Retiring city planner helped Watertown grow in his 30 years

Watertown City Planning and Community Development Coordinator Kenneth A. Mix retired Wednesday after 30 years of service. Photo by Amanda Morrison, Watertown Daily Times.

Watertown City Planning and Community Development Coordinator Kenneth A. Mix retired Wednesday after 30 years of service. Photo by Amanda Morrison, Watertown Daily Times.

Kenneth A. Mix now knows what happens to rubber bands after they’ve been lost in a desk for 30 years.

Mr. Mix, 55, the city’s planning and community development coordinator, learned they become brittle and fall apart, something he discovered while cleaning out his desk in his City Hall office while preparing to retire on Wednesday.

“Rubber bands don’t last after 30 years,” he said, after finding a small piece about the size of an ant in his top desk drawer.

But he did last, leaving a legacy that helped change Watertown forever, city officials and co-workers said.

During a City Hall ceremony on Wednesday, they came together to honor Mr. Mix for all of his many accomplishments. He was given plaques by Mayor Joseph M. Butler Jr. and Neighbors of Watertown Inc. for his work over the years.

City officials said he was instrumental in creating a series of city parks along the Black River and getting a hiking trail system off the ground there, too. He also helped change the downtown landscape with his involvement in the $7 million reconstruction of Public Square, the $16.6 million restoration of the Woolworth Building, the redevelopment of the former Mercy Hospital site and many other projects along the way.

Growing up in Great Bend, Mr. Mix landed the job with the city the same year that Fort Drum’s 10th Mountain Division expanded, so he witnessed the growth of Watertown ever since, he said.

Yet Mr. Mix downplayed his accomplishments in his 30 years in the city’s Planning Department.

“No one person is responsible for anything we’ve done,” he said. “We all played a part in the projects.”

At Mr. Mix’s final City Council meeting last week, Mayor Butler kidded that no one has attended more City Council Monday night sessions than Mr. Mix.

On Wednesday, council members credited Mr. Mix for his professionalism in his handling of issues and projects. Mr. Mix oversaw the four-person Planning Department, made up of veteran Senior City Planner Michael A. Lumbis and two young planners, Jeffrey “JP” Polkowski and Geoffrey T. Urda, who joined the City Hall staff about a year ago.

Mr. Mix also was a board member of the Watertown Local Development Corp. and had gotten involved in the newly-formed Friends of Thompson Park.

Working with him during her six-year stint on the council, Councilwoman Teresa R. Macaluso said he was “very helpful” and knowledgable whenever she called him to get more information about an issue and always radiated calm even during the most turbulent council meetings.

“I looked back at where he sat and he always had this steady tone about him,” she said.

Mr. Lumbis described his boss as a great mentor who taught him a “lot of things over the years” and “never said a bad thing about anybody.”

City Manager Sharon A. Addison confirmed that she intends to promote Mr. Lumbis to head the department. His appointment is expected to become official on Monday night, she said.

“I’m excited about it, but it’s big shoes to fill,” Mr. Lumbis said.

In recent weeks, Mr. Mix spent a little time each day cleaning out the city documents and paperwork that he had accumulated in his desk since joining the city staff in 1985. On his last day, he gave Mr. Lumbis a list of things to get done.

He kidded that he was worried he would wake up this morning, jump into his truck and drive the 20 minutes from his Champion home into work. If that doesn’t happen, he plans to do some transplanting of vegetables at his organic farm, where he aims to become a full-time farmer.

He also hopes to stay involved in the Friends of Thompson Park group that will work on getting together an endowment that can be used to complete special projects in the park. His interest in the park began when he was first hired away from the Jefferson County Planning Department, he recalled.

It continued during the past year while working on a master plan that the city and the Friends can use to incorporate their efforts for years to come.

By Craig Fox, Watertown Daily Times