Good Luck

May 28th, 2023

rusty varnado city managerELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times


The annual LEAD class is rather exclusive to get into and recently, it was announced one of Liberal’s own will be joining the ranks for this year’s class. 

Liberal City Manager Rusty Varnado was announced as a member of the 2023 LEAD class and as he tells it, there was a lot of surprise with the announcement. 

“I was nominated last year, and I was one of 600 nominees. After you get nominated, you have to fill out the application, and the deadline for that was the end of 2022. Then the selection process happens and it was around Valentine's Day when I was notified I was one of the 40 selected for this year's class,” Varnado said. “At first, I was pretty shocked, because from what I've heard, it takes about two or three times before you get picked, and I was surprised to be picked on my first application. Anytime there's some type of recognition or anything like that, I'm always shocked because I consider myself just like everyone else and not really anyone special. Starting in April and going through October, we'll spend three days every month at various sites throughout the state. The 40 who were selected are from all different backgrounds, including senators, representatives, attorneys, bankers, entrepreneurs, CEOs and others, so it's a very varied perspective about how the public and private sectors work, as well as the vast amount of experience that will be going through this.”

Varnado added he hopes to learn a lot from the experience and is very excited to take part. 

“The first goal with anything I do is to try and build/promote Liberal. There was something I was participating in years ago and there was a gentleman who told me there's definitely a sentiment of people in Topeka and eastward that they don't understand why there's still a Western Kansas,” Varnado said. “So being part of something like this and having this kind of platform will show how much Liberal actually means to the state, because I actually consider it kind of a launching pad to Kansas from the west due to geography and other circumstances. Being able to represent this part of the state and be an advocate for it is definitely a big deal for me. Everyone I've talked to about this has told me it's a very tight-knit fraternity, and I can't tell you how many personal letters and e-mails I've gotten from alumni, so being part of this is a very special recognition, and I'm honored to be able to county myself among them. There are a lot of entrepreneurs and other important people who are also on the list of alumni, and I'm just honored to be part of that. Everyone I've talked to who's been through this has said they'd do it again if they could. Unfortunately, this is something you can only do once, so I'll definitely want to take advantage of being part of this.”

Varnado added it is also a big deal having gotten selected on his first application. 

“Like I said earlier, anytime there's a big honor like this, it always makes me a little uncomfortable because I never feel like I'm worthy of something like this. It's a validation of career accomplishments, but I just can't believe I was chosen, of all people, out of the 600 nominees, to be part of this, because I'm definitely more of a background person,” Varnado said. “Just about everyone I’ve talked to has said this is their second or third try getting in, and it’s still sinking in how I got in on my first try.”

Varnado has been the Liberal city manager since last summer, and he said he is proud of the work that has already been able to get accomplished so far. 

“The number one thing has been changing the culture of City Hall and the people who work here. When I started here, people were more apprehensive and unsettled, and I like walking into departments and hearing people laughing and chatting, because that means they're comfortable and happy at work,” Varnado said. “The morale wasn't very high when I started, and I feel there's definitely been an improvement with that – in fact, not too long ago, I was walking past the stairs coming back to my office and I hear the biggest roar of laughter coming from downstairs from the people working down there. Walking through the Liberal Police Department, the building was in shambles and morale was rather low because of that, and seeing the renovations that have happened has really done a number to boost that morale. I'm also very happy with how the Recreation Center is coming, we're very close now to having the building 100 percent operational, and I know that's a project that's been a few years in the making, so to see it come across the finish line is amazing. The increased cooperation and collaboration between the taxing entities has also been amazing to see happen, and I hope to see that continue.”

With the work that’s already been done, Varnado said he is excited to see what the future will bring. 

“We're on the cusp of a lot of things, including some work on our housing issue. There's going to be a pair of subdivisions built, and I know there are also some single-family home projects and multi-family home projects in the works,” Varnado said. “Housing is still a major issue going on in the community, and hopefully, these projects will help put at least a bit of a dent in that. The City of Liberal is also doing well financially – due to the nature of how municipal finance works, we don't always get to spend money where we want to, but we're in a good position now to not have to ask for a levy increase or anything like that, which we're happy with. And especially with inflation, we don't want to put any extra burden on the taxpayers.”

Overall, Varnado said, he is very honored to have been chosen for the 2023 LEAD class. 

“I'm very proud to be selected for this year's LEAD class, and I hope to be a good representative for the community and this area,” Varnado said. “Hopefully, after all this, more people will have a better understanding of what a city manager actually does, and I hope to spread the word about Liberal and our importance to the state.”