Eric Swanson Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Todd Kennemer’s career took him from a high school shop class in the Texas panhandle to the city halls in Pittsburg, Kan., and Ponca City.
Now, Kennemer is starting another chapter in his career as Ada’s new community development director.
Kennemer taught shop for seven years, first in Texas and then in Putnam City. He later went back to school to earn his planning degree, then took a job as Ponca City’s planning director.
Kennemer remained in Ponca City for two years before moving to Kansas in 2001 so he could be closer to his son. He worked as Butler County’s director of planning and community development, then took a job as assistant director of public works Pittsburg, Kan.
Kennemer lived in Kansas for eight years, then came back to Oklahoma to become Ada’s director of community development.
Kennemer, who holds a master’s degree in regional and city planning from the University of Oklahoma, started working for the city in early October.
As community development director, he is responsible for managing the city’s growth and drawing up a road map for future development.
“If you want to grow, have a plan,” Kennemer said. “Don’t just do it willy-nilly and what happens, happens. Let’s have a plan. Let’s follow this plan. Let’s make it better for everybody.”
The Ada News spoke to Kennemer on Thursday about his background, current project and goals for his new position.
Here are questions and answers from the interview.
AN: How did you get from teaching shop to planning and zoning?
TK: I taught shop because of teachers’ hours. I had a small child to take care of and stuff, so while I had him in the summer, I wanted to be off. But as he got older and started wanting more things, I needed to get into something that paid a little better than teaching.
As he got older, I went back to school to do planning.
AN: What does a community development director do?
TK: Planning and zoning. For example, say a business wants to come to town and says, “Well, we’re going to locate right here.” We work with them to say, “One, you can’t locate here. That’s right in the middle of a residential area.” So, we make sure the land uses are compatible. Where they do locate, make sure they get good infrastructure — the right amount of water, sewer, things like that.
After a while, if so many have located here, then we try to plan for when it gets to a certain population in an area — we need to four-lane this road, we need to get some left-turn lanes, things like that. Just trying to head problems off before they start. It’s like shooting at a moving target all the time.
AN: Do you deal primarily with zoning issues?
TK: I deal with the zoning issues that come up. Right now, we’re trying to get some information for a housing project. For example, how much do we need to budget for housing? What’s going to be our growth? As these houses filter on out, what do we need to do to get the right housing in? ... Just try to make sure we get the right amount of housing in the right places. And not everyone can afford a house, so we need to get the right rentals.
AN: What are some of the projects you’re working on currently?
TK: For the housing thing, we’re trying to get it up and going now. We’re trying to get the request for proposals — trying to get that sent out so we can get that study done so we can find out which way we need to go.
I’m looking at trying to update and upgrade the zoning — some areas that are lacking that need some more definition or more clarity as to what does that mean. I’m trying to get some stuff working with public works; I want to work real close with them to find out what kind of projects they’ve got going on.
AN: Is the housing study looking at what the city needs in terms of housing?
TK: Yes. It’s kind of like what do we need in terms of housing.
Again, it’s like various types. We don’t want to build all these four-bedroom houses when the coming population is a mom with one, maybe two kids. Why build a 3,000-square-foot, four-bedroom house for a mom with two kids that one, doesn’t need all that room, and two, probably can’t afford it. Various things like that.
AN: What, in your opinion, makes a good community development director?
TK: One, you need to listen to everybody. Some of the items that come up — you’re not going to please everybody, but you need to get input from those opposed to something, those in favor of something and just present the facts. ... The boards, they’re the decision maker. I’m providing them with the information so they can make an informed decision.
You have to be flexible. You don’t say, “By golly, this is what the plan shows. This is what we’re going to do.” That may have been appropriate when the plan was developed, but things change. Times change.
Flexibility is very important. In fact, I think that’s one of the most important features of the job is you have to be flexible. You have to be flexible, but you have to be firm too.
AN: What are some of your long-term goals for the position?
TK: One thing that I would like to do — that we’re starting to do — is the trail system. I’d like to work on that so any person age 8 to 80 can go from one side of the city to the other side of the city without needing a car. I’d like to get the trail system up and going.
Working with the various parks. Try to see where would parks be best located. Updating and upgrading the zoning. Working with all the other departments to see what they’ve got going.
I’m a newbie, so it’s kind of like I don’t know exactly what all they’re doing. But what I do like so far is that they do work together on these projects.