Newton city manager and senior legal counsel Bob Myers has worked in city hall for 35 years — and this week he announced he will retire in January 2020.
The son of a math teacher and football coach at Wichita Heights, Myers was drawn to Newton 40 years ago for a job in a town he liked.
"My wife and I came to Newton upon my graduation from KU Law School and upon my acceptance of a position with the Spier, Stroberg and Sizemore law firm. So I already had a favorable impression of Newton, plus it was close to all Wichita has to offer. It seemed like (and was) a great opportunity for me," Myers told The Kansan.
He became the city attorney about 35 years ago, working in that capacity for more than three decades. In 2016, his shoulder was tapped to become the city manager. He postponed a possible retirement at that time.
"I had already been planning to retire when the controversies arose, which lead to the city manager position becoming open. I was asked by the city commission to assume the position, and I agreed to this (and put my retirement plans on hold) hoping I could help us get through those issues and build back the kind of trust and relationships which the city organization needs to have in order to be effective," Myers said. "I believed, and still believe, that Newton has so many great assets, and has so much potential, that we need to all be on the same page and show the kind of pride which will let the rest of the world know this is a great place to live."
Myers began as Newton’s city attorney in 1985, first on a part-time basis and then becoming the city’s first full-time, in-house city attorney in 2001. During his legal career, he also represented a number of other cities in the region.
His announcement is the third high-profile city retirement this year: Fire Chief Scott Mezler retired as of July 1, and Newton Chief of Police Eric Murphy retired in May.
Throughout his career, Myers has played an active role in regional, state and national organizations, both municipal and legal, holding leadership positions and frequently speaking at conferences. He has been a member of the board of directors of the City Attorneys Association of Kansas since 2002, serving as its president for 2011-12. He was an organizer and original president of the South Central Kansas Water Coalition, which later merged with the Regional Economic Area Partnership (REAP), and has remained active in that organization since its formation.
"In the late 1990s, Newton staff and elected officials became leaders in bringing attention to issues of water supply and quality in South Central Kansas, and related environmental issues. As part of those efforts, I organized and led several regional conferences, which we hosted to highlight these issues," Myers said. "One spinoff of those efforts was the development of an annual regional water conference, which originally was hosted by the South Central Kansas Water Coalition — which I helped form — and then the REAP organization. Through all of that, I had the opportunity to work with great people throughout the region, with regional groups such as the Equus Beds Groundwater Management District, with state agencies such as KDHE and the Kansas Water Office, and with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation."
He told the Kansan he is proud of several things that came to fruition during his tenure — like the recruitment and opening of Park Aerospace, the formation of the Harvey County Jobs Development council, which became the Harvey County Economic Development Council, the merger of two hospitals to create Newton Medical Center and the creation of a TIF district for the Meridian Center among them. He also helped lobby to keep Newton and Harvey County in the Wichita Metropolitan statistical area.
But he is most proud of the city staff and organization that has been built over the past few years.
"I could not be prouder to be part of such a great group of people. Whatever I have managed to accomplish in my career has not been a solo act. It has happened because it has truly been a team effort with a group of talented, dedicated people," Myers said. "I don’t think enough people in Newton realize that the services being provided by their city government are consistently some of the best you will find anywhere. Our department heads are well known throughout the state (and, in some cases, beyond) as being leaders and being on the cutting edge of how local governments should be serving their citizens. We have developed service delivery systems, which are the models others try to emulate, and it is quite frequent that we host people who come to Newton to learn about what we do and how we do it. And we do this all with truly minimal staffing. This is not possible without having very talented and motivated people on staff."
Myers’ community involvement includes being involved in the formation of the Harvey County Jobs Development Council, now known as the Harvey County Economic Development Council; serving on various boards of directors, including Bethel College and Friendly Acres Retirement Community (now Asbury Park); and providing pro bono legal services for the Harvey County Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Task Force (Safehope).
"I delayed making the announcement until after we got the 2020 budget adopted, so as not to complicate that process further," Myers said. "And I had committed to the city commission that I would give them enough notice to allow for a proper search process for selection of the next city manager. To do that takes some time and, hopefully, a January retirement date allows for that. Early January also marks my employment anniversary date with the City, so that makes for a nice milestone."
The process of selecting a new city manager will be determined by the City Commission in the coming weeks.
But for now, Myers said he is looking forward to spending more time with his family.
“It’s time to spend more time outdoors,” he said, “and to take my grandsons fishing.”