When his kindergarten teacher asked Terry Zeigler what he wanted to be when he grew up, the Switzer Elementary School student blurted: “FBI agent.”
Decades later, the FBI tried to lure Zeigler into its ranks. Zeigler, a homicide detective at the time in the Kansas City, Kan., Police Department, turned down the agency. He loved what he was doing in his adopted community, across the state line from where he grew up on Kansas City’s West Side.
Mark Holland, a preacher’s kid, felt called to be a pastor while attending a Methodist church conference as a youth representative at age 14.
Decades later, working in a denomination where many ministers change congregations every few years, he has headed the same Kansas City, Kan., church for 17 years, even though he could have left long ago for a bigger flock and more pay. But he repeatedly asked his bishop to let him stay at Trinity Community Church, built overlooking Parallel Parkway before white flight sapped the community and emptied many of the pews on Sunday mornings.
Now Zeigler is police chief and Holland is mayor in a city hurting from a summer of violence, including the shooting deaths of police Detective Brad Lancaster in May and Capt. Robert Melton in July. In the days after each killing, Zeigler and Holland became the most prominent faces of a city in sorrow.
Both in their late 40s, and still fairly fresh in their new leadership roles, they crave a peaceful, safe, healthy future for their community. Both embrace the community’s diversity, and personally represent it. Zeigler’s wife is Hispanic. Holland and his wife have a daughter they adopted out of an African orphanage.
“Both of them are very sensitive to issues of the total community,” said the Rev. Jimmie Banks, pastor of Strangers Rest Baptist Church. “Both have integrity and compassion.”
Though supportive of each other, and eager about the need for successful healing, the two leaders do not always agree.
After Melton died, Holland rallied area pastors for a day of prayer and for meetings on how to move forward. The pastors have discussed organizing forums to explore concerns and find ways to eliminate acrimony.
Zeigler thinks the community first needs to understand why police do their jobs the way they do.
At a news conference the day after Melton died, Holland touched upon the national scene, saying: “We have seen the loss of innocent lives at the hands of police, and we have seen the ambush and murder of police….” The “innocent lives” phrase upset the wide police family as inappropriate, insensitive and inaccurate during an event centered on the loss of an officer’s life.
Lost in his own thoughts, Zeigler didn’t notice the phrase during the news conference. But he soon saw the uproar on social media.
“I am mad about some of the national narratives that every time a cop shoots somebody, oh, he’s wrong, she’s wrong,” Zeigler said recently. “That’s not right. This justice system says you are innocent until proven guilty, and by God, our police officers deserve that same damn right as everybody else.”
After Melton’s sister-in-law, Lynn Melton, complained about Holland’s statement at a recent Unified Government commission meeting, Holland offered to meet with the family, saying: “Certainly, I didn’t want anything I said to cause any harm to you or to the men and women in uniform.”
‘Done it all’
When Zeigler was 21, fresh out of the Army with no college degree, a friend’s mother asked what he planned to do with life. Maybe college, he said. Maybe the FBI.
She shoved a folded newspaper in front of him with an item circled. The Kansas City, Kan., Police Department was hiring officers.
Back then, Zeigler didn’t even realize there were two Kansas Citys.
“I had no concept of the state line,” he said, laughing.
Since his 1990 hiring, he has “done it all,” he said. Patrol unit, motorcycle unit, narcotics, internal affairs, night response, homicide. After Sept. 11, 2001, the FBI borrowed him for two years for anti-terrorism work. After his return, he kept moving up, to captain, major, colonel, chief.
“I have loved every assignment that I have had on this department,” he said. “Now, having said that, the last two months have been very trying to me. Probably most difficult time I’ve ever had on the police department. It’s just —”
He took a deep breath and knocked on the table before regaining his voice.
“You come up through the organization and there’s a lot of good work that’s done every day … and people pour their heart out for this community and you know the risks. But you fall in love with the people and what this profession stands for. Then when two officers get killed doing their job, trying to apprehend suspects, man, that is a tough pill to swallow.”
How much he cares — he cried at both funerals — endears him to his officers.
“The chief feels very responsible for his people,” Capt. Pam Waldek said. “He feels responsible for their families.”
He’s seen other dark times in the department, such as when three SWAT team officers got caught stealing from drug dealers. But those missteps don’t represent the department as a whole, Zeigler said.
