Sexton Award

At the Nov. 23 city council meeting, city manager Kathy Sexton was presented with the Buford Watson Jr. award. Pictured with her at the presentation are (front row, left to right) Mayor Randy White, Sexton, (back row) council member John McIntosh, council member Andrew Swindle, council president Nick Engle, council member Vaughn Nun, council member Rocky Cornejo, council member Tom Keil and council member Jenny Webster.

Leading her final meeting with the Derby City Council on Nov. 23, there were bound to be some kind words and well-wishes shared on behalf of city manager Kathy Sexton. The level of pomp and circumstance quickly escalated, though, as Sexton was surprised with the Kansas Association of City/County Management’s 2021 Buford Watson Jr. award as part of the proceedings.

KACM leadership, city staff and even some past council members filled the council room at city hall for the award presentation honoring Sexton. The award is given annually to a local government manager who displays the attributes of the late Buford Watson Jr. (former city manager of Lawrence), including serving as a role model in dealing with constituents, valuing customer satisfaction and encouraging new members of the profession – something city staff attested to in a tribute video.

“She has high standards for people and she wants you to succeed. She cares about you at the end of the day,” said deputy city manager Kiel Mangus.

“One of the things that I noticed immediately with Kathy was her genuine commitment to the city and that was exactly what she expected out of all her department heads and employees. That’s what she values,” said Derby Police Chief Robert Lee.

Lee also recalled a community walk that several city employees took part in some years ago. On the four-mile walk, almost immediately, Lee said he noticed Sexton picking up litter in every instance she came across it – illustrating a dedication to Derby Lee has never forgotten.

Professionally, Sexton has also set out to help those around her – advocating for groups to support women in government, helping spearhead creation of the KACM Foundation during her time as president and more.

“Kathy is one of the most well-respected managers in the state of Kansas. Buford Watson is a legend in the field, and to receive this award, this is the top honor the KACM presents. It couldn’t have gone to a better person,” said current KACM President Jonathan Mitchell. “Every one of us has learned so much from Kathy.”

“This is the highest honor given by the Kansas Association of City/County Management. The people who selected me are my peers, so the award means a great deal,” Sexton said. “I am proud of my career in public service and strive every day to deliver services in a professional manner.”

Actively involved in community organizations like the Derby Rotary Club, her impact locally has not been lost on the city council either.

“I think it’s clearly evident the impact you’ve had on this city will make many waves for many years to come,” said council president Nick Engle.

“Thank you very much for all your effort and what you’ve done for this city,” said council member John McIntosh. “Moving forward, we’re going to be a better city because of you.”

Former council members Cheryl Bannon and Mark Staats also spoke to Sexton’s legacy at the meeting, noting the unifying presence Sexton brought to the city manager’s office.

As city manager, Sexton forged relationships within the council chambers and out in the community – all while keeping the success of Derby at the forefront.

“You have been a first class city manager and you have brought Derby to a city of the first class,” Bannon said.

“I give you great admiration for the seriousness you take in taking care of the citizens of Derby because in the end that is our job and you understand that well,” said Mayor Randy White.

During her 16 years as city manager, Sexton has guided the city through a time of enormous growth and change, as Derby has grown over 21 percent in population during her tenure. Additionally, on Sexton’s watch, Derby has completed development of award-winning parks, rental facilities and city facilities, including Madison Avenue Central Park, Warren Riverview Park, Decarsky Park, a new public works building, Derby Public Library and Fire Station 81.

Setting up weekly meetings with Sexton when he took over as Mayor, White recalled that any issue he brought forward from citizens was never turned down – with Sexton seemingly always finding a solution.

Between the council and staff members, there was a lot of gratitude shared for getting the chance to work alongside Sexton – with recognition of her commitment being noticed outside of the community as well. And those within the city are well aware of the position Sexton has left them in.

“You do so much, you make it easy on all of us, and we all know that,” White said. “In the end, we will run a long time on what you have set us up to do.”

Kelly Breckunitch is the managing editor for the Derby Informer. Contact him at for questions and news tips. 


Managing Editor

Kelly Breckunitch is the managing editor for the Derby Informer. Contact him at for questions and news tips.