After 31 years with Lenexa, City Attorney Cindy Harmison retiring this week

'It’s bittersweet. To be able to work through things with people, it’s been very rewarding.” Cindy Harmison reflected on the past three decades working for Lenexa.

After 31 years of working for the city of Lenexa, Cindy Harmison is retiring from her role as city attorney.

Harmison’s last day is May 8. Sean McLaughlin, an assistant city attorney, will assume the role in her stead.

Harmison said she will miss all of her friends at city hall.

“It’s bittersweet. I love having the variety and being able to problem solve for people, and I’ve made a lot of friendships,” she said. “You get to meet a lot of people. To be able to work through things with people, it’s been very rewarding.”

In 1988, Harmison wasn’t expecting to start a lifelong career for Lenexa. After graduating law school from UMKC, she began working in insurance defense litigation. Then her husband, Scot Harmison, saw the advertisement for an assistant staff attorney position, and after getting offered the job, she accepted it.

“And the rest is history,” she said. “I’ve never looked back, I have just loved it.”

She served many roles for the city and its municipal court, including the daytime docket in municipal court, litigation and insurance work and support for the planning and zoning department.

Cindy Harmison is one of just a few staff members who were there when Lenexa first envisioned City Center. She has overseen the legal side of development at City Center and out west. Above, file photo of construction of the new Johnson County Library branch, located next to city hall and the Lenexa Public Market.

She was later promoted to deputy city attorney and in 1995, became acting city attorney. She has served as city attorney since May 1996. Around that time, she became more involved in economic development, including Vision 2020, the development of Lenexa City Center at I-435 and 87th Street Parkway.

Harmison is one of only a few still on staff at the city from when the City Center concept was first envisioned by the community in 1997.

“My career experience is a good reminder that we should always stay open to new opportunities,” Harmison said. “I think that’s what I love the most about being a city attorney, because our work is so varied. We have to be generalists; we have to know a little bit about a lot of different things.”

During her time with Lenexa, she saw many changes across the city, especially out west and at Lenexa City Center.

“It is rewarding to see the vision come to life,” she said. “Without the commitment of the governing body and the community I think it would have been very difficult to make this project happen.”

She had a hand in the establishment of the many TIF districts in Lenexa, and recalls the city established the TIF district for City Center on Sept. 11, 2001. For professional development, Harmison remembers being in a high-speed police pursuit during a ride-along, as well as volunteering to get tased by the city police department.

“It was always my view that I needed to know… what it’s like,” she said, adding that it’s her personal philosophy working with criminal suspects who have been tased.

Harmison grew up in Merriam and graduated from SM Northwest. Her family kept horses in Lenexa, at Peterson Stables on land that is now the site of City Center North. She grew up riding horses over the area that is now Mill Creek Elementary and the Oak Hill subdivision, as well as to and through Shawnee Mission Park.

In her first nine years working for Lenexa, the city went through nine annexations and two de-annexations, expanding to about 7 square miles.

The transition from its own wastewater treatment to Johnson County’s — plus the phasing out of mining operations near Renner Boulevard — stalled residential and commercial development out west until about the mid-1990s. Harmison believes that pause allowed Lenexa’s leaders to focus on planning and growth of the city.

“We have had a governing body that is very visionary,” she said. “They’re very supportive of staff, and they’re willing to look at new and different ways of doing things. I think they’re all really committed to Lenexa and to doing the right things for the city, even when sometimes those are hard decisions.”

After retiring, she plans to spend more time with her husband of 37 years in their Lenexa home, and enjoy their three daughters and sons-in-law and granddaughter (and grandson on the way). She might continue teaching legal studies at Johnson County Community College.