Who is Kenny Haskin, Cape Girardeau’s new city manager?

New city manager Kenneth Haskin in Cape Girardeau, Tuesday Aug. 3, 2021.
Sarah Yenesel ~ Southeast Missourian

Cape Girardeau has a new city manager in Kenneth Haskin, a veteran city administrator with experience in economic development and senior level management for local municipalities.

Haskin follows Scott Meyer, who retired in June after 12 years at the helm making him the longest serving city manager in Cape Girardeau’s history.

B Magazine spoke with Haskin about his background, what made the Cape Girardeau job attractive and some of his goals for the future as city manager.

Seminary to government

Haskin grew up in a small town just outside Jonesboro, Arkansas, the son of an educator and entrepreneur. His family modeled a strong work ethic. Work hard and good things will follow was a lesson he took away from his parents.

If it were up to his father, though, Haskin might be serving Cape Girardeau as a priest as opposed to city manager.

“That was his goal for me,” Haskin said with a laugh. “He finally gave up on it 10 years ago when I got married. But that was his goal in life. He sent me to graduate school twice, hoping that would trigger. The last time he sent me to graduate school was to one in seminary school, and I majored in organizational administration. Dad was hoping that I would just major in Biblical Studies and become a priest. Now I have to tell you, that was probably the most enlightening experience in my entire career. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Haskin received his undergraduate degree from Henderson State University where he played football and earned all-conference honors as a linebacker. He has a master’s in public administration from Webster University and a PhD from St Mary’s Seminary & University in Baltimore, Maryland.

While Haskin didn’t enter the ministry, he said the lessons he learned from his parents have served him well. And he continues in the Catholic faith today, attending St. Mary’s Cathedral in Cape Girardeau.

A coach’s perspective

Prior to being hired for the position in Cape Girardeau, Haskin was the city manager at Texarkana, Arkansas. He was also being considered for another position at the time he was hired in Cape Girardeau but ultimately chose Southeast Missouri.

Affable. Smart. Hopeful. Haskin uses football analogies when referencing how he looks at the job. Much like a college football coach gets his orders from an athletic director or university president, Haskin says his marching orders come from the mayor and city council, filtered through the lens of an active and engaged citizenry.

In the hour-plus interview with B Magazine, he was clearly on message regarding the use tax that will be on the ballot later this year.

Haskin not only sees the use tax as an issue of fairness for local retailers competing with the Amazons of the world, but he’s adamant that it’s preventing other businesses from having a physical presence in Cape Girardeau.

He also noted that the city has funds passed for capital projects, but if it doesn’t have the workforce to get the jobs done these projects will be delayed.

It’s a similar challenge with law enforcement, he said.

Haskin and Cape Girardeau Mayor Bob Fox have been talking about raising the compensation for police with revenue generated from the use tax, connecting the community’s overwhelming love for law enforcement to the need to pass the tax.

Haskin said the city continues to see officers leave the force, in part because of the national challenges facing law enforcement and in part due to higher compensation for police work in other area municipalities. Over the previous four years, more than 40 officers have left Cape PD.

“That’s not acceptable,” he said. “And it’s going to be very difficult to sustain that loss if we cannot start compensating.”

What happens if voters don’t pass the use tax?

“Then we run the risk of, potentially, projects that we have in place right now will be delayed because it’s going to be hard to hire people to complete those projects. Secondly, it could start impacting our response times from a law enforcement standpoint, which, in my opinion, is unacceptable.”

The first 90 days

Haskin shared with B Magazine his written plan for the first 90 days on the job. Much of the six-page document focuses on communication, internally among city employees in all departments but also in the community and with regional government entities.

A portion of the document focused on evaluating the city’s financial situation, assessing its long-term financial condition, budget and capital needs, including how the pandemic has impacted city finances. And maybe most interesting: “We should also establish a Business Retention & Expansion Plan (BRE) and, more importantly, start cultivating commercial/industrial sites for potential development.”

He also shared some of the intangibles he looks for in making hires: Temperament, ability to take direction, ability to deal with adversity, customer service, ability to work with others, citizen response and execution. “These are character traits you have to have in order to be successful in this organization,” Haskin wrote in the document.

One of Haskin’s career highlights includes being named the State of Arkansas City Manager of the Year in 2020. He also helped the city establish its first Capital Improvement Plan focused on water, sewer and drainage infrastructure replacement and street reconstruction. And among other accomplishments, he helped negotiate a multimillion-dollar package to keep Cooper Tire from moving to Mexico.

It’s still very early for Haskin, but his resume and apparent skillset of working with various stakeholders indicate a record of high success.