After 37 years of serving the public, Lake Ozark City Administrator Dave Van Dee is retiring from city government. His last day on the job was Friday, Oct. 29.
“It’s off season and things are calming down. That’s why I chose this time. I figured everything would be winding down so I could just quietly fade away and let whoever is going to replace me pick up the reigns and run with it,” he said. “I feel that I’m leaving them a good foundation – organizationally and financially.”
At the end of his last board of aldermen meeting Tuesday evening, Oct. 26, City Attorney Chris Rohrer congratulated Van Dee on his retirement. Everyone in the audience and everyone on the dais except Mayor Dennis Newberry stood to their feet and applauded. Van Dee and Newberry have been at odds over several issues since Newberry was elected mayor in April.
After they sat down, Alderman Vernon Jaycox, who has served on several different boards throughout Van Dee’s time with the city, said he, too, wanted to congratulate the retiring city administrator.
“Whenever I would call him on the phone, we could talk out an issue and he would get an answer. We would solve the problem – if there was one,” Jaycox said. “And that’s very important. He’s been here 12 years, guys. When he came here the city was more than $2 million in debt and almost facing bankruptcy. He helped us and we worked with him ... and now we have excess funds in every account. That is absolutely something. This gentleman right here – he’s a leader. There’s no doubt about it. Thank you, Dave – alot.” In an earlier interview, Van Dee said when he was a kid just starting out in college he never imagined leading a city, much less leading a city that tried to survive on a three-month tourism season, out of debt.
“I planned to go into teaching but as a fluke I took an urban planning class. Suddenly I realized that all that time I spent growing up on the wrong side of the tracks in the San Francisco Bay area paid off. We were poor. My mom was a single parent and there were eight of us. Because of that, I understood the role cities played in people’s lives. That knowledge and experience would lend itself to what I wanted to do, and I understood why it was important for me to do it,” he said.
His college professor actually gave him the push that launched his career.
“I was taking graduate classes and we had just had our second child when he told me that a planning job had opened up in Waterloo (Iowa), which is a metropolitan area right next to the university town. He said if I didn’t apply, he was going to apply for me,” he said, adding that he applied and interviewed for the job three times. “The third time I looked at them and said ‘Guys – as much as I enjoy talking to all of you, either make me an offer or don’t call me back. I’m trying to get my graduate degree and I don’t need to be distracted.’ I got a call the next day offering me the job. They said they were testing me to see how long it would take for me to be assertive. I passed the test and started Aug. 17, 1984.”
He said the beauty of the city was that they didn’t put limits on him.
“You may be an associate planner but if a project or a program came up and you were interested in doing it, they’d give you a chance. That’s how I developed my skills in economic development, brownfield development, urban revitalization redevelopment, and tax increment financing. It was a great experience.”
Over the next 16 years he moved from being an associate planner to a preservation specialist. He then went on to economic development, down- town redevelopment, and finally neighborhood services coordinator.
“By the time I became a city administrator I had developed all the skills I needed to be comfortable in that position,” he recalled.
His next three years were spent as city administrator for Dyersville, Iowa, then he moved to Hiawatha, Iowa, where he served as city administrator for five years. His next move was in 2009 to Lake Ozark.
“When I came here, I felt the one thing missing from a land- use perspective was a serious lack of industrially zoned land. That’s where you get diversity in jobs and sustainable jobs. Retail is great but let’s be honest. Retail, food, and entertainment are seasonally driven. They don’t sustain peoples’ incomes and they don’t sustain families the way industrial jobs do,” he said.
That’s why he’s so pleased that he was able to be involved in bringing the industrial park to the area through Magruder Limestone Co.
“They’re going before the planning commission in November to renew their special permit for the compliance check. They’re probably 30 percent farther along with the quarry operation than they thought they would be at this time so they’re hopeful they’ll have a development site within the next 18 months. That’s exciting!”
During his tenure he’s also been able to be part of the Shoppes at Eagles’ Landing project, improvements to the city’s sanitary sewer system, construction of workforce and senior housing developments, paying off City Hall, and he was involved in securing funding through a CDBG grant and from the Missouri Department of Transportation for design and construction of Rt. 242. He has also been involved in various projects on the Bagnell Dam Strip and has participated in the Lake of the Ozarks Council of Local Governments and several other economic development-oriented organizations.
His hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed. He’s already been asked by several people if he would consider doing some consulting work after he retires. He said that sounds interesting but first, he wants to have six months to get a few things done on the hobby farm he and his wife Lisa bought last July, and to travel to Arizona to see their two daughters and to Iowa to spend time with their other two children and their grandchildren, who range in age from 8 to 23.
“It’s been fun, and I have enjoyed a whole lot of success throughout my career,” he said. “It wasn’t a lot of fun in the beginning when I had to say ‘No’ to every expenditure requested by department heads. But I’m very pleased with the progress the city has made. A lot of things are going to happen here in Lake Ozark, and I feel comfortable and confident that I set the stage. Now it’s time for the next person to come in and orchestrate the plan and make it work.”
This article originally appeared on Lake Sun Leader: Outgoing city administrator reflects on his time with the city of Lake Ozark.