternoon, saying he was “amazed and embarrassed” that four of his commission peers had voted against keeping Zacharias.
“It’s going to be an interesting next few months,” Shaffer said. “All of the things they had issues with were minor in my view. They were things that could have been taken care of with minor effort as the year went on. But now those commissioners are going to have to make it right with their citizens, and I don’t know how they are going to do that. They’re getting rid of a man who has been one of the best county managers in the United States.”
Zacharias has been a fixture at county headquarters since 2001, when he joined the staff as Assistant County Manager. He was promoted to Deputy County Manager in 2005 and became County Manager in 2009. He is the chief administrative staff member for county government, overseeing the agencies that employee more than 3,800 and managing a budget of more than $810 million.
In addition to his recent honor from KU, Zacharias has received the Regional Leadership Award from the Mid- America Regional Council and the Buford M. Watson Jr. Award for Excellence in Public Administration from the Kansas City/County Management Association.