Phil Lammers, city administrator of Merriam, hired Chris Engel as his number two man in 2013 with the thinking that his new hire could someday take his place.
“While it was never an absolute, it was always a good idea,” Lammers said. “The city council is the judge of that.”
On Monday, the Merriam City Council approved that plan, by unanimously voting to promote Engel as city administrator when Lammers retires on Sept. 1.
Lammers had served as the city’s top administrator since 2008. He arrived to the Johnson County suburb after more than 17 years as city manager in Cameron, Mo.
He arrived in Merriam just as the economy started to descend into a deep recession.
Merriam, which has a city budget dependent on sales tax revenue, was hit hard by retail development failures that followed the market crash.
Merriam Pointe, at 67th Street and Interstate 35, had been envisioned as a retail center but went bankrupt in 2009. Another retail development near Johnson Drive and I-35 went belly up after its anchor tenant, Circuit City, declared bankruptcy late in 2008.
Since then, the city has helped shepherd redevelopment projects that replaced those retail failures. Most prominently, Swedish retailer IKEA built its only store in Kansas at the former Circuit City site. The iconic retailer has become more of an attraction for Merriam than what the electronic retailer would likely have generated.
“Had we gotten what we wanted originally, we wouldn’t have IKEA here,” Lammers said.
Merriam Pointe is now a newer auto dealer mall that complements the suburb’s string of dealerships along Shawnee Mission Parkway.
Engel came to Merriam from Prairie Village, where he served as an assistant to the city manager there from 2007 to 2013.
Engel said his goals for Merriam include improving public facilities and amenities — discussions are underway to moderinze the city’s police, pool and community center facilities — and diversify its sources of sales tax income.