Cheryl Harrison-Lee has only been in Gardner for a short time, but she already feels at home in her new community.
Harrison-Lee started work July 16 as Gardner’s new city administrator.
“I purchased a home in Gardner, and I was registered to vote after three days on the job,” she said. “…I feel at home. This is my community, and I am enjoying it.”
Harrison-Lee comes to Gardner from Eatonville, Fla., where she served as chief administrative officer for the past three years.
She has 28 years of experience in local government, spanning community development, public works and capital projects, finance, public transportation and urban development.
Harrison-Lee has also worked with the Florida cities of Daytona Beach, Titusville and Orlando, and the Florida Department of Transportation.
She has both public and private sector experience.
Harrison-Lee said the Gardner job interested her for two reasons.
First, she saw the community’s potential for economic development and growth.
“Gardner is on the cusp of a major transformation,” she said. “It is a community that is going to fare very well when the economy turns.”
Secondly, Harrison-Lee has a sister who lives in Overland Park, and the Gardner job will allow her to be closer to her sibling.
Harrison-Lee said she had long been familiar with Johnson County because of her sister.
“I visited my sister several times before I even applied for the (Gardner) position,” she said. “So I was familiar with the area.”
Harrison-Lee, a South Carolina Native, started her career as a television news reporter.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism, completed an internship, then worked briefly as a reporter for a CBS affiliate.
“And I quickly decided that I wanted to do something else,” Harrison-Lee said. “Community development piqued my interest, and that is how I got to the University of Florida. I was looking for a school to pursue getting a degree in city planning or administration.
“I quickly learned that one of the greatest legacies that I could leave was helping to build a community and create a quality of life for residents.”
Harrison-Lee said her interest in community development stems from her undergraduate days when she served as a page in the South Carolina Legislature.
“My particular representative was very influential with community development,” she said. “She really believed in building housing and creating community facilities. When you are a page, you do all the legwork — data collection, analysis and research.
“I got very interested in learning more about how to create good facilities, cities and towns.”
Harrison-Lee said her administrator is that of a “consensus builder.”
“I see myself as being a steward of the community’s vision,” she said. “I believe in citizen involvement. I believe in trying to balance competing interests. Trying to find a win-win for both sides.”
Harrison-Lee said her first order of business will be meeting with the mayor and city council members.
“Over the course of the next week, I am doing individual meetings with them so that I can learn what they see as the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for this community,” she said. “I want to get an insight on their vision, and to provide some insight on some things that I see.”
Harrison-Lee said she also plans to meet with city staff and business leaders to get more familiar with the operations of the city and with the community.
Her goals include long range-planning for the city.
“I’d like to develop a strategic plan,” Harrison-Lee said. “I’d like to see the community do an update of the comprehensive plan, which was last updated in 1998. “I’d like to see us develop a master plan. I would like to get a vision with the policy makers. And I would like to be able to develop a means of implementing that vision with a matrix to ensure that we are meeting our goals.”
She also wants to pursue economic development opportunities.
“I would like to position the community for the economic development spin-off that I know will come with the intermodal center and the new interchange,” Harrison-Lee said.
“Those are huge economic development opportunities.”