City of Shawnee

Mayor Distler's 2020 State of the City

2020 State of the City
Posted on 02/27/2020

Mayor Michelle Distler gave the Shawnee State of the City on Thursday, February 27 at the Shawnee Civic Centre.  Please see a copy of her speech below. You can also view the Facebook live-stream here

Good afternoon and thank you all for being here today. Let’s quickly give the  Shawnee Chamber of Commerce a round of applause for once again hosting our annual State of the City. 

The City and the Chamber have a shared vision when it comes to our community and that is such an important partnership as a new decade comes into focus.

I am honored and humbled to say this is my fifth State of the City as your Mayor of Shawnee. Many of you know I am a lifelong resident who grew up in Shawnee Village and it brings me great pride to be able to have served you all for the past five years as Mayor and nine more years before that as Councilmember. I am excited and energized to continue that commitment to this community for the next four years. 

I would like to give a special thanks to the company I love that gives me not only my paycheck, but also the flexibility to allow me to serve in the role of mayor in this city I love, RiskIQ, the world leader in cyber security and attack surface management.

I want to quickly take a moment to recognize your Shawnee City Councilmembers. We will go by seniority and then alphabetically. Please stand to be recognized as I read your names.

  • Councilmember Mike Kemmling
  • Councilmember Eric Jenkins
  • Councilmember Lindsey Constance
  • Councilmember Matt Zimmerman
  • Councilmember Lisa Larson-Bunnell
  • Councilmember Jill Chalfie
  • Councilmember Kurt Knappen
  • Councilmember Tammy Thomas

We have other officials here from several levels including the School Districts, County and State, so if you could all take a moment to stand to be recognized for your continued commitment to our community as well. 

And one more quick shoutout to Abby Miller and Bennett Doyle from Mill Valley High School. They are here shooting video of our State of the City so we can post it later for others to watch. We appreciate you all taking time out of your school day to come help us out.

This year’s theme of vision in 2020 comes from growing up the kid of a printer who had a printing business in downtown Shawnee for 29 years that is now Servaes Brewery, I Heart Local, and Avies. I love seeing new young families creating memories in this space I cherish. Growing up in the printing industry, I learned all kinds of magic including that can be seen in this transparent mock-up that I have cherished since 2nd grade. I see our visioning process for Shawnee like the magic of CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black). In the world of CMYK, you start with the whitest page possible and lay down cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks. The process works by setting layers to darken and the dots per inch create the final image. When you look at any image with a loupe, you see how these four colors come together to make over a 100 million colors. Each color alone adds to the perfection of the image but you must have all four in perfect registration to complete the image or it doesn’t come out right. So the four colors represent the residents, the staff, the governing body, and businesses. When you bring all of these entities together is how you perfect the image for the vision of the future of our city. In order to get each of the four colors burned onto the plates for the printing press, first the film must be stripped letting only the good show through (the image you want printed) and masking out what you don’t want and using red tape to prevent the harmful UV from coming through. DPI is used to measure the resolution of an image.  As the name suggests, the DPI measures how many dots fit into a linear inch. Therefore, the higher the DPI, the more detail can be shown in an image. The more who contribute to this image, the vision, of our future, the better the quality of our city for everyone.

As we launch into 2020, a quote from renowned businessman Jack Welch really hit home with me. The longtime GE Chairman and CEO once said “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.” That is, in essence, what we are trying to do right here in Shawnee, right now. We launched Imagine Shawnee in May of 2019. Many of you have likely heard or been part of our strategic visioning efforts over the past year. We racked up countless hours planning and executing Imagineering Sessions, Focus Groups, surveys, speakers’ bureau appearances and many other avenues for our residents and stakeholders to give us feedback about THEIR vision for Shawnee’s future. 

Here’s just a quick rundown to give you an idea of how many people participated and how nearly 600 (585) voices were heard throughout our Imagine Shawnee efforts.

