David W. Johnston, the new and permanent County Administrator for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, reported to work on Monday with big tasks ahead of him. However, with a unanimous vote by the Wyandotte County Commission, Johnston has a vote of confidence that should allow at least for a few months honeymoon.
As County Administrator, Johnston is responsible for handling the day-to-day operations of the county government and must work closely with the Mayor and Board of Commissioners who set policy. Once the policy is set, the County administrator is responsible for directing the City staff in the implementation of those policies.
However, in a strong managerial form of government, Johnston – a trained professional in local government management – can be expected to use his expertise to help direct the staff in a manner that has him often leading, versus following, the elected officials.
All City/County employees report to the County Administrator and Commission members have no authority to direct City employees in any manner. Mayor Tyrone Garner has a small staff to help him with the implementation of his duties as mayor.
Johnston brings 35 years of government experience, most recently as the city manager of Covington, Kentucky. While in Covington, Johnston addressed blight with redevelopment, improved the city’s bond rating, and twice won city of the year in Kentucky.
“I appreciate the trust that Mayor Garner and the County Commissioners have in me by naming me the next County Administrator,” said Johnston during a press conference held early on his first day on the job. “I look forward to bringing my years of experience to help the county meet its challenges and opportunities head on.”
Mayor Garner introduced Johnston at the press conference and at a reception held later that morning at City. A diverse mix of city employees, elected officials, business leaders and stakeholder groups and neighborhood leaders attended the reception.
Community advocate Carolyn Wyatt made sure to ask the administrator to not ignore Northeast Kansas City, KS. Johnston let her know he’s at least familiar with many of the issues and concerns of the Northeast area and that he spent a considerable amount of time in Northeast KCK during a three-hour tour of the city with the mayor.
Johnston said he’s heard from the Mayor as well as the Commissioners that “we represent and work for the whole county and therefore we have to pay attention to every area equally.”
“That’s one of the things I have to get implemented into the culture of our government. It may be more sexy to work on this project over here, but we need to deal with this here, and therefore we can’t forget it.”
Johnston noted the City has some financial issues “that we have to get our arms around and deal with. Other than that, I got to do a lot of listening and understanding of the dynamics that exist here. I’ve got to find out what those are, talk about them and then we’ll prioritize.”
Johnston is excited to work with the community and establish relationships, saying in his brief time interacting with residents he could feel a strong community spirit.
“I look forward to establishing relationships and meeting lots and lots of citizens and stakeholders because together we can meet challenges and take advantage of opportunities,” he said.
“I am truly confident in the leadership and vision Mr. Johnston will bring to the Unified Government and our community,” expressed Mayor Tyrone A. Garner. “Our community has faced many difficult challenges and obstacles over the past few years. It is exciting to have a permanent County Administrator that is up for the commitment to help guide us in a positive and truly unified direction.”