City Manager Carol Gonzales’ days in Shawnee City Hall are winding down as she prepares to leave her post to join the staff of the Mid-America Regional Council.
Gonzales has a lot to look back on. She went to work for the city in 1989 and took the job leading the city’s staff in 2005. With her departure scheduled for Nov. 15, the city council will soon begin to discuss how to go about finding her replacement.
During her tenure, the city has dealt with recession and the challenges of attracting development. Recently, council members and staff have been trying to develop the rocky, hilly area near Interstate 435, and to replace the down-at-the-heels Westbrooke Village shopping center with viable new development.
Gonzales also shepherded city staff through issues with odors at the landfill and with the updating of the city’s stormwater pipes and aging city streets. She oversaw staff work on tax increases that pay for maintenance and a new fire station to cover the western part of the city.
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She was also instrumental in Nieman Now! – the official name of one of the city’s biggest street-improvement projects in recent years. The project is a massive re-do of the Nieman Road corridor, with improvements designed to prevent flooding while making the street prettier and friendlier to pedestrian and bike traffic. One outcome of that project is that there is now a plan underway to renovate the Aztec Theater downtown, which has been closed for decades.
But ask Gonzales what the highlight of her time has been, and she’ll say it was the professionalism of the city staff.
“I was asked on a panel just a few years ago what I was most proud of in my entire 30-plus year career. My answer was, the organization that I have the honor of leading,” she wrote in a farewell email to employees.
The work has not always been easy. There has been adamant neighborhood opposition to some of the development proposals, as well as occasional tension between city council members on procedures to name commission members and replacements for unexpired terms.
But, the hardest thing she faced was not any of those things, she said. It was the loss of firefighter John Glaser. Glaser, 33, died in 2010 as he searched a burning house for its residents. He was the first firefighter in Shawnee to die in the line of duty.
“My heart still hurts for his wife, Amber, his two children, and his coworkers at the Shawnee Fire Department,” she said.
Gonzales’s new job is as finance and administration director for MARC, a regionally focused agency that looks at planning and sustainability issues. She said she plans to remain a Shawnee resident.
The city council is expected to name an interim city manager while it searches for Gonzales’s replacement.