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Keeping a town of 800 moving forward

Striding toward healthier communities

Making local government consolidation work




The Journal (Print edition: ISSN 2328-4366; Online edition: ISSN 2328-4374) is published quarterly by the Kansas Leadership Center, which receives core funding from the Kansas Health Foundation. The Kansas Leadership Center equips people with the ability to make lasting change for the common good. KLC is different in the field of leadership development with its focus on leadership being an activity, not a role or position. Open to anyone seeking to move the needle on tough challenges in the civic arena, KLC envisions more Kansans sharing responsibility for acting together in pursuit of the common good. KLC MISSION To foster civic leadership for healthier Kansas communities KLC VISION To be the center of excellence for civic leadership development KANSAS LEADERSHIP CENTER BOARD OF DIRECTORS Karen Humphreys, Wichita (Chair) Ed O’Malley, Wichita (President & CEO)

Susan Kang, Lawrence Carolyn Kennett, Parsons David Lindstrom, Overland Park Greg Musil, Overland Park Reggie Robinson, Topeka Consuelo Sandoval, Garden City Clayton Tatro, Fort Scott Frank York, Ashland WEB EDITION PERMISSIONS

Abstracting is permitted with credit to the source. For other reprint, copying, reproduction permission or subscriptions, contact Mike Matson at KANSAS LEADERSHIP CENTER

300 North Main, Suite 100 Wichita, Kansas 67202 316.712.4950 PHOTOGRAPHY

Jeff Tuttle Photography 220 N. Terrace Wichita, KS 67208 316.706.8529 ARTWORK (Page 76)


Chris Green 316.712.4945 GRAPHIC DESIGN

Novella Brandhouse 816.868.9825 ©2013 Kansas Leadership Center

How It Is

The sun drags worlds behind it planets at its ankles it hauls you out of bed down the hall to the bathroom and into the kitchen where spoon by spoon the sun draws itself through your body this goes on and on one foot after another through the usual rooms while stars are dropping off the map the sun drags the pen across the page and out the sides of your eyes the sky spins your tears into a poem that falls back on graves of lovers and gardens of strangers the sun without fail pulls the coat of loneliness over your arms as you walk in your own footprints until you reach the place where we can read these words together – from The Afterlives of Trees, a Kansas Notable Book, by Wyatt Townley (Woodley Press, 2011).





















CONTENTS Welcome to the Journal By President & CEO Ed O’Malley . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Letters . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 Dispatches from the Kansas Leadership Center . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 Headlines from the Future . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 Leadership Library . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 Voices of Civic Leadership . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 Onward Kansas By Sarah Caldwell Hancock & Erin Perry O’Donnell . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 Blurring the Lines – For a Purpose By Dawn Bormann Novascone . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22 FAIL: Why we Must be Prepared to Fall Short in Civic Leadership by Chris Green . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26 Community Profile: Tribune By Patsy Terrell . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38 The Big Picture: Sowing the Seeds of Change By Dawn Bormann Novascone & Brian Whepley . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50 Farm School Photo essay by Jeff Tuttle . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64 Civic Issue Focus: Less Bureaucracy, Better Service By Chris Green . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 70 Featured Artist: Summer Gold By Stephen Perry . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 76 Poem: The Fountain By Wyatt Townley . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 78 The Back Page By Mike Matson . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80


If you are like me, you have emails piling up, snail mail scattered across your desk, reports here and documents there. There is no shortage of things to read and that’s not saying anything of the stack of books I have purchased lately but haven’t gotten to yet. And then there are Facebook and Twitter and whatever other social media craze exists at the moment.

We also publish The Journal because we need a way to highlight what leadership for the common good really looks like. From the article about Tribune’s “never say die” attitude to Chris Green’s fantastic piece on failure to the inspiring coverage of our two partners in the Onward Kansas program, lessons about leadership for the common good abound.

So, why read The Journal?

But, back to that first question, why should you read The Journal?

A better question to start with might be: Why do we create and print The Journal? When everything is going digital, why would we create, print and mail you an old fashioned magazine? The answer starts with a practical side. While so many things are trending to e-versions, feedback tells us our readers appreciate getting something real. Our hope is that because The Journal is a tangible thing, it likely gets more attention than just one more email in your inbox.

We need the late Stephen Covey to help us answer that one. One of the best leadership books of all time is Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” In it he suggests we spend far too much time doing things that are important AND urgent (e.g. preparing for tomorrow’s meeting, getting that report out before the deadline, etc.) and tend to neglect those things that are important but lack a sense of urgency (e.g. time for renewal, exercise, personal and


Third, share all or parts of The Journal with others. Use it to start a discussion in your organization. For example, use the stories in this issue about collaboration and consolidation to inspire discussions about how similar efforts might be needed in your work.

professional growth, a long-term vision, new relationships, etc.). We focus on the tyranny of today – emails, conference calls, meetings and reports. Go, go, go. Do, do, do. Covey suggests leadership isn’t about all that activity, but is the ability to pull away from all those urgent demands and invest time and energy in what’s important and not urgent. Perusing The Journal fits in here.

Most of all, I hope The Journal is a respite from the frantic pace of today, and one that helps you exercise more leadership tomorrow.

More specifically, here are three specific ways I encourage you to approach this magazine.


First, think of perusing The Journal as a way to reengage with your Kansas Leadership Center experience. The stories here help further explain the type of leadership you were exposed to during your program.

Ed O’Malley President & CEO Kansas Leadership Center

Second, use The Journal to get inspired. It’s tough staying motivated to lead for the common good. These stories will fan the flames of your common good fire.



well-being – and what needed to be done to bridge it. As is so often the case, the group’s default was, “Tell me what I need to do to make progress on my issues.” But we quickly realized the workshop wasn’t about determining what needed to be done to make progress or identifying whose job it was to do the work. The workshop was really about how to engage and mobilize civic teams to make progress on these issues that we hold dear.

The Journal gladly welcomes letters to the editor, including responses to articles in the publication. Address comments to Or mail letters to the Kansas Leadership Center offices at 300 North Main, Suite 100, Wichita, KS 67202.

I came into this workshop team-less and was one of the individuals placed on a team. I work regularly with one of the women on my team, but for the most part we were all new to each other. We came from different areas and different professional backgrounds and had varying interests related to our broader health priority. To say we were skeptical as we broke into our teams for group sessions would be quite the understatement. How in the world was this going to work? How could strangers come together to develop a common purpose and make progress on adaptive work?

We encourage readers to keep submissions to fewer than 500 words.

MULTI-YEAR INITIATIVE DEVELOPING NEW CONNECTIONS, MOBILIZING COLLABORATION ON IMPROVING HEALTH IN THE WICHITA AREA I completed the Visioneering Health Alliance – Leadership Initiative workshop this spring, though “completed” may not be the best choice of words. Perhaps it is more accurate to say I have begun. The VHA–Leadership Initiative is a multi-year effort to build civic leadership capacity not only in individuals but in civic teams, so that we may make progress on the adaptive challenges faced when working to improve the health of our community. It was clear during group introductions that this KLC experience was going to be unique. We were an extremely diverse group with many unusual voices. We had been brought together based on our individual interest in driving change around a number of identified community health priorities, and passions and emotions ran high. The group was immediately focused on “the gap” – the space between the current health of our community and the ideal state of health and


It was truly amazing! We were able to work with a KLC Team Coach who helped guide us as we identified an area of work that energized and connected us. I feel fortunate to now be working with people who I would likely never have connected outside this initiative. Their energy and passion has reenergized me and given me unique perspectives about both the work I am doing as part of this initiative and my everyday work. It was fascinating to see others with no prior connections similarly energized to work together in a meaningful way to make progress on a health priority in which they had a personal interest. I am excited to see what the future holds for this initiative and its participants. Improving the health of our community is definitely an adaptive challenge, and it is going to take a different kind of civic leadership to make progress. The VHA-Leadership Initiative is working to develop just that!


TEAMS LEARNING NEW SKILLS, HOPING TO CHANGE THE FUTURE OF SOUTHEAST KANSAS The Spring 2013 issue of The Journal documented the Project 17 Leadership Initiative in southeast Kansas. That initiative was born from the desire of area citizens to reverse the decades-long trend of economic struggles, poverty and the declining health statistics of our population. While there are many positive things happening in southeast Kansas, these issues have grown to the magnitude that they must be addressed directly and profoundly. People from 17 counties in southeast Kansas gathered in April to attend a seminar held by the Kansas Leadership Center to begin tackling these issues. To be honest, many of the attendees wondered how another program on leadership skills might benefit them. Most were veterans of leadership positions and had attended a vast number of such events in the course of their professional and civic lives. However, by the end of the sessions, it was clear that this was indeed a new set of skills, which redefine leadership as an activity. The instruction enlightened the participants to a fresh approach with the potential to create forward progress on new and stalled initiatives they were involved with.

By the end of the week, seven separate teams were formed consisting of both local and regional membership. Each team identified the purpose for its work as well as an initial list of key priorities to focus their efforts. Since then, the teams have been meeting to refine and document the strategies they will employ to create forward progress on these issues that are creating barriers to prosperity for our citizens. Over the course of the coming months, other southeast Kansans will have the opportunity to become a part of Project 17. The Kansas Leadership Center will hold multiple training events producing dozens of new teams that can literally change the future of southeast Kansas. While unique challenges are before us, we have much to be thankful for in Kansas. Many of the things we take for granted were made possible by the hard work and sacrifice of leaders throughout our state’s history. How will future generations describe Kansas? What and who will they point to when they chronicle our history, and why will they be proud to call Kansas home? For southeast Kansas, it is possible they will describe a future that had its genesis in projects of the members and teams of Project 17 and the Kansas Leadership Center.


During the four days we spent together, the facilitators presented four key civic leadership competencies as well as specific skills and activities to use in becoming proficient in each. To be sure, this was not an event for the passive or casual participant. The environment was intense, provocative and energizing. The experience prompted many memories of a past “moment of truth” during public meetings where these new tools would have been of great benefit.




of participants from community leadership programs across Kansas for an intense, three-day leadership development experience. Please visit the KLC website for more information.


Excitement is building for some new space where Kansans will gather to pursue the common good. The Kansas Leadership Center & Kansas Health Foundation Conference Center, which will be home to the KLC’s classrooms and amphitheater-style town hall, will host programs later this summer, with a grand opening scheduled for the fall.


Groups of participants graduated from two KLC faculty development programs in May. The 22 alumni of the Art & Practice of Civic Leadership Development – Faith and the 23 alumni of the Art & Practice of Civic Leadership Development – 20s and 30s programs concluded yearlong experiences where they learned the KLC’s leadership framework and developed skills such as coaching, utilizing Case-inPoint and case facilitation. They are joining a network of approximately 100 other KLC Art & Practice alumni who teach, train, consult and facilitate utilizing KLC concepts in various sectors across Kansas.


Frank York of Ashland joined the Kansas Leadership Center Board of Directors earlier this year. He serves as the senior executive vice president-loan officer at Stockgrowers State Bank. Along with the other members of the board, he’ll serve as a vigorous thought partner helping inform KLC’s direction.


The Kansas Legislature recently completed its regular 2013 session with a historic influx of first-time lawmakers – 49 House members and four senators. The bulk of that freshman class – nearly three dozen lawmakers – benefited from participation in KLC’s Leadership & Legacy in the Statehouse: A New Legislator’s Program. That program concluded in June with participants discussing how they can be intentional about leaving a legacy when their service is complete.


The work of the Kansas Leadership Center has been featured prominently in a national civic journal. Researcher Doug Easterling, professor in the Department of Social Sciences & Health Policy at Wake Forest University, wrote a piece about the KLC and the ideas that drive it. The National Civic Review, the quarterly journal of the National Civic League, is one of the nation's oldest civic affairs journals. It features thoughtful essays on democratic governance and civic engagement. It’s considered a vital supplement to the information flow of decision makers, researchers, students and educators across the country. CLP GATHERING ON THE HORIZON.

Registration is open for the 2013 Kansas Community Leadership Initiative (KCLI) Summit Oct. 9-11 in Wichita. Each year, the event convenes hundreds


HEADLINES FROM THE FUTURE: IMAGINING THE POSITIVE CHANGES IN STORE FOR SOUTHEAST KANSAS More than 40 Kansans attended the first-ever launch party for The Journal this past April to celebrate the cover story about southeast Kansas and Project 17 and discuss future possibilities for the region. Those who gathered in Pittsburg were asked to imagine what the headline on the Journal story about the improved health and economy of the region would be 30 years from now. The following selections provide examples of what they wrote.

Southeast Kansas:


SEK once again leading area in Kansas

Leading the way for Kansas and the nation

Family values are priority in SEK

Southeast Kansas surpasses state expectations for healthy communities


SEK regionalism: A model for the nation

SEK Success!

