My Day with the Mayor

Zach Smith, ReporterI can’t say I knew what to expect for my first Day in the Life feature at Springfield Business Journal, although the concept seemed pretty straightforward: spend a day with real estate agent and Branson Mayor Karen Best. I had interviewed a few mayors before, but hadn’t really “shadowed” anyone since my junior year of high school. Maybe not knowing what to expect was, pardon the pun, best.

Unfortunately, the weather was not. When SBJ photographer Wes Hamilton and I pulled on to a foggy, rain-slicked Highway 65 around 9:15 a.m., rain was falling so fast my windshield wipers couldn’t keep up. I, for some reason, forewent a morning cup of coffee, which when combined with blinding sheets of rain, made for an interesting and mostly blind game of slaloms all the way south.

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Sales medals and personality profiles of the Best Team adorn Karen’s real estate office.

Fittingly, after the 30-minute equivalent of a terrifying Silver Dollar City roller coaster ride, the rain and the rest of the day lightened up. When we arrived at the Keller Williams Tri-Lakes offices at around a quarter to 10 a.m., Karen had just finished wrapping up a meeting with the members of the Best Team, checking some final details on four properties she would close by the time the Day in the Life series was in print. She brought us up to speed on the real estate side of things quickly, and acknowledged should her second cellphone – dubbed “the Bat-phone”- ring, she would have to interrupt the interview. Even at one office, she’s never far from the other.

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Les Brown Jr. tells Karen the story of Bob Hope’s The Paleface tour, which featured Brown’s father and Doris Day.

With no showings scheduled, we followed Karen to Panera Bread for a 10:30 a.m. meeting with Les Brown Jr., which probably began closer to 10:35 a.m. after Karen greeted or was greeted by a fair number of the eatery’s diners. Although we signed a confidentiality agreement, Karen and Les were enthusiastic in their discussion of a potential television project, which they both made a point of stressing would not be “reality-based”. But it wasn’t all business. By meeting’s end, Les had produced a pristine glossy photograph of his father, Doris Day, Bob Hope and around 30 other people in front of Hope’s plane on his late-40’s tour for “The Paleface”. Taking a mental step back from the conversation, it occurred to me that anyone eating or working at Panera that morning who didn’t know Karen and Les probably didn’t realize these two friends reminiscing over a photo were planning Branson’s future.

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Karen and members of the Branson-Hollister Rotary prepare to dig in at Golden Corral prior to their weekly meeting.

Not having attended a Rotary event in any capacity for many years, I was shocked at the sheer number of people in attendance for the Branson-Hollister group’s regular meeting (I lost count somewhere in the high 90s). But as we neared the entrance to Golden Corral shortly before noon, I did recall a few rituals that were sure to give Wes plenty of photographic fodder. Sure enough, within half an hour the Rotary’s penchant for “fines” – usually dealt in dollar increments for such offenses as one’s name appearing in the paper or bringing a guest to the meeting – had pulled $15 from Karen’s wallet. On the third or fourth occasion, a fellow Rotarian in charge of collection couldn’t help but crack a smile and ask if she should leave the basket on Karen’s table.

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Karen attends her daily “mayor orientation” session at Branson City Hall.

Since her induction on April 14, Karen has been meeting with city officials for what she calls “mayor orientation”, meeting with each department head and City Administrator Bill Malinen to go over the city’s processes and procedures. Prior to the 1:30 p.m. meeting, Karen gave us a brief tour of her unassuming office – two comfortable chairs, a few bookcases and a desk just big enough for her laptop, which she has no plans to replace. She showed us a guitar, adorned with the signatures of Branson’s acts and due to be hung on the wall, while discussing the election and plans for the city. She’s determined the Live Entertainment Capital of the World can more be than that, and she’s hopeful a large tech company akin to Google or Microsoft can find a home there in the hills. Using an analogy from The Andy Griffith Show, she said her challenge and her strategy is to have Mayberry and Raleigh in the same town.

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Karen points out signatures of Branson entertainers on a guitar, soon to decorate the wall of her office at City Hall.

Before our departure, we sat in on Karen and Bill’s meeting with Human Resources Director Jan Fischer on new plans for the city’s hiring process, which include implementation of an electronic system for tracking applicants, Jan sitting in on interviews and even giving prospective employees a tour of their job sites to see how they might like working there (Jan thinks the last of these is of particular importance for finding the right personnel for Branson’s wastewater treatment plants). Jan says the city hires between 30 and 40 full-time employees each year, and as many as 100 seasonal workers during the summer. Karen makes notes, asks questions and, citing a personality assessment she had shown us only hours ago at the Keller Williams office, suggests a a behavioral profile be added to the interview process. Orientation becomes collaboration.

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Karen and the City of Branson’s Human Resources Director Jan Fischer discuss the city’s employment processes during their afternoon meeting.

With work awaiting us in downtown Springfield, the end of our day started to take shape amid the clearing skies and light sprinkles of rain that somehow missed the morning’s party. But Karen’s day was far from over. With mayoral duties finished, she still had a 4:30 p.m. tee time to keep with some fellow Rotarians. In a follow-up interview, she told me despite her team’s loss and two missed opportunities at a birdie, she was in high spirits. Even on the rainy days, she’s at her best.

 

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