  • More than 100 (104) people showed up to at least one of our four Imagineering Sessions. 
  • More than 200 (207) people gave us their thoughts and ideas while attending at least one of our nine Focus Groups that included residents 55 and older, businesses, kids, schools and basically anyone who was willing to meet with us and tell us what they think!
  • Nearly 300 (274) of you took time to fill out our online survey.
  • Our 16 member Imagine Shawnee Steering Committee met five times over six months.
  • And the social media comments, e-mails and phone calls racked up into the hundreds.

So what did we take from all that feedback? We’ve learned what folks say is important to them, areas where we can improve, what they LOVE about Shawnee, what they DON’T want us to change and even some pretty BIG ideas like an ATV course on the landfill when it closes decades down the road. We are now in the process of analyzing every single comment we received, looking for common themes and really soaking in what YOU all had to say. 

We have identified and will work to refine five pillars, including creating a safe, sustainable, inclusive and interactive community; creatively meeting the diverse housing needs of a growing city; provide exceptional city services and infrastructure; be the leader in maximizing and integrating natural resources and creating an environment where businesses thrive.

All of those thoughts and ideas will help us lay the groundwork for a SHARED VISION for our community. A vision where everyone has a voice. A vision that will allow us, your Governing Body, to frame up crucial decisions, focus on the outcome YOU told us YOU WANT, and then, step by step, bring that vision to life. Our next step is even *more Imagineering Sessions, coming up in April, so you can tell us how you feel about these five pillars, and allow us to even further refine what they mean to our community and Shawnee as a whole.
So even though a lot of work has gone into Imagine Shawnee over the past year, this is only the very beginning of what will soon become a clear focus for our community.

While we are dialing in a sharpened focus for the future of Shawnee, I have to say, we don’t have it that bad right now. We made quite a few notable lists in 2019;

  • Money Magazine named Shawnee as #25 on its Best Places to Live list
  • Realtor dot com called Downtown Shawnee and the entire 66203 zip code a “Hot Zip” back in July
  • In that same month, we were named a Hidden Heroes City which recognizes our community’s efforts to streamlining services to veterans and their caregivers. 
  • The City secured a spot on Zippia’s “Best Places to Work in Shawnee list
  • We were one of five organizations honored for Priority Based Budgeting at the annual PBB Summit in August
  • The Center for Digital Government recognized Shawnee as a Digital Cities Survey winner for our work in Information Technology
  • Our recent solar projects snagged us a spot as a SolSmart community
  • The Mid-America Regional Council honored us with an Outstanding Program Award for our two annual recycling events that have proven popular with the public
  • We were honored to receive the Community Award for Communications from the League of Kansas Municipalities
  • And we’re once again a Tree City USA and a Bicycle Friendly Community

Believe it or not, that’s not even *all the awards and recognitions we racked up in 2019. We’ll be highlighting a few more throughout our look back at the year.

One of the biggest awards we are so proud and honored to have received is our Shawnee Police Department’s Law Enforcement Award of Accreditation. During the hearing for this award, a senior commissioner noted Shawnee’s final report as being the best he had ever reviewed. It’s a huge honor and a testament to the dedication and commitment our Police Department has to this community. 

This award comes as our Police Department continues to steadfastly focus on the most important aspect of our community – YOUR SAFETY. For the fourth year in a row, crime is down. In fact, it’s down 13% from 2015 to now. That helped put Shawnee at number eight on background checks dot org’s list of Safest Cities to Live in Kansas and number four in the state of Kansas by Lendedu.

The Police Department has also been working hard on a new records management system called NICHE which puts us in step not only with Johnson County but with other surrounding cities, making it the largest consortium NICHE has ever been involved with worldwide.  The system allows our officers and  investigators the ability to more easily share and access information with other departments.

The Shawnee Police Department is active in the northeast Kansas drug task force and the FBI violent crimes task force. We are not only focused on just the safety of folks inside our city limits, but in our entire region.