Quality of life metrics reach 30-year high in SEK

Young population of SEK increases exponentially



Composing a Life

By Mary Catherine Bateson Originally published in 1989, “Composing a Life” examines the stories of five high-achieving women, including the author herself, and the evolution of their complex personal and professional lives over the years. The successes, setbacks and heartbreak they experience in work, in relationships and as parents demonstrate that molding a life is essentially a creative process. Bateson shifts the view of achievement from crossing the finish line to the act of how we run the race itself. “None of us follows a single vision; instead, our very visions are products of growth and adaptation, not fixed but emergent,” she writes in the book’s final chapter. It’s an insight bound to challenge how you think about yourself and your own paths to success and fulfillment in civic leadership and life.

The Leadership Challenge

By James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner Earning the respect of both scholars and practitioners, “The Leadership Challenge” is one of the most popular data-driven books about leadership out there, one that people have been turning to for more than 25 years. Although it does not distinguish between leadership and authority, the book relies on thousands of interviews and surveys to help provide five tremendous practices for becoming more effective at leadership. It also happens to the first “leadership book” that KLC President and CEO Ed O’Malley read in his early 20s. The book’s 25th anniversary edition provides an opportunity for an updated look at this well-regarded classic.

Leadership Matters: Unleashing the Power of Paradox

By Thomas E. Cronin and Michael A. Genovese Head into a local bookstore or browse through and you’re sure to find shelves filled with books purporting to detail some ironclad rules of leadership. But the road to facilitating progress in leadership doesn’t necessarily follow a single, straight path. In “Leadership Matters,” the authors provide a good, general study of leadership that examines what the classics can teach us about leadership, as well as what we have to learn from Hollywood movies. The book captures the nuances and paradoxes of leading, including the idea that leadership often comes from groups and teams and is often a “bottom-up rather than top-down phenomenon.” The idea that it often takes exceptional, charismatic individuals to bring about change feels deeply ingrained in our culture. This book provides another reminder that being a leader is more about what we do and how we do it than about position or personality.


Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

By Daniel H. Pink According to Daniel Pink, human beings are hard-wired to “act experimentally.” But outdated motivational techniques based on external rewards get in the way of that natural creativity and craving for learning and discovery. If you want to motivate – or mobilize – others, Pink says, tap into “the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.” With “Drive” (available in print, digitally and as an audio file), the bestselling author of “A Whole New Mind” provides an overview of why, in our brave new world, intrinsic motivations work better than external reward. It’s grounded in history, science and real-world examples. Humans in the 21st century, Pink says, are no longer motivated (if we ever were) by the carrot and the stick. Rather, we do our best work in environments that tap into the yearning for three things: autonomy, mastery and purpose. If you are busy on your own journey toward purpose and mastery, fully occupied with leadership and life, just skim the first two parts of “Drive” and dig deep into Part Three. Here Pink provides a concise toolkit full of strategies, lists and plans for putting intrinsic motivation to work right away in your organization or community.

The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart

By Bill Bishop Making democracy work means engaging with people who have different identities and values than you but share your same space of existence. In recent decades, people in the United States have increasingly been doing the exact opposite. The places we live have become increasingly concentrated with people who live, think and vote just like we do. In this 2008 book, Bishop details this growing age of political segregation and how patterns of American migration have created “ever-narrower communities and churches and political groups.” The result: “More isolated than ever in our private lives, cocooned with our fellows, we approach public life with the sensibility of customers who are always right.” Bishop’s book explains systemic dynamics that should leave us with provocative questions as we look to exercise leadership and better our communities. What would it take for us truly engage with those different from us? And what are we willing to give up in the process?

Have a book, film or other resource you’d like to see included in The Leadership Library? Please email your suggestions to Chris Green at:



Consolidation need not be a bad word if it is approached with the dedicated purpose of strengthening the local community.

complex, intensely personal and usually conflicted concerns about loss of identity, maintaining traditions and ensuring survival. In the terms of the Kansas Leadership Center, these are “adaptive” challenges, whereas for-profit mergers are more “technical” with greater emphasis on numbers and efficiencies than on culture and deep-seated emotions.

Across two decades, I’ve played different roles in three worthwhile consolidations: in urban Wyandotte County in 1997, I was an active citizen supporter; in rural Greeley County 10 years later, I served as a civic coach and facilitator; and in Wichita/Sedgwick County in 2012, I was hired by the managers of city and county government to act as third-party facilitator.

As I reflect on the Wyandotte, Greeley and Wichita/ Sedgwick experiences, I can see common dynamics and tactics that I believe made these efforts effective.

Allow me to underscore my opening bias: If consolidation strengthens the local community, it is a good thing.

• Each began in carefully considered ways that avoided the pitfalls of past failures or instant rejection by the public or policy makers. In Wyandotte, amidst a culture of good ol’ boy politics, two citizens with no ax to grind and no position to gain did their homework, spoke to dozens of community groups and persisted beyond anyone’s expectations for two years despite enormous odds. In Greeley, a futuristic community conversation among 12 percent of the population, followed by a day-long retreat of 30 publicly nominated individuals, generated the idea of consolidation. Then a committee of volunteers spent a year developing a first-draft design. In the Wichita/Sedgwick County project, a city/county two-person team assessed many departments and wrote a position paper articulating why Code Enforcement was the place to begin attempting “functional consolidation” of city and county departments.

For six years, I attempted to bring together five United Ways in metropolitan Kansas City and ultimately opposed my own initiative because I concluded that the implementation plan sacrificed the well-being of the local community. My mission is to “rebuild the Public Square … one community at a time” because I believe that the local community is the foundation of our society, and when fractured, it fosters division and dysfunction all the way to Topeka and Washington. We hear regularly of business mergers and takeovers. Those private-sector dealings are conducted behind closed doors, driven by the shared core value of boosting the bottom line. In the public and human service sectors, with elected or appointed boards and passionate citizens fully engaged in a transparent process, consolidation proceedings are infused with subtle, 12.



• Each achieved a balance of power between the “top down” authority of the organization and the “bottom up” authority of the community. Citizens started the government consolidation ball rolling in both Wyandotte and Greeley County. Elected leaders engaged only after citizens had done their homework and established a credible movement. In Wichita/Sedgwick County, the two top managers agreed to make a dedicated effort to create “shared services” between their inherently competitive organizations, set a deadline for designing a game plan and announced it publicly at a press conference. But they charged the employees and customers to design the system that would best serve the community, and they used a neutral facilitator to engineer a “bottom up” consensus process. • Each used processes that built trust within the larger community of voters, end-users and employees who deliver services. Key components were (a) using neutral facilitators at critical junctures where the win/lose anxieties were high and trust was at risk; (b) including diverse players in the design and decision-making so that the community’s range of interests found common ground in the end-product they produced, and (c) having elected officials and senior managers who took genuine risks in letting go of power and precon-

ceived solutions – both real and perceived – so that the community came to realize the future was theirs to craft. For all three, the process of moving from competition to cooperation fostered a new entrepreneurial culture that translates to making their communities politically and physically more attractive. Both Wyandotte and Greeley have earned regional and national attention as models for innovative change. Wichita/Sedgwick’s unified department is too young to show major results, but the process itself inspired the builders and contractors as they experienced a gradual shift in values and language from “rules and regulations” to “service and customer convenience.” Like Wyandotte and Greeley, they’re discovering that when a dedicated cadre of citizens shifts from defensive conversations announcing “this is how we do it” to inquisitive discussions about “what if we were the best we can be,” the larger community gains a sense of hope and pride, replacing its former spirit of resignation. Terry Woodbury is Project Advisor for Public Square Communities, Inc. He is an alumnus of the 2003-04 Kansas Health Foundation Fellows program and the Kansas Leadership Center’s Community Collaboration Academy in 2010.



Exercising leadership can feel pretty lonely. Just ask anyone who’s tried “raising the heat.” The KLC experience is transformative, but paradoxically, the more you learn about exercising leadership, the more alone you can feel. One of the greatest sources of encouragement I have found through the Kansas Leadership Center is the connection to likeminded Kansans – people passionately committed to making progress on issues they care about. The sense of community is encouraging and helpful. Yet most of us don’t interact with KLC alumni on a daily basis. In my experience, the pressures of daily life can lead to a feeling of isolation. For many of us, this feeling is especially strong after leaving our first encounter with the KLC. In June of last year, I was immersed in the stew of leadership development with two dozen other young Kansans. During our time together, we were compared quite literally to the ingredients of stew – we were carrots, peas and onions simmering together in a giant pressure cooker. We reasoned that when we returned to our organizations and our respective carrots, peas, and onions, they wouldn’t understand why we were “cooked.” If only more people understood and were traveling with us on this leadership journey, we lamented! This made me wonder why I felt so alone. Unlike most of my peers, I wasn’t returning to a bunch of “raw carrots,” but to an entire staff who “understood.” Six of the seven full-time employees at NetWork Kansas, the nonprofit where I work, have been through a KLC program. I shouldn’t have felt alone. But, I did. Where were the shining examples of leadership? Of diagnosing the situation? Of energizing others? Where was all of the change? I didn’t see evidence anywhere! The Kansas Leadership Center offers resources to facilitate change more quickly and effectively, but exercising leadership is difficult, time-consuming work. Initially, I expected instant transformation. But, by seeking perfection in my peers, I had overlooked subtle indicators of progress – small signs I was not alone in wanting to exercise leadership.

We don’t sit around facilitating Case-in-Point during staff meetings (although whether we should or not would make for an interesting conversation), but we use the language. You’ll hear us discuss adaptive challenges and encourage one another to avoid technical solutions. Our work, especially at the community level, has benefited from these perspectives and from the education we’ve received through the KLC. Yet, there are glaring omissions as well, especially when it comes to exercising leadership within our organization. There are a myriad of potential reasons why: lack of time, conflict avoidance, even laziness. What would it take to produce more significant signs of change? Having people with increased capacity to exercise leadership helps. No question about it. Yet, mass alone isn’t a force for change. To borrow from physics, force requires mass and acceleration. Shortly after that June KLC session, I was planning a statewide conference with my supervisor, Erik Pedersen. Our inclination was to quickly plan the agenda for the conference, but instead I encouraged Erik to diagnose the situation, and we wallowed in the ensuing discomfort while we allowed the attending communities to tell us what content would benefit them. It was messy and awkward. It was exercising leadership – together. The conference went well and encouraged us to experiment again. More importantly, I realized that by taking a risk, I gained an ally. Action had started to dissolve my sense of isolation. Even though we often feel alone in exercising leadership, we’re not. But, it’s only by taking the risk to lead that we can find others to share the journey. Instead of being alone, you may find yourself surrounded by allies as you exercise leadership together. Anne Dewvall is the product manager of engagement for the Kansas Center for Entrepreneurship (NetWork Kansas). A lifelong resident of Sedgwick County, Anne is a regular contributor to her hometown newspaper, The Derby Informer. She participated in KLC's Art and Practice of Civic Leadership – 20s & 30s in 2012-2013 and believes stories are her most powerful tool to shape the civic landscape of Kansas.


ONWARD KANSAS A Lea de rship Developmen t ‘ Surge ’

Onward Kansas will test the Kansas Leadership Center theories and ideas like never before. Onward Kansas is a new individualized experience that provides support for Kansans who are making an impact in their communities and want to significantly improve their influence and effectiveness. The participant and KLC will work closely together, meeting frequently to leverage the participant’s content knowledge of an issue and KLC’s process knowledge related to adaptive work. Wayne Bell, Wichita, district director of the U.S. Small Business Administration, and Shannon Cotsoradis, Lawrence, president & CEO of the Topeka-based Kansas Action for Children, have been selected as the initial participants in Onward Kansas. They each come to Onward Kansas with a specific civic issue with which they’ve been wrestling.

Cotsoradis seeks to reduce childhood poverty by deepening her understanding of the issue and Kansans’ perspectives on the issue. In doing so, she hopes to change the conversation about childhood poverty. Deep, daunting, adaptive challenges. A team of support (including a KLC coach, senior staff member, program manager and board member) has been created for each participant. The team will leverage KLC resources (i.e. facilitation expertise, slots in KLC programs for individuals connected to the issue, communication vehicles, knowledge of the civic context, connection to KLC alumni, etc.) and will share responsibility for planning and exercising leadership on the civic challenge. Together, there’s room for great progress. Learn more about these two Kansans and why they are directing their energies to help move the bar on these challenges in extended profiles on the following pages.

Bell’s civic challenge is twofold: He seeks increased access to capital for disadvantaged Kansas businesses and the development of high-growth firms in underserved communities.


