TOPEKA — The secretary of the Kansas Department of Transportation for the past four years plans to resign in July to take a private-sector job with a Wichita company, officials said Wednesday.
Mike King, the second person to serve as KDOT secretary under Gov. Sam Brownback, said he would return to private business but didn’t name the firm. He previously ran a McPherson construction company.
In addition to his duties at KDOT, King has served as director of the Kansas Turnpike Authority. Brownback signed the merger bill in 2013 and asserted the deal would save the state $30 million in two years.
King said in an internal memorandum he believed “it is time for new leadership to guide KDOT and KTA into the future.” He said public-sector employment and “helping support every Kansan’s transportation needs has led me to think and lead differently, and in a very good way.”
He said moving home to Hesston would be best for his family, including aging parents, and his resignation from the state job would allow him to accept employment with a Wichita business.
“An unsolicited company approached me about a position that quite frankly was too good to pass up,” he said in the staff memo. “I will be Wichita-based, and more news about that will come out later this week.”
With 2½ years left in the governor’s second term, the administration has turned over nine of 11 Cabinet posts in state government. The remaining holdovers are Robin Jennison, a former House speaker who serves as secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, and Nick Jordan, a former senator who runs the Kansas Department of Revenue.
Richard Carlson, a Republican and former state representative, was appointed by the governor to serve as interim Cabinet secretary upon King’s departure July 15. Carlson has worked as a legislative liaison in the Department of Revenue.
Brownback expressed gratitude for King’s leadership of the transportation agencies.
“His experience and construction knowledge have been instrumental in maintaining our nationally recognized highways,” Brownback said.
In recent months, Brownback administration officials dismissed speculation about King’s possible resignation.
King’s tenure at KDOT was marked by progress on the massive T-Works construction program, movement of hundreds of millions of dollars away from the agency to the state general fund to help close budget deficits, delays in highway projects due to cash shortfalls, as well as bond-rating controversy tied to borrowing to fund highway development.
In a public statement, King said he would carry with him “fond memories of our time working with the governor, legislators and citizens across the entire state.”
King had owned King Enterprise Group since 1991 and had pledged in March 2012 when appointed to lead KDOT that he would place his business interests in a blind trust.
He was appointed by Brownback as secretary after the December 2011 resignation of Deb Miller, who held the post under Brownback and Democratic Govs. Mark Parkinson and Kathleen Sebelius. Miller was the longest-serving KDOT secretary in state history.
Miller, a member since 2014 of the Surface Transportation Board that regulates national railroad rate and service issues, said King started as KDOT secretary at a time when the agency had a well-defined and solidly financed statewide highway program. He exits an agency deeper in debt and with a weakened revenue stream more subject to political whim, she said.
“I would say he’s leaving a very different agency than the one he inherited four years ago,” Miller said.
Lack of sufficient state investment in highway maintenance might not be immediately evident to average Kansan motorists, she said, but deteriorated state roads would prove more costly to repair than financing of basic upkeep.