Kelly announces new labor secretary

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Gov. Laura Kelly on Friday announced the hiring of a city official from Lawrence  to take the helm of the state’s beleagured Labor Department.

Kelly announced that she had hired Amber Shultz as the new labor secretary, replacing Acting Secretary Brett Flachsbarth and Ryan Wright who held the acting job earlier.

Amber Shultz

Shultz most recently worked as the general manager of the Municipal Services and Operations Department for the city of Lawrence.

She takes the reins of a troubled agency grappling with climbing unemployment insurance fraud and a flood of phone calls from Kansans upset that they can’t get their benefits.

“When we began the search for the permanent secretary of the Kansas Department of Labor, we knew we needed someone who could both lead the agency in its continued efforts to improve services for unemployed Kansans and oversee a complete overhaul of the out-of-date IT system,” Kelly said in a statement.

“Amber has a wealth of leadership experience when it comes to technology and innovation, and I have no doubt she will hit the ground running at the Department of Labor as we work to modernize the unemployment insurance system.”

Shultz also worked as the deputy director of public works for the city of Topeka, assistant information technology director for Jackson County, Missouri and department manager for the civil enginering firm, AECOM.

She started her career as a web portal manager for the Kansas Data Access and Support Center at the Kansas Geological Survey.

She has a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s in anthropology from KU as well.

Shultz comes to the job facing a Leislature that has grown increasingly frustrated with the agency for its inability to address angry constituents who are unable to reach the agency

Earlier this week, lawmakers vented their anger toward the Labor Department amid  mushrooming unemployment fraud claims and a flood of questions from constituents complaining that they can’t reach anyone at the agency.

Members on the House Appropriations Committee demanded more answers for taxpayers who are swamping them with emails – early in the morning and late at night – about their unemployment claims.

“I’ve had numerous calls from individuals in my district – even people from outside of my district – needing assistance with the Department of Labor and this has been going on for months,” said Rep. Troy Waymaster, chair of the committee.

“The communication, in my opinion, is horrible,” he said. “As somebody who began his corporate career in customer service, it’s detestable. This is not customer service.”

They are also growing angry over their inability to get their arms around the amount of fraudulent claims are costing the state.

Republican lawmakers have pressed the Labor Department repeatedly to estimate how much it has paid out in fraudulent claims without getting an answer.

Labor officials have said they are working to assemble that information as part of a state legislative audit into the fraud claims.

House leadership had planned to introduce a bill that would hold businesses, universities, school districts and nonprofits harmless for any fraudulent claims paid out on their behalf.