Green identifies, solves problems as Cape city engineer

Sunday, February 26, 2012
Kelly Green, director of development services for the city of Cape Girardeau. (Laura Simon)

It wasn't dolls or cartoons or sipping from an empty teacup with make-believe friends.

In her spare time, a young Kelly Green loved to make her way to her father's office and play with his drafting tools.

"I loved it. I thought that was so much fun," Green said.

Not odd at all, especially with the benefit of hindsight. That little girl from central Illinois, the daughter of an engineering technician, would go on to enter -- and thrive in -- the male-dominated field of civil engineering.

Green, 32, serves as director of development services, a top department head within Cape Girardeau city government. After five years at the city, Green was promoted last year to oversee three divisions and about 30 people -- engineers, planners, surveyors, construction inspectors and others.

City manager Scott Meyer, who made the decision to promote Green, said the decision was easy.

"She's really intelligent," Meyer said. "She has good problem-solving skills. Beyond that, she has a very good ability to work with people. She just has a skill set that seems to match what we were looking for going in."

Those skill sets were hard earned, starting at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, where she earned a degree in civil engineering. Her father, who worked for an engineering consulting firm, encouraged her to go into the same field -- but he wanted her to go farther than he did.

"His big thing was for me to get a four-year degree and become an engineer," Green said. "He went to school for two and he really pushed me to finish it all out."

While her father worked in the private sector, Green did college internships in both private- and public-sector firms and decided she preferred working for the people.

"I thought I could make a difference," she said. "I feel like it's my way of being able to give back my God-given gifts to the community."

Upon graduation, she was hired by the Missouri Department of Transportation, where one of her jobs was as construction inspector for the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge project.

With her heavy transportation background, Green was then hired by the city as a traffic operations engineer for the Public Works Department, a job that put her in charge of a division that oversees striping, signage, programming the traffic signals. They also did some design and project management of the city's overlay and street-lighting programs.

After just a year in that position, former city manager Doug Leslie promoted Green to city engineer. She was in that job about four years, where she worked as project manager over some of the city's highest-profile projects, including the Fountain Street extension, the widening of Bloomfield Road, the new LaSalle Avenue and improvements to Mount Auburn, to name a few.

"Very simply, I think of an engineer as a problem solver," Green said. "We identify problems out there and we solve them."

Not that Green is able to make everyone happy. That means the job is not without its frustrations. Sometimes, projects aren't well received by a certain segment of the population.

At a recent meeting, business owners objected to the Broadway Corridor project -- a project that saw planning begin when Green was city engineer. The Bloomfield project drew criticisms because it called for removing a number of trees.

"It can be very difficult," she said. "We're under constant scrutiny. That's OK and that's to be expected when you're a public servant. But sometimes it can be challenging not to let it get to you."

But overall it's a job that Green loves. She acknowledged that most engineers today are men, though she said that women are making strides. She was one of a handful of women in her college graduating class and today she sometimes is the only woman in a meeting with contractors.

She doesn't mind.

"We're all working for the citizens of this community," she said. "So, contractor, don't take advantage of us because that's taking advantage of everyone in this community. And I don't care if I'm a male or female, I'm not going to let that happen."

Despite the rough economy, Cape Girardeau has largely been successful in construction projects. For example, as director, Green serves as the city's projects manager for the new Isle of Capri casino that is currently under construction.

And there is still room for new development, she said, such as Isle and the home improvement retailer, Menards. Areas to the north around the new LaSalle Avenue and south toward the airport also offer examples of prime property for new development, she said.

But Green predicts a shift to re-development of existing properties.

"What we're seeing now is interest in a lot of re-development of downtown," she said. "I'm seeing some interest in some redevelopment of midtown. I'm really excited to see that."

Despite the challenges, Green said it's an interesting time to be employed -- or live in -- Cape Girardeau.

"We're growing and we have the ability to keep growing," she said. "I think the citizens make a lot of that possible."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: