Poteau mayor won't seek re-election

Longtime Poteau Mayor Jeff Shockley discusses his decision not to seek re-election // Photo by Ken Milam.Poteau Mayor Jeff Shockley swears in for the first time in 1999. // PDN archive photo
Amanda Corbin
News Reporter

Poteau Mayor Jeff Shockley has announced he will not seek re-election after serving since 1999 in the position.

“It’s just time,” Shockley said Friday. “I’ve been praying about it. Everyone’s got a time, and I think I’ve accomplished everything I’ve set out to accomplish.”

He will conclude his tenure as mayor at noon April 15 and dedicate his time to real estate work.

Shockley, 62, began as mayor at the age of 43. He has three children and four grandchildren, with another due in April.

“I was on the council (before becoming mayor,” he said. “I was elected to the council in 1993. I liked the direction we were going, and I wanted to continue that direction, to make sure it kept going forward.” Back then, he worked at a tractor dealership at his brother’s car lot.

Shockley moved to Poteau in 1970 in the eighth-grade from El Paso, Texas. He graduated from Poteau and attended Carl Albert State College.

His favorite part of being mayor?

“People,” he said. “Trying to help people.”

Part of it, he said, was permitting processes. “We’ve tried to expedite it and make it more user-friendly.” Communication is also key in a service position such as mayor, he said.

“A big thing a lot of citizens want is somebody that they can talk to and [who will] listen. Someone that explains how and why they do things. That seems to eliminate a lot of problems. Communication — that helps people understand the ‘why.’” That’s his advice to whomever takes on the reigns of mayor next, to focus on communication: “Especially with the citizens.”

Relationships with state agencies is another key to leadership, such as with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, Department of Environmental Quality and more.

“If you don’t have relationships with those people, your job gets just that much harder,” he said. He said the city has held a strong relationship with Poteau Public Schools, CASC, Kiamichi Technology Center, the Poteau Chamber of Commerce, the county, and especially the Choctaw Nation. “The Choctaw Nation has been awesome. The Choctaw Nation is a very important part of our economy and our community.”

Shockley has overseen a multitude of changes over 20 years, be it shifts in council members, area lawmakers or school superintendents. And with those changes, he has helped implement a number of projects to better the city, he said.

“One thing a lot of people won’t remember is the Witteville bridge,” he said. “It was a one-lane, wooden bridge. Now it’s a good two-lane, concrete, safe bridge. There’s a lot of traffic on that bridge.”

He said he knew projects he wanted to do, such as fixing the historic downtown’s sidewalks, its parking situation, widening the road and switching the stoplights into stop signs. Sidewalks have been fixed, stop signs installed and the parking slots slanted at angle to allow a wider roadway for passing vehicles.

He said the construction of the Donald W. Reynolds Community Center (completed in 2011) and the Patrick Lynch Public Library (2013) were also two large projects finished during his time as mayor.

The 37,000-square-foot Reynolds Center is multi-use, hosting a wide range of events, from the annual Chamber Banquet, weddings, meetings, parties and music events. It includes am amphitheater, and the town’s annual Fourth of July festivities are hosted in the parking lot. MAHG Architecture valued the project at $11 million.

The new library replaced the smaller Buckley library. The project, valued at $4 million, boasts a public meeting room, spacious lobby, a children’s area, study rooms, genealogy room and plenty of computers for the public.

The city also now sports four new ball fields, and the airport and a couple of parks were expanded, and many sewer and water lines have been upgraded, Shockley said. The Cavanal Scenic Expressway saw its completion, and he implemented drug testing for city employees.

“It was a lot of time and effort,” he said. “I owe it all to the city of Poteau and the employees. The employees are awesome.”

Shockley said budget and revenues have not changed much since 1999. “But in 1999, we were able to do half a million dollar projects just out of the budget,” he said. However, growing health care costs and costs of materials have made things tighter, he said.

Cleaning up the city has remained a focus of his. Cleanup hearings of properties around the city are often part of the monthly Poteau City Council meeting at City Hall.

“It’s hard to tell when you’re driving around,” he said. “We’ve took down 140 houses, maybe more. We’ve got three right now in the works.” There are half a dozen more still in need of cleanup, he added.

Shockley said although he sees Poteau going in a better direction, there is always more to fix.

“I do believe [Poteau is improving]. I think the infrastructure is going in a good direction,” he said. But, “We can always use road improvements.”

He has two projects left before his time as mayor ends. As Project 1, he plans to make water bills payable online or by credit card, and Project 2, complete a walking trail from CASC to downtown Poteau.

“We are in a pretty good growth spurt. And that excites me. I do believe the best times are ahead for the city,” he said.

“I’ve enjoyed it. The good definitely outweighed the bad.”