City attorney reflects on 31-year career

City attorney reflects on 31-year career
Posted on 05/04/2020

City Attorney Cindy Harmison will retire May after 31 years of service with the City of Lenexa. In this Q & A, she reflects on ways Lenexa has changed over the years, her most memorable experiences and the rewards of public service. 


Describe the role of the City’s Legal Department. 

Our role is to provide legal advice to the Governing Body, the City Manager and City departments and to help carry out the policies of the Governing Body. We draft and review contracts, laws and other documents. We represent and defend the City in civil litigation and prosecute violations of City ordinancesOur department also procures the City’s property and liability insurance and handles claims made against the City. We do not provide private legal advice; our function is to advise our client – which is the City as an organization. 


What do you love most about your job as City Attorney for Lenexa? 

There is not just one thing. First, I work with great people. Throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work with three great mayors and many wonderful city councilmembers, three great city managers and many, many terrific city employees.  Both the elected officials and City staff have a real desire to make Lenexa a great place to live and work. I feel everyone is truly invested in doing the right thing for the right reason.  


Second, I love the variety in my job. Although each of the attorneys in my office tend to develop areas of specialty, we all have to be generalists to some degree because we deal with so many different legal issues (contract law, tort law, constitutional law, criminal law, real estate, employment law, etc.). While that can sometimes be challenging and a little frustrating because of time constraints, it also makes each day interesting and it requires us to be continual learners. I’ve always been a curious person that asks a lot of questions, and that serves me well in my job.  


Lastly, I like problem solving. There is nothing more rewarding than helping to resolve dispute or being presented with a problem and being able to help find a solution. Finding the “win-win” is always a great feeling. I once had a property owner whose land I condemned a portion of for a road later use me as a reference for a job with the City.  We had a positive encounter despite it being a difficult and emotional time for their family. I also became friends with a woman in her 90’s who lived on a farm near 79th Street and Maurer during our construction of 79th Street. I would take her hot fudge sundaes and talk about not only the project, but also about the history of Lenexa and her experiences growing up in the community. She rode a horse to attend a one-room schoolhouse, and her family would take the horse and buggy from their farm to church in Old Town.   

Lawyers are sometimes referred to as “counselors,” and a member of my staff says that is never more true than in the role of a city attorney - and I agree.   


How has Lenexa changed since you first started working for the City? 

A lot! Seeing City Center come to life after it was first conceived in Vision 2020 back in 1997 has been amazing. It is very rewarding to have been a part of the team when it was first conceived, acquiring the ground and assisting with the development codes, to seeing construction actually take off!   


However, there are a lot of other major changes that I think people forget about. From the date I started working at Lenexa in December 1988 through October 1999, the City completed nine annexations and two de-annexations, expanding the size of the city by approximately seven miles 


The Quivira viaduct did not exist when I first started. To get to Quivira and 95thyou had to get on I-35 or you had to go north on Noland or Pflumm to 95th St. and then head back east to Quivira.  


There was also very little development west of I-435 due, in part, to the mining operations west and adjacent to Renner Blvd. The City made a concerted effort to stop the strip mining and associated asphalt operations and reclaim the property for development.  


Lack of ground served by sanitary sewers was another stumbling block early in my career with the City. Lenexa operated its own wastewater treatment plant when I started, but we did not have the capacity to serve the areas west of I-435, and the County would not allow us to enlarge the City’s operations because Johnson County was moving to a more regional approach. The City was unable to issue building permits west of I-435 until the new Little Mill Creek regional sewer treatment plant was constructed in the mid to late 90s. Once the Little Mill Creek plant was operational, Lenexa worked with Johnson County to convey our system to the County. Thereafter, development really took off.  


Lenexa also established one of the first comprehensive stormwater systems with the development of its Rain to Recreation program.  This was very cutting-edge at the time and has been adopted by many other communities. 


The elected officials in Lenexa have always been visionary and have always worked well togetherThe Governing Body has always wanted to maintain its small-town charm, but to not get stagnant.  


I vividly recall it being a difficult period of time to see Olathe and Overland Park grow while Lenexa was stalled due to the lack of sewers, but the Lenexa Governing Body used that time to focus on how Lenexa could position itself for growth, specifically focusing on the type of growth Lenexa desired.  


The Governing Body also expects its staff to think ahead and bring them creative ways to improve the community. I think, in large part, having a visionary and cooperative Governing Body that hires good, professional staff is what has made Lenexa so successful.   


What is the most interesting thing you’ve done as the City Attorney? 

I’ve been tased as part of the police department taser training. I participated so that when defending the Police Department in a use-of-force claim, I would have a better understanding of both the training provided and the experience of the individual tased


During a late night ride-a-long with the Police Department, I was in a high-speed pursuit arising out of an armed carjacking that ended in Lawrence, KS. I’ve participated in an inspection of a collapsed underground mine. It is never a dull moment! 


If someone is considering a career in public service, what advice would you offer them? 

If you are motivated, not by money, but by a purpose beyond yourself, public service can be extremely rewarding. It provides you an opportunity to help others now and in the future by building sustainable communities and positive relationships. I think public employees are often given a bad rap because there is a perception that they are not as smart or as driven as people in the private sector, but my experience has been directly contrary to this perception. I have worked with so many talented, creative and high-performing individuals in my career, both at the City and in other governmental entities.  The most successful individuals are the persons who truly care about their organization and the people they serve. They want to make a difference, and they do. 


What do you love most about Lenexa? 

It is hard to answer this question. I love so much about Lenexa! I think I most love the small-town feel, but also the City’s desire to try new things.   


What is your favorite park in Lenexa? 

Lenexa has so many beautiful parks. I am probably partial to Sar-Ko-Par because that is the park we spent the most time in with our daughters when they were young.  However, I really like Black Hoof Park with Lake Lenexa. It is a beautiful park and ideal for walking.

Published May 4, 2020