As 2013 ended, so did Steve Carpenter’s time as the city’s highest ranking official.
After 19 years as city manager, Carpenter retired Dec. 31.
“I have been on this journey for the past 40 years, 30 of them working in cities, but the journey is not the important part; it’s the people you meet along the way,” he said at his farewell reception.
When Carpenter got his first gig working for a city 30 years ago, he didn’t know much about how cities operated, he said. He was, however, well versed in running a parks and recreation department, which he did for 10 years before making the transition to city management.
“Parks and recreation teaches you some real skills working with people,” he said of the various positions he held in Missouri City and Alvin before becoming an assistant city manager. “You really hone your interpersonal skills.”
During his college days, Carpenter wanted to become a teacher but changed course and took a job at a Farmers Branch recreation center. He then moved on to take a director’s job in Missouri City and then another in Alvin before making his way back to Farmers Branch, where he worked as assistant city manager for 10 years before taking on the Heights city manager post.
Like an orchestra conductor, Carpenter said it took everyone — employees, elected officials and residents — working together to create the harmonious rhythm behind the city.
State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock worked with Carpenter on a number of projects over the past two decades.
“He’s done wonders not just for Harker Heights, but for the entire region,” he said. “It’s sad to see someone of his caliber go but I know Heights is in good hands with his predecessor.”
Carpenter is credited with guiding Heights from a small bedroom community to a viable retail-fueled city, teaming with shopping centers and restaurants.
“When we first moved to Heights in 1972 there was no retail tax base,” Aycock said. “Now it’s booming and that’s because of his well thought out process regarding infrastructure and his ongoing strategy behind water and sewer to help the community thrive.”
When Carpenter manned the post, his first order of business was rebranding Heights and forcing sexually-oriented businesses out of city limits. “The first part of my job was to find out what the citizens wanted and we held neighborhood meetings for the first time,” he said. “The residents unloaded and told us exactly what they wanted.”
Under his watch, the city renovated and purchased 193 acres of park land, establishing six new parks, built City Hall, the police department, Pet Adoption Center, the parks and recreation building, the Stewart C. Meyer Public Library and Activities Center and the Stillhouse Hollow Road Fire Station.
He is also proud of the infrastructure, sewer, drainage and water lines the city put in to attract businesses like Seton Medical Center, Market Heights Shopping Center, Sam’s Club, Rooms To Go and Walmart, to name a few.
Jerry Bark, director of the parks and recreation department, was the first department head Carpenter hired.
“He has improved the quality of life here 10-fold,” he said, “I’m sad to see him go.”
During a retirement ceremony last month, Carpenter was presented with several gifts and accolades from various departments within the city, including fishing gear and other items to be enjoyed during his retirement.
In addition to changing the landscape of the city, Carpenter built lifelong friendships, including one with Mari Meyer and her husband, former Heights mayor and retired Maj. Gen. Stewart C. Meyer, who died in December 2012.
“I cannot say enough good things about him and his wife. He truly is the backbone of this community,” Mari Meyer said, adding she is very happy Carpenter will be staying in Heights. “My husband always said hiring Steve was the best decision he and the council ever made and a decision he was the most proud of. He really loved Steve.”
Carpenter and his family became fast friends with the Meyers when Stewart C. Meyer served as mayor from 1993 to 1997.
“When he first came on board the city was in trouble and I don’t know of anyone who could have turned this city around better then Steve,” Mari Meyer said. “It was like magic how things started to come together after he was hired. He’s been such a blessing for our community and I treasure their friendship.”