BEYOND BAND-AIDS Childhood poverty remains on an upward trend in Kansas, with 1 in 4 children under age 5 living in need. But the state’s conversation about how to respond to that challenge feels stagnant and remains focused on short-term fixes. An advocate for children in the Statehouse, Shannon Cotsoradis, will work to move that dialogue to a new, more productive place. By Sarah Caldwell Hancock

Shannon Cotsoradis’ tale is a familiar one. A native Kansan, she was born in Leavenworth and spent most of her childhood in Topeka. She attended college and graduate school elsewhere, experiencing the beautiful Virginia countryside and the hustle, bustle and cultural buffet of New York City. Along the way, she came to appreciate the state she had left. “The city has a lot to offer, but everyone’s a neighbor in Kansas,” she explains. “The longer you’re in the city, the less fun it is. I missed the friendliness of Kansas and missed the pace and quality of life.” So Cotsoradis returned to Kansas to regain those things. She lives in Lawrence with her husband and daughter, choosing to reside where her daughter can grow up with the quality of life Cotsoradis wanted for her. Unfortunately, many Kansas children are not having the same experience, and Cotsoradis has dedicated her professional life to improving their circumstances through her work at Kansas Action for Children, a nonprofit organization that strives to shape policy to help Kansas children. There’s plenty of work for Cotsoradis, president and CEO, and her staff of 10 to do. Childhood poverty in our state has been on “a consistently upward trend that outpaces the nation,” she explains, with 1 in 5 kids ages birth to 18 in poverty. The percentage of children age 5 and under is even more troubling: 1 in 4 of these children live in poverty in Kansas.

conversation with my mom to turn to what it was like not to have enough food, one pair of shoes, or a few outfits for an entire school year,” she explains. Her mother was one of the lucky “and very driven” few and managed to change her life circumstances after taking college classes at night for many years to earn her degree, but Cotsoradis notes that her mother’s experience demonstrated the struggle and challenges presented by poverty. She also taught her daughter to treasure her opportunities. “She taught me that with privilege comes great responsibility, to never rely on someone else for my financial security, and to get as much education as I could. That powerful sense of responsibility she instilled drives me to be a voice for children growing up in poverty today,” Cotsoradis says. Cotsoradis is partnering with Onward Kansas to help more people understand the challenge, what it means for the state and why it’s important to address.

“There isn’t a more complex civic challenge than poverty — it’s even more complex because the child exists in the context of the family and because of what poverty means in the near future and the long term.” IDENTIFYING PRIORITIES

Cotsoradis is articulate and talks quickly, but her speech gets even faster when she discusses the consequences of poverty. “The science is clear that early poverty has dire consequences for brain development,” she says. “Kids don’t overcome the consequences of early poverty later in life. They are less likely to have adequate nutrition and health care and are likely to have substandard education experiences — and this has a cumulative effect over time.” In other words, childhood poverty is likely to lead to poverty in adulthood. The organization Cotsoradis heads is dedicated to stopping this cycle. “I want Kansas to be the state where you’re the least likely to be a poor child who becomes a poor adult,” Cotsoradis explains. Cotsoradis herself is only one generation removed from poverty. Her mother, one of five children, experienced its effects firsthand. “It is not unusual for a

Cotsoradis’ group, Kansas Action for Children, seeks to help children by crafting state policy in Topeka. It works with partner organizations and conducts research and analysis to establish legislative priorities then communicate them to policymakers. In 2013, those priorities were maintaining state investment in the Children’s Initiatives Fund, the funding mechanism for all Kansas early childhood programs; addressing the shortage of dental care providers in 99 of Kansas’ 105 counties; improving access to information and records from the State Child Death Review Board to shed light on preventable child deaths; and to restore the Child and Dependent Care Credit that was eliminated in 2012 tax legislation. Making headway on these issues has been difficult; the dental issue has seen momentum but not legislative action, and the tax credit passed out of committee but wasn’t taken up by the Senate. Cotsoradis doesn’t


lose heart. “Serving as an advocate for many years has translated into great resilience,” she says. She doesn’t “dwell on setbacks,” instead thinking of the next steps.

Cotsoradis hopes Onward Kansas will pave the way for more to think about and discuss the issue of childhood poverty and move beyond short-term Band-Aids for dealing with it. “We need to figure out what Kansans think and what will resonate with them,” she explains. “(The Kansas Leadership Center) is reaching thousands of Kansans from all walks of life. We want to tap into that and use them to help find a meaningful dialogue about the issue [of childhood poverty].”

Cotsoradis has seen successes over the years, too. An expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, higher standards for Kansas child care, and graduated licenses for teenage drivers are among policy issues she’s helped move across the finish line. She also takes great pride in the 15 years she’s spent building “a sustainable voice for Kansas kids” that can achieve greater policy gains in the future.

Central to this goal is the problem of the current conversation about poverty, which Cotsoradis says is inadequate. “We’re helping them eat and get health care and get shoes on their feet, but that doesn’t change the trajectory for them,” she says. “We still have to have that conversation, but also a more meaningful dialogue about how we change that.”

The organization maintains a nonpartisan, issue-oriented approach. But it takes tough stands, too, such as a recently filing a lawsuit Shannon Cotsoradis is herself only one generation away from poverty. against a state official to release She hopes that partnerinformation about funds Kansas received from tobacco ing with the KLC and working outside of Topeka’s box settlement arbitration, which support children’s prowill help her find something new to say about poverty grams. Cotsoradis acknowledges that being effective – and inspire more Kansans of all stripes to care about sometimes means playing tough, which can be and work on the issue. a difficult role. Cotsoradis is ready to spur the dialogue. “These kids are our next generation. We grow our own here. We don’t get a big influx into Kansas. We are losing 20 percent of our potential, because those kids won’t reach their potential,” she explains. “If we want productivity and growth, children need to achieve their full potential as adults.”

“As an advocate for children, you’re expected to play against a different set of rules, to ‘play nice,’” she says. “But sometimes you play nice and lose!”

Cotsoradis has confidence in the people in Kansas. “I think if any state can change the trajectory for poor kids, it’s Kansas. I don’t think we want kids to grow up in poverty. I think people feel like it’s a big, hairy, daunting challenge and they can’t fix it, so they focus on what they can fix. Having a conversation about how we can create pathways, I think people will embrace that.”

CHANGING THE CONVERSATION Aside from the day-to-day challenges of informing legislators and shaping policy, Cotsoradis finds it difficult to escape the Statehouse bubble. She interacts with KAC’s 20-member board of directors; its supporting foundation, the Voices for Children Foundation; and many other organizations as she goes about the business of raising funds to support KAC. But nevertheless, “Being in Topeka disposes you to be in a little bit of a box.”


LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD About 1 of every 5 people living in Kansas are minorities. But they are significantly underrepresented among the ranks of business owners. Partnering with the Kansas Leadership Center, Wayne Bell hopes to measurably change that and, in the process, reinvigorate depressed neighborhoods and towns with more jobs and higher wages. By Erin Perry O’Donnell

When Wayne Bell was growing up in St. Louis, his mother spent evenings and weekends earning extra income as a talented seamstress. Her days were already full with work as a police dispatcher and, later, a receptionist.

His past participation in KLC’s leadership development programs was especially valuable for showing him how – and why – to raise the heat on an issue, and how to have uncomfortable conversations. “Just being able to do that in a way that is productive, and that moves an idea forward, has been very helpful,” he says.

One year, Bell’s mother approached her son’s youth football league with a proposal to sew stripes onto all of their uniform pants. At 10 teams with 30 players apiece, it was a nice, big contract. And Bell still remembers how excited she was to land it.

Bell says he’s looking forward to helping level the playing field among would-be entrepreneurs who have little to no experience in business. Many women and minorities never had a family business to learn from, no mentors to show them the ropes. If the SBA can step into that role, Bell says, they can create new businesses that will lift the whole state’s economic outlook.

Today, the seamstress’s son spends his days helping people just like her who want to turn their ideas into businesses. Bell has been director of the Wichita district office of the U.S. Small Business Administration for nearly five years.

“It affects us all,” Bell says. “It's one less business in an area that could use it the most. Those are real jobs that can be created.”

“To get your idea to the level where it can grow and thrive, most of us need help making that happen,” Bell says. “Everybody gets help somewhere.”But for minorities and people in underserved communities in Kansas, especially those strained by unemployment, help is often hard to come by. That’s why Bell is partnering with the Kansas Leadership Center through its Onward Kansas initiative. The goal: to increase minority-owned businesses statewide and reinvigorate depressed neighborhoods and towns with more jobs and higher wages.

Other minority business owners who do know about resources like the SBA often don’t want to ask for help. Some would just rather not identify as minorityowned, even though it can help them be included in bids for contracts. Bell says he doesn’t want anyone to feel they have to bootstrap it alone.

“I have a very significant issue here that I think has a lot of ramifications for our community and our economy across the state,” Bell says. “Day after day, someone is coming through the door, meeting us for the first time, unaware of this free government resource to the public. For whatever reason, in these underserved parts of our community, that information gap is just there.

“This idea of set-asides, the impression that there’s some sort of handout – that’s a negative perception, but it’s not a realistic perception,” Bell says. “All of these businesses have to perform. It’s just that getting the initial opportunity is an increased challenge for some of these firms.” Minority-owned firms make up 6.6 percent of all Kansas businesses, but the state’s minority population is now around 20 percent. Pushing those numbers closer together isn’t just good for those businesses, Bell says. It can mean new, better jobs for people who have watched manufacturing jobs evaporate. It can mean rebirth for towns that have watched their No. 1 employers pack up and leave, with no one to take their place.

“We’ve got to find a way to tap into these pockets, because they’re communicating, but we’re on different channels. The trick is really trying to get into their community and their networks.” The soft-spoken Bell says he’s proud of the way he’s built relationships with other organizations and community leaders in his work. But he’s aiming higher, he says, because “there’s always room for personal growth.”


If the minority-owned business needle could be moved even two or three percentage points closer to parity with the broader population, Bell would call that a win. Not so long ago, Bell was a business owner himself. He came to Wichita in 1984 to play football for Wichita State University, where he earned a degree in industrial technology. Later, while working days at Raytheon and Boeing, he was busy at night starting a facilities maintenance and landscaping services firm with a partner. He took his entrepreneurial cue not only from his mother, but also his grandfather, who did landscaping and tree trimming after his shifts as a school janitor. Their work ethic made an impression, he says, but he had to learn the basics of business on his own.

and small firms. The best part, he says, is seeing entrepreneurs grab on to their guidance and succeed. A year ago, he helped judge a business plan competition and later consulted with the team that placed third. With SBA financing, the partners opened a video-gaming and entertainment center six months later. This spring, Bell paid them a visit. “It was so amazing that the idea was reality now,” he says. “It’s very gratifying. To talk over an idea and then see it come to fruition is something else. “The most rewarding aspect of the job, absolutely, are the thank-yous and the messages of appreciation, and knowing you had a small part in helping this individual and their idea move forward.”

Bell now hopes the The start-up experiOnward Kansas ence stayed with Bell, partnership will help and he sees himself better tailor more SBA Bell (right) talks with Steve Heiden, chief executive director of Battle in many of the programs for young Stations Gaming in east Wichita. Battle Stations Gaming is an example entrepreneurs who people. As the father of a business that Bell has helped through the SBA. come to him for adof four children, plus vice. “I would get a fifth by marriage, home and work another six to eight hours,” he that’s important to him. Bell has two grown daughters says. “That was the daily routine for a couple of who have finished college, a third attending the years. It’s tough, and I can definitely appreciate University of Kansas, and an 11-year-old son at home. some of those challenges.” They’ve inherited the family work ethic, Bell says, and he hopes his efforts to keep learning and taking In 2002, Bell joined the Transportation Security risks make an impression, too. Administration’s Kansas office as administrative officer. The following year he completed an Executive MBA degree at WSU. He stayed with the TSA until 2008, when he heard the SBA director’s position was open. To his surprise, it sounded like a custom fit. At the SBA, Bell gets to draw on his dual experiences from large corporations

“I hope what they’ve taken away from me is the confidence to try whatever they want to try.”





Chamber of Commerce programs typically stress local civic engagement and volunteerism during annual leadership classes designed to motivate business and community members to get involved. But in Johnson County where the state line – let alone city borders – becomes invisible in everyday life, several chamber officials realized long ago that success demands regional partners.

2004, largely as a way to work together and expose participants to successes elsewhere. On the practical side, it also allows chambers to avoid competing for expert speakers. “We have so much power to have such a better program,” Felski says. The regionalism day brings together leadership classmates from chamber programs in Lenexa, Overland Park, Olathe, Shawnee and Northeast Johnson County. The collaborative effort drew in about 120 class members during the latest event in May, and it’s quickly becoming known as the place for area experts to reach Johnson County’s key stakeholders. This year, a representative from the Kansas City International Airport used it as a chance to show how a proposed airport overhaul would help the region. Speakers covered the gamut of regionalism. Area mayors, arts and philanthropic officials spoke to the challenges and rewards of working together. The Kansas City Area Development Council drove it all home by explaining how it sells Kansas City as an entire region rather than a splintered set of cities. “(Businesses) are not going to be interested in coming to a community that is divisive,” Bob Marcusse, CEO of the Kansas City Area Development Council, told the classes.

