Despite being effectively retired, Richard Finley, of Finley & Cook, starts a new post Tuesday –– as mayor of the City of Shawnee.

Despite being effectively retired, Richard Finley, of Finley & Cook, starts a new post Tuesday –– as mayor of the City of Shawnee.

Running unopposed and elected June 28, Finley will replace Mayor Wes Mainord after being sworn in Tuesday night during the regular City Commission meeting.

He's got big plans –– one of those is putting his can-do attitude into play from the get-go.

“I'm now in the give-back part of my life, and I've still got something to add,” he said.

Finley said his approach to things is much like the old adage: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

“I think we've got to think big, plan big and then take the steps we can afford to take,” he said. “We have to take stock, make good measurement, plan aggressively and execute conservatively within our budget.”

It doesn't matter if it takes 50 years to get something done –– it's okay, he said.

It took the Notre Dame Cathedral from its beginning in 1160 until 1250 to be finished, he said.

“We need to be thinking out there (in the longterm),” he said.

On board

Finley said those currently on the commission –– or who have held positions –– have worked hard and he doesn't want his initial plans to reflect negatively on the job they have done.

“I think we have to assess how we've done in order to plot the path to the future –– but as far as I'm concerned, we are where we are, and the past serves no purpose other than the lessons it can teach us,” he said.

Finley said he's not interested in beating anybody up for a decision they've made. It's not about that.

“I think our direction in last six months has been very positive,” he said.

Rather than a change in direction, Finley said Shawnee needs more of an acceleration in that positive direction.

Finley said he is already familiar with the board of commissioners. He said he knows Harrod, Gillham, Bushong and Rutherford.

“And I'll get to know Commissioners Lesa Shaw and Micheal Dykstra,” he said.

He said he's going to make an effort to reach out to them (along with the other stakeholders) and see if the collaborative can all create some common ground to move things forward.

“It's not about what's gone on, it's about what we can do together,” he said.

He said he's going to push hard to raise the city's visibility and transparency.

“I want people to know what we're doing, how we're doing it, and what our plans are,” he said. “People don't know what's going on –– part of that is their fault, but part of it is our fault, too. I can't carry their part, but I can do something about mine. If I fix me, I've done what I can do.”

As the city goes through the things Finley would like to accomplish, he said some are internal in terms of affecting the way the board does things and the way it report things.

One of the first things he wants to do, he said, is try to design some kind of reporting system where the board can tell people what it's doing, in an attempt to inform them.

“And we're going to miss the mark when we do this,” he said. “But we're going to learn from how we do it and our questions will get better as we go on. That, to me is a priority.”

Finley said he's got to spend some time assessing where he feels like the city is.

“A lot of that is my getting up to speed,” he said. “I view this just like I would picking up a new client –– I want to learn everything about this guy's business as I can in order to be able to serve him better –– that's kind of where I am with the city.”

He said he's got three binders at home that he's studying to see how the city is doing and what the longterm plan is.

“I am a huge proponent of longterm plans,” he said. “Likewise, I'm a strong proponent of taking baby steps if that's what we have to do in the accomplishment of those plans.”

For example, he said, the sports park that the city has talked about –– the bond issue over five or six years ago was defeated.

“Not because it was a bad idea, it was defeated because the funding mechanism was poorly thought out and it was too great a risk for the City of Shawnee to underwrite,” he said.

In the interim, nothing has happened.

“If we had gone out and hired one guy with one bulldozer, we'd be out there playing ball right now,” he said. “We might not have lights and we might have gravel parking lots, but I grew up on gravel parking lots and I don't think it hurt me one bit.”

A history lesson

Finley said the city's credibility could use a boost.

“I don't think Shawnee has always kept its word,” he said.

And it's normal to understand why, he said, because commissions change and promises that were made 20 years ago are forgotten.

“I think we've got to do a better job of institutional memory, and honoring those commitments we've made in the past. That keeps turmoil down,” he said. “And we've spent a couple years with turmoil that's just sucked all the air out of the room. It seems like it's the only thing that's going on –– even when it's not.”

He said he's reached out to Citizen Potawatomi Nation (CPN) Chairman Rocky Barrett, and plans to reach out to all of Shawnee area's stakeholders –– that includes Shawnee Public Schools and the dependent districts, our tribal partners, industry as a group, and downtown as a group, etc.

“I think it's going to take all of us to accomplish what we can accomplish,” he said.

A good start

“We've made some really good hires by promoting from within,” Finley said. “City Manager Justin Erickson is doing a really good job. The feeling I get from the staff is that he's a positive guy to work for. I detect that morale is improving,” he said.

The same can be said for Shawnee Police Chief Mason Wilson, Finley said.

And the city's finances are in great shape, though there are some additional things Finley wants to do in terms of pushing down the budgeting to another level.

“That's one of those internal things we're going to work on,” he said.

Finley said he thinks the commission meets too much. “There's no reason to meet when it's not necessary,” he said. “But I'm only one member of a seven-member board, so I don't control a lot of this stuff.”

But he means to do his part.

The definition of leadership is you put people and ideas together and you push them forward, he said.

“We've never been a dictatorship and we never will be,” he said.

Finley said he thinks the commission can do a much better job from the planning arena than they can in the operation arena.

“Justin is a good guy and he has a good staff, so I say let Erickson run the city; we need to get out of the way –– and be there to help them accomplish their jobs. They know better how to do their jobs than we do,” he said.

Bottom line is, it takes a village.

“It's going to take a groundswell of public support to do the things that I think we need to do,” he said. “We've got so much going on right now that I think is really positive. It sure makes it a lot easier to build on.”

About Finley

• Finley is a Shawnee native born and raised; he attended OU and graduated from the University of Central Oklahoma.

• He returned to Shawnee to begin a practice in the county in 1973, and has been here ever since.

• He married his high school sweetheart, who was also a Shawnee native.

• His wife, Teresa, died from breast cancer last year.

• He has two children –– a son and a daughter, as well as a son-in-law and two grandchildren.

You can reach Vicky O. Misa at (405) 214-3962.