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Being mayor and running a firm leaves little time for the firm

By Corene Brisendine

Tuesday will be the last day Mayor Loren Pepperd serves the city…not because he lost the election, but by choice.

Pepperd chose not to run for re-election because the time commitment involved as mayor has hurt his business. He decided the best thing to do was step aside and let someone else take up the reins of responsibility. That will occur Tuesday when Usha Reddi and Karen McCulloh succeed Pepperd and Jim Sherow on the commission, and John Matta accedes to the mayor’s chair.

Although he enjoyed the work, Pepperd is anxious to get back to his real estate and appraisal business. “Everybody else up there had a paycheck,” he said. “I let that business fall aside because (being mayor) does take a lot of time.”

Pepperd said it was a personal choice to let his business slide. The people, he said, elected him to “promote the people’s best interest with upmost faith, loyalty and fidelity.” So, he made his role as mayor his first priority.

In lieu of his normal practice of spending at least 72 hours with a buyer, he found his calendar filled with ribbon cuttings, conventions, grade schools, and charitable organizations. He went to every one that sent him an invitation.

“I was surprised at the amount of people who wanted to meet the mayor—everyone from children up to meetings coming in,” he said.

As the year progressed, the city staff asked more and more of Pepperd, and “I just kept saying yes,” he said. “I think Manhattan deserves to have a full-time mayor.”

Other mayors have had similar thoughts. “Most people don’t understand the time involved in being on the commission,” said Ed Klimek, who served on the commission from 1996 to 2006 with two terms as mayor. “The time commitment is huge, and as a mayor that time is multiplied.”

A banker and then a radio station manager, Klimek tried to find a balance among civic responsibilities, family and business. He didn’t go to everything he was invited to, but went to as many as he felt he could. He said not only did he have a small business to run as owner and operator of KQLA, but he also had small children at home.

For Klimek, one option was to involve his family in the ribbon cuttings and events whenever possible. He said it was a great way to show his children what he did, and why it was so important.

“I wanted them to feel what that was all about and be a part of that,” Klimek said. “If we had a ribbon cutting for some business, I’d have them come along. So they were not just on the outside looking in.”

During his time working at Kansas State Bank, Klimek recognized that he could not maintain either his job or his responsibilities as a commissioner except for the understanding and flexibility of his boss.

Bruce Snead, a KSU faculty member, commissioner from 1995 to 2011 and four-time mayor, said having an understanding company or boss who can give a commissioner time to meet the civic obligations is the only way to balance work and mayor. He said if someone is an hourly employee or has a wide range of responsibilities, it becomes more difficult, or impossible, to fulfill both roles.

Sherow agreed. A history professor at K-State, he chose to not run for re-election because he has two books coming out next year, and it would not have been possible for him to fulfill his civic role as well as promote the books. “As long as I am doing what I was hired to do at the university—research, teach, write—I can do it any time,” Sherow said.

He said he usually does his writing late at night, which frees part of his evening to attend meetings and read through information on the agendas.

Klimek said he felt his self-identification as a late-night kind of person helped him. He said he would stay up after the family went to bed to read and send out emails. By doing that he was able to keep his business running, take care of civic obligations and spend time with his family.

Sherow said that at first, he also found it difficult to make time for his wife, Bonnie. He said it took some time for their schedules to get synchronized so she could go with him to the various meetings and functions that he wanted her to join him at.

All the former mayors and Pepperd agreed they didn’t do it for the money.

When Klimek was on the commission, he was paid $100 a month.

“My wife said, ‘you are making $.11 an hour,’ but you don’t run for it because you are trying to make $100 an hour,” he said. “There’s a lot of other reasons to run.”

When Snead was mayor, he sought an increase in commissioners’ compensation to $400 a month, and the mayor’s salary to $500 a month. The idea was to help them cover the cost of babysitting for those with small children at home. Those figures are what commissioners and mayors are paid today.

Pepperd said he didn’t keep a penny of his salary. “I gave money to every organization that asked for money,” he said. “I gave to hospice, the Discovery Center, the Zoo, every organization I am a friend of.” He felt that was the right thing to do.

Sherow said if someone runs for city commission thinking about the money they will get paid, they shouldn’t be there. He said being mayor is more about the experience of serving the community.

“There is more of a realization that you are the voice and face of 50,000 people,” he said. “It brings a sense of humility and you try to put on the best face, best voice for the community.”

Although Pepperd made a personal decision to let his business fall aside while he took up the reins of mayor, he held true to his personal beliefs and ideas. He said he has no regrets.

“We are only as good as our inner being or inner structure, and I have always tried to make Manhattan a better place to live, and it is,” Pepperd said.

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