It’s why before closing out leadership classes each year, five Johnson County chamber programs come together for “regionalism day” to talk about areawide engagement and cooperation. It may sound unorthodox for chambers, whose mission is local economic development, but class directors believe it makes sense to hear how the sum of Kansas City is affected by its parts. “The reality is that you can’t be an island,” says Mary Taylor, senior vice president at the Shawnee Chamber of Commerce. Regionalism day provides the county’s next crop of leadership program graduates with a broader viewpoint. “I think in order to understand the strengths and weaknesses of a community, as a leader you need to be exposed to the area surrounding your community,” says Beth Felski, director of Leadership Olathe for the Olathe Chamber of Commerce. “A lot of the challenges in leadership are regional challenges.”

Participants like Christopher Coffman, a Shawnee resident who attends the Northeast Johnson County leadership class, were intrigued to learn that economic development officials from Kansas and Missouri sit alongside each other in the same room when Kansas City gives the initial pitch to an outside company. “I think it’s very important and vital for both areas to cooperate because we each rely on each other,” Coffman said.

Issues such as transportation, workforce development, emergency response and stormwater management often demand a community-wide resolution. Chamber officials say they don’t know of a similar partnership in Kansas. The unique effort started in

OPPOSITE, LEFT TO RIGHT: Julie Steiner, Leadership Lenexa; Beth Felski, Leadership Olathe; Laura Simmons, Leadership Overland Park; Lauren Vaughan, Leadership Northeast Johnson County; and Mary Taylor, Leadership Shawnee Tomorrow.


“THERE’S GREAT ENERGY IN THIS ROOM. THE REAL JOY IS TO UNLEASH IT.” Peter Witte, dean of the Conservatory of Music and Dance at the University of Missouri-Kansas City

Class members said they learned just how farreaching changes like those proposed at KCI can be for businesses throughout the metro. Airport officials said Kansans account for 52 percent of KCI users, and Johnson County companies such as Sprint are directly responsible for some nonstop flights. Jennifer Carroll, a leasing representative at a large Johnson County office park, was happy to hear the airport proposal pitched for its benefits to Johnson County businesses, too. “The airport is kind of the heart and soul of a city,” Carroll says. “It’s kind of a tool to get yourself on the map especially when you’re in the heartland and you’re so isolated.” Several other speakers were also eager to share how Johnson County citizens play a vital role in several institutions located in Kansas City. Many praised the leadership class members for their interest and curiosity. “There’s great energy in this room,” said Peter Witte, dean of the Conservatory of Music and Dance at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. “The real joy is to unleash it.” Yet for all the cooperative spirit and goodwill, local officials also frankly acknowledged the challenges of regionalism. Scarce resources, political fractures, philosophical differences and complex bi-state, county and city laws can be hard to overcome. The bottom line is that local taxpayers’ needs must come first, several mayors said. Coffman, for one, said he appreciated their honesty about the delicate balance. “With the economy the way it is, it’s very difficult to look outside your backyard,” Coffman said. Yet even with the challenges, chamber officials say that any tensions – perceived or otherwise – disappear during the regionalism day. “You check your egos at the door,” Taylor says. Chamber directors and regionalism day speakers

also stressed that much of the so-called border wars – the stiff competition between Kansas and Missouri to woo businesses to a particular side of the state line – have been largely overblown. “I think there is a perception out there that everybody is always at conflict with each other,” Felski says, dismissing the idea. A combative approach doesn’t make sense in Johnson County, she said, where boundary lines are often blurred by residents who live in one city and work elsewhere. Instead, what chamber directors want civically engaged Johnson County residents to see is that there are many opportunities to serve throughout the metro area. “Some of them will start running Sunday school. Others will be in public office,” says Laura Simmons, who coordinates Leadership Overland Park. “We’re all in it for the same thing, and that’s just to see Kansas City as a metro become a stronger community,” says Lauren Vaughan, programs and events director Northeast Johnson County Chamber. The program is unique, but Johnson County chambers see no reason why the regionalism effort can’t be duplicated elsewhere. The event pulls together local experts to talk about successes and challenges with participants. A similar approach could work for others, says Julie Steiner, who coordinates Leadership Lenexa. The group hasn’t invited Missouri leadership classes to join – yet. But one chamber official didn’t rule it out in the future. By the end of the day, chamber officials say, they hope class members leave finding a niche for their leadership skills. “We’re not here to say love this or love that,” Taylor says. “Now that we’ve shared with you all of these opportunities: What are you going to do with it?”



The regionalism day involving five Johnson County community leadership programs brought about 120 class members to a gathering at Union Station this past May. Events included a discussion with a mayoral panel from the metro area. Mark VanLoh, director of aviation at the Kansas City International Airport, speaks about the future of the transportation hub, which includes plans to replace its threeterminal configuration with a single terminal. Attendees learned how far reaching changes such as the overhaul at KCI, where Kansans account for 52 percent of users, can be for the regional business climate. Leawood Mayor Peggy Dunn jokes with Unified Government of Wyandotte County MayorCEO Mayor Mark Holland (right) during the mayoral forum. Arts and philanthropic officials joined mayors in speaking to the challenges and rewards of Kansas City area communities working with one another. Mary Taylor, senior vice president at the Shawnee Chamber of Commerce and Leadership Shawnee Tomorrow facilitator, speaks to the group on regionalism day.


FAIL W H Y W E M U S T B E P R E PA R E D TO FA L L S H O RT I N C I V I C L E A D E R S H I P (And what to do about it when it happens)

By Chris Green





? Digging deeper and doing things differently

That may sound like an odd question. After all, our culture tends to highly value achieving one’s aims – hence the thousands of books that link “leadership” and “success” in their titles. All too often, failure is something to be avoided, if not outright mocked and criticized.

Perhaps it’s ironic, but it actually took an eye-catching success to really compel me to start thinking more deeply about the relationship between failure and leadership. This past spring, I was intrigued when I heard that Reno County voters overwhelmingly approved, with 77 percent of the vote, a half-cent increase in the county sales tax to pay for a new jail.

But our value to succeed and be seen as competent may be in conflict with the more purposeful and provocative kind of civic leadership needed to move the needle on the state’s most daunting problems.

The story caught my attention because about nine years ago, while working as a reporter at The Hutchinson News, I wound up touring the county’s existing jail with Reno County Sheriff Randy Henderson. He was working to draw attention to the shortcomings of the antiquated, overcrowded facility, which was hardly ideal for the health of inmates or his staff. Two years later, in 2006, a sales tax to pay for a new jail went up for a public vote, and was defeated.

Even when Kansans skillfully lead on difficult issues, there’s still a pretty good chance that failure or, at best, only partial success will occur. The toughest problems invite ineptitude and expose our weaknesses because no one person possesses the requisite expertise to address them adequately. Lacking quick-fix solutions, the only choice is to keep trying to move things forward and learning when efforts come up short or don’t turn out as we expect. And to try again and again.

Now, seven years after the first failure, Henderson was finally seeing progress on the issue. What I found, when I talked to him earlier this year, was a story that was about far more than just the sheriff himself.

However, if failure is an unavoidable reality of trying to lead, it’s not one we typically confront in a very substantive way. It’s far more comfortable and comforting to tally our successes and ignore the elephant in the room of civic leadership.

After that first failed vote, Reno County took a survey to see why the ballot question was defeated. One of the things that Henderson learned was there was a perception that the jail was his project, even it was the county’s facility as a whole. The county commission at the time didn’t seem unified behind the issue, and commissioners rarely accompanied Henderson to talk about the issue publicly.

In recent months, I’ve started to wonder what we would learn as Kansans if we had more frank conversations about failure in civic leadership. When should we tolerate failure? How should we learn from it? And, what do we have to do in order to effectively respond to it?


It took nine years of work for Reno County Sheriff Randy Henderson to see a new jail be approved by voters in his county.


“Give it your best shot and let the chips fall where they may.” Dan Stiffler


Preparing to take smart risks

Furthermore, the previous plan left too many question marks. There was no comprehensive plan to deal with the old jail, the jail annex or the county health department, which would have been torn down to make way for the new jail.

People in Reno County may not have thought of the situation in terms of the Kansas Leadership Center’s principles and competencies of civic leadership, but they were certainly engaging in those behaviors.

As a result, the situation called for others – particularly elected officials on the three-member Reno County Commission – to take a bigger role in ensuring the situation was dealt with. Enter Dan Deming, a retired radio general manager who had previously served on the Hutchinson City Council and had credibility among long-established residents for being a spending watchdog.

Henderson, county officials and the citizens’ committee had to dig more deeply into the diagnosing the situation to better understand what had happened previously and what those pushing for change might need to do differently. County commissioners like Deming needed not only to get behind the effort but also lead on the issue themselves.

Deming helped keep the issue alive, making a new jail a key part of his agenda when he was elected to the commission in 2010. A citizens’ committee was selected to study how to address the overcrowded jail. The 10-member group included people with lots of civic credibility and had representatives from throughout the county. Its activities included visiting other jails and conducting public meetings to pass along information to the public. The group’s charge was to develop a comprehensive plan with citizen involvement, and then “go out and give the public accurate and detailed information about why there’s a need,” Deming says. The county commission took ownership of the project and the effort reframed the jail issue as a community problem, one that, if left unaddressed, would keep costing considerable taxpayer dollars because of the cost to house prisoners elsewhere.

The scope of the citizens being engaged on the issue was broadened and county officials sought to not only inform them, but also better engage with their concerns. Reassessing a situation in a deep, meaningful way and using the data one collects from observing the results of an effort to change something is an important aspect of responding to failure. But coming to terms with the fact that there are no guarantees of success, and still pushing forward, is another. Another story of responding to failure through civic leadership comes from the Buhler school district, also in Reno County. Voters there rejected school bond issues on not just one occasion but three times – twice in 2006 and once more in 2007. The inability of the district to pass a bond issue and address its aging infrastructure still loomed large when Dan Stiffler was hired as the district’s superintendent in the spring of 2011. Not only was Stiffler new to the district itself, having previously been a Wichita area administrator, he was also taking his first job as a superintendent.

The process of studying the issue and engaging and informing the public certainly didn’t take shape overnight, and for Deming, that’s one of the key lessons that other communities dealing with similar problems can take from the situation. “I would recommend that no community tries to rush into anything without fully studying the issue and fully trying to explain it to the electors,” Deming says.

Previous failures had discouraged officials in this district, whose patrons included both Buhler and the rural areas of northeast Reno County, as well as residents from upscale neighborhoods of northeast Hutchinson. Stakeholders in the tradition-rich Buhler school district were struggling to see how things could be different there, Stiffler says.


Stiffler sought to have the district better engage the district’s rural residents, business owners, farmers and parents whose children were schooled at home. He worked with board members as they grappled with why past bond issues failed, what they should do differently this time and concerns that the same outcome could be repeated.

Tim Link of Wichita is a Master Certified Coach who serves as a certified Civic and Community Leadership Coach for the Kansas Leadership Center. He often works with executives, teams and organizations as they increase their productivity and experience greater personal and professional fulfillment.


In the end, the board had to renew its energy around developing a plan it could firmly stand behind, rather than guess at the safest path to progress. In June 2012, Buhler district voters resoundingly passed a $44.9 million bond issue, which included the building of a new elementary school and the closure of two older schools.

For some of his coaching clients, failure may involve reaching a career plateau or struggling to overcome a professional setback. Although situations vary from person to person, there’s sometimes a strong tendency among people who have experienced difficult failures to assign blame to others for their misfortune. Getting past that, Link says, requires taking a longer view and being able to get up on the “balcony,” where they take a more detached view of the situation and of their own behavior.

In Stiffler’s view, one lesson from the situation is that you can’t entirely take the risk out of attempting to make significant change.

Coaching often helps guide clients to better comprehend how they might be contributing to their own failure and determining what they might do differently in terms of adjusting their style or changing their approach. The highest-performing individuals and groups routinely treat setbacks as events that provide data they can learn from and go on to experiment with adjustments in how they are behaving.

“The takeaway is cast your vision, be positive,” says Stiffler, who left the district this summer. “Give it your best shot and let the chips fall where they may. If you can say, ‘We did right by the kids, the taxpayers and the teachers and we gave it our best effort,’ then win, lose or draw, you’re going to be able to look at yourself in the mirror.”

“That’s probably one of the things that really sets the good ones apart, is that they’re not afraid to try new things and admit what they don’t know,” Link says.

Failure as a learning opportunity Working to pass a ballot question to deal with a public concern is just one example of a way to participate actively in civic life. For many of us in Kansas, though, our civic leadership challenges will too often lack the clear marker of success or failure that comes with a public vote.

Getting beyond the fear of failure However, adjusting to failure doesn’t mean surrendering one’s core beliefs. But it does require being able to see beyond them. When Melody McCrayMiller began serving in the Kansas House of Representatives in 2005, the Wichita lawmaker came in with a focus on the well-being of children, families and communities.

For efforts such as alleviating child poverty, paving the way for businesses to prosper or some other deeply held purpose for exercising leadership, assessing the level of progress one is making and responding to failure can feel even more difficult. These are challenges that can consume years of our lives.

That desire led her to pursue limits on the shortterm, high-interest loans that she saw as having negative effects on the families who utilized them. Even with a coalition of individuals, businesses, churches and organizations backing the effort, the changes McCray-Miller sought failed to advance over the course of three consecutive legislative sessions.

