ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Steven F. Garrett, Hillsboro’s newly selected city administrator, has had government service in his blood since his boyhood days in Stillwell, Okla.
“Mom was on the city council and couldn’t afford a baby-sitter, so she’d take me along,” recalled the 36-year-old Garrett, who is presently city manager in Stockton.
“The city council would have their meeting at one end of the table, and I’d be doing my spelling homework at the other end.”
He said he has enjoyed government all my life.
“Some kids played baseball in the summer; I volunteered for political campaigns,” he said. “I’m really kind of a different person. This would be my hobby if it weren’t my job.”
Garrett was one of 25 candidates screened for the position by the Kansas League of Municipalities, and one of four candidates interviewed by the city council and mayor.
He will begin his new job Oct. 20 with a one-year contract that will pay him a salary of $50,000 plus benefits and a monthly car allowance of $200.
Since October 1998, Garrett has been the city manager at Stockton, a western Kansas town of some 1,500 people. Prior to that, he was the town administrator for a year and a half at Mannford, Okla., and a community and economic development director for six years in Muskogee, Okla.
Stockton has many of the same public services Hillsboro does, Garrett said, but also owns and operates an electrical power generating plant and a 50-bed nursing home.
He managed about 60 city employees there and feels personnel management is one of his strengths.
“I pursue this as a teamwork approach,” he said. “My job as the day-to-day manager is to make sure (city employees) have what they fully need to do their work.
“I know I need them, sometimes more than they need me,” he added. “If I can give them what they need, they can do their job so that work of the city can get done and we all look good.”
Garrett said he had no intention of leaving Stockton, but noticed that the opening in Hillsboro had not been filled for quite some time. He inquired about the situation with the League of Municipalities and was encouraged to apply.
“I figured nothing ventured, nothing gained,” he said. “When I came down for the interview, I came in an hour early and drove as many streets as I could to see what there is in Hillsboro, and was really impressed with what I saw. I moved from innocent bystander to someone actively seeking the position.”
Much of his new job will be similar to what he has been doing in Stockton, but Hillsboro is in a different economic position, he said.
“There’s a lot more economic development going on in Hillsboro as opposed to here,” Garrett said. “We’re suffering from the drag of the agricultural economy and the oil economy. It’s made life pretty tough here in these small towns.”
He said Hillsboro obviously is growing-and it’s growing in the correct ways.
“My first impression of Hillsboro is that it’s almost like a textbook community,” he said. “The economic development in Hillsboro is being done the way it’s supposed to be done, and the community is expanding like a community is supposed to do.
“I’m sure there are going to be a whole new set of challenges here, but it’s going to be a lot of fun figuring out what the challenges are.
“I believe Hillsboro will allow me to stretch the skills that I’ve learned here in a little bit different direction-which is good, because I’m planning to do this for a while.”
He said the fact that position of city administrator is, for the most part, a new one for Hillsboro only adds to the challenge.
“Being a newly reinstated position, the city clerk has done portions of the job, the city superintendent has done some of it, and the mayor has done some,” Garrett said.
“We’re all going to dance around and try to stay out of each other’s way and figure out how this organization is going to work. If we can make the organization work right, that’s a big part of it.
“I think it’s important that people have confidence in their local government,” he said. “If they don’t, life’s miserable for everybody.
“I know government is an easy thing to bash,” he added. “Let them bash it at the state and national level. But the local level is where it’s at. I really want to bring credibility and confidence to local government.”
Garrett and his wife, Angel, have three sons: Joshua, age 9, Jacob, 4, and Jackson, 2. She has been a schoolteacher but is currently at home with their children.
He said his family will likely move to Hillsboro before he will. He plans to continue working in Stockton through Oct. 18, leaving him only one day between assignments.
“I like it that way,” he said. “I’m kind of a work-aholic anyway.”