In a move that stunned and dismayed some leaders, the Johnson County Commission voted 4-3 on Thursday not to renew County Manager Hannes Zacharias’ contract past the end of this year.
In a statement, Ed Eilert, chairman of the county commission, informed county employees of the decision. The vote was timed to give Zacharias the required 30-day notice before his service as county manager ends Dec. 31.
Those voting for ending Zacharias’ contract were commissioners Steve Klika, Mike Brown, Jason Osterhaus and Michael Ashcraft. Ashcraft and Klika said they thought it was time for new leadership at the county manager level.
Those voting against the contract termination were Eilert, Ron Shaffer and Jim Allen.
Eilert said in his statement to employees he was greatly disappointed. “As I stated prior to and following the vote, I do not agree with the decision and believe it is not the correct action for our county commission to take,” Eilert said. “This vote does not reflect in any negative way on the moral, ethical or professional character of Mr. Zacharias, as I and others stated as the vote was taken.”
Zacharias, 63, was appointed county manager in August 2009 and his current salary was $219,665. He joined the county as an assistant county manager in 2001 and was promoted to deputy county manager in 2005. He oversaw an organization of more than 3,800 employees, serving a county with more than 580,000 residents.
Eilert and Allen both praised Zacharias for guiding the county in a fiscally prudent and professional manner through the Great Recession, during which time county government downsized from 4,200 employees and cut $47 million in spending while still maintaining high citizen satisfaction with county services.
They also credited him with overseeing planning for huge capital improvement projects, including a new county courthouse that voters approved in November 2016.
“Hannes Zacharias did an outstanding job,” Allen said, citing the awards that both the county and Zacharias have won for professional government management.
Ashcraft and Klika agreed Zacharias has been a good county manager but said that after eight years, it’s time for a change.
“Hannes has done a great job but I have felt for some time that it was important to seek new perspectives and new opportunities,” Ashcraft said. He and Klika did not offer specifics on what they are looking for in the next county manager.
In a letter to The Kansas City Star, Zacharias wrote, “As expressed to me, the majority (of the commission) wants to take Johnson County in a more fiscally and socially conservative direction, impose more direct oversight by the commission over county operations, and adopt a more ‘laissez-faire’ attitude toward regulation.”
“Although this governmental decision runs somewhat contrary to the county charter, I respect it,” Zacharias wrote.
He also thanked Johnson County citizens and county employees for 16 great years. He said that during his tenure, the county added more libraries and parks, opened the Arts and Heritage Center, won many national awards and planned the replacement of the county courthouse and Tomahawk sewer facility.
“These are some of the largest undertakings in the county’s history,” he wrote.
Eilert thanked Zacharias for his years of public service to the county and said the process of selecting a new county manager through a national search would begin soon. He said Zacharias’ contract entitles him to six months of severance.