Ron Shaffer first stepped into Prairie Village politics in the closing months of 1989, when then-mayor Roe Taliaferro appointed him to fill the seat being vacated by a resigning Ward 1 councilor.
“Roe interviewed four candidates and then decided to put me in the seat,” Shaffer said. “And then one of the other guys he interviewed announced that he would run against me in the April election before I was even seated. So I had a campaign on my hands before I was even officially appointed.”
Shaffer went on to win that council election in April 1990 — and he’s won every election he’s been in since. That includes four terms as Prairie Village mayor, making him the longest serving in the city’s 64 year history. This week, just over 25 years after taking his first seat on city’s governing body, Shaffer is leaving elected office in Prairie Village to become the District 1 representative on the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners, having defeated former Mission Mayor Laura McConwell for the spot in November. The city council meeting tonight will be Shaffer’s last in the center of the Prairie Village dais.
Over the course of his 16 years in office, Shaffer has piloted the city through two financial downturns, the passage of two Community Improvement District agreements that helped spur the renovation of aging infrastructure at the Village Shops and Corinth Square, and the creation of the Village Vision master plan and implementation of parts of its recommendations, including improvements to the city’s parks.
“The most significant accomplishments during Ron’s tenure are the development of the ‘Village Vision,’ which is a broad based effort to look into the future, and the evolution of the parks,” said councilor Steve Noll.
Shaffer’s tenure of late hasn’t been without its controversies, though. Pushback against the CIDs and the city’s handling of the closure of Mission Valley and the Mission Chateau proposal fueled council candidacies that have brought several new faces to the governing body during Shaffer’s final term. Some of those new councilors have pressed Shaffer on his handling of the the city’s volunteer committees, and there have been disagreements about how the city approached the possibility of acquiring land from Homestead Country Club.
City Councilor Eric Mikkelsen, who took office in April 2014, said he was hesitant to judge potential missteps during Shaffer’s time in office because he had “not walked in his shoes,” but that in recent years it was possible that Prairie Village “may have forever missed some prime opportunities to fulfill our long-standing Village Vision goal of increasing the City’s park acreage per capita to levels more consistent with national recommended standards.”
Still, Mikkelson and others credit Shaffer with a track record of fiscal stewardship that has left the city on generally sound financial footing.
“Prairie Village emerged from The Great Recession with the lowest ratio of bond debt to total assessed valuation of any first class city in Kansas, by far,” Mikkelson said. “We have modest excess cash fund balances and a balanced budget. The Mayor deserves a significant share of the credit for that.”
For his part, Shaffer says the city’s solid finances, along with excellent public safety and parks, are among the accomplishments he’s most pleased with from his time in office.
“All in all, I’ve been very fortunate in my tenure,” he said. “It’s gone pretty well along the way. There are not very many things I’m disappointed in.”
But he believes the passage of the CIDs will likely stand as his biggest accomplishment.
“I do sometimes think about what wouldn’t have been if we hadn’t taken the big step we did when we did,” he said. “There are always going to be the naysayers, but it is a clear success. I’ve received nothing but accolades from friends, neighbors and citizens.”
Shaffer said he won’t be completely disengaging from city affairs once he’s sworn in on the county board Jan. 12. The same philosophy that helped him win all of his elections in the city has helped him forge deep relationships that he intends to maintain.
“I always said in elections that I never wanted to lose by five or ten votes,” he said. “So I worked hard — I got to know a lot of people and developed a lot of friendships, and those friendships are still present today.”
It’s an approach that has earned Shaffer a spot in the city’s history.
“Over his decades of public service, he has become a part of the fabric and history of this great city,” Mikkelson said. “If anyone today deserves the title ‘Mr. Prairie Village,’ he does.”