Usually when Eber Phelps accesses the City of Hays website, it’s as a sales and marketing employee for Hays building mechanical contractor Glassman Corp.
But Friday when Phelps jumped on the site, he had the additional title of Hays city commissioner.
Thursday evening at City Hall, it took just a matter of minutes at the city commission’s regularly scheduled meeting for the four remaining members to select Phelps to replace outgoing City Commissioner James Meier.
Meier resigned May 2 to take a new job in Wichita. His term runs through Dec. 31. His seat is up for re-election in November.
Selecting Meier’s replacement was the last order of business at Thursday evening’s meeting.
“I make the motion that we appoint Eber Phelps for the replacement of James Meier,” said City Commissioner Shaun Musil at the meeting.
“I’ll second,” said City Commissioner Ron Mellick, who is also serving out a term, for a commissioner who resigned to attend law school.
“Is there any discussion?” asked Mayor Henry Schwaller IV.
“For me personally, I will tell you this is my least favorite job of being a commissioner,” Musil replied. “I think this is our third time appointing somebody.”
Musil said he believes people should vote for their elected officials, but Kansas statutes require the commission make an appointment.
“Eber Phelps, he cares so much about this community, and he’ll do a great job,” Musil said.
Besides Meier, Jacob Wood recently left as assistant city manager to take a job in Salina.
“A lot of changes going on right now, and one of them is the city manager is working solo,” Schwaller said. “There’s no assistant city manager, so bringing someone up to speed would be rather challenging for all of us at this point. So I appreciate the motion and the second.”
The commissioners approved Phelps 4-0.
Phelps has served on the commission twice before, once from 1990 to 1996, and a second time when he finished out a commissioner’s term from 2012 to 2016.
In November, Phelps lost re-election as the incumbent Democrat to his seat in the 111th District House of Representatives by 32 votes to Republican Barb Wasinger. Phelps had served as 111th District representative for 18 years. Since then he has resumed working at Glassman, where his career has spanned 20 years.
Phelps said that the past few months he’s answered speaking requests from civic groups to provide legislative updates, and also spoke Saturday at graduation for North Central Kansas Tech’s Hays campus.
Upon hearing he’d been voted into office by the commission, Phelps says he told city staff to hold off on the usual ordering of letterhead stationery and business cards.
“I’m going to check at home, I may have some left over,” said Phelps. “So there may be a cost savings there.”
Phelps expects the next few months will be busy with the annual process of finalizing the city’s budget, which has to be ratified in July.
Other big issues are a planned $80 million project to transport water 67 miles from the 7,000-acre city-owned R9 ranch in Edwards County, and a $9.3 million project to reconfigure Vine Street around the Interstate 70 overpass with traffic roundabout loops. Phelps is no stranger to either issue.
“I was the mayor when we negotiated the purchase of the R9 ranch,” he said, adding he’s stayed up on the issue as a legislator, including educating others on the long-running mandated process of the city seeking the state’s permission for the water transfer, which is ongoing.
Likewise, Phelps said he’s spent time traveling in Europe, where roundabouts are common, and driving big trucks through roundabouts in the Middle East while he worked for an oil company there.
“I’m just kind of used to them and if you want to move traffic you’re going to do it more expediently with roundabouts,” Phelps said. “It’s something I totally support.”
Contacted by one of the commissioners with the request to serve on the commission, Phelps said he has no plans to run for Meier’s or anybody else’s expiring seat.
The filing deadline is June 3.
Candidates filing so far are Schwaller and Mellick, whose terms are expiring, as well as Michael Berges and Mason R. Ruder. Mellick previously served eight years on the commission. Berges works at the financial advisory Schaffer & Associates, 1105 E. 30th St. Ruder works in the Ellis County Environmental Office.
Party affiliation doesn’t matter for the city seats, which are nonpartisan positions.
“They were looking for someone who has been there done that,” Phelps said. “I said I’d be willing to serve through the end of the year. If I were running for the election, it would appear to be giving me an advantage, but I have no plans to run.”
Phelps said he looks forward to being on the commission again.
“I love serving on city government, especially city of Hays. It’s well-managed. We do a lot of planning,” Phelps said.
Meanwhile, on the city’s website Friday, Phelps was attempting to fill out a building permit form for his Glassman work, but the site kept erasing his information.
“I went through the building inspections page and it wasn’t working well,” Phelps said, “So I need to go down there Monday,”
In other action at Thursday’s city meeting, the commissioners:
— Awarded a $67,230 bid for the 2019 Well Rehabilitation Project to Layne, Kearney, Neb.
— Approved $26,841 in purchase orders to DHC LLC for sidewalk work at Rolling Hills Park and $45,135 for sidewalk in the area of 13th and Canterbury streets.
— Approved authorizing $65,000 in general obligation bonds to reimburse the city for improvements its paid for in two special assessment areas.
— Approved a cereal malt beverage license for the Disabled American Veterans Vintage Bike Show and Swap Meet at the National Guard Armory, 200 S. Main St., Saturday, May 11.
— Approved the appointment of Reese Barrick, Sternberg Museum, and John Griffith, Comfort Inn & Suites North, to the Hays Convention and Visitors Bureau Advisory Committee.
The Hays City Commission next meets for a regular work session. That meeting is Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in the commission room of City Hall, 1507 Main St.