Gov. Sam Brownback suddenly shuffled staff at the Kansas Department of Labor on Thursday, announcing without explanation that Karin Brownlee of Olathe was out as secretary.
Brownback issued a statement late Thursday afternoon appointing two deputy secretaries, Mayor Mike Copeland of Olathe and outgoing Republican lawmaker Lana Gordon of Topeka.
Brownlee’s departure was announced in the third sentence of the statement. Gordon will serve as the interim secretary until Brownback can appoint someone else.
Brownlee was reluctant to talk about the details of her departure other than to say her “first choice” was not to leave the agency at this time.
She declined to be specific about why the Brownback administration wanted her to leave, saying the reasons “become very complicated.”
“We had several conversations, but it’s probably best for (the governor’s office) to answer those,” said Brownlee, who represented southwest Johnson County in the Kansas Senate before going to work for the Brownback administration in 2011.
Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag declined to discuss Brownlee’s departure from the agency because it was a personnel matter.
Brownlee said she was proud of what her agency accomplished, pointing out that it cut expenses 35 percent and still improved customer service at its call center.
“I felt like that was probably what I had been asked to do and so we did accomplish that,” she said.
During her tenure, Brownlee drew the ire of organized labor groups for labor law changes she advocated, including one proposal that would bar someone from collecting severance pay and unemployment compensation at the same time.
Labor groups argued such changes would benefit businesses at workers’ expense.
House Majority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat, said he didn’t think Brownlee was a good fit for a Cabinet-level job.
“She has been very hostile to the worker side of what that agency serves,” he said.
Copeland will remain mayor of Olathe, a post he has held since 2001, even as he takes the Topeka job.
“There are a lot of great things associated with this,” he said.
But Copeland said he would miss working with Brownlee.
“She is a good friend. She will be missed greatly.”