City leader driven to give back

Incoming city administrator Matthew Rehder points to his upbringing and years of playing in city recreation programs as the driving force for his desire to serve.

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January 11, 2021 - 9:48 AM

Matthew Rehder figures it was his upbringing that led him to work in the public sector.

Matthew Rehder

“I had taken advantage of years of rec programs,” Rehder recalled. “As a kid, I played for city recreation programs, in city parks, all that kind of stuff.”

It was a desire to give back to the community that first led Rehder, 42, to join AmeriCorps — the domestic version of the Peace Corps — then pursue a public administration degree in college.

Those steps led Rehder to become Iola’s next city administrator.

Rehder, who is finishing up his duties as city administrator in Seneca, spoke with the Register this week via phone. He’s slated to start work in Iola in early March.

“I just realized when it came to public vs. private, I preferred working in the public sector,” Rehder said.

Rehder was born in Topeka and grew up in Great Bend, where his father worked as a teacher and his mother as a nurse.

“It was the little things like that I noticed,” Rehder said. “My parents were always home by five. I had friends who worked all the time, from sunup to sundown, and they weren’t able to do as many things with their parents. It always stuck in my head.”

Rehder earned his under-graduate degree at the University of Kansas — his parents moved to Lawrence his senior year as well — at which time he began his Americorps service, by working at a volunteer center in Lawrence.

By then, it was evident Rehder’s passion lied in public administration. He earned his masters degree at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and was hired on a management internship in El Dorado.

Rehder held that job for about 18 months until he was promoted as city planner.

“I didn’t know much about planning and zoning,” he said. “The first couple of weeks ere an interesting time.” He adapted quickly, helping deviseva new comprehensive plan for the city, to target such things as infrastructure improvements and program development.

Rehder worked in El Dorado for about seven years, until 2013, when a former colleague who had since moved to Seneca notified him about the city administration opening.

“I was just really impressed with the community,” Rehder said.

It was a job Rehder held for the next eight years, helping the town of 2,000 oversee a number of improvements.

During Rehder’s eight years, Seneca completed several street and other infrastructure improvements to its downtown business district, which is listed in the National List of HIstoric Places.

He also helped oversee implementation of a new wireless meter reading program. “Now, instead of eight guys spending one day a month, we have one guy who can drive around and read all of the meters in half a day,” he noted.

Rehder noted eight years as city administrator in a single location is a rarity these days, “but once these projects were done, I was ready to move on.”

REHDER initially declined to apply for the Iola position when former city administrator Sid Fleming announced he was stepping down, because he already was a finalist “in a few other spots.”

But after Iola — which reached agreement on terms to hire Garnett City Manager Chris Weiner before he relented when Garnett commissioners approved a pay raise and other perks — restarted its administrator search from scratch, Rehder threw his hat in the ring.

What convinced him was a weekend trip to Iola in September.

“I just wanted to take a look at the city,” he said.

He liked what he saw.

“I like cities with a nice downtown, and Iola has a very nice downtown square,” he noted.

But he also looked closer at other parts of the city.

“I drove around several residential areas, and after seeing the conditions of the streets and housing stock, it seemed to me Iola is a city that stresses code enforcement,” Rehder said. “Some cities don’t do that, and don’t look as nice.”

In addition, he was impressed with the city services.

“I didn’t realize Iola was an all-in-one city,” he said, referring to iola’s ability to produce and distribute its own electricity, natural gas and water.

“I was looking to go to a place to expand my horizons,” he concluded. “And Iola checked all of those boxes.”

And with no wife or kids, uprooting from Seneca to Iola should be a smooth transition, he added.

Rehder is working steadily to conclude his work in Seneca, “to lay the groundwork for the staff here to continue the work in the interim,” he said.

He’s eager to get to Iola, to meet with city staff, local leaders and residents near and far.

“I’ll be observing, learning what’s being done, how it’s being done,” he said. “Like a former mentor used to say, the city operation isn’t going to slow down for me. It’s a matter of me getting up to speed.”

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