Our officers worked closely with the folks at RING to bring their Neighbors by Ring app to our City. Police have used this system countless times already and it’s proved to be yet another way to reach our residents as we all work to keep Shawnee safe. The process went so well that we received the Neighbors by Ring award for mid-size agencies at the 2019 annual International Association of Chiefs of Police conference.

Shawnee’s Secret Santa stepped up once again to give our department $10,000 for officers to hand out during the holiday season.

I’d be remiss not to take a moment to recognize Chief Rob Moser, who will be retiring in less than one month after nearly 30 years of service to our City. Let’s please give Rob a round of applause.

And we are honored to have a fellow lifelong Shawnee resident, Sam Larson, as our new Police Chief.

The Shawnee Police department’s mission statement to “Serve our community with purpose and care” is now threaded into our culture. That simply would not have been possible without your leadership. We will miss you but are so thankful for your hard work and dedication. You will be leaving this community a better place and words cannot express our full appreciation.

And while we are focusing on people who have made an impact in our community, we have another upcoming retirement with Chief John Mattox, who has served our residents for 18 of his 41 years of service.  John has worked to make our Shawnee Fire Department one of the strongest and most dependable around. Let’s please give Chief Mattox a round of applause.

Our Fire Department achieved accreditation in 2018. Since then, they continue to build on that accomplishment by launching new services, processes and features. We now have a new online Fire Dashboard that shows our community the number and type of calls our Fire Department responds to. People can also track developing trends such as incidents per month, residents can find out which Fire Station would respond to a call at your home, and people can peruse the glossary to get a better understanding of the metrics that are tracked and measured as part of the accreditation process. Our Fire Department achieved the ISO Class 1 rating in 2019, which translates to lower insurance rates for some of our residents.

For the first time, people were able to get a view of what our firefighters face every day on the job through the new Citizen Fire Academy. I was a founding member of the Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT, and it makes me so proud to see what Emergency Services Chief Matt Epperson has done with the program over the years. Now, more people get the opportunity to take part in the nine week course that puts a microscope on everything from the interesting history of the Shawnee Fire Department to fire scene management and operations, fire prevention and education and so much more. The new Citizen Academy proved to be popular and we are looking forward to offering that again to our residents this year.

Emergency preparedness is so important to me, in fact, that I would really love to see at least half of our City employees take the time to learn CPR, basic first aid and emergency preparedness.

And last but certainly not least, our City’s newest Fire Station, Fire Station 74, opened just over one year ago near 53rd and Woodsonia. Its opening marked our Fire Department’s commitment to focusing on providing the best coverage to our community now and also as we plan for the future and all the new residents who will be calling that area of town home over the next several years.

Our Parks and Recreation Department is also setting *its sights on the future. Right now, they are designing a brand new 45 acre park near 55th and Belmont Drive. It’s been named Wilder Bluff Park because that area overlooks the original town of Wilder. Our Parks and Rec staff reached out to our community to find out what YOU all want to see in this new park and are excited to unveil the plans in the coming weeks. They are also putting the finishing touches on Trail Scout Park and two roadside plaza areas that are included in our Nieman Now project. It’s been a big year for Parks and Rec as they also launched the first ever Parks and Recreation Master Plan and Needs Assessment. Both of these help our City spotlight what YOU all want and need as you live, work and play in Shawnee.

The vision for Shawnee Town 1929 continues to evolve and grow as the years go by. In 2019, crews completed the Murphy Oil Service Station and the O.W. Fisher Chevrolet Dealership buildings. We will *hopefully soon be seeing Doc Sullivan’s 1920’s home. Thousands of kids and visitors funnel through Shawnee Town 1929 every year. The dedicated, creative staff we have running Shawnee Town is second to none. Having an interactive, interesting and unique attraction like Shawnee Town 1929 to provide a link to our history is something we never take for granted. 
Speaking of Parks and Rec, they take the lead on many of our popular community events. These events tie our community together and provide a place where families create lasting memories and carry on traditions. These events are what makes up that “hometown feel” we hear people talk about so often. Every single City department has a hand in our community events and they are something we all take a lot of pride in. Let’s take a look at some of the fun we get to have with you all every year.