In taking on issues where progress is likely to only come in fits and spurts, it becomes vitally important for people to be able to know and effectively manage themselves so that they don’t wind up becoming their own worst enemy when it comes to fostering change.


“I would recommend that no community tries to rush into anything without fully studying the issue and fully trying to explain it to the electors.� Dan Deming


“You’re just so passionate and so focused on what you know is right, but there are just so many other variables that you really should be aware of and take into consideration, ” Melody McCray-Miller


The proposal faced resistance from payday lenders who thought the changes would put them out of business and restrict consumers, who they contended might not otherwise have access to loans, from making their own choices. McCray-Miller says she tried to adjust her strategy, understand the industry’s concerns and make it feel more comfortable with the legislation.

“It’s relatively easy to prepare for minimal risk of failure,” Lewis says. “That’s probably advisable. There are certainly dumb risks. But sometimes it should be alarming that we should have very little chance of failing, because it means we really may not be pushing hard enough.” Staying competitive in the business world often means not losing an edge and continuing to design new strategies or products. The process of innovation may produce some failures, but standing still will no doubt invite a firm or individual to be overtaken by competitors who are willing to try something new.

In the end, the outcome remained the same. The changes McCray-Miller, who left the Legislature after the 2012 session, envisioned would not become law. Still, McCray-Miller says the issue was important enough that she wanted to keep pushing it and hasn’t yet given up looking for new avenues to pursue it.

In the civic or nonprofit worlds, though, the benefits of taking risks may seem less obvious, at least when viewed over the short term, Lewis says, and it may seem safer to meet readily attainable goals or benchmarks than push into new frontiers.

McCray-Miller says in holding to her purpose, she also realized that she couldn’t be single-minded in pushing for something she cared about. Even when standing firm on one’s convictions, it’s important to be able to take into account multiple perspectives of the situation other than your own, she says. This is particularly important since future progress on what you care about can depend on what you’re able to learn from the experience.

This risk aversion is not so much an inherent characteristic, she says, but a response to the incentives and disincentives unique to the civic context. The risk-taking tolerance of nonprofits, for instance, may be influenced by the expectations communicated by donors.

“You’re just so passionate and so focused on what you know is right, but there are just so many other variables that you really should be aware of and take into consideration,” McCray-Miller says.

“I think we in the nonprofit, government and public policy sectors may have a lot to learn from corporations and probably the corporate world about not being nearly as afraid of failure,” Lewis says.

One benefit of failure is that individuals and groups may be more amenable to being reflective than in situations where they’ve won (even though they should be reflective, win or lose), says Melinda Lewis, a Johnson County-based public policy consultant who supports the advocacy efforts of nonprofit social services agencies.

It’s doubtful that Kansans will ever want to become entirely comfortable with failure. After all, leading carries with it considerable personal and professional risks. It’s only natural to want to avoid something that can threaten our employment, public standing and identities, not to mention make us feel discouraged and inadequate.

Lewis has firsthand experience with success and setbacks lobbying on issues affecting immigrants and low-income families both inside and outside of the Kansas Statehouse. She’s been an advocate for immigrant justice and worked on matters relating to early childhood education and public benefits. Her portfolio includes working for El Centro Inc., a community-based social service organization that serves Johnson and Wyandotte counties.

But think of what could be accomplished if more Kansans more regularly stepped outside their comfort zones, took wise risks in tackling tough problems and kept using the data they receive from failure to design more effective approaches to making change. If we could learn how to make the most of failure in exercising civic leadership here in Kansas, we just might find pathways to success that we never could have imagined.

While success feels good, Lewis says, a lack of failure in working on behalf of what you care about may actually be a troubling signal of its own. 35.


? 1

Take the time to diagnose the situation thoroughly. I I


Treat failure as a data-gathering opportunity. Use it to dig even deeper into understanding the different points of view around your issue and more fully explore tough interpretations about why you’ve failed.

Put additional effort into managing yourself. I I I


Closely assess your part of the mess. Are there behaviors or values you’re holding on to that are getting in the way? You’re going to have to be very aware of the stories that others are telling about you. Understand that failure is often a reality of exercising leadership on tough issues – there are no easy paths to lasting change. Keep trying new approaches by designing and executing carefully thought-out, skillful interventions. But accept that the outcome won’t be under your control.


Don’t lose sight of your deepest purpose. Hold to it.


You’re going to have to try something new and act experimentally.


Look for others to energize around addressing the situation. I I

You will have to engage more stakeholders in the problem, particularly those who haven’t been involved previously. Recognize and speak to losses that might be incurred by stakeholders in the problem.

“Sometimes it should be alarming that we should have very little chance of failing, because it means we really may not be pushing hard enough.� Melinda Lewis

38. 36.


NEVER SAY DIE By Patsy Terrell

39. 29.



To see a testament to this western Kansas community’s drive to keep their town alive, one need look no further than The Star Theater on Tribune’s main street. The 3-D digital theater shows how leadership and collaboration can help a town with a population fewer than 800 – just minutes by car from the Colorado border – change when traditional answers prove inadequate. When the previous owners wanted to sell the theater, there were no takers in this county of about 1,300. “I didn’t want to see it die,” says Unified Greeley County Treasurer Diane Gentry. “Our first date was at that theater.” Her sentiments, which can bring tears to her eyes even five years later, were shared by others. The theater represented a gathering place, a continuation, something for their children to enjoy in town. But it also pointed out the small pool of potential investors. A group of locals looked at options. Eventually, a grant provided the money for purchasing the theater, and it’s now a municipal property. Community members


helped remodel, bought carpet by the yard, and donated grain at the elevator to help meet the matching portion of the grant. Another grant, in partnership with Wallace County, recently provided for a $90,000 upgrade to digital 3-D. But keeping the theater running requires a crew of volunteers to show movies every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. They do everything from selling the tickets to cleaning up. “The community had a passion to keep the theater,” says local farmer A.J. Crotinger, and there were people willing to take the reins on that project. “If we want to keep our community vibrant we just have to do that. Otherwise you’re the next small town to die. We’re not going to be that next small town to die.” This drive and organization does not happen by accident, nor does the ability to look for solutions that aren’t obvious. Since 2005, Greeley County has been a Public Square Community, a concept that brings together four sectors to strengthen a community: business, government, education and human services. It is a process

Greeley County Republican with his wife, Jan. The conversations, which happen every couple years or when a pressing issue emerges, don’t stick to a set agenda and keep nothing off-limits. Of course, people in the community don’t always agree. Hopkins says the discussions can be contentious, such as dialogue about corporate hog farms or the four-day school week, but they tend to remain civil.

advanced by Public Square Communities, a Kansas-based group that works to help residents reconnect and build their town’s social capital. One of the cornerstones of that program is engaging people from all those sectors, and others, in Community Conversations, where they discuss what’s important to them. From that process, people who have passion for any topic form action teams to investigate possibilities.

The effort has brought new voices into the mix, broadening possibilities and helping foster a positive attitude, says Steve Mangan, who runs a farm and feeding operation. “I think our positive attitude and our mindset of the way we think has grown into a culture. The attitude in our community is that if we need it, we’ve got to find a way to do it.”

Bringing a cross section of people together to discuss issues has become the default action in Greeley County says Christy Hopkins, director of the Unified Greeley County Community Development Office. “All ideas are welcomed; all ideas are encouraged,” says Hopkins, an alumna of the 2010-11 Kansas Health Foundation Fellows program.

In fact, learning to cooperate that way has been a matter of survival, Dan Epp says. It proved essential because in 2003-04, he says, the community was “looking over the edge of the cliff” as far as population declines.

Her office acts as the clearinghouse to keep action teams on track and communicating. The position was intentionally designed to be “community” development, not just economic development. Greeley County is the only Public Square Community with paid staff dedicated to the endeavor.

Greeley County has always had one of the lowest populations in the state. Between 2000 and 2010, it lost 19 percent of its people. When the first community conversation occurred in 2005, a significant portion of the residents – about 180 – attended. Citizens were interested immediately in unifying the city and county

In the last nine years, having community conversation has become part of the culture of the community. “It’s been institutionalized. The community expects it,” says Dan Epp, co-editor and -publisher of the

Cade and Jayden Mangan play on a hay truck on their farm near Tribune.




governments (Horace, population 70, the county’s only other incorporated town, did not join the consolidation). An action team was formed to consider the possibilities. “One of the smart things we did was we invited everybody and anybody to be involved,” says Mike Thon, who served on the board of supervisors at the time. State legislation was required to even make it possible to unify. The action team held about 30 meetings over the following year. “The people who showed up had an interest,” Thon says. “They may not have necessarily had a positive interest, however.” But, he’s quick to point out that all opinions were welcomed. “Maybe their negative concerns were legitimate. Maybe they had a concern we hadn’t thought of.”

Unified Greeley County Treasurer Diane Gentry

As things progressed, county people didn’t want their tax money supporting city projects and vice versa. The action team listened to community members, considered options and came up with a compromise. Two budgets are maintained and reimbursements go back and forth between them. But it allows for sharing equipment and manpower, which is more effective and will hopefully show a savings as they have to replace fewer pieces of equipment in the future. “We can still unify further,” Mangan says, “but we’ve made a good start.” Brock Sloan, public works director for the unified government, then a city employee, attended a meeting to discuss some of his concerns about how the merger would happen and how employees would be affected. “They made me secretary,” he says when asked how his concerns were received. He says being involved helped alleviate some of the fears because he could see how the plan would work. “It gives people a chance,” Sloan says, although he had never been involved in anything like that before. “You can’t put a profile on a person who gets engaged in Greeley County,” Hopkins says. She says there’s a willingness to involve people of all ages and backgrounds. Sheryl Crotinger, who had never lived in a small town before moving to Tribune with her husband, A.J., agrees. “In this community, if you want to get involved, they’ll find a spot for you,” she says. In 2007, Greeley County became the second in the state to fully unify city and county governments. The other is Wyandotte County. Greeley County unified its law enforcement and fire departments about 20 years ago, formed the first co-op in the state six decades ago, and unified the school district in the 1950s.


Jacob Miller, Jacob Neyer and Anthony Haberman watch “Jack the Giant Slayer� in 3-D at The Star Theater in Tribune. 31.

“We’ve always worked well together. We’ve not always communicated well together,” School Superintendent Ken Bockwinkel says.

few classes. Last year there were 27 births in the county, and only 12 deaths. It’s the first time in many years there were more births than deaths.

Bockwinkel taught in Tribune and then left for an administrative job elsewhere. He returned to Tribune because of what he was reading in the newspaper about the community development efforts. It wasn’t long after he returned before he had a chance to put the community conversation model into action because the school needed upgrades.

Population is key to many issues for Greeley County. It’s a delicate balance to have a community with all the essential services people need and a quality of life that’s appealing, while having a tax burden they can afford. “I live here,” Thon says, “and within reason I want to have a good quality of life.” It’s finding the balance that is a struggle.

The $4.8 million renovation passed with a 71 percent approval even though it would raise taxes by 10 mills. The school now has geothermal heating, smart boards, new technology, and other features you might expect in a much larger city. But funding for day to day operations is still scarce.

It is a 90-minute drive from Tribune to a shopping mall. So making sure people can gain access to anything they need in town is important and shopping local is encouraged. “Every business is critical,” Epp says. Necessary services can include everything from the tire shop to the 18-bed hospital to the theater. “We have a broad definition of what’s essential,” Hopkins says.

