Ellis County Commissioners presented a united front Monday evening against hiring an outside agency to develop a strategic plan for the county.
With County Commissioner Butch Schlyer the most vocal, the commissioners indicated county department heads and directors already know what needs to be done, rather than look to outsiders.
“I do not request nor do I want any direction for county priorities from city managers, city mayors, commissioners, councils, or directors of other institutions within this county,” Schlyer said, speaking at the regular meeting of the Ellis County Commission in the Ellis County Administrative Center, 718 Main.
The meeting’s agenda included a request for commission support to develop a strategic plan, including $5,500 for the FHSU Docking Institute to shepherd the process.
“When I first got this, opened my packet and looked at it, it pissed me off so much I threw it down on the table,” Schlyer started out. “This is 100 percent bulls—t.”
Prior to Schlyer’s comments, several county employees spoke in favor of a strategic plan. The commissioners listened, but Schlyer came out against it first.
“We are capable of doing this ourselves. I will not support or participate with this project. I will vote against this project if it’s implemented. I will not put my signature on any voucher paying for such a process,” Schlyer said. “In addition I will support any department head or elected official who chooses not to participate in this project. We can do this ourselves. We do not need outside people to come in and prioritize these kinds of things for the county. This is something that just insults me and pisses me off to no end.”
Schlyer said the county has capably accomplished a lot this year, citing buying land to expand the landfill, obtaining a multi-million dollar federal grant for the Northwest Corridor road project, bringing a countywide sales tax to a vote in April 2020, and conceptualizing a future public works building.
All of that was done without a strategic plan, he pointed out, noting that Ellis County is an arm of state government and an agent for the traditional functions of the state and Ellis County, like economic development, environmental planning and zoning, mental health, senior citizen services and public works.
Future of Ellis County
As a former county department head, Schlyer said he was part of a strategic planning process in 2011.
“The best thing that came out of that was the meal they served that day,” he said. Nothing was accomplished that wouldn’t have been otherwise, he added.
Before Schlyer gave his opinion, Interim County Administrator Darin Myers, Information Technology Director Mike Leiker and Undersheriff Scott Braun each took turns presenting the agenda item.
Myers said a small group of county department heads have been talking since June about the idea of looking at the future of Ellis County and developing a strategic plan, including how to pay for it. That included going to the Heartland Foundation’s Strategic Doing town hall meeting, where a larger community group expressed interest in a countywide plan led by an outside group.
Individual department heads know what’s needed in their department, Leiker told the commissioners, noting he was elected the chair of the county executive team’s strategic planning committee.
“To have a cohesive plan for the entire county, we have to have that greater plan and put all those pieces together,” Leiker said. “We all realized that no individual really had the expertise to do that, it wasn’t really our forte to facilitate that kind of undertaking.”
Braun said a strategic plan would provide guidance, so department heads work better as a team when spending taxpayer money.
Treasurer Lisa Schlegel, however, spoke against the idea, saying she disagreed, and adding it can be costly.
“The citizens elect commissioners to manage a county,” Schlegel said. “I propose that we work internally together … I think it would be nice if a county commissioner, or all three, would attend our executive team meetings.”
She cited Riley County as an example.
“We don’t need members of the Docking Institute to tell us, to tell our county staff, that have been here for decades, our county department heads that have years of experience doing what we need to do, which is already lined out, a lot of times, by statute. Who is going to know better how to run our roads than Public Works and their staff? Who is going to know how better to run the Treasury than the staff that’s there?”
She recommended the county commissioners instead attend the county’s executive team meetings.
Schlyer particularly bristled at outside involvement.
“The county board of commissioners is in charge of county government. It’s not an administrator who’s in charge, a department head, or a group of department heads, an elected official, or any committee composed thereof of these people,” he said. “The board of county commissioners can work with all of our department heads and elected officials to identify the resources necessary for services, as well as the issues, needs or problems that we may encounter that could affect county government. And if any of you department heads don’t think you’re up to that task, then just get the hell out. I don’t need you.”
While County Commission Chairman Dean Haselhorst said there needs to be a vision for a plan going forward, he also said after Schlyer’s remarks, “Thank you Butch, very well put.”
County Commissioner Dustin Roths said he’d rather hold on to the $5,000 for other purposes. In looking over the 2011 strategic plan, he said his reaction was that department heads would already know what needed to be done.
While he’s part of the Heartland Foundation committee for a countywide strategic plan, Roths said, the county can borrow ideas from that.
“We can make adaptations as commissioners from those type of things without spending a dime of our own money,” he said.
A strategic plan, Roths added, leaves the commissioners less room to adapt.
“We need to stay lean, we need to get money put into the banks so we can adapt to opportunities that we have, and we need to react to the unforeseen circumstances that might arise,” he said.
As someone around for the 2011 strategic plan, Haselhorst had an equally negative opinion of the outcome.
“Butch, I guess you remember better than I do that meeting that we had and what we had for lunch that day. All’s I remember is, like all these different things we’ve had, at the end of the day … It all looks good on paper, but, for one, if you don’t have the money to do it, it never happens,” he said.
Haselhorst thanked the department heads for their work, and praised county employees for what they accomplish to keep the county running. But he told Myers, as an alternative, to invite the commissioners, one or all, to attend meetings with department heads and the executive team as needed.
“If we do more commissioner/department head meetings as a group, like Lisa pointed out, that’s what it’s all about, it’s about building relationships with each other,” he said, adding, “We’re not all going to get along at these meetings … I’ve sat through enough of these, when you leave, somebody is mad at somebody … and the next morning you see that person, or the next afternoon, and you leave that behind you, and you go forward and you build a team and that’s the only possible way that you’re ever going to do it. If you hold grudges and everything else, I’m sorry, it’s like Butch said, if you’re going to hold grudges against somebody else, it’s time to get out. Man up, go forward, and build the team where we’re at.”