Assistant City Manager Cherise Tieben was selected by the Dodge City Commission to lead the government's administration moments after it accepted City Manager Ken Strobel's resignation in a surprise addition to the agenda at the regularly scheduled meeting on Jan. 6.
"Although my enthusiasm, dedication and commitment to the future of Dodge City has not waned over the past 6 years, as I approach age 75, I recognize that the endless meetings and other commitments requires of the City Manager position have expanded to a point which challenges my stamina and durability," Strobel wrote in a letter of resignation.
Strobel will become the city's in-house legal counsel. Prior to accepting the city manager position, Strobel had been the city's attorney for more than 16 years.
At the start of the meeting, Mayor Kent Smoll added "staff changes" to the agenda. However, a closed-door executive session, where Tieben's contract was later negotiated, had been listed on the agenda prior to the meeting.
"This has not been something that just popped up. It was part of this plan," Smoll said.
The plan, as referred to in Strobel's resignation letter, was a series of "strategic planning meetings regarding the future organizational structure of Dodge City" that occurred when Strobel took the job. As a result, the position of assistant city manager was added to the administrative hierarchy and Tieben, formerly the director of human resources, was hired by Strobel to fill the new role.
While the abruptness of the handover may be surprising, the result is not.
Evidence suggests that Tieben had been taking an increasingly central role in the administration of the city government. During recent months, Tieben has been credited with authoring the majority of the documents prepared by the city manager's office and voted on by the Commission.
And when elements of a conflict between the city and Ford County governments regarding the management of "Why Not Dodge?" funds were made public in a recent newspaper article, it was Tieben who crossed the county's threshold at 100 Gunsmoke Street for a one-on-one meeting with Ford County Administrator Ed Elam.
Elected and unelected officials in other government organizations, businesses and non-profits have consistently described Strobel and Tieben as a "good cop, bad cop" duo, with Tieben aggressively pursuing the city's interests privately while Strobel maintains a genial public face.
"I think our effort over the last six years has been a team effort, and will continue to be a team effort," Strobel said after the announcement.
"I will have to admit, not only is this a planned transfer of authority, a passing of a torch, I feel like I'm the third man in a four-man relay team."
"We knew this would happen someday, Mr. Strobel," Commissioner Rick Sowers said. "We're very fortunate to have someone like Cherise to fill in and not have to go through a selection process."
Page 2 of 2 - Sowers said he prefers developing leadership from inside the city staff.
"Giving people a chance to excel in a position is, in my mind, a better idea than bringing someone in from outside," he said, adding that it is similar to the process currently underway at the police department, in which recently-appointed Deputy Police Chief Lt. Drew Francis will presumably be hired as the police chief when Craig Mellecker retires.
Earlier in the meeting, the Commission congratulated Francis for completing the Kansas Certified Public Management program, a nationally-accredited municipal and non-profit leadership course.
Smoll said the commissioners were polled about the leadership change individually prior to the meeting. Tieben "got the full support of this Commission. We're excited you stepped up," he said to her.
"We're really in a great position to go forward. I want to thank you, Ken, for your service as city manager. When you came in we had a lot of issues, and when you go out we have a lot of issues, but different ones," Smoll joked.
Strobel said when he was originally called to Smoll's office six years ago, he assumed he was going to be offered the position of chief legal counsel.
"I said, 'You've got to be out of your mind, I don't know anything about running a city,'" Strobel recollected.
As a condition for taking the job, Strobel said he wanted someone with municipal management experience backing him. After working with Tieben on several issues, he said "it didn't take me long to realize" her skills.
After adjourning for a brief privileged meeting, the Commission re-convened and unanimously approved a contract with Tieben, assuming certain changes to the document's language.
More details will be added as they become available.