What comes next in Goddard?
Residents react following ouster of mayor, loss of top administrators


By Travis Mounts, TSnews

GODDARD – The stunning power shift in Goddard’s city government continues to reverberate throughout the community and has drawn attention across the nation.
In short order, city council member and former mayor Hunter Larkin orchestrated the removal of Mayor Larry Zimmerman, filled two open council seats with people expected to be loyal to him, and then fired city administrator Brian Silcott – all in a matter of minutes.
What happened left staff members and attendees at the meeting stunned, and created an ongoing dialogue that was happening in real time as the meeting took place.
At the end of last week’s meeting, Larkin said that the governing body’s actions were “tough,” but necessary.
“The day and age where unelected bureaucrats run this town is over. This governing body is going to be more involved than ever before, and that’s a good thing,” Larkin said.
Exactly who will lead the city on a day-to-day basis is unclear. The morning after the meeting, assistant city administrator Thatcher Moddie tendered his resignation.
That leaves a big hole in the administrative leadership of the city. Goddard’s elected leaders are not full-time positions, as is the case for virtually all of the smaller cities in the area. Only Wichita – with a population of roughly 400,000 – has full-time elected city officials. Sedgwick County also has full-time elected personnel.

Former mayor, administrator react

After the Goddard City Council voted to remove Zimmerman as mayor, Larkin made a motion to add an agenda item: “Removal of certain city staff.”
Zimmerman responded by tendering his resignation from the council, effective immediately.
“Your resignation is accepted,” Larkin quickly replied.
In a conversation last Friday with TSnews, Zimmerman said people rarely seek elected offices simply for the betterment of their communities.
“When people run for office, they usually have one of two things: an ego or an agenda, and sometimes you get both,” he said. “Now, sometimes you get a true public servant who wants to help the community.”
He went on to say that people in office in Goddard feel a need to micromanage.
“They’re not qualified,” he said. “You’ve got trained professionals to make sure things run smoothly. You can’t change micromanagers every two years.”
Zimmerman noted that Larkin in his previous stint and former mayor Jamey Blubaugh both wanted Silcott out.
“They wanted to make changes because they couldn’t micromanage,” Zimmerman said.
He was taken by surprise that there was a new effort to fire Silcott.
“I had no idea until they met in executive session,” Zimmerman said, referring to the first of several executive sessions held last week.
“That was to inform me of different council members’ concerns” about Silcott, he said. “I was given the belief that if I didn’t bring up the motion (to fire Silcott), I would be removed.”
Zimmerman said he would not make that motion. He had nothing but praise for the job that Silcott has done leading Goddard for the past 15 years.
“As mayor, I never received any written complaints about the city administrator,” Zimmerman said, adding he had received no negative phone calls from real estate developers or citizens.
“I’ve worked with Brian for 15 years, and you’ve seen what we’ve accomplished,” Zimmerman said, noting that the city has grown from a population of around 1,800 in 2008 to around 5,500 today.
If current and proposed home developments proceed as expected, Goddard’s population could be more than 10,000 in as little as three years, according to information recently delivered during a Goddard Chamber of Commerce meeting.
“I think that shows it was working,” Zimmerman said. “Who isn’t doing their job? The developers apparently are happy.”
He went on to say that Silcott was given a raise every time it came up. Executive sessions were held monthly to address any issues, and nothing was ever brought up about Silcott, Zimmerman said.
“Where is the need to fire the city administrator coming from?” he asked.
Zimmerman said he made his decision to step down from the council when the other council members said they would remove him.
“I said, ‘I want no part of this, period. What you’re doing is wrong and I want no part of it,’” he said. “I didn’t want to be a lame duck council member.”
Zimmerman had been on the city council for most of the past 23 years, taking a break after his first term as mayor.
Asked if he thought the moves by Larkin, council member Sarah Leland and the new council members, were orchestrated before last week’s meeting, Zimmerman indicated he believed so.
“You can’t have somebody make a motion and somebody make a second without talking about it,” he said.
Zimmerman said most of the applicants for what originally was a single open position are friends of Larkin, who made the motions to remove Zimmerman as mayor and to fire Silcott as city administrator.
