After 40 years of serving the city of Merriam, Mayor Ken Sissom is retiring at the end of this month.
Sissom was first elected as mayor of Merriam in April 2009 and has served three full terms.
During his time as mayor, he oversaw the city’s business base grow with the city expanding the number of car dealerships along I-35.
Before becoming mayor, Sissom worked more than 25 years for the Merriam Police Department, including as chief of police from 1992 to 2005.
“I feel very blessed to have been the mayor and the police chief and a police officer in serving the city for all these years,” Sissom said. “Merriam is a very unique place. There’s nothing boring about this place. I’ve seen this place grow in ways that it would be very difficult to explain from when it started.
“And our citizens should be very proud to live here. It’s affordable. It’s safe. We have the best physical streets in the county; compare them with any city. When you’re the mayor, you drive around and look for those things, and it’s not hard to figure out you’re not in Merriam.”
A self-starter in policing
As far as he know, Sissom was likely the second-youngest person to ever become police chief in Johnson County, when he took over Merriam’s department at age 36 in the early 1990s.
“One of my attributes is I’m very goal-oriented,” Sissom said. “It was always a goal to become chief. I did a lot of things to position myself to have the opportunity, not knowing when or if it was ever going to come up, and it did.
“They kind of took a risk on me because I was so young, but it wasn’t like they didn’t know me. I’ll never forget the time I was offered the job.”
He was first hired as a police officer for Merriam in January 1979.
Looking back, he particularly enjoyed his role as sergeant during the evening shift, and he still recalls his experiences on the midnight shift: burglaries, car chases, bar fights and the like.
“It was kind of the Wild West back in those days,” Sissom joked, noting the particular dangers posed by traffic on then-four-lane I-35.
From police chief to mayor
Still, near the start of the 21st century some tumultuous times at city hall nearly led to his sudden professional departure from the city, Sissom says now.
The city’s condemnation of property to expand an auto dealership had created conflict in local politics, Sissom recalls. Shortly afterward, a few people who opposed the city’s role in that situation successfully ran for seats on the council.
With a newly composed city council, Sissom’s position as police chief came up for debate. Had the mayor at the time not put a stop to it, Sissom believes the city council would have terminated his contract, and he would have left Merriam.
The political friction spurred Sissom to eventually run for mayor a few years later in 2008. He said he wanted to adjust the culture at city hall and on the dais.
“Being mayor was not on my list of things that I would want to do,” Sissom said. “But I made a decision when I had that really horrible occurrence… that you know what, I might run for mayor someday. I thought maybe I could make a difference, so that what happened to me doesn’t happen again. I believed I could come in and make some changes and improve the attitudes and relationships.”
‘I’ve been blessed to do this’
Sissom said he greatly enjoyed his time working for the city and his years in service with the police department.
“I’m just very proud to be mayor and to have gotten the opportunity to serve,” Sissom said. “I’ve been blessed to do this, and to get paid to do it, on top of everything else. It has been well worth it. My legacy is carrying on the good work, and I’m going to leave it in good hands, so I’m feeling good about it.”
He has also led a teaching career, passing on his professional knowledge in policing as director of the Johnson County Regional Police Academy. He is also set to retire from the academy this month.
Sissom hopes to see city leaders, staff and the community work toward solutions on other projects in Merriam, including further redevelopment of downtown and flooding management along Turkey Creek, as well as developing a community-led vision for Merriam Town Center and the stretch of Shawnee Mission Parkway near the site of Antioch Library and the old Kmart.
He also hopes the city keeps its focus on taking care of residents as well as the business community.
A lifelong Johnson County native, Sissom graduated from Shawnee Mission North in 1973 and earned his two-year degree in administration of justice from Johnson County Community College.
He later earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminal justice administration, including at Park University and Washburn University.
In retirement, Sissom says he plans to stay in Merriam with his wife of 39 years, Cathy.
They have a son and daughter-in-law who live in Olathe. Sissom is planning to enjoy spending time with his two granddaughters, as well as traveling and exploring some business interests that involve the online sales of collectibles.
Merriam Councilmember Bob Pape will step in as the interim mayor briefly until the election on November 2 seats the newly elected mayor.
Pape, the city’s former fire chief, is running for mayor along with Angel Lopez III.