Chance and happenstance may have led Newton City Manager Bob Myers to a career in civil service, but once he got into that line of work he was hooked — investing that passion almost exclusively within the community he now calls home.
"All my professional life has been in Newton," Myers said.
Myers has served the city of Newton in one role or another for 35 years, first as city attorney for three decades and then as city manager the past three and a half years.
After growing up in nearby Park City, Myers went on to law school at the University of Kansas. There, one of the most popular law professors — Barkley Clark, a former city council member and mayor of Lawrence — planted the seeds of civil service in Myers' mind.
"(Clark) saw that we didn't have any classes on local government law, so he created one," Myers said. "I can't tell you what sparked my attention in that other than I really liked him as a professor, and I took that class and really enjoyed it. Even at that, I didn't think that'd end up being an area of practice for me."
Following law school, Myers started with a firm in Newton and eventually opened his own. It was shortly after opening his own law office that the Newton city attorney position came open. Myers had gotten to know the city engineer, who happened to be his neighbor, and he encouraged Myers to apply for the position.
After quickly hitting it off with the city manager at the time, Jay Newton, Myers was offered the position. While that class at KU might have laid the groundwork to entice Myers, it was the on-the-job experience that pulled him to commit to civil service.
"Once I got into it, I found out I just really enjoyed it," Myers said. "It's not for everybody. You have to like a variety of things. Local government law and municipal law touches on so many different subject areas in the legal profession, so you have to enjoy that variety if you're going to ever survive."
Since starting as city attorney, Myers has seen an evolution in that role. Used less extensively early on, halfway through his time as city attorney the discussion was raised about when it makes sense for a city to have full-time counsel. At that point, Myers had to give up the clients he served through his private practice, including some other local cities he had been helping.
While it was difficult to leave private practice behind, it wasn't a surprising turn of events. Myers had seen the increasing need for consultation with legal counsel in all phases of the city's functions.
More unexpected was Myers' turn as city manager, starting in 2016. Myers said he was nearing retirement, and thinking heavily about it, at that point. However, with a breakdown between the administration and the Newton City Commission, he saw the writing on the wall.
Myers was willing to fill the sudden vacancy and, if nothing else, help get city leadership on the same page.
"A lot of it was just to get better communication established, begin developing some trust," Myers said. "You're only going to get that by being more open and more transparent about what's going on within city management, what's going on within the city organization, and letting the commissioners know that they're in the loop on these things."
Myers said the biggest change from city attorney to city manager was he went from making suggestions to making decisions. In both roles, though, there is a certain level of commitment that needs to be there, he said.
"You can't just look at it as a job. You have to have kind of a passion that you're really wanting to help the community advance, and to do it in the right way and make smart decisions as you go along to make sure you take advantage of the opportunities the community has in front of it," Myers said.
While Myers said his father influenced the idea behind committing fully to any endeavor, it was Myers' choice to invest in Newton.
When taking on the role of city manager at a time when he was considering retirement, Myers said, he didn't want to do so for just one year. If he was going to fill that role, he was going to commit to getting the city going back in the right direction — and taking the time necessary to do that.
Now, with the city regaining its footing, Myers is set to retire at the end of the calendar year. Plans with his time off include traveling with his wife and fishing with his grandkids.
Given the amount of involvement Myers has had in Newton and in the larger economic region, he said it will be difficult to quit cold turkey, but part of the reason he can walk away now is the same reason he took the position as city manager in the first place.
The leadership in place among the city departments is strong, he said, and has Newton in a good position moving forward.
"I'm proud of a lot of things that have been done to position Newton to have real success, growth and development in the future," Myers said. "I just feel like our community has so many opportunities in front of it. I think we're on the verge of having some really nice growth that could happen within the next 10, 15, 20 years. We have to have our act together if we're going to take advantage of that, and I think we're well-positioned."