Kingman mayor wraps up 25 years of public service

Mayor says goodbye to public life on Tuesday

Janet Watson

Janet Watson

KINGMAN - For the final time in her brief but eventful tenure as Kingman's mayor, Janet Watson will open Tuesday's City Council meeting promptly at 5:30 p.m. Everyone in attendance will stand for prayer and then recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

The minutes taken at the Nov. 18 meeting will quietly be approved and then a judge will swear in the 2014-2016 edition of the Kingman City Council. Watson will hand her gavel to Mayor-elect Richard Anderson as a new chapter begins.

Watson, having done her final duty, will walk out of Council Chambers and into the rest of her life, where she plans to spend quality time with the people she loves, travel, get serious about gardening, visit the local library and cook dinner more often for her husband Gary, a Mohave County supervisor.

"I have enjoyed my time on the City Council," said Watson in a recent interview. "I worked hard. This is one of those jobs that really is very different than it looks. It's more than just two meetings a month.

"I did the very best I could, and I will miss the people who work for the city and the citizens I served, but I look forward to my new life."

Watson is the rare public servant who leaves office on her own terms, with no unfinished business and no regrets worth fretting over.

Elected in 2006 after spending nearly two decades on the local and state school boards, Watson was appointed mayor in 2013 after former Mayor John Salem stepped down to help care for his ailing father.

Watson leaves the city in better shape than it was when she took over for Salem in the summer of 2013. This isn't a reflection on Salem's performance, as Watson will point out, but a question of Kingman slowly climbing out of the Great Recession and the Council's controversial decision to raise the local sales tax by one half of 1 percent effective July 1, 2013, an act that effectively righted the ship.

A city in transition

Watson took over last summer at a critical point in Kingman's government. Former City Manager Jack Kramer retired weeks earlier. Fire Chief Chuck Osterman - whose own retirement is set for this week after 38 years of service - pulled double duty as the interim city manager.

Finance Director Coral Loyd had been warning for months that after years of sharply reduced revenue and deficit spending the city budget had reached a tipping point. If something wasn't done to bring in new revenue, services would have to be cut, and the cuts would be draconian.

"It was a real rollercoaster ride for awhile," said Watson. "Now that we're on the upswing, it's like we've been through the best of times and the worst of times."

Loyd, however, is nothing if not conservative and the half-cent increase stabilized the city's budget - for the moment.

While city coffers are far from overflowing, revenues are slightly ahead of expenditures overall.

Watson is grateful to Osterman for how he handled himself as the temporary city manager.

"It was my pleasure working with Chief Osterman," she said with a chuckle. "He's always so calm and collected. That's because he's a firefighter and he knows what a real emergency is all about."

Osterman would remain in the role for longer than expected.

The right city manager

Hiring a city manager is not a simple process and it was something the City Council had to endure twice in 2013. After weeks of searching, accepting resumes, paring the candidates, inviting the top three to Kingman to meet face to face and to speak to residents, the first person offered the job walked away after contract negotiations bogged down. The process began anew and John Dougherty took the job.

"One of our biggest accomplishments, and I take no personal credit for this, but selecting our city manager was significant," said Watson. "John Dougherty has embraced Kingman. He works hard every single day."

Watson said Dougherty played a key role in the success of the International Route 66 Festival. "I'm not sure what would have happened to the festival without him taking the reins along with Jamie Taylor and Dora (Manley)."

Making progress

Watson cites the city's "modest but steady growth" in the past 18 months as a sign of better times ahead.

More than 20 businesses have opened and 500 jobs added since 2012 - and this figure does not include construction jobs. She mentions the reconstruction of the formerly abandoned Blockbuster building on Stockton Hill Road that is now home to Chipotle Mexican Grill, Five Guys Burgers and Fries and Baskin-Robbins. Clicking off on her fingers, Watson also mentions the redeveloped Frontier Crossing strip mall on Stockton Hill and Detroit Avenue. "Once a blight, the site is now home to Tractor Supply Store, Sears, the 99-cent Store and Fallas," she said before moving on. "The White Cliffs Assisted Living Center was constructed. St. Mary Catholic Church underwent a huge addition. Journey Church was built on Bank Street and Grace Lutheran was expanded. The Ramada Inn now has an in-house restaurant and live music. Discount Tire and the dialysis center are here ... all of this shows modest but continuing growth."

She mentions the city using Route 66 as part of its identity is beginning to pay dividends. Downtown is recovering, with the First Friday and Chillin' on Beale Street events getting more attention, she said, and citywide beautification efforts have made a dramatic difference.

The quiet zone was another big victory for the city, though Watson admits people who miss the sirens out of deference to Kingman's past might have a point.

Gas tax funds will start coming back after the state claimed them for a number of years, a fact Watson said will allow the city to resurrect its street repair program after years of wholesale neglect.

Coda

To be clear, Watson takes no personal credit for any of the achievements she cites, saying it was the combination of a City Council that worked solely for the betterment of the community and a "gifted, hardworking and loyal staff."

"I'm proud to be from Kingman," said Watson. "We're not perfect, but I know we're getting better and better. I took this position seriously, but I never took myself seriously and I always acted in what I thought was the best for everybody who lives here.

"I will miss being mayor, but I look forward to spending more time with my husband and cook him more meals. I want to clean up the clutter and decorate for the holidays. I plan to visit my family and spend time with my grandchildren and more time with longtime friends.

"I want to go to the library and read something for fun for a change. I want to take master gardening classes and I want to travel while I still have the energy."

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