Ellis County commissioners had nothing but praise for County Administrator Phillip Smith-Hanes, who announced Tuesday he has accepted the same position with Saline County beginning Dec. 2.
His last day on the job in Ellis County will be the day before Thanksgiving.
The Saline County Commission voted unanimously Tuesday morning to enter a contract with Smith-Hanes after conducting interviews starting Sept. 30.
Smith-Hanes told The Hays Daily News the move will not only have him oversee a larger community with bigger staff and budget, but will also take him closer to family.
“I probably wouldn’t have looked at it if it wasn’t also halfway closer to my 84-year-old mom, who is living by herself,” he said.
Among the highlights of his time here, Smith-Hanes cited the physical infrastructure in the county as well as policy changes.
The county purchased and renovated two structures during his tenure, which Smith-Hanes said he had never done before.
“So that’s been a unique experience for Ellis County. And we got projects done at 601 Main and renovated the building on Canterbury,” he said.
New personnel policies and employee recognition put in place will benefit the county in the future, he said.
“I’ve really enjoyed it,” he said of his time here.
“Ellis County is a great community and I wish nothing but the best,” he said, adding he and his husband, Stanley Smith-Hanes, would like to return for visits and events in Ellis County.
Smith-Hanes is only the second county administrator for Ellis County. He replaced Greg Sund in spring 2016. Before that, he worked in a similar position in Humboldt County in California. He is a native of Marion and also serves as president of the Kansas Association of County Administrators.
“We’ve all been excited to welcome him aboard and are very excited to get someone with Mr. Smith-Hanes’ experience and knowledge,” said Saline County Commission chairman Robert Vidricksen.
It is those attributes that have been a benefit here through the last three and a half years, Ellis County commissioners said.
“Phil has done us a wonderful, wonderful job,” said Ellis County Commission chairman Dean Haselhorst. “He saved us a lot of money, he made a lot of changes, which was all good.
“I hate to see him go, but family does come first."
Commissioner Butch Schlyer said Smith-Hanes is “probably the best in the business.”
Commissioner Dustin Roths said no matter where commissioners traveled, Smith-Hanes was well-known.
Schlyer, who was director of the county health department before and after the administrator job was created, said the county has benefited from having the position.
“All of our department heads were just working in their departments and doing their jobs with really little foresight or knowledge of what other departments heads were doing, much less what the county commissioners were really thinking. We would just attend the meetings with our issue we had at the moment,” he said.
Bringing a county administrator into the picture paved the way for countywide planning, Schlyer said.
“We had a real good foundation as to when we strategically look at each department about what we could or shouldn’t do, and what might be positive with the commission and to what wouldn’t be,” he said. “The county administrator would just keep us appraised of what he thought the commission was thinking about on any particular issues.
“I think right now the county administrator, he surely is the right arm of the county commission. We lean on Phil pretty heavy."
Roths agreed the position is important for Ellis County.
“I think from the outside it’s easy to think it’s not needed, but we’re enough size, have enough things going on that probably the only way you could get away with not having an administrator is if we did things like Sedgwick and Johnson (counties) where you went to more of a full-time rule from your commissioners,” Roths said. "Still I don’t think that’s as effective as having a good administrator like Phil. A good administrator is better at day-to-day things than an elected official will probably ever be."
Haselhorst said an interim administrator will likely be named soon, but he doesn’t expect the commission will rush into hiring a permanent replacement.
“It’s too early to tell. We’re probably going to look at a lot of things before we do. But it has been a very important position to the county. We have a very large budget and I feel we do need to have somebody in there full time,” Haselhorst said.
Roths said he would like to at least see the process get underway quickly but agreed the county should take its time in hiring.
“The idea that we get looking right away is probably one I’m in favor of, not to hire right away, but to start vetting applicants and seeing which direction we want to go as far as how we find an administrator,” he said. “I’ve heard this type of thing can take six to eight months before you find enough applicants that you feel like you can do some interviewing and really pin down a hire, but from my perspective, I would rather wait and make sure we are hiring well than jump into trying to find somebody else. I think the county has found that out in the past, that an ineffective administrator can be worse for you than just not even having one."
Charles Rankin of The Salina Journal contributed to this report.