Mayor faces the times with a calm approach
By Glenda Winders // photography by Angela Jackson
Greenwood’s Mayor Mark Myers is a civic leader guiding his city through a pandemic; he’s a former police officer at a time when protests against law enforcement are happening all across the country. You would think there would be days when he just wanted to pull the covers over his head and stay in bed, but apparently that isn’t the case.
“That’s not who I am,” he says. “I’d rather be right in the middle of things than on the sidelines.”
Myers is serving his third term in a position he initially didn’t think he wanted. His father was the city’s mayor from 1976 to 1980, so he had a front-row seat to the job and didn’t want any part of it.
“I saw all of the people complaining and heard the late-night phone calls because there was snow on the road or chuckholes in the street or sanitation issues,” he says. “I had no intention of being the mayor.”
But then in 2010 he got phone calls from several people who hadn’t coordinated with one another but who all had the same message for him: “You need to run for mayor. You can change things. You’ve got a vision for Greenwood.”
At the time he had a job he loved doing construction safety consulting, mostly for Eli Lilly and Co. “But after a dozen phone calls and some prayer I decided to run,” he says. “And here we are.”
In the center
Where we are is in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has turned Myers’ mayoral job right up on its head. “It happened overnight,” he says. “There was no preparing for it. I was used to having face-to-face meetings every day all over the state, and now I’m here in my office behind a computer screen for 10 hours a day.”
He says he misses the weekend events he used to attend as well as traveling all over the country as a part of his membership in national organizations such as the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities and the Community Leaders of America. Typically he would be in Washington, D.C., during the spring and in other cities throughout the year, but not this year.
Now, he says, much of his time on the computer is spent in online meetings about getting the grants the federal government hands out to actually work since they often come with so many rules that cities can’t actually access the money that is coming to them. He also spends a great deal of his time taking care of his employees and making sure the guidelines for their safety are met.
“We went from everybody working in this building to a skeleton crew and everybody working from home,” he says. “It has just been a whole different atmosphere to work in. The logistics of COVID-19 have been a real nightmare.”
Fortunately, he says all of the city employees — from the staff in his office to the police department, fire department and sanitation workers — are like one big family who care about one another and work well together. Office staff had to move their desktop computers, printers and supplies to their homes. In the City Center building furniture and equipment must be sterilized twice a day, and all employees who meet with the public must wear masks.
“Thankfully I’ve got a great group of people who have made it work very well,” he says.
Myers’ background prepared him well for leading his city during an emergency. He grew up in Greenwood, and his first job was working for his parents, who owned Myers Ambulance Service. As an Explorer Scout he worked with the Greenwood Fire Department and then became a volunteer firefighter. He served with the Greenwood Police Department for 14 years.
After graduating from Indiana Wesleyan University, he went to Wesley Biblical Seminary in Mississippi, then to Costa Rica for language school and finally to Paraguay to work as a missionary for four years. After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he stayed on in Paraguay, becoming the director of security for the U.S. Embassy. When he came back to Indiana, he started work at the company he eventually left to become mayor.
Much of his experience has been in law enforcement; even as mayor he remains a reserve deputy sheriff, so he is naturally troubled by the riots sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
“It’s a really sad time for law enforcement,” he says. “To see how the public has turned against the police and so much violence and hatred toward the police scares me because I know each one of these officers who work for me, and I know that their sense of heightened security is up. You don’t know what’s around the corner, and if you say one thing wrong it can be taken totally out of context. People want to defund the police, and the next minute they’re calling the police for help. It makes no sense. It’s a very concerning time.”
He does acknowledge, however, that there are some bad cops. “I’m going to say 99 out of 100 are good, but sometimes there’s that one bad apple,” he says. “If you look at some of the violence, it’s absolutely wrong. Some of the police officers are in the wrong and have violated the law and the public’s trust.”
Former Sheriff Terry McLaughlin, who has known Myers since childhood, is now his deputy mayor.
“I’ve been in Johnson County government for 33 years, and Mark Myers is the best boss I’ve ever had,” he says. “He listens to people with expertise, whether it’s an engineer or an attorney or a planner. When we have meetings, his mind is not made up before he gets there, and I’ve always applauded that.”
