Bill Keefer's first day as city manager in Grove, Okla. will be June 1. He was chosen from 66 applicants for the position. Many in Augusta will agree that the Grove City Council made a wise choice.
"Grove has some of the same problems and issues as Augusta. I'm excited about the new opportunity and I look forward to getting to know new staff members and council. It will take a little time to get the feel - to get to know people, but it will be nice," He said.
Keefer came to Augusta in July of 1996 and in the past 16 1/2 years, has come to love this community and honor the responsibility that comes with the job of city manager.
He submitted his resignation to the local city council at Monday's meeting and his letter of resignation did not include a reason for the decision.
He grew up in Hays, Kan., graduating from high school and college there and in 1985 he became the administrative assistant to the Hays city manager and later as the interim city manager. He worked a couple of years as the assistant city manager in Garden City, as well. His wife Paula is a teacher at Ewalt Elementary and their children, Charles and Elizabeth consider Augusta their home.
"I care deeply for Augusta and most people have no idea of how many hours I spent stressing about taking care of this community. I wish nothing but the best for this town. I'm excited about its future success and where its going. I've always said we have the best location - close enough to Wichita for big city benefits and far enough away to be our own community. We should always grow that thought."
The job has had its share of headaches. When he first arrived in Augusta the first item of business was tackling the budget and the dire condition of the city's infrastructure. Many residents had a hard time admitting that sooner or later patches and band-aids fail. Keefer helped the Council prioritize issues, which meant raising the utility rates.
Another item that landed on his desk immediately was a mandate from the State ordering Augusta to either re-build or build a new water treatment plant.
"We built a new plant. The council worked hard getting things done for Augusta," he advised.
Keefer had only been here two years when he was faced with the 1998 Flood.
"That was a very tough time of our community, myself, the council and staff members. The flood had a huge financial impact on Augusta and used lots of resources for a number of years," he continued, "But the levee project is a by-product and it becoming a reality is a big deal. It will mean peace of mind for a lot of us."
Page 2 of 3 - He is fully aware that water has always been a concern for Augusta - either too much or not enough.
For two years the town has been under water restrictions and there is not visible end in sight for the current drought.
"Water is a very precious resource. If we don't' have it, we won't survive. The City Council did the right thing with the water restrictions. It was a tough decision and residents have really stepped up to make it work," he added, "People need to understand that the watershed for the City Lake is very small. If 12 inches of rain falls in the south end of town, it flows to the river - not to the City Lake. Everything north of Belmont flows to the lake."
Augusta's Christ Lutheran Church, where he services on the council and served in the past as council president, has been a big part of their lives here.
"My faith is a big part of every decision I make. I have always tried to do the right thing. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with so many good people, friends, great council members, and lots and lots of great employees who are loyal and dedicated to this community. Sometimes they're not appreciated, but they work day after day, week after week year-round and many have no idea just how hard they work. They're good people who love Augusta. I was blessed to work with good Mayors; David Crum, Ross Rountree and Kristey Williams. This community has been lucky to have them."
Former Augusta Mayor Ross Rountree is sorry to see Keefer leave, "I worked as mayor over nine years with Bill and before that I was on the Planning Committee. Some people will never realize all he's done for this city. Every decision made and every thought Bill ever had was based on what was best for the city as a whole. His heart was with Augusta and always based on that. He figured out ways to refinance and replace the infrastructure and laid ground work for our future," Rountree continued, "He made studies, he helped get the raw water line replaced, the water treatment plant built and was always concerned about the the water line from El Dorado. He was finally able to finance the replacement of that line without major pains for Augusta. I admired his tenacity of staying with a problem until he figured out the solution - always in the best interest of Augusta. I hate losing Bill, but the City of Grove, Okla. is extremely fortunate to have him. They will expand and thrive if they listen to him."
Augusta's current mayor, Kristey Williams also valued Keefer's dedication to his job and the community. She said, "When I think of the many projects we've worked together on, staff and City Council, from the levee and lake to the many street and park projects -- it will be hard not to think of Bill who was so integral to so much of the positive progress Augusta has experienced in the past years. As mayor, I found not only a willing partner that cared equally for our community, but I also found a friend. Bill will be missed," she added, ""Bill leaves Augusta fiscally sound."
Page 3 of 3 - Moving forward
Keefer is hesitant to discuss why he has resigned.
"There are some citizens who are negative about so many things. Augusta is a great place and all should be thankful. I hope the results of the upcoming election will be positive and a move forward for the community. The Lord has good things down the road for Augusta."
Bill Keefer's last day as Augusta's city manager is May 17th and he says that he prefers that no formal reception in his honor be held. In the meantime, his office door door remains open. Stop by and say farewell to a good friend.