Students attend school only four days a week because of funding cuts, and it has been that way for four years. It saves the district 20 percent on transportation, food and utilities. Bockwinkel has also cut other costs – teachers clean their own classrooms, and he helps clear snow off school property. “We do what we need to do,” he says. But there isn’t much more room to cut. He says he has tried to keep the cuts away from the students, but readily admits a four-day week isn’t the best for them when it comes to retention. Nonetheless, it was what had to be done. There wasn’t enough population to generate the funding necessary to keep school in session five days a week. But that’s changing. The current preschool class has 12 kids in it. Next year it will have 28. Bockwinkel is always counting the babies on the way so he can project the size of the next


Of course, everyone needed to run those businesses has to have somewhere to live, and housing remains a struggle, more than other issues the community has dealt with, Hopkins says. While construction costs are similar to what they would be anywhere, a completed structure in Tribune is immediately valued at 20-30 percent less than it cost to build because of the location. “It comes down to bricks and mortar,” A.J. Crotinger says. “We’ve got people who want to move here,” he says, and they can’t because there’s no housing available. The housing team has looked at multiple options, but not come up with anything workable yet. A group formed a corporation to try and acquire private funds,

LEFT TO RIGHT: Steve Mangan, who runs a farm and feeding operation, says community conversations have brought new voices into the mix in Greeley County, broadened possibilities and helped foster a positive attitude. Travis Elliott and Dayna Bechard opened Elliott’s GastroPub, the only public liquor-by-the-drink source in a five-county area, in 2012. Students at Greeley County Elementary School use laptops in class. Christy Hopkins, director of the Unified Greeley County Community Development Office, strolls down Broadway Avenue, the main street in Tribune.

but the investment opportunity just wasn’t appealing enough yet. “In small, rural communities it’s not that there is a return on your money, you just hope for a return of your money,” Mangan says. It’s a struggle when recruiting teachers, doctors or other professionals to the area, but the economics of the housing problem remain and resist obvious solutions. “We’ve got to find a way to fund it,” Bockwinkel says. “A model doesn’t exist. We’ll have to find some way to make it work.” Mangan and others believe it may require an investment of taxpayer money, which would have to be approved by the board of supervisors. One proposal is to have the county write a check for 20 percent of the cost to a new homeowner. “That’s an investment that will be returned to the community in taxes in about five to seven years,” Mangan says. But they’re still trying to explore other options and find a solution that doesn’t require going to the county, where the budget is already tight. Meanwhile, the community’s newspaper continues to tell the story of what’s happening in Greeley County. “The newspaper provides a sense of place,” Hopkins says. Just as it attracted the attention of the school superintendent when he was working elsewhere, it remains a connection people rely on. Two-thirds of the newspaper’s subscription base is outside the county. It’s an ongoing connection to the community. Dan Epp’s father, Otto, designed the paper to tell the positive stories of the community, and Dan and Jan maintain that. Jan explains it’s not that they don’t cover news such as a house fire, but the focus

would be on how the community is helping the affected family. “We are advocates for the community,” Dan Epp says. It’s something people who move away use to maintain ties. Travis Elliott grew up in Tribune but was living in Kansas City before moving back last year. “I got the newspaper for 20 years. Ever since I graduated high school. Never missed a week,” he says. Elliott and Dayna Bechard brought new opportunities for community by opening Elliott’s GastroPub in August 2012. It’s the only public liquor-by-the-drink source in a five-county area after a countywide ballot question allowing such sales passed by a razor-thin margin in 2008. Bechard says the restaurant/bar has been appealing to younger people coming back to live or visit. “They have a place to go now,” she says. They are making an effort to have a variety of beers and are using local food as much as possible. “We wanted to get the community involved,” Bechard says. “It’s farm to table. We buy as much as we can as local as we can and keep it as fresh as possible.” She’s working to start a farmers market this summer. Currently all of the businesses on the main street are occupied, some with second generations taking over family businesses. They are involved in the community, too. “In a community our size, your people are your assets,” Mangan says. Tribune has invested in recreational opportunities, too. It was a desire voiced in the initial community conversation. Hopkins says they’ve found recreation is the gateway to getting younger people engaged. Currently, 10 softball teams are playing.


Dan Epp, co-editor of the Greeley County Republican, runs the manual press at the weekly newspaper, which continues to provide a key sense of place for the community. Two-thirds of the newspaper’s circulation base sits outside the county.



They’re excited by the idea of young people moving back and the number of babies on the way. However, the hospital suspended delivering babies a few years ago. “It has been a very emotional issue for a lot of people in the community,” Hopkins says. It was another case of it not being feasible to shoulder the cost of the service. Sometimes quality of life desires run up against the brick wall of how much the tax base can support when population is small. Efforts to improve the economy can create factions with different views and values. A couple years ago, Seaboard Farms approached the county about allowing hog farms. Cattle feed lots were approved more than 10 years ago, but hogs weren’t included at the time. The community came together to discuss if they wanted to consider it. Then they had a second conversation after some information had been gathered. The approach was, “Here’s what we know; what do you want us to know,” according to Hopkins. A special election on allowing confined hog operations passed with 51 percent of the vote in 2010. A.J. Crotinger says he thought it was a good idea to add to the tax base, but he wasn’t a vocal supporter. Thon was against it, but says, “Hogs are here now. We move on.” How to move on in all facets of life in Tribune and Greeley County is being decided by engaging as many people as possible in discussions about the possibilities. When things don’t seem feasible, they look for different options. When something happens that can’t be avoided – such as a fourday school week – they move on, hoping they can find a new answer. Volunteerism is high, but sometimes people need to take a step back for a while to regroup. “In this size community, you can’t rely solely on volunteers, because you run out,” Mangan says.


People here also try to adjust to failure. Sometimes action teams just can’t make headway with their original plan, so they modify it and try a different approach. Sometimes they just disband. If the topic comes up again in a community conversation, a new team will form and try again. Regardless of the process, the impetus is there. “The economics of our age is that small communities and small businesses are at risk,” Dan Epp says. But Tribune and Greeley County are forging ahead. “We have to make it work,” A.J. Crotinger says. “We have to do it. You can’t let your ego get in the way. You can’t let what you want get in the way. It’s the community. Our community wants to not just survive but thrive. Put your differences aside.”

Travis Elliott - Tribune resident who was living in Kansas City before moving back last year. 47.

LESSONS FROM TRIBUNE AND GREELEY COUNTY: A guide for leadership from a small, rural community


Recognize the problem, think about the solution and get it done. – KEN BOCKWINKEL You can’t move forward just working with your buddies all the time and the people who think like you do. – STEVE MANGAN In order to get people to take ownership, you have to give up control. – MIKE THON Instead of saying, “you’re wrong,” say, “this is what I see.” – DAN EPP Try to keep things civil so you can continue to have discourse. – KEN BOCKWINKEL Always know you’re not always right. Other people’s opinions are meaningful and useful. – STEVE MANGAN Sometimes you don’t need a barrel of money, but you need to change the process. – STEVE MANGAN Not everything is going to work. Even if it doesn’t work, we’ve acknowledged the issue. – MIKE THON You always learn something from failure. – DIANE GENTRY Failure happens. It’s what you do in response that matters. – KEN BOCKWINKEL The community is what we make it. We’re making it a place we’re proud of. – CHRISTY HOPKINS


San Dar Myint shows off plants being grown at a community garden near a public housing complex in Kansas City, Kansas. Officials in Wyandotte County have been working to bolster community gardens through such efforts as making water access more accessible and affordable.


CHANGE In Wyandotte County and Wichita, coalitions have formed that are tackling issues and attempting to lay a foundation for a healthier present and future.

B U T T H E W O R K I S N ’ T E A S Y.




Four years after ranking dead last in the state’s county health rankings, Wyandotte County’s push to become healthier moves forward through a mayoral transition.


By Dawn Bormann Novascone

OPPOSITE: Kansas City, Kansas’ Strawberry Hill neighborhood sits across the river from Downtown Kansas City, Missouri. LEFT: Outgoing mayor Joe Reardon visibly championed efforts to improve community health in Wyandotte County. RIGHT: Mark Holland, being sworn in as mayor and CEO of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., this past April, is continuing the effort.

Days after being elected into Wyandotte County’s top Unified Government post, Mayor Mark Holland found himself on the starting line of a two-mile road race with a bunch of energized fifth graders.

officials leave office or members get busy or bored. Holland – strengthened by other elected and local leaders willing to roll up their sleeves – vowed to push progress.

The annual Are You Faster Than a Fifth Grader race to address childhood obesity proved symbolic given Holland’s pledge to improve health outcomes for all. The mayor’s performance?

“This is an issue I’ve worked side by side with [Reardon] from day one,” says Holland, the top elected official for the consolidated governments of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, which voters approved merging into a single entity in 1997.

“There were some kids that smoked me,” he admits. It was a fitting finish to show how arduous Holland’s journey might be in the next four years as he oversees a county being watched nationwide for its struggle to improve overall health outcomes. Holland knew that many eyes – health policy experts at local, state and national levels – had watched him during the mayoral election to see if he would embrace the blueprint for a healthier community started by his predecessor, Joe Reardon. The experts know civic groups often work with gusto initially but quickly lose steam as key

The movement already has policy-makers and stakeholders approaching obstacles differently. There’s a broader view of what truly affects population health in Wyandotte County – one that reaches far beyond the bounds of hospitals, doctors and health care. “It helped me change my paradigm of parks and recreation from fun and games to healthy living,” Holland says. “If you don’t have money, what do you cut? Fun and games.”


But now that mindset must shift. If healthy living is a priority, then officials must step up and fund the issues with a different thought-process. Holland says it will be up to him to step up and say: “When we put a new playground in a park, we’re talking about a fundamental paradigm shift that is helping kids get off electronics, get off the couch and get out in the community and actually do something.”

address underlying health concerns. Securing the money was key to ensuring the plan didn’t disappear when he left office – a fear of Reardon and others. Reardon’s push started in 2009 when Wyandotte County residents ranked flat last in county health rankings compiled by the Kansas Health Institute. Armed with statistics, Reardon attempted to attack the unflattering study.

Mayor Holland also has clear ideas for how to gauge the next phase of success. He wants a downtown recreation center operational within five years. Before then, he wants more grocery stores. “We’re not just building an urban grocery store in our urban areas because it’s a nice thing to do, but because it’s a part of healthy living,” Holland says. “In the last six years, we’ve opened the first four new grocery stores in 30 years. Now we need to open four more because we need to continue that urban redevelopment.”

“I wanted to fight about all the stats,” Reardon says. But the picture was clear: Rates of premature death, smoking, adult obesity and physical inactivity were markedly higher than the state average. Residents had limited access to recreational facilities. It was easier to get chicken nuggets than fresh produce in the urban core. The teen birth rate and the number of children living in poverty were eye-opening. Many high school students didn’t graduate let alone attend college. The big picture started to sink in. Reardon wanted to move on and dismiss the KHI report. But the intimate connection between health and economic growth began to weigh on him. The lifelong resident of Wyandotte County could remain defensive, or he could step up.

He also wants to boost workforce development to lower unemployment and poverty rates, while he pushes for more mental health care access.


“If you don’t start to address the lower lying issues in the rankings, the kinds of things in those rankings get worse,” he says.

Reardon helped launch Healthy Communities Wyandotte, an initiative that aims to improve the county’s overall health. He leaves just as years of planning move to action. This summer, $500,000 in grants will be distributed to agencies with plans to

Reardon’s mind kept flashing back to Cerner, an integrated health care information technology company building an office complex by the Village West retail

44. 54.

Caitlin McMurtry, who has served as a program coordinator for Healthy Communities Wyandotte and an analyst at the Kansas Health Institute, says Wyandotte County’s efforts could be replicated anywhere. By emphasizing urban grocery stores, such as this one near Interstate 70, Wyandotte County officials hope to encourage both healthy eating and economic development. Erin Stryka and Brett Shoffner ride bikes in the Rosedale area of Kansas City, Kansas.

and entertainment district near the intersection of I-70 and I-435. The company would bring 4,000 high-paying jobs his citizens desperately needed. But how would it truly help his community? “We don’t have 4,000 young people that have the education level for those jobs,” he says.

If the plan was going to be successful, the community needed to help own the solution. Reardon says he and other local leaders put all the negative statistics on the table then asked the public: “What ought we to be doing?” Community members weren’t shocked.

With two young boys of his own, Reardon knew he had to act. KHI offered resources to start, and Reardon bought in quickly. “From a political standpoint, I was willing to own the problem,” he says. “There were a lot of people close to me who said, ‘Why are you going to own this thing?’” Reardon couldn’t solve the problem before the next election. “For me, it was as a leader being willing to take on tough issues. To me, the surprise was if you take on tough issues that are real, the public is going to embrace you,” Reardon says. “There’s not a lot of finger waving around this issue.” Reardon then tried to use the rankings as a catalyst. He personally asked commissioners, chief executive officers, school superintendents, health experts and others leaders at the county’s top industries and nonprofits to help him brainstorm and create change. “Government can’t solve all these problems,” he reasoned. Eventually, there were public surveys and meetings.

“People got it,” Reardon says “These issues were real to them, too.” What seemed like a political nightmare – spelling out the county’s societal woes – turned into brainstorming that invested residents. They saw the incentives: safer parks, a downtown grocery store and better schools. A coalition of community stakeholders spent months focused on education, environmental infrastructure, food, health services and communication – issues that go beyond traditional health care access. Eventually the coalition drafted a 20-page list of recommendations to dig the county out of last place. It has become the touchstone for funding decisions. Momentum grew quickly when the Unified Government Commissioners endorsed the document. Policies evolved from there: The commission adopted the “complete streets” initiative, forcing engineers to consider not just cars but also sidewalks, pedestrians, bike lanes and trails before spending taxpayer money. Community gardens got a boost with the H2O to Grow program aimed at making water more accessible and afford-

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strapped Wyandotte County. Parks and recreation ranks low on citizen surveys. Holland will have to find a balance.

able. After years of arguing over a miniscule sidewalk budget, the commission found neutral ground and unanimously adopted a sidewalk and trail master plan. It prioritized school routes and bus stops not commission districts.

“If you have access to a nice park nearby it increases the value of your home. It’s an economic development engine as well. Getting people to understand that – it’s like pulling teeth,” he says.

“It takes the political deadlock out of it,” Reardon says. “If we decided to start arbitrarily, we’d have a lot of people mad at us,” says Caitlin McMurtry, program coordinator for Healthy Communities Wyandotte and an analyst at the KHI.