McLaughlin says he also admires the mayor for his management style, which is to give people the tools they need and then let them show what they can do. And he says Myers gives credit where it is due and shares praise with deserving staff members. He says he respects Myers for always putting Greenwood’s needs before his own.
“He’s good for the city,” he says.
Pride and progress
Myers says that, with regard to his work, he is most proud of the amenities for families that have been established on his watch: the aquatic center, renovation of the community center and concerts in the park. Currently he’s involved in a project that involves surrounding the gymnasium left from a now-demolished middle school with a mixed-use area of apartments, condos, retail and commercial that will become home to some 1,000 people. This comes in the wake of young people who have already moved downtown and renovated old homes.
“Greenwood has never lost that hometown feel of where people want to grow up and to raise their kids,” he says. “But downtown is morphing and rebuilding itself. When I came into office nine years ago, it was about 75% vacant. I really love what’s going on in the city, and I love being a part of it, and I love the team I work with because we all work together to make this happen. That’s why our city logo is ‘City of Pride and Progress.’”
The city’s corporate counsel, Sam Hodson, is another of the mayor’s longtime friends and a fan who credits him for this progress.
“Mayor Mark made the tough and sometimes unpopular choices that erased a $3.5 million deficit in his very first budget,” Hodson says. “He did not shy away from telling our tax-shy voters that we needed to pay for what we consume and not dump deferred maintenance and crumbling infrastructure on our children and grandchildren.”
He says Myers also had the courage to trim employee benefits, raise utility rates to correct years of deferred maintenance and explain to the Common Council that they would need to spend money to make the community attractive to new businesses and their employees.
“I have not witnessed him doing something he knows is harmful to placate critics,” Hodson says. “I am proud to work for him.”
Apart from work, Myers says he is most proud of his six children, ranging in age from 20 to 32, all of whom serve the public in some capacity. One son is a Marine, and another is in the Air Force.
A daughter who teaches in St. Petersburg, Florida, was formerly a Peace Corps volunteer in Moldova. A son works in mortgages and another at a nearby distribution center. His youngest daughter is in school and working in Phoenix.
“They’ve never given me a hard time,” he says, “and they’ve turned into wonderful young men and women.”
Myers has very little time off, but when he does, he enjoys spending it with his wife of two years, Stacie Myers, who is the events manager at Aspire Economic Development + Chamber Alliance, formerly the Greater Greenwood Chamber of Commerce. They like to travel to old cities and towns to explore historic buildings, but they are just as happy relaxing on their own patio and watching people go by on the nearby walking trail. Another of Myers’ pastimes is reading American history and John Grisham mysteries, but he says right now his time for pleasure reading is limited.
He gets up at 5:30 a.m. and heads to the gym at 6:15 for an hour of kick-boxing before turning up at his desk at 7:30. It’s a strategy for combating Parkinson’s disease, a disorder of the central nervous system that affects movement. Myers was diagnosed with it last year.
“The impact of punching a heavy bag helps break up the tension in my arm, and it also helps stir up the endorphins in my brain,” he says. “I have noticed a difference for the better when I exercise.” The impact of swinging and hitting a golf ball has the same effect, and he does that, too.
Nevertheless, the days that start early often run to 14 hours, depending on how many meetings he has to attend. He says that while current events have done nothing to take away his enthusiasm for what he does, some changes in his city have caused him distress.
“We’ve been fortunate that people haven’t lost their homes and are still able to pay their bills,” he says. “But it’s scary at the same time because if we don’t get this pandemic under control and businesses close again, it will ruin some of them. We’ve already lost some businesses, which breaks my heart because you see good people who have lost their jobs, especially in the restaurant industry and beauticians.”
Another area that saddens him is that domestic violence is up more than 50%, presumably because of people being out of work and isolated together in one space for so long.
Myers will next be up for re-election in 2024. Will the long days, thorny problems and difficult situations he faces make him want to leave the job he never thought he wanted but now loves?
“No, I’m planning on running again,” he says with a chuckle. “I’m having way too much fun.”