SHERIDAN — As the end of 2020 approaches on the horizon, two Sheridan City Council members are approaching the ends of their tenures.
As Thayer Shafer and Patrick Henderson prepare to step aside at the end of the year to welcome incoming council members Kristen Jennings, Steven Brantz and Shawn Day, they took time to reflect on their years of service with The Sheridan Press.
Thayer Shafer: “It’s kept me young.”
Just a few months shy of 85, Thayer Shafer is at the age when many of his contemporaries are content to sit, rest and reflect on a life well lived.
But Shafer has never been one for looking backward. Even in his eighth decade of life, he remains focused on a future that he fully realizes he will never see.
“It is just wonderful at my age to be planning for the future rather than sitting in front of the TV and ruminating on memories of the past,” Shafer said. “That’s one thing I love about the city council — it’s kept me young. Being able to look forward is a great benefit at my age in terms of keeping my mind going and physical health going.”
After six years on the council, Shafer will step down at the end of December. He said that, while he would love to continue serving, he felt it was time to bring some fresh blood and fresh perspectives to the council. He will turn his attention to home improvement projects and taking care of his wife.
“I wish I was in a position to continue serving on the council,” Shafer said. “But I know I’m being less and less effective as I get older. I think it’s time for some new voices to be heard. If I served another four years, I would be a few months short of 89, which would be ridiculous. It’s time for me to step aside and make way for the future.”
Shafer said he has been involved in numerous hot-button discussions during his years on the council, including debates about removing fluoride from the city’s water supply and the merits of employing a city administrator. But he has been there for the smaller decisions too — the budget hearings, the firefighter negotiations, the subdivision discussions.
“It cuts into a lot of my time, but I’m retired so I can handle it,” Shafer said. “I would rather be busy than just sitting at home. But I can’t imagine maintaining a full-time job while serving on the council. That would be incredibly difficult.”
Shafer started his career in the U.S. Army but has spent the last 33 years in Sheridan. He said he is glad he could put down roots and get involved with a city he loves.
“I’ve been more involved with the city here than anywhere else I’ve ever lived,” Shafer said. “I’ve never been in any place long enough to be involved, but it has been so rewarding.”
Shafer said he has been pleased to see the city grow thanks to his efforts and those of countless other government officials.
“When I first came here in 1987, a lot of our streets weren’t paved,” Shafer said. “Since then, our population has increased by nearly 30%; our infrastructure is up to date; our schools are among the very best in the nation; and we are attracting new industries with higher paying jobs. This isn’t the town I moved to — it is unquestionably better. We were just always planning for the future, and we’re lucky that a lot of those plans have come to fruition.”
Shafer encouraged his successors to work as a team and “plan for the future while solving the problems of today.”
“That’s always what I tried to do,” Shafer said. “Working with other people to plan for the future of the city — I’m so glad I could do that. They say the definition of an optimist is an old man who plants seeds and knows he won’t live to sit under the shade of the tree. These last six years, I’ve been planting a whole lot of seeds, so I guess I’m the biggest optimist there is.”
Patrick Henderson: “Great things happen when we work together.”
Behind every project and every decision made in the city of Sheridan is a city council member who is probably not getting a whole lot of sleep.
Consider, for example, Patrick Henderson, who was appointed to the council in 2017. In addition to his full-time job as the director of Whitney Benefits, Henderson has spent many hours ensuring that he can make informed, intelligent decisions when the council convenes every Monday evening.
“There are a lot of moving parts and lots of information to go through as well as phone calls and emails with other councilmen and citizens,” Henderson wrote in an email to the Press. “To overcome that, I work in the early a.m., check email over lunch breaks and then finish up in the later evenings on reading or phone calls. On the weekends, I read council packets and go to the specific sites for any new subdivisions or maintenance issues. I would estimate a 15-hour low week to a 25-hour high week range. Some weeks a little less — some a little more.”
But, if his role on the council has been time-consuming, it has also been uncommonly rewarding — a chance to give back to a community he loves, Henderson said.
“I have loved serving the citizens of Sheridan,” Henderson said. “The council’s job is serving the citizens. It is not about the mayor or the council. It’s about the citizens. It has been rewarding to reach decisions, work collaboratively with other partners and make decisions related to benefiting citizens.”
Henderson said he has had several “unwavering focuses” since joining the council including job creation, safety and protection, families and seniors, livability of the community and a focus on infrastructure.
Henderson said he was proud of his involvement in infrastructure projects like rebuilding West Loucks, West Brundage and Highland hill streets and addressing the junior high hillslides.
Henderson said he is also proud of the city’s partnerships with the state, county, local school districts, Sheridan College, The Hub on Smith and dozens of other community organizations.
“Great things happen when we work together,” Henderson said. “New subdivisions are going up in the community. School enrollments are up. Local sales taxes are up meaning that local businesses are generally well. Our community is growing, and we are creating job opportunities for our citizens.”
While the city has grown during his time on council, Henderson said that he has grown a bit himself during his tenure.
“Where I experienced growth is where I had the opportunity to meet many different people in the community,” Henderson said. “I have gotten to listen to their concerns, and I got to know them personally and professionally. The council experience has made my life fuller knowing many more people and knowing their stories. I would like to think that I am a better listener than I was previously.”
Henderson said he was leaving the council after just three years to take care of his own health and to spend time with his family. He said that he hopes to volunteer for other local boards once he has a chance to “catch my breath.”
“The decision to not run for reelection was due largely to a health scare that I had this spring that involved a trip to Mayo Clinic mid-summer,” Henderson said. “It threw my timing off on a myriad of items, including the consideration of rerunning for council.”
As he prepares to leave the council, Henderson has a few words of advice for the incoming council members who will take his place.
“Be flexible, accessible and approachable,” Henderson said. “Listen closely to what citizens say. But, don't be overly swayed by the ‘loud minority’ on contentious subjects. Don't take the cheap shots that will come your direction too personally. Develop relationships with councilpersons. Don't die on a hill if you lose a vote on something that you feel strongly about — learn soon to move on. Make the most of the staff resources. Lastly, make sure to not neglect your family time. Sounds simple — but it is not.”
Although he will be leaving the council, Henderson said that he was thankful for the community’s trust in him and for the opportunity to make an impact on the city he loves.
“I am grateful to Sheridan for giving me the opportunity to serve as a councilman,” Henderson said. “I thank Sheridan citizens especially for the opportunity to live and work alongside you in this beautiful community.”