His first proposal – to open public levees in the county to hike and bike trails – drew cautious hesitation from the local levee board. He’s undeterred. Other Kansas cities have overcome the obstacles, he says.

There were also clear signs that beliefs were shifting to encourage healthy living.

Holland also faces the possibility of a discordant commission after a heated elected season that produced several new commissioners.

When the YMCA of Greater Kansas City abruptly announced it would close its downtown facility, commissioners scrambled to keep it open for another year. Neighborhood groups started walk and bike clubs. One church invited Reardon to see how it used a newly constructed sidewalk in the urban core. “There were probably 50 people there,” Reardon says. “I didn’t do it. [The pastor] did it.”

But the plan is hard to abandon. National health experts use Wyandotte County’s blueprint to inspire other communities. “I think Mayor Reardon was in the vanguard and maybe still is to take this on for Wyandotte County,” says Jim Marks, a senior vice president with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.


Marks urges communities to start planning now for quality of life health issues that drive economic development and strengthen neighborhoods.

Despite this work, Wyandotte County’s overall health score remains relatively stagnant in the county health rankings report, which is now published by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It ranked 99 out of the 102 counties examined in the 2013 version.

“A county that is waiting for its economy to improve and neglects this actually delays its own improvement,” Marks says. McMurtry says the effort can be replicated anywhere. “We don’t have this crazy abundance of resources that other people don’t have,” she says. “If this can happen in Wyandotte, it can happen anywhere.”

Creating sizeable change could take a decade. “This is like turning a battleship around to get those numbers to change,” says Wyandotte County Public Health Director Joe Connor.

Holland points to consistency being the key. The infrastructure for consistency has been built up over the past four years by engaging the public, developing a plan and gaining buy-in among a broad range of stakeholders. But Holland knows that going forward, his role will be key, too, for ensuring that lasting change keeps taking shape.

County health leaders instead celebrate each victory, such as securing a grant to hire McMurtry. They celebrated again when the commission designated $500,000 in casino funds to create healthy living grants.

And there’s another message those fifth graders ought to know. A few years ago, Holland finished the Kansas City Marathon. He knows a little about racing too, albeit with a more methodical and steady gait.

The biggest challenge is sticking to the 20-page plan while nurturing more change. There are other harsh realities for Holland in cash-



New sidewalks are being constructed throughout KCK and Wyandotte County after commissioners in Wyandotte County unanimously adopted a sidewalk and trail master plan.



In Wichita, an effort to improve the environment for bicycling and walking navigated plenty of twists and turns.

By Brian Whepley

In February, Wichita’s City Council endorsed a decade-long bicycle master plan and created the Bicycle-Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

Charged up by learning more about the firm connections between health and ready access to bicycling, walking and other physical activity, the Health & Wellness Coalition of Wichita wanted to make participating in those activities easier.

Not so fast. Approval of the advisory board finally came in February, as a component of a decade-long bicycle master plan endorsed by Wichita’s City Council. In the three years between idea and reality, the team helped build upon and expand a network of health, bicycling and pedestrian advocates and reassess the board’s place within government and its timing.

As part of that effort, a team overseeing the effort decided to push for the creation of a Bicycle-Pedestrian Advisory Committee, a citizen panel that would advise local government on how to keep walking and biking in mind when making infrastructure and policy decisions.

They learned the language and values of other advocates, elected officials, planners and others who would also play key roles. And they learned speed bumps need not become roadblocks.

The group had heard of the important roles advisory boards in other communities had in ensuring bicycle and pedestrian issues received consideration in municipal planning and public works. They had made long-term policy change the goal of the team – consisting of public health and municipal officials and business, foundation and other community representatives – and an advisory board could be a mechanism to achieve that.

FINDING COMMON GROUND Public health officials know that to improve overall health, a healthy choice must be the easy choice. So if crossing busy streets is difficult, bicycle lanes aren’t available and paths don’t connect, many people won’t choose to bike or walk – which are healthier choices.

“We thought it was going to be easy to set it up,” says Jeff Usher, an avid bicyclist, team member and senior program officer at the Kansas Health Foundation.


But not everyone approached biking and walking issues from that perspective. Bicyclists and pedestrians saw a city short on trails, lanes, sidewalks and other city-planned features that would make Wichita more bikeand pedestrian-friendly. Planners, engineers and others involved in designing and building roads and other infrastructure saw a safety issue. Some didn’t believe bikes and cars should mix. The coalition’s 13-member “leadership team” reached out to other advocacy groups, such as the Bike/Walk Alliance of Wichita. Council member Lavonta Williams took the issue to the city manager and council and pledged to keep it alive. The team met with planners and public works staff.

president of community development and a team member. “Over the years, we have been able to share those values and speak the same language.” The relationships helped guide the team’s response when challenges developed.

MAKING ADJUSTMENTS Team members knew, from best practices elsewhere, that finding the advisory board a receptive home could improve its chances of being effective. Approaches to the first target, the Wichita Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, WAMPO for short, revealed the sentiment that the board wouldn’t be a good fit at the organization.

“When we first started engaging city staff several years ago, it was really hard,” Usher says. “Their concern is safety. The conversation shifted from recreation to safety, and that’s when I started shifting the way I approached the conversation.”

“We knew we needed to have a board that is appointed by a government body and is supported by it and a staff person,” Usher says. “We needed to ensure there’s a champion in the system, to remind people that our transportation system goes beyond cars,” noting the residents who bike and walk to work.

“We were pushing them to push health as their priority, and we wanted them to know why we wanted the built environment to support it,” says Mim McKenzie, the Greater Wichita YMCA’s vice

A receptive home was found at the City of Wichita, along with staff support – and a passionate advocate, team members say – in Scott Wadle, a senior planner with the Metropolitan Area Planning Department, a

joint Wichita-Sedgwick County operation that handles local planning. The department is host to WAMPO, a federally mandated and funded organization that coordinates regional transportation planning and allocates federal highway funds. The next, bigger adjustment was timing. Initially, the thought was to have a government body create the board and put them to work. But team member and City Council member Janet Miller questioned whether a board could be effective without a specific task – a bicycle master plan – to oversee. “My pushback at the time was that, ultimately, that would be a good idea, but until we had a plan and actually had something for them to work on, it wouldn’t make any sense,” Miller says. “When we got challenged about creating an advisory committee before a bike plan, that was a great challenge,” says McKenzie, chairwoman of the health coalition, which was formed a decade ago to promote physical activity and healthy eating. “The leadership team thought through it and said, ‘That’s absolutely right; let’s move to a master bike plan.’ It was a challenge that allowed us to get two steps down the road.”

WHAT’S A BOARD TO DO? With bicycle plan and advisory board intertwined, momentum turned toward developing the plan. “We used lack of resources as a challenge. You can often overcome that challenge if there’s a will and people are looking for solutions,” says Miller, referring to the finding of leftover grant money to draft the plan in 2011. The advisory board’s focus had been the topic of ongoing discussion. Sure, a board would represent bicyclist-pedestrian perspectives, but just what did that mean? Advocacy wasn’t its role, team members and municipal staff believed, because the community already had groups doing that. Instead, it should prioritize and examine projects called for in the bike plan – and make sure the plan becomes reality. “Sometimes even the best of plans go on the shelf unless someone is appointed to birddog them. The bicycle-pedestrian advisory board will make ensuring that the plan goes forward one of their primary tasks,” says Miller, who along with Williams served on the steering committee that developed the plan.


Walkers wanted Wichita to be more friendly to pedestrians. Jane Byrnes, a member of Bike Walk Wichita, walks in Harvest Park, with her daughter, Nancy Gould, and granddaughter, Abbie. Two city council members, Lavonta Williams (left) and Janet Miller, played key roles in the development of a bicycle master plan and an advisory council to help bring the plan to reality.

Another role is to examine ongoing public works and work to ensure biking and walking features are considered – such as adding bike lanes to streets or putting in mid-block crossing zones.

Where once residents told Williams “we don’t want it here,” now they ask, “Well, are we going to get the Redbud Trail now?” And City Hall heard their voices.

“If a project is going in to revitalize or restore a street, how does it look from the bicycling and walking perspective?” says Williams, a retired physical education teacher who sees a bike- and pedestrian-friendly Wichita as both a health and economic development issue.

“Bringing people on from the grassroots perspective was what won the city over. We talked to over 4,000 people. Anybody that would sit still we would explain,” Williams says.

“We really see them as having a proactive role. They can have input at a very key moment in time, not just look at projects that are already decided upon,” says Wadle, an avid bicyclist and walker.

Education was an important tool. Best practices and advisory boards were studied in bike- and pedestrianfriendly cities, such as Columbia, Mo., and the Twin Cities, among others. Team members had earlier studied how to advance policy issues and attended a conference on the connection between health and infrastructure. They officially gained a supporter when Schlegel joined the team in 2011, after serving as a Kansas Health Foundation Fellow in a group that discussed leadership and the built environment.

Named in May, the 11-member board had more than three dozen applicants.

And the three-year process provided a key lesson in being willing to work and adapt over the long term.

“That tells me there’s a huge interest in this, and that this is something people have been waiting for,” Williams says of the applicant pool.

“We have had challenges, but people are challenging us to make it better, not challenging us to stop it,” says McKenzie, a KHF Fellow in 2007-08.

Wadle hopes that members can be assigned to monitor individual projects, such as the Redbud Trail, a multiuse path in northeast Wichita built on an abandoned rail bed.

“You had to be patient, but it did happen,” says Jane Byrnes of Bike Walk Wichita, formerly the Bike/Walk Alliance of Wichita. “Maybe the idea is that powerful. The idea made itself known, and policymakers opened themselves up to something that was already known.”

GETTING INPUT, GETTING EDUCATED The team began its campaign believing the goal was worthwhile. Community support surfaced, too, during the ensuing bike-plan process.

Collaboration will continue to be essential. The city is seeking grants for construction proposed in the plan, and the health coalition will contribute $700,000 of a $2.4 million federal community transformation grant to design and implement projects.

Public input was sought and collected through community surveys and more than 50 public meetings. Explaining the issue from various perspectives – paths are for walking as well as biking; they can boost instead of hurt property values; they can make people want to move to the city – helped overcome some contentious reactions.

“If we are successful in getting the funding we have applied for, we will see much more complete bike facilities built in 2013 and 2014,” Schlegel says. “This could be a major jump in the quality of life for people in Wichita. The real proof is when we get facilities built and get the number of users up.”

“Nobody rides bicycles!” John Schlegel, director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Department, sometimes heard. “They think it’s a complete waste of money. We did get some pushback, but that point of view was overwhelmed by people wanting to get these things built.”



Mim McKenzie and Tyrone Baker, both employees of the Greater Wichita YMCA, ride home from work at the downtown YMCA toward the city’s west side. McKenzie, vice president of community development at the Y, was a member of a coalition hoping to make physical activity easier.

Fourth grade student Kailen O’Brien chases the hogs after feeding them during the morning chores at the Walton Rural Life Center Elementary School.

farm school A farm-themed school in Walton is helping keep a community alive and vibrant.



Cultivating a rural way of life

For years, the elementary school in the Harvey County town of Walton, population 235, struggled with its enrollment. Its future remained constantly in jeopardy, dimming the hopes of survival for both the town of Walton and the rural, farming culture it embodies. Then in 2007, in a bold move designed to help the school survive, it became the Walton Rural Life Center, a charter school focused on teaching students through agriculture. They learn through tasks, such as feeding and raising animals and growing vegetables. Test scores are up, and enrollment has more than doubled, with a waiting list to get in. The school now draws students from surrounding communities with an interest in learning through agriculture, and efforts continue to expand its classroom space so it can serve even more students. The school’s success has brought newfound energy and pride to the town. A school, a town and parents and students passionate about their rural way of life have all found a way to connect together, for the common good of all involved. By discovering connecting interests in civic leadership, we create new paths to follow to a better tomorrow.

OPPOSITE CLOCKWISE FROM TOP : Kindergarten student Evan Kaufman and first grade student Kinsley O’Brien arrange the work boots outside the classroom after the morning chores; Highway 50 runs through Walton; Second grade student Jax Bowers removes the eggs from the hen house; Students at the school do farm chores at the beginning of each school day; Second grade student Jax Bowers fills up the water station for the chickens.



After the chores the students clean the barn that sits behind the school.



Less bureaucracy, better service The story of still-developing collaboration involving the City of Wichita and Sedgwick County provides lessons, insights worth considering across the state By Chris Green



Collaboration can be very difficult, even when there are good reasons for doing it. It’s been true often of government in Kansas, where it’s rare for a city and a county in Kansas to choose to consolidate all, or even some, of their governmental functions. Two communities profiled in this issue of The Journal, Wyandotte County and Greeley County, have accomplished the feat of having their county governments merge with the government of the county’s largest city.

