By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog
OSAWATOMIE — It’s no secret that public employees get perks most private sector workers don’t. From top-notch pension plans to posh position assignments and near-unrivaled job security, playing the right hand can certainly pay off in Kansas.
But with the good comes the bad, and while private sector workers may sweat the pressure of their boss looking over their shoulder, they can take comfort knowing their position isn’t under the scrutiny of the top executive official in the Sunflower state.
State statute gives Gov. Sam Brownback the authority to review hire requests made by state departments looking to fill any of 2,955 unclassified positions, according to the state human resources department. That means whether the state is hiring for a maintenance worker or an administrative assistant, if it’s an unclassified job the request will have to go all the way to the top.
It’s hard not to raise an eyebrow when you hear the highest elected official in Kansas is giving the green light for state agencies to fill positions well-below his own pay grade. Requests are submitted in batches, and usually see a turnaround of about five days, which means the governor isn’t siphoning off much time from more pressing issues. However, it does beg the question of just how much attention can be paid to each position given the time allotted.
Kansas Democratic Party chair Joan Wagnon said this practice is old hat, but said state Democrats have kept a closer eye on things since Brownback stepped into office.
“I think they’re very careful to make sure people that they hire are people whose political ideology matches theirs,” Wagnon said.
Press secretary Sherriene Jones-Sontag noted that the governor only approves positions, not individuals, and is wielding this long-standing authority in the name of smaller, more efficient government. And for the current administration, that means hiring pointers come from the top down.