Wichita City Manager Search: Look Before You Leap


By James Barfield

In the business world, there’s an old adage that says “look before you leap.” So, upon hearing that the Wichita city council was going to hire the only city manager candidate interviewed, I decided to do some looking. What I have seen thus far, has not been all that pretty to me. One of the reasons for the “rush,” we were told, is Pat Salerno is a finalist for the same position in Durham, North Carolina. What we were not told was that he was a finalist in Durham in 2001, and was not selected. Also, this candidate was passed over in recent months by two cities in Florida, Naples and Fort Meyers. Both took a pass after initially interviewing Pat Salerno for a city manager position.

In talking with people in Sunrise, Florida, I found several people who gave Pat Salerno glowing comments regarding his economic development achievements. However, I could find no one who said they would hire him again. They listed several reasons as to why not. Chief among them were the following:

  • Pat Salerno likes to run a “one man show.”
  • City commissioners in Sunrise were not allowed email privileges.
  • Also not allowed were city issued cell phones.
  • In his 18 years of service, he constantly refused to provide information to city commission members and staff.
  • He refused to hire an assistant city manager, even though there was a line item in the budget authorizing him to do so.
  • He refused to hire a deputy fire chief, or a deputy police chief for 18 years.
  • He has hired not a single minority department head in his 18 years of service.
  • He is not considered by any to be a “people person.”
  • He does not embrace the idea of “open government.”

And last but certainly not least, Pat Salerno administered a $270,000,000 city fund that was used in part to invest in sub prime real estate, without the knowledge of commission members. Commission members found out about this fund by reading a newspaper article in the Miami Herald newspaper. The fund was later frozen.

One Sunrise commissioner was quoted as saying “When you’ve got Pat Salerno doing everything, what’s the use in having a commission.” The same commissioner accused Salerno of “acting without the advice and consent of elected leaders.”

I would like to ask the citizens of Wichita, is this not the same kind of feedback that preceded the hiring of one George Kolb? Furthermore, is this what you want in a new city manager? I certainly don’t.

I for one, don’t find the need to rush justified. We seem to have a very good interim manager in place. Did we not learn anything from the hiring of George Kolb? As a business man, I like the idea of “look before you leap.”


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