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Kansas Governor Picks Lawrence Official To Run Labor Department

TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly on Friday tapped a Lawrence woman who has technology experience to run the Kansas Department of Labor, which has struggled to process a surge in claims from workers who lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic.

Amber Shultz will serve as acting labor secretary until the state Senate confirms her as the new head of the agency, the governor’s office said in a news release.

Kelly’s first labor secretary, Delia Garcia, resigned in June amid problems with the system for distributing unemployment benefits. Her replacement, Acting Secretary Ryan Wright was allowed by law to serve only six months. In December, Acting Secretary Brett Flachsbarth became the third person to lead the department while the governor worked to find a permanent leader for the agency.

Kelly said that when her office began the search for a permanent secretary, it knew it needed someone who could lead the agency’s efforts to improve services for unemployed Kansans and oversee an overhaul of the decades-old computer system.

“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,” Kelly said.

Shultz most recently worked as general manager of municipal services and operations department for the city of Lawrence, where she rebuilt the city’s enterprise and operational services and facilitated data management.

She began her professional career as a research assistant at the Kansas Data Access & Support Center at the Kansas Geological Survey, and has since held positions in Kansas and Missouri related to data and asset management, systems administration and technical innovation.

“I value public service along with utilizing innovation and technology to solve problems, and I will use this experience along with our team to address the challenges ahead,” Shultz said in the news release.

The nomination came days after Kelly announced a temporary halt to the processing of unemployment claims because of a big influx of fraudulent ones. Payments to some unemployed people will be delayed while the state installs new safeguards.

The state labor department told KMBC-TV that its leadership received “credible death threats and threats of violence” just hours before the system was set to go offline to receive the security upgrades. It cancelled a scheduled interview with the station.

“Out of an abundance of caution with the governor’s office, we are going to stop doing television interviews,” department spokesman Jerry Grasso said. “I can’t tell you how long it will be or not be. It’s just where we are right now.”