Kansas labor department deputy director named agency’s acting secretary

    Gov. Laura Kelly appointed an attorney at the Kansas Department of Labor to serve as acting secretary of the agency at the forefront of government aid to individuals losing jobs in the COVID-19 pandemic. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
    Gov. Laura Kelly appointed an attorney at the Kansas Department of Labor to serve as acting secretary of the agency at the forefront of government aid to individuals losing jobs in the COVID-19 pandemic. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

    TOPEKA — The new acting secretary at the Kansas Department of Labor has been with the agency since 2005 working on legal affairs, Gov. Laura Kelly said Tuesday.

    Kelly chose deputy secretary Brett Flachsbarth to serve as acting secretary of the labor department. He replaces Ryan Wright, who stepped into the job six months ago when the agency’s secretary, Delia Garcia, resigned during a period in which the COVID-19 pandemic overwhelmed the department with requests for unemployment benefits.

    Flachsbarth is expected to remain acting secretary until the governor appoints a permanent secretary at the agency, the governor said.

    “Brett is a Department of Labor veteran, and he knows the ins and outs of the issues KDOL faces,” Kelly said. “I’m confident he will be able to continue the progress made and ensure Kansas families receive the relief they need.”

    He was hired at the labor department in 2005 to be part of the agency’s legal team. He was appointed deputy secretary of labor when Kelly took office in January 2019. Within the state agency, Flachsbarth has been director of unemployment insurance, chief of appeals, counsel to the Employment Security Board of Review and counsel to the Public Employee Relations Board.

    The Democratic governor thanked Wright for willingness to step into the labor department during a period of unprecedented demand for jobless assistance. Republican legislators have expressed disappointment with the agency’s performance during the pandemic. Recently, the issue has been the department’s response to fraudulent claims for government aid.

    “Taking over this department was no easy task. There is still a lot of work to be done, but under his leadership KDOL has made immense progress and has largely been stabilized,” Kelly said.

    In a statement, the governor said the Department of Labor paid out $2.4 billion in unemployment benefits since March 15. Typically, it would take eight years to total $2 billion in jobless payments. The backlog of unemployment claims in Kansas was around 25,000 when Wright assumed the role of acting secretary. The backlog sits at about 1,800 claims and could be cleared by January.

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    Tim Carpenter
    Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.