After more than five years with the city of Shawnee, Steve Nelms, interim utility director has been named utility director.

After more than five years with the city of Shawnee, Steve Nelms, interim utility director has been named utility director.

Nelms became interim utility director after the former utility director Jim Bierd retired. Bierd retired shortly after Assistant Utility Director Randy Brock retired, leaving the city with what could have been a loss of knowledge.

However, the loss of those two long-time employees did not cause a problem for the utility department, City Manager Brian McDougal said.

“Steve’s had six months to prove himself,” McDougal said, adding that Nelms more than proved himself.

For the director position, Nelms competed against national candidates from Missouri, California, Illinois, and other states.

“Steve really stood out in the crowd,” McDougal said. “He’s very knowledgeable.”

In addition to interviewing Nelms, McDougal said he spoke with other department heads, as well as utility staff, and found Nelms was good with communications between other department heads and with his staff.

“I’m proud to say that in this instance, a promotion from within was a great benefit to the city,” McDougal said.

Nelms, who moved to Shawnee in 2007 to be closer to family, originally wanted to work with the Streets Department.

Nelms had previously worked as mover in California, and had his Commercial Drivers License.

“I always thought it’d be kind of cool to haul rocks,” Nelms said, adding with a laugh that he wanted to stay in the air-conditioned truck, not unload or work in the heat.

This seemed fitting with his previous experience as a mover, but nothing was available at the Street Department. So instead, Nelms was hired at the Utility Department as Maintenance 1 for water utility.

Fittingly Nelms followed in almost the exact same footsteps as previous director Bierd as he worked his way up through the ranks.

“I really enjoyed the water department,” Nelms said. “After work, even though we’d been working hard all day – or all night on a waterline break – I still really enjoyed it.”

As Bierd and Brock’s retirements approached, Nelms said he knew someone would have to step in, and showing foresight, began studying and taking as many classes as he could before applying.

“I started going to school and learning as much as I could,” Nelms said.

He added that he believes having started at the bottom of the department has been beneficial in the way he communicates with his employees.

“You feel their pain,” he said.

Nelms said he plans to continue working to move the department and city forward and work to get needed improvements completed.

“I plan to continue what Jim has done for the department,” Nelms said. “The end result will be better for our city and the surrounding community.”