Shawnee City Commission: Harrod reflects on 16 years as Ward 3 rep
This week marks the end of the reign of a longtime city commissioner.
James Harrod, Ward 3's representative for the past three consecutive terms, plus his first term from 2000 to 2004, has now wrapped up serving 16 of the past 20 years in office for the City of Shawnee.
The man — though he has donned many hats throughout his 80 years — has become synonymous with City Hall.
“Shawnee has been good to us,” Harrod said. “It's important to give back to the community that has given so much to us.”
Harrod and his wife, Kaye, along with three grown children and their families, call Shawnee home.
Harrod decided to run for a commissioner seat for a few reasons.
In his original bid in 2000 he said he sought to do something about the Planning Department.
“They were inconsistent and the inspectors were inconsistent,” he said. “Good contractors wouldn't even build in Shawnee; you couldn't get people to come build in Shawnee.”
That situation improved, though it didn't gain much traction, Harrod said.
“Today, we're back to full circle, where we were then,” he said. “We're getting that reputation again.”
Harrod worked on the issue for the past month, making some strides, he said, but he doesn't think it was enough.
In another cause dear to his heart, between 2004 and 2008 nothing seemed to be happening at the Heart of Oklahoma Exposition Center, Harrod said, so he ran for office again.
“I was really involved with the expo and there weren't any improvements out there,” he said.
Also, there were no improvements on the water system and the water lines, he said.
“We had a leak at the river and it was just patched and fixed and patched,” he said.
Then, when he came back in 2008, he said they ran a 30-inch water line.
Other accomplishments started out as seeds during his watch and are now completed or in the works, including smart meters, the two projects on Main Street and expo park.
“Those are some of the big areas I've worked to see done and improved,” he said. “I've been blessed; I've had a really successful 12 years — or 16 — on the commission.”
He said a lot of good things have been done.
“We used to have planning sessions where we'd meet with the staff so they could tell us a need, so we developed long-range goals,” he said. “One of them was the police department; it's been about five or six years coming, but it finally there.”
Harrod said it's the same situation for the water system.
“We didn't have any way to monitor the water from Wes Watkins — how much of it Tecumseh got and how much was sent to Shawnee,” he said. “So we installed two electronic meters that can be monitored every few minutes if we need to.”
He said everybody had a contribution to those projects.
He said the most challenging thing he faced on the commission was the hiring of four city managers during his tenure.
“The most difficult thing we've done is hire city managers,” he said. “You know, they're the ones in charge of everything and hire everybody and supervises everything.”
He said the second most difficult thing he ever had to do on the commission was cutting 23 senior staff members in 2018.
One project Harrod wanted to see accomplished that just didn't come to fruition was the creation of an exit from Interstate 40 onto Bryan Street.
“If I have a disappointment, I sure would've liked to have seen that done,” he said. “I'm not sure it will ever be done.”
It was important to him he said, because the more exits a city has, the better chance for travelers' dollars to be spent here.
“I feel bad we weren't able to do it,” he said.
On the other hand, a similar project did come about in a huge way — the Marketplace. Harrod marks that collaborative effort one of the greatest achievements he had a hand in while in office.
“That's one thing I feel really good about,” he said. “We were able to get the tax incentive to get the ball rolling and that will soon be paid off.”
It's been a big asset to Shawnee, he said.
“I'm just sorry Phase Two never got off the ground,” Harrod said.
Offering some final words of advice to the City Commission, its current members and for future ones, Harrod said its important in the job to make sure to live up to the promises that were made to the community, such as the penny sales tax and the half-cent tax.
“All you've got is your word, and when your word's not good the public is not going to support you,” he said.
“We have to do the projects we said we would do — what the voters want,” he said. “We can't let any special interest groups put a lot of pressure on us.”
Harrod said he intends to discover what he can do with all the extra time he will have on his hands now that he is not filling his schedule with committee and board meetings and taking care of City Hall business.
“I'll be here to help if the board asks me to,” he said.
Otherwise, a life of leisure is all that's penned on Harrod's calendar.
He said he's going to work on his classic cars, help out his wife and take it easy.
“Kaye and I have a lot on our bucket list,” he said. “We like to travel a lot.”
He said he believes the board is in good hands.
“(Successor) Travis (Flood) is really a fine person,” Harrod said. “He worked hard and he deserved to win.”
There's going to have to be a new watchdog now, Harrod said.
“That's what I tried to do while I was there,” he said.
Harrod said he is taking with him a long list of friendships and memories.
“I made a lot of friends with people I have served with,” he said. “And I really appreciate the (city) staff.”
He said he enjoyed his time in office and feels blessed from the experience.