Silcott said he had no clue he would be unemployed before the end of last week’s meeting.
“I had a check-in review in December and all was well,” Silcott said.
In fact, last fall Silcott was named as the winner of the Burford Watson, Jr. Award as the state’s top city administrator. It was presented by the Kansas Association of City/County Management.
Silcott already has started searching for a new job.
“I love my profession. It’s about the people – the people we serve, the citizens, the people we serve with and work with everyday, and the people we’re accountable to, which is the governing body,” he said.
Larkin stepped down as mayor last May after reporting raised concerns about his relationship with developers who had business in front of the Goddard City Council. Some of those developers, or people or organizations close to them, were helping fund Larkin’s campaign for the Kansas House of Representatives. Questions were raised about whether Larkin was doing favors for developers or if he should have been abstaining from votes on some development issues. Larkin also quietly pulled out of the race in Kansas House District 101.
Silcott said that work with developers and votes on development issues need to be done in the open.
“Everything we do should be based upon sound community engagement seeking solutions to difficult problems without shredding the social fabric of the community,” Silcott said.
The balance between single-family homes and multi-unit dwellings has been at the center of many recent discussions.
Not only has Goddard’s population grown since Silcott came on board in 2008, so has the size of the city government. The city had 14 employees when Silcott was hired, and is now at 30.
Goddard is in a big growth period right now. In addition to multiple housing projects that could double the city’s population in just a few years, the city has seen growth in the STAR bond project and the Goddard Galleria development around Walmart.
The STAR bond project was first announced in 2014, and had several stops and starts early on. Two different developers pulled out of the project.
Silcott said these developments take time. He said Braum’s had been in the works for about eight years, and it took three to four years for Dairy Queen to come to town. The COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing labor and supply shortages have slowed the STAR bond project.
Genesis Health Club opened in 2022, and the Genesis Sports Complex has already expanded from five to 10 ballfields. It was announced on Saturday at a Genesis Health Club ribbon cutting (see related story), that the Blast Off Bay indoor aquatic park will have a soft opening within two weeks. The Hampton Inn should open a few weeks after that, according to developer Rodney Steven II.
Silcott said he was most proud of being able to grow the community in a fiscally responsible manner that reflects the desire of the community as a whole.
“We may have stretched that social fabric but we never tore it,” he said. “Every voice mattered.”
He declined to speak about specific problems between himself and members of the council. As city leaders and citizens look to the future, Silcott offered this thought:
“Having educated, well-informed citizens involved in the community is essential to having quality city council candidates and getting more people to run for council,” he said.

Future of the city

It is not certain in what direction the city will go from here.
Nearly all Kansas cities the size of Goddard have professional staffers to lead daily operations. Elected officials set the agenda and provide oversight, while the details are handled by the administrator and other staffers.
Former city council member Michael Proctor has started an effort to recall Larkin and possibly other members of the city council involved with removal of Zimmerman and the firing of Silcott. He’s not sure the current council has any interest in hiring a new city administrator. The job, once very attractive, is likely now viewed very differently.
“They’ve created a toxic enough situation, it will be extremely difficult to fill that position,” Proctor said.
TSnews reached out to Larkin by text and email for comment but did not receive a response before going to press.
Larkin spoke at the end of last week’s meeting, making it clear how he viewed the power structure inside the City of Goddard.
“The day and age where unelected bureaucrats ran this town is over,” he proclaimed. “This governing body is going to be more involved than ever before.”
Multiple sources told TSnews that they expect the city council members to oversee various city departments and the employees within. It is not clear how the city will make up for the loss of expertise that the city lost with the departure of Silcott and Moddie.
TSnews spoke with Moddie by phone last week. He declined to comment on the situation or his departure, other than to say he enjoyed his time working in Goddard over the last four years.