Clark steps down as FHRC head

By Bryan Richardson

Bill Clark, executive director of the Flint Hills Regional Council, told Manhattan and Riley County officials on Thursday that he will move to a part-time role with the council.

Clark said the council is restructuring its personnel due to the inability to afford the full staff at its current capacity.

Clark said he would focus on the council’s business operations in his reduced capacity, and that Gary Stith — an associate planner who is currently a part-time private consultant — will handle the day-to-day affairs.

Stith said Friday he didn’t anticipate much of a change in the organization’s daily operations.

Clark is retaining his title as executive director while Stith becomes deputy director.

“I was the interim director for nine months,” Stith said. “This puts us back to where we were before.”

Stith said the transition would take place during March with the new organizational structure in place April 1.

A source close to the council whose position means he needed to remain anonymous suggested that Clark’s move was strictly a piece of financial strategy — that with the council under pressure to become self-sustaining and the director drawing the largest salary, there was a fear that some talented staff members might worry about their own futures.

Rather than weaken a council that has begun to build a solid reputation, the source said, Clark is taking an outside job in order to slash his salary with the council — at least until future funding is stabilized.

“We got a good strong staff now,” Stith said. “It’s a matter of keeping everybody. We have to focus on strong programs that keep the organization going and not get distracted by small things.

“We’re going to be looking for additional services we can provide that will have additional support for them through grants and services.”

Clark has accepted a position with USD 475 in Geary County, which Stith said gave the council an opportunity to make the structural change.

“Bill has a family to support, and this will allow him to do that,” he said. “The school district is also allowing him flexibility to still help us.”

Stith said the council’s three-year U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant, its primary source of funding, is set to expire in January of 2015.

He said the council hopes to receive a four- to six-month extension because spending would be reduced with the structural change.

“Now that we’re not spending as much money on personnel, it would give us more time to look for more (outside) financial resources,” Stith said.

During the city/county meeting Thursday, Riley County commissioner Dave Lewis said the biggest concern is finding money for the council as more projects are being taken on.

“The funding mechanisms are our challenge,” he said. “It’s something we need to try to keep in mind, and work with our other legislators in Washington, and try to figure out how we can support that.”

Lyle Butler, president of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce and a longtime supporter of the regional council concept, called the current situation “a bump in the road for regionalism in our area.”

Butler said no one was to blame for the difficult financial realities of the moment, that everything was more a matter of unfortunate timing.

“There are regional councils all over Kansas, and they’re doing fine,” Butler said. “But we need to remember that most have been around a long time, and they’ve established themselves as self-sustaining. They work with the various entities in their regions and get funding for the various positive things they provide.

“The same formula will work here — and should even be a greater success when you consider Fort Riley, NBAF and so many ‘area’ drivers — but the (Flint Hills) council is pretty new as a solid, supported organization.”

Butler admitted that nothing was guaranteed - “There is no mandate that a regional council has to exist,” he said — but he expressed confidence that the group’s leadership will make the right decisions.

“As long as we all help keep the momentum going — Chambers like ours, volunteer elected officials, pretty much everyone involved — then I feel pretty strongly that the foundation is there to help this region tremendously.”

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