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December 22, 2003
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The H.R. Doctor Is In

Everything’s Up To Date in Kansas

Dear Dorothy & Toto,

I write this article on my first-ever visit to Kansas. However, what I found on the great prairie was sufficient for me to know that I will return for future visits. The HR Doctor was honored to be a speaker at the Annual Conference of the Kansas Association of Counties. The conference attracted 700 people, principally county commissioners from all around the state.

Most of the Kansas counties are small. In fact, many of the 105 counties have fewer residents than the number of staff members in many of the large urban counties in the United States. Like counties everywhere, though, they struggle with the cost of unfunded mandates, concerns about the mix of development and preservation, the future of the prime industry in the state Ð agriculture, and the problems of law enforcement and security, children’s development and human services, health care and environmental concerns. The agenda for the conference could have been easily mistaken for an annual conference anywhere in the United States.

Coming from massively huge, high-traffic South Florida, the HR Doctor found immediate and pleasant surprises, literally from the moment I stepped off the airplane at the Kansas City International Airport. The exit gate at the airport was 100 feet from the curb. People everywhere, from retail shops to security at the airport, seemed concerned for my well-being. They were very pleasant and curious about how their state and their county, in the case of host county Johnson County, was perceived by this one humble visitor.

Any commissioner would have found Kansas Association of Counties Executive Director Randall Allen to be an outstanding, personable and professional host. He and the staff of the association, including my new friends, Judy, Marla, Michelle, Scott, and others, went out of their way to plan and coordinate an enjoyable learning and networking experience. Conference participants were made to feel as though they and 700 of their closest friends had been invited to Randall’s house for dinner.

The same hospitality came from association leaders, including President Wade Dixon, Vice President Lonie Addis, Sheriff John Calhoon, Commissioner Dean Kruse, County Clerk Kathy Peckman, and many other caring public officials.

As a public administrator would expect, in a large state with many small rural counties, the large majority of counties don’t have professional Human Resources departments to support their decisions. In fact, only about 16 of the Kansas counties have a full-time HR Department. All of them, however, have major HR issues to deal with, including issues of performance and behavior, which would sound all too familiar to large urban county departments.

There was a great curiosity about how to do strong proactive human resources. The part-time commissioners I met were no different in that respect than the "full-time" career commissioners more likely to be found in a larger county. Many of the commissioners were ranchers, for whom public service and community engagement were as deeply engrained in their genetic makeup as the joy of planting grain and watching their children win 4-H competitions.

Dorothy, I can understand why you felt that "there is no place like home" when your thoughts took you back to Kansas. It was a very pleasant experience for me, and the visit reaffirmed my view that local government is literally the cornerstone of what makes America work. Much as we pay attention to the comings and goings (or is it "goings on") in Washington, D.C. - as reinforced by our friends in the media - the real way to gain perspective on the diversity and wonder of what has become of the United States over the past 215 years, is to regularly leave the crowds of New York, Los Angeles, South Florida, Chicago, or other urban areas and go for long walks in a place like Kansas and make new friends.

My hopes that the people I would meet would be sincere and dedicated to strong, ethical government were all fully met! The HR Doctor, however, was unable to locate any monument to the Wicked Witch of the West! Perhaps a future federal grant might finance a major construction project! Then again É

Meanwhile, the HR Doctor salutes his new Kansas Association of Counties’ friends and congratulates them for a conference well done - and great Kansas steaks likewise!

PS - Dorothy, the HR Dog, Kamala, sends a special "hello" to Toto.

Phil Rosenberg
The HR Doctor


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