Now I want to get back to more of the amazing work coming out of our City Departments. Let’s shift our focus to Public Works for a few minutes. First off, we have the BEST snow removal team and other cities are pained with jealousy! It really is unbelievable how quickly, safely and efficiently they work to get our streets cleared. The drivers (and this includes more of our city employees from departments *other than Public Works) work around the clock to make sure *we all can get around as quickly and safely as possible after a storm. Of course this is not *all our Public Works Department is responsible for. They work tirelessly to provide top notch service when it comes to our streets and sidewalks, stormwater system and more. They are *so good, in fact, they recently achieved *re-accreditation as they were our first accredited department.

We are in the finishing stages of wrapping up Nieman Now, which includes four stormwater projects, several side street upgrades and, of course, Nieman Road from Shawnee Mission Parkway to 55th Street. We are excited to see the vision for this huge project come to life. We believe Nieman Now will continue to revitalize downtown Shawnee and make it “the place to be”. So be sure to check it out this Spring. We anticipate seeing more people walking to lunch on the new ten foot wide path as they eat at one of our downtown restaurants. We already know many of you are becoming regulars at the breweries. And we truly hope the focus on making this area more pedestrian friendly will boost the bottom line for our businesses. Nieman Now will feature two new plaza areas with playground structures, outdoor seating and more. The focus is to bring people downtown and to make it a destination and we are ever so close to seeing that happen.

Nieman Now has kept many of our city departments busy, including our Community Development team. That’s because the project has sparked new interest in our downtown. We’ve seen several new developments begin to take shape, including the new Stag’s Spring luxury apartments, McLain’s Market is under construction in the old OK Garage location, the Aztec Theatre renovations are nearly complete and concepts are being created for the Nieman catalyst site that could bring a unique living and working scene to the corridor.

We also have our sights set on another big project near K7 and 43rd Street. Heartland Logistics is an office warehouse development that will take up about two million square feet of building area on 150 acres. This development will bring *hundreds of new jobs to Shawnee.

Our list of ongoing and upcoming projects could go on and on. To put it in perspective, our Community Development Department oversaw the planning, development, permitting and inspection of nearly $115 million dollars worth of new construction in 2019. That’s up $5 million from 2018, so clearly, we are on the right path to move our community forward. And these are just some of the bigger ones, we’ve had a multitude of small businesses invest in Shawnee as well.

I talked earlier about how many layers make up a complete picture. It’s the same in our City. It takes every single Department and employee to build this community up and move it forward every day. Often, the things that Departments like Human Resources, Finance, IT and others do are in the background but their dedication, loyalty and hard work are as vital to Shawnee as any others.

Let’s take a look at just a few of their long lists of accomplishments.


There are so many amazing things going on in Shawnee. It would take at least the rest of the day to tell you about all of them. Things like our focus on sustainability in the City that has brought us our first electric car charging station at City Hall. Or the incredible work we’re doing with our buildings, like installing solar panels on top of Fire Station 72. And I have to pause to give a shout out to our volunteers. We have the BEST volunteers around who dedicate hours upon hours of service to our City. In fact, they’ve given back 9,763 hours in 2019. To put this in perspective, if you work 40 hours a week for a full year, that’s a little over 2,000 hours. So the volunteer hours equals about five years worth of work in just one year. 

So, can you see how much I love Shawnee? Because I can see how much YOU love Shawnee. I am proud to be your Mayor. I am proud to be a part of this amazing City and I am proud of our amazing employees. Some of you voted for me and some of you didn’t. But what I can assure you, is that either way, my door is *always open to *all of you. As I showed you earlier with the layers that it takes to bring a picture to life, we are *all in this together. We are all working together to design the blueprints for our community *now and in the future. We are creating a *shared vision for Shawnee and it’s all coming into focus. I hope you join me in that focused effort as we move forward together as a community… as One Shawnee… our Shawnee.

Thank you!