In a room full of city employees and local developers, Garden City bid farewell to longtime Neighborhood and Development Services director Kaleb Kentner, a department head who has guided local city planning and growth for the past 15 years.

“You were undoubtedly a critical contributor to the physical and economic expansion over the last decade,” said Garden City city manager Matt Allen. “There may be a city manager that could have handled it without you, but that city manager certainly isn’t me.”

On Friday, Kentner will leave the City of Garden City to head development and neighborhood services for the city of Weatherford, Texas.

City staff announced Monday that Garden City Public Works director Sam Curran will serve as interim in the midst of an ongoing national search for Kentner’s successor. Allen said staff will soon select a pool of applicants to more closely examine.

When Kentner arrived in Garden City, fresh off city planning work in the Kansas City, Mo., metro area, life was slow-moving — there wasn’t much going on, he said. Staff and local leaders wanted the city to grow, but it wasn’t.

Within a few years, that began to change, largely because of Kentner and his staff, Allen said. Kentner, mild-mannered and cooperative, began building relationships with local and non-local builders, developers and other groups that could contribute to growth, Allen said.

Local developers work with Kentner constantly to complete city projects and many are appreciative of what he can do for them, said permit and compliance technician Rachel Asebedo, who has worked with Kentner for years. He was fair and consistent in the development process, Allen said, and he listened to people. During the farewell party, one of those developers raised her hand to thank him.

“You (helped me) with graciousness and kindness and generosity of spirit. And kindness does matter,” she said.

Kentner and his staff’s work spanned beyond city limits, including reviewing zoning regulations regarding land use in the county, said Finney County Commissioner Dave Jones.

But one of the biggest changes during his tenure was the decision, made by city staff, the city commission and other bodies and departments, to truly focus on Garden City’s retail scene. Starting with the opening of Sam’s Club, the department helped turn east Garden City into a retail hub frequently patronized by residents across southwest Kansas and even neighboring states.

The development sent local sales tax sky-rocketing, helping the city accomplish other goals that benefit the greater community, Kentner said.

“We just grabbed a hold of that and ... we just ran with that to make that change a reality ... That was the beginning of where we started to see the retail boom,” Kentner said.

He and his department have had a hand in much of the growth of the past decade plus, Allen said — almost all residential, retail and industrial growth since 2000. Asebedo pointed to a long list of recent housing divisions, Home Depot, both Walmarts and Schulman Crossing. Plenty of other projects are in the works, she said.

Kentner said that in the past 15 years, Garden City has added more than 500,000 square feet of retail space.

Part of that is possible because of who Kentner is as a boss, said Asebedo and Roberto Becerril, Neighborhood and Development Services project manager. Kentner is patient and level-headed, Asebedo said, traits that make him not only an effective planner but also an effective leader. His calm temperament can weather any situation, they said. Jones said he could “take the smoke right out of the fire.” It’s not a tactic, Allen said — it’s just Kentner.

When he pushes employees to earn new certifications, it might mean some leave to pursue new positions, Becerril said. But it also means that some, like him and Asebedo, come back.

“He's irreplaceable, I think,” Asebedo said. “He’s a hard worker and puts in a lot of time. There’s not going to be another Kaleb.”

 

Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.