OSAGE CITY—Rod Willis is just starting to get the hang of his new surroundings as Osage City Manager, but he’s already making the rounds.
“It’s been very enjoyable so far,” Willis said. “I’ve enjoyed the people I’ve met. I’ve still got a lot of people to meet. There’s still a lot of puzzle pieces to put together, knowing what’s what and who’s who.”
Willis took over the position June 10, and after 10 days in the office, reaffirmed his hopes to finish his career in Osage City.
“I hope to be able to last until I’m 70 in the job,” Willis said. “My wife and I have talked for years about retiring in this part of the state. We’ve always liked how green it is.”
Willis previously worked eight years as a farmer and 19 as an agricultural loan officer before entering local government. He started as a city council member, and later was selected as city manager for the City of Sterling in 2006.
“I got into municipal government quite by accident,” Willis said.
Former Sterling City manager Brian Silcox had just left the position to take a job in Osage City.
“I wasn’t smart enough to say no,” Willis said.
After accepting the job, Willis started taking night classes from Wichita State University to earn his masters degree in city administration.
“For about three years, I got about four hours of sleep.”
During his time at Sterling, Willis felt one of his greatest successes was keeping much of the city afloat financially in the midst of flood concerns. Revision of flood maps made in 1997 put about a third of the city in flood zones, requiring additional premiums.
“A lot of the area of the town, property owners had to pay flood insurance,” Willis said. “We got that surveyed to elevation and showed it was less than a foot deep, or above flood level. It got a lot of them exempted. It cut their insurance in half. That was a big monetary benefit that will continue for years. We also got a lot of the downtown buildings out of it.”
Willis stayed on with the city until the city failed to renew his contract earlier this year. He was told the city was looking for a younger replacement. Two months later, the position in Osage City opened following the retirement of Linda Jones, and Willis was hired May 27.
“I think there’s really a bright future for Osage City, because of its location in the state,” Willis said. “I think it has a real opportunity to become a retirement community for people that want to leave the Topeka area. With your quality of life here, you have real opportunities to get a lot of young families with children.
He hopes to strengthen the community by improving its features.
“I’d like to see some downtown revitalization start to process,” Willis said. “To make a quality of life in a small town attractive, you’ve got to have a nice downtown.”
He also feels it’s important to maintain and build commerce.
“You’re always looking for opportunities to expand existing business and attract new business and industry,” Willis said.
Willis has been married to his wife, Ann, for 28 years. They have two sons who reside in Hays and Washington, D.C.
“I really look forward to buying a home, and being an important part of the community,” Willis said. “I look forward to helping the community as much as I can.”