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After year of interim leadership, Kansas Lottery gets new director

Updated: 2013-12-06T13:13:52Z

By Fred Mann

The Wichita Eagle

For much of the last year, the Kansas Lottery, which oversees gambling and owns the state’s three casinos, has been led by two interim executive directors rather than a full-time director, a fact not made public until last week when a new candidate for the job was announced.

Dennis Taylor was appointed the lottery’s executive director by Gov. Sam Brownback in January. But soon after the legislative session ended, he notified the governor that he would retire at the end of the year, so he was made interim director instead, according to Brownback’s office. No notice was given to the public about the change.

By statute, Taylor could serve only six months as interim executive director, until July 11. From then on, the lottery’s deputy director, Sherriene Jones-Sontag, Brownback’s former chief spokeswoman who went to the lottery in July, has served as interim executive director. Taylor became the lottery’s director of special projects.

Brownback last week named Terry Presta, president and CEO of Overland Park-based Presto Convenience Stores, as the new executive director starting in January.

Sen. Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, chair of the Senate confirmation oversight committee, was notified about the change, but no other notifications were necessary, said Eileen Hawley, the governor’s communications director. The lottery executive director position is subject to Senate confirmation, but an interim executive director isn’t. Taylor never had a confirmation hearing.

Bruce didn’t return phone calls seeking information. The vice-chair of the committee, Sen. Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said he didn’t know Taylor had become interim director and was surprised to learn that he had stepped down.

“To me it seemed rather suspicious that he left as abruptly as he did,” Hensley said.

Taylor, 64, said he was thinking about retiring when Brownback appointed him a year ago, but decided to take the job because he thought he could be helpful in the position.

Taylor said he wasn’t confirmed as director because there wasn’t a need for it since he wasn’t going to serve past six months.

Hawley said the leadership transitions didn’t affect operations at the lottery, which transferred a record $74.5 million to the state from the sales of tickets in fiscal 2013.

“All of this was done with planning and foresight to assure the smooth running of the Lottery,” Hawley said.

Presta, who served in the Kansas House from 1995 to 1999, is the third appointee to the post since Brownback took office. The previous director, Ed Van Petten , left in July 2011 after 11 years on the job.

Brownback’s first appointment, Dennis Wilson , replaced Van Petten and served for a year and half before resigning in December 2012 for health reasons. Wilson had served in the Kansas House from 1995 to 1999, and later served in the Senate.

Brownback appointed Taylor to succeed Wilson in January after Taylor had worked for two years as Brownback’s secretary of administration and headed the office of the repealer. Taylor had served as state cabinet secretary three times. He was previously with the Departments of Human Resources and Social and Rehabilitation Services under Gov. Mike Hayden.

Taylor said that after he leaves the lottery he plans to join a national U.S. consulting firm providing technical assistance and training to local governments in Eastern Europe and Eurasia while continuing to teach public management at Washburn University part time.

He will continue as special projects director until January. Taylor said his projects include developing plans for continuity of operation at the Lottery and disaster recovery, upgrading and restructuring IT operations and restructuring sales operations.

Reach Fred Mann at 316-268-6310 or fmann@wichitaeagle.com.

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