Furthermore, the purpose of making a move would have to be done with the intention of creating longterm benefits, such as improving the delivery of services in the metro area. The study determined that combining code enforcement operations would not save significant money in the short term. The city and county hired a third-party facilitator, as well as a local government expert, who helped lead a “Design Team” to work through the issue and determine how services might be shared. The group brought together individuals inside and outside government, including representatives of inspectors from the city and county, trades, builders associations and neighborhood associations.

But the discussion of such moves, if it happens at all, tends to be fraught with difficulties. For all the hopes of cost savings and greater efficiency in providing government services such moves might bring, a lot, including identity, cultural barriers and fear of potential losses from a change, can all get in the way. That’s why the launch earlier this year of the Metropolitan Area Building and Construction Department, the merged code enforcement entity serving Wichita and Sedgwick County, could be worth watching and learning from here in Kansas.

The group ultimately laid out the groundwork and guiding principles for combining city and county code enforcement operations. City and county management worked out sticky details that would allow the shared entity to operate with city and county employees under the county’s organizational structure. The director of the shared department would be jointly hired by the city manager and county manager. Sedgwick County Manager William Buchanan, Assistance County Manager Ron Holt and Wichita City Manager Robert Layton recently shared what they learned from the process and what other communities looking to share services should know:

The result of nearly two years of discussions between city officials, county officials and a variety of other stakeholders, the entity is still relatively young, and there may be future hurdles to clear. There are also still details to be worked out, such as putting both city and county workers under the same roof to offer a “one-stop shop” for customers.

• Collaboration is hard work, Layton says.

But city and county officials have also already crossed a number of barriers in their collaboration and remain committed to making it work to serve Wichita, the outlying county and communities surrounding Wichita.

“What seems to make sense on paper gets more complicated when we factor in the human element.” The hurdles aren’t insurmountable, he says, but it takes a lot of work to get a “meaningful collaborative effort.”

• The situation reinforced the axiom of involving

When they first started discussing sharing services in the spring of 2011, Wichita and Sedgwick County officials looked at merging several of their departments providing “community services.”

stakeholders from the very beginning, Holt says. “That’s at every level, internal as well as external. Especially your external stakeholders.” Says Buchanan: “There’s a simple model. You bring in a group of people who you think have a stake in the outcome, then ask those people who’s not at the table. And then you ask those people who’s not at the table. Anybody who thinks they have a stake in the outcome should be there.”

A preliminary study identified code enforcement as a particularly promising area for functional combination, albeit one fraught with complexities that needed to be worked out. Among these issues was the fact that the city and county possessed very distinct organizational cultures.


Wichita’s CIty Hall (left) and the Sedgwick County Courthouse sit across from each other near the intersection of Central and Main.






Voters in Sedgwick County narrowly oppose consolidating the governments of Wichita and Sedgwick County in an advisory vote, with strong opposition coming from rural and suburban voters.

Code enforcement determined to be an especially promising but complex area for sharing services. The key benefit of the move would be more efficient service, not cost savings.

Group members recommend combining city and county code enforcement into single entity. Proposal well received at joint meeting of Wichita City Council and Sedgwick County Commission.


Study begins on combining several city-county “community services” divisions or departments.

A “Design Team” of stakeholders, meeting under the guidance of a third-party facilitator and government expert, begins to determine how services might be shared. Participants include representatives of inspectors, trades, builders associations and neighborhood associations.


DECEMBER City and county managers meet with the sub-group to discuss the merger and answer questions from the group.

MID-NOVEMBER Disagreement emerges among members of a Design Team sub-group over which government the entity should be structured under.




JANUARY Sub-group develops seven principles to guide the merger but doesn’t determine who should be the “managing partner.”


City and county managers release memorandum of understanding with an overview of the structure and operations of a joint city/county code enforcement department.

NOVEMBER Thomas Stolz, formerly Wichita deputy police chief, starts work as the agency’s shared director.

JULY FEBRUARY Guiding principles ratified by full Design Team.

City and county officials restart search for a new director of the joint code enforcement department to focus on hiring for leadership skills rather than technical skills.


Metropolitan Area Building and Construction Department begins operations.

SCHEDULED FOR LATER IN 2013 City and county employees expected to begin working at the same central, “one-stop” shop.

• Much of the work involved was adaptive in

nature, Layton says, meaning that stakeholders had to learn and resolve tough issues themselves in order to pave the new way forward. “It takes a lot of listening and questions,” Layton says. “I think the sooner you can get a sense of ownership in the new organization or the change, the better your opportunity to move forward.”

one built around protecting public safety and providing great customer service. As a result, it made the new director’s credibility and leadership skills more crucial than his technical skills. Also important: Picking somebody who wasn’t seen as tied to the city or county departments involved in the shared entity.

• With people’s identities, loyalties and potential

losses at stake, you may need to find help from a third party along the way. Having a skilled, independent facilitator involved was important for building trust and moving the process along, Layton says.

• Be prepared for the process to take time,

and make sure you have some kind information sharing system in place, Layton says. “Because it’s all about communication and information and developing trust.”

• Be prepared to adjust on the fly. “Almost nothing

• Some key decisions were left up in the air early

on rather than settled. But having a joint mission in pursuing the change has led to presumption of goodwill on both sides to make the merger happen, Buchanan says. It keeps turf issues from getting in the way. “The mission is more important than anything else: It’s protecting the public and serving customers,” Buchanan says.

• Outside stakeholders with “authoritative power” can play a key role in determining whether something moves forward, Buchanan says. The merger wouldn’t have happened without the support of people like local homebuilders who felt the changes would result in better service.

went the way we expected it to,” Layton says.

Fostering changes in civic life through collaboration proves to be difficult work. But the experience of Wichita and Sedgwick County in this scenario shows that progress can be made. How might you apply the lessons from this situation to your community? Are there areas where additional cooperation and collaboration among governments or other entities would improve the quality of life where you live? What role might you play in helping your community collaborate more effectively?

• Creating a combined entity also means

developing a new organizational culture,

Before communities embark on a discussion about sharing government services, the managers also say they should probably ask themselves several key questions beforehand.

AMONG THEM: Why are you interested in making a change? How will you ensure that “why” will drive everything you do? Are you willing put the amount of time required into making the effort work? Whom does the change benefit? Whom does it harm? Are you willing to commit to dealing with conflict? How will you define success? Have you identified an effective outside party to facilitate the process? What characteristics or skills does the director (or others at key levels of authority) need to have in order to make implementation work? Are you willing to give up an element of control to better serve the public?



Unified Government of Greeley County and the City of Tribune


Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas

1 4

2 5

Shawnee County Parks and Recreation (merged with City of Topeka department)

Wichita-Sedgwick County Metropolitan Area Planning Department




As a printmaker, writer and retired landscape architect, I have spent my life in appreciation of the natural landscape and have continually worked to interpret that appreciation to others. My love of the natural beauty and rugged character of the back road landscape has directed all of my artistic pursuits. Every location has its own beauty and sense of place. Sometimes the beauty is in the macro-landscape, sometimes in the micro. My goal is to find that beauty and to extract that unique character in an original image that is, on one hand, recognizable, yet seen in a different mode. I would characterize my writings as emotion-inspired prose and my artwork as traditional, regionalist images utilizing contemporary printmaking techniques. I have worked with copper plate etching but have switched to photo-polymer plates in varied techniques such as etchings, aquatints and bold relief prints that are hand-colored with watercolor paint.

My chosen senior project in landscape architecture became a self-directed character study of the Kansas Flint Hills, which included more than 25 pen and ink illustrations, photographs and writings. My project was published by the Kansas Department of Economic Development in 1972 as promotional material for the Flint Hills.

I have always had an interest in drawing. As a child, my parents would take me to the library to check out summer reading books. I would usually end up with a book about how to draw boats. My formal art background began at Kansas State University where I was studying landscape architecture. My electives consisted of several art classes including a printmaking overview.


A 35-year career in landscape architecture led to the design of many notable Wichita projects, including the entrance features at Wichita State University, the West Douglas/Delano streetscape project, including the design of the signature clock tower and roundabout, the original master plan for Wichita’s downtown riverbank development and the boundless playground at Sedgwick County Park. Over the years I continued to develop my pen and ink work depicting the rural Kansas landscape. Recently, my illustrations have appeared in the Symphony in the Flint Hills Field Journals and publications. My designs were also selected for the 1982 Wichita River Festival poster and the Charter Edition poster for Botanica, the Wichita Gardens. My interest in printmaking grew through acquisition of my Grandfather’s Prairie Printmaker collection.

The research I did on those prints kindled the passion I now have for intaglio and relief printmaking. I set up my Backroads Press studio in 2007, acquired a Takach Etching Press and, to date, have produced editions of 67 intaglio and relief prints. Most of the images in my portfolio are scenes of the Kansas Flint Hills landscape that I love so much. There is strength and permanence in the prairie, yet it speaks in such a simple voice. In 2011, I published a book of my writings and original prints about the Kansas Flint Hills, entitled “Wander the Kansas Flint Hills in Words and Images.” I continue to market the book, original note cards, mini-posters and limited edition prints through bookstores, galleries, Kansas art fairs and invited showings. I have also developed a website featuring a Backroads Journal of writings and a gallery of my work.



The fountain rises from a deeper place and thrusts its liquid spear into the air then turns to fall with death-defying grace. But when we fall, we struggle to save face and make our way with ever greater care. The fountain rises from a deeper place. Like the gymnast hurtling into space who wraps around the trapeze in mid-air then turns to fall with death-defying grace, the falling and the rising interlace. It’s fear that holds us back from going there. The fountain rises from a deeper place. It’s only life. Summer will replace what Spring has cost. The tree will drop its pear then turn in Fall with death-defying grace. And so we fall into a hard embrace and push our hips together in a prayer. The fountain rises from a deeper place then turns to fall with death-defying Grace. —from The Afterlives of Trees, a Kansas Notable Book, (Woodley Press, 2011).

WYATT TOWNLEY is the Poet Laureate of Kansas, 2013-2015. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, read by Garrison Keillor on NPR, featured by Ted Kooser in his American Life in Poetry column, and appeared in hundreds of venues ranging from The Paris Review to Newsweek. She has published five books, three of poems.


THE BACK PAGE APOLOGIES TO VAN HALEN There’s a conversation alive among the professional staff of the Kansas Leadership Center. It basically boils down to this: Are we a movement? Does the Kansas Leadership Center exist to change the civic culture of Kansas?

If we do that – is it just glossy p.r. under the auspices of perception management? Don’t get me wrong, glossy p.r. has its place. You can win friends and influence people, change hearts and minds with purposeful glossy p.r. But is this the place?

Big, lofty conversations really take hold when they’re ripe. In our sixth year of existence, this one seems like low-hanging fruit. Our founders “envisioned from the start that we would create sustainable, ongoing initiatives, rather than short-term programs.” Questions that arise in this conversation: Who is “we”? Whose work is it? The infrastructure is in place to create a movement. Konza Clubs for KLC alumni are springing up statewide. In today’s information-centric society, we have the ability to push the concept, but then the question arises, if someone or some group is pushing it, is it really, truly organic? Do we facilitate a movement? Does it matter? Just because you can do it, should you? And let’s say for the sake of discussion that a consensus emerges that we are, in fact, a movement. What does that mean, theoretically and practically? How does it manifest itself? If we are a movement, what kind of a movement are we? We’re not a protest movement à la Occupy Wall Street. It doesn’t feel like a social movement in the spirit of racial or marriage equality. Pretty sure we’re not the Arab Spring.

Glossy p.r. could prime the movement pump. Push the message, be ready with the aforementioned infrastructure and let nature take its course. Or is the ‘’let’s change the civic culture of Kansas” sentiment deep and wide enough to take root on its own? With apologies to Van Halen, how do you know if it’s love? We’ve begun some experiments. You’re holding one of them. A Journal published twice as frequently, designed specifically as a catalyst for civic leadership. The words, “For the Common Good” are another. It’s a core message that captures the spirit of our aspirations within the Kansas Leadership Center, but it’s a pretty big umbrella that can cover much more. One of the unintended consequences of viewing leadership as an activity and not a particular role or position is that big, lofty questions like “are we a movement?” simply can’t be answered by one person or one organization. It requires those with a stake to weigh in. A movement? So this conversation continues. We welcome your voice. Mike Matson is Director of Innovative and Strategic Communication for the Kansas Leadership Center.

This question is especially relevant from where I sit. When I view this question through the prism of my organizational charge and responsibility, I can come up with a laundry list of ideas to communicate that we’re a movement. But – and this seems an important “but,” and what I hope separates the Kansas Leadership Center from the pack:


Exce rpt fro m “Prayer for a New Millennium”

On the first evening buzzing with the last light that skids through everything, let the body drink its deepest breath, the lower back spread like a constellation with one lone star swerving. – from The Breathing Field (Little, Brown and Company, 2002) by Wyatt Townley.


















The Journal, Summer 2013  

Inspiration for Civic Leadership in Kansas, Volume 5, Issue 2. Read about dealing with failure in leadership, efforts in Kansas to create h...

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