Known for asking others for their opinion, he’s polled his staff on everything from what color new police cars should be to how redesigned badges should look. When the rank and file didn’t like his badge choice, he went with theirs.
Before he became chief, the department’s motto was “Safety first.” After he took over, he added a second clause: “Courtesy always.”
He’s embraced social media and likes to quote inspirational messages on Twitter, such as: “Forgive others, not because they deserve forgiveness but you deserve peace.”
He believes in being honest and transparent with the public. And blunt.
“You want to talk about race, use of force?” he said. “I am not going to sit here and apologize for our police department and the way we do business. We are going to make mistakes.… We are not always perfect and we are not always right. But with a lot of what we do, we are right. We have pure motives.”
As the son of a mobile minister, Holland moved a lot during childhood. But much of it was spent in Wyandotte County, where he was born and his family has deep roots. It’s where his heart is, he says.
His church operates a food pantry, collects food for schoolchildren and encourages public service. It changed its name in 2009 from Trinity United Methodist Church to Trinity Community Church to, as its website says, “put the community at the center of everything we do.” Services are interpreted into Spanish, and the Lord’s prayer is recited twice, in Spanish and English.
As Holland the minister pondered how else to serve his community, he decided to run for Unified Government commissioner. He sought advice from others, including U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a fellow clergyman, before raising $20,000 and launching a grassroots campaign that unseated an incumbent — by 35 votes out of 13,000 cast. Because the part-time job paid little, his bishop allowed him to remain a full-time pastor.
But when Holland ran for mayor and CEO in 2013 after incumbent Joe Reardon opted against a third term, he knew he could not serve both the church and city full time. In a bit of good timing, his retired father, the Rev. Ron Holland, had just finished a stint as an interim pastor. And with blessings of Trinity’s congregation, they worked out a deal: Dad would handle the administration and pastoral care duties while his son remained the lead preacher.
“I’ve known Mark for over 20 years, and watched him develop as a pastor and I’ve been excited about him becoming mayor,” said the Rev. Adam Hamilton, the longtime leader of Church of the Resurrection in Leawood. “Mark has a deep faith. He takes seriously and lives Micah 6:8 where the prophet poses the question, ‘What does the Lord require of you?’ and then answers, ‘To do justice, and to practice loving kindness and to walk humbly with God.’ ”
As mayor, Holland’s top goals have revolved around economic development, innovation and a healthy community. But not everyone has rallied behind him. The Unified Government Board of Commissioners couldn’t forge a majority to pick someone to finish Holland’s commissioner term after he became mayor/CEO. So the seat sat empty until the next election.
Early in his term, concerned about lack of minorities in the fire, police and sheriff’s departments, Holland asked the U.S. Department of Justice to look into hiring practices. A community task force formed, too. Then-interim Police Chief Ellen Hanson asked her commanders what impediments to minority recruiting existed. Zeigler cited the college degree requirement, which didn’t exist when he was hired, and suggested eliminating it. “Done,” Hanson said.
Task force members talked about “a lot of things that dealt with race, beyond just the recruiting and hiring,” Hanson recently recalled. The conversations probably helped keep things calm after Michael Brown’s killing in Ferguson, Mo., created explosive tension elsewhere, she said.
After both Lancaster and Melton were shot, Holland headed to the University of Kansas Hospital to offer support. He served as the pastor at Lancaster’s funeral.
The week of Melton’s death, Holland nearly canceled a trip to Washington, D.C., to watch President Barack Obama honor the Kansas City Royals as 2015 world champs. But after confirming that he could squeeze it in and still attend the vigil, visitation and funeral, he went, in part because he had promised to take one of his sons.
At the White House, the president pulled the Hollands aside to offer condolences and ask whether Melton had been targeted, as officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, La., had been.
Holland notes that his job is not an easy one, especially in a time when many people distrust the government, schools, police and other institutions. But in what he calls this “time of crisis,” he prays that people with diverse beliefs will close ranks and seek solutions together. He pointed to the Unified Government’s recent approval of funding for police body cameras as a “big step.”
The whole community needs to help prevent future tension and tragedy, he said.
“The chief has been a great partner in this,” Holland said. “I have led with my heart in this, and I think he’s led with his heart as well.… He’s strategic and smart about not just sitting and waiting for it to happen again but being thoughtful about what we need to do.
“It would be easy to say this was a fluke and go back to business as usual. That’s not an option. Business as usual is not an option.”