Wise County Messenger

Shannon ends 32-year tenureFree Access

WORTHY HONOR — Decatur Mayor Mike McQuiston and soon-to-be city manager Nate Mara present resolution naming the council chambers after Brett Shannon, who will retire this week. RICHARD GREENE/WCMESSENGER

WORTHY HONOR — Decatur Mayor Mike McQuiston and soon-to-be city manager Nate Mara present resolution naming the council chambers after Brett Shannon, who will retire this week. RICHARD GREENE/WCMESSENGER

By Monday afternoon the mountains of paper work and materials have been reduced to a few piles on and around Brett Shannon’s desk.

The decades of early morning and late nights spent at city hall, poring through financial records, building plans and ordinances are down to just a days and hours for the long-time city manager. After 37 years with the City of Decatur, including the past 32 years as city manager, Shannon will retire at the close of Thursday.

“It’s going to be weird not being in here after 37 years. It’ll be hard to not get in the car and head to town,” Shannon said.

As the hand-picked successor of Sam Renshaw, Shannon provided Decatur with uncommon stability in its senior leadership during the ebbs and flows of the North Texas economy along with the recent explosive growth. In Shannon’s tenure, Decatur’s population has swelled from 4,242 to 6,875. The city’s annual budget has gone from $2.034 million to $12.1 million this year. And this spring, the city sold $34 million in certificates of obligations to carry out a string of capital projects, including a new water tower, construction of a police department building and park improvements.

The best picture for how the city has changed is entire police force used to fit in what is now his office. The city is now planning to build a police headquarters for $18.265 million.

“We owe a lot of where we are and where we are going to his financial leadership and oversight,” said Mayor Mike McQuiston. “The bond rating we were able to secure was a direct result of his work.”

‘Best decision’

While attending college at Texas Tech, the Decatur native Shannon needed a job during the summers at home. He started working for the city in the summer of 1975 and returned the following summer and for a brief time after college.

Shannon helped a friend with a construction laser business in the Metroplex before going to help his father run a lumber shop in Fort Worth. When his father left, he took over the role. His fate would soon change with a call from Renshaw.

“I wanted to see if I was interested in coming back to the city. I knew all the guys and I talked it over with him,” Shannon explained. “I made the decision to do it. It was best decision I ever made. And so I came to work June 17, 1985 and lo and behold, I’m still here.

“I’ve always considered it somewhat divine intervention that I was able to come home and more importantly take care of my dad until he passed in ’99 and then I was here for my mom when she started declining and we lost her in ’13.”

When hired by Renshaw, Shannon first handled permitting as a building official but his chief role was an apprentice under a man who had held the office since 1958. Renshaw taught Shannon everything from balancing the books by hand to managing and overseeing city operations during a five-year period.

“I was in the lumber business. I didn’t know a whole lot about city government or laws or statutes,” Shannon said. “But Sam was a very good teacher. I owe it all pretty much to him. I have no doubt that I wouldn’t be a 10th of what I am without him.”

In June 1990, Shannon moved into the chief administrative official role.

Lasting legacy

Over the past three decades, the changes in Decatur are evident.

With Shannon working behind the scenes, the city has taken giant leaps in facilities. For a town under 10,000, it built and paid for the Decatur Conference Center, a facility that remains the envy of many similar cities in the region.

The city also built a new fire station, used grant money and donations to construct Jones Park, built a new airport terminal and made significant water and wastewater improvements.

“It’s been fun to watch the city change,” Shannon said.

The city also moved from being a general law city to home rule. Decatur formed the Economic Development Corporation, which helped pay for the Conference Center, and became a Main Street City. Both continue to pay dividends between the revitalization of the Square and recent industrial and manufacturing businesses relocated the Eagles Landing Business Park.

“There’s so much going with the new industrial park. It’s going to be a big driver for Decatur for years to come,” Shannon said. “People don’t realize the good its doing and not just the tax money. It’s creating jobs…I didn’t want Decatur to become another bedroom community.”

What Shannon is most proud of is the city staff that’s been assembled over the years from finance, planning, public works, fire and police. The city staff has grown from 30 to around 125.

“We’ve developed a good team. I’m proud of the team and I support them,” Shannon said. “You’re only as good as your people. I think I’ve got some of the best and I’ve got a lot of long termers, which is a nice sign.”

Seeing the city finances through the boom and bust times of the Barnett Shale and the housing market, Shannon has always tried to stay frugal in his approach.

“I never lost sight that it was the taxpayer’s money,” Shannon said.

He points out the city, even during the lean times, never had to lay off employees.

“There were times we didn’t fill an opening,” he said.

He also knew with citizens it took decades to build trust, which could be lost in 30 minutes.

Better than he found it

After 30 years and as he plans to exit city hall, Shannon hopes he’s leaving the city better than when he started his tenure.

He never entertained leaving for another job, feeling he had the best role around.

“I have colleagues that always think bigger is better,” Shannon said. “But I’m from here. I could stay and didn’t have to disrupt our family.”

He’s also glad to be handing the baton to Nate Mara, a longtime Decatur resident, who has risen through the ranks of the fire station to the role.

“I have no doubt Nate Mara will make a great city manager,” Shannon said. “My only regret is I didn’t get to spend more time with him. Decatur is his home. He’s not taking this job as a stepping stone.”

He will offer the same advice as Sam gave him: “Keep out of the newspaper and the courthouse and it’s been a great week.”

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