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Howerton’s ministry: service to public

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Ellis County Press
ENNIS - According to City Manager Steve Howerton, public service is a ministry to others much like the ministry of the clergy.

'If you read the Bible, you see government servants are meant to serve others,' he said. 'I believe in the concept of public service.'

Howerton said he also believes in the separation of church and state. 'We have a right to believe, but we're not to influence others through our government,' he said.

A member of the Baptist faith who believes the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, Howerton said his faith doesn't make him a good city manager, but neither does it make him a poor manager.

Howerton will celebrate the 20th anniversary of his appointment to the position on June 28, 2001.

'I planned to do this,' he said. 'Ever since I was in college. It was not accidental.'

After receiving his undergraduate degree in government at Southwestern Texas State University in 1971, Howerton worked for Proctor and Gamble until 1975.

'Then I had a chance to teach back at Southwestern,' Howerton recalled. 'So I did that, and I finished my masters in public administration in 1977.'

Professionalism in government is the reason city managers exist, according to Howerton.

'The concept was developed in the 1920s, in response to some of the corruption in government,' he said.

'I've never seen any corruption in this city, I'm not implying that,' he continued. 'But it's good to have people who are trained - professional management staff.'

Howerton said many smaller communities in Ellis County do not have the luxury of hiring a manager.

As city manager, Howerton said he reports directly to the city council.

'The council interprets the political will,' he said. 'Management manages day to day activities of the city.'

Howerton said public service is very rewarding, because of the opportunity to help people in a variety of ways. Significant accomplishments in Ennis in the last few years have included the Tractabel Generating Plant, the Sterilite production facility, which provides close to 300 jobs, and a new Wal-Mart Supercenter.

'The new Wal-Mart Supercenter, 184,000 square feet, is going to be approved Monday night by the city commission,' Howerton said.

'It will have 150-200 employees, and the annual sales would amaze you when they have both grocery and mass merchandising facilities.'

Howerton said a formula for business investment in a community shows for every 100 manufacturing jobs, 30 to 60 other supporting jobs are created.

'The payroll will turn over in the economy two or three times,' he said.

'Every time the money is spent, we get tax dollars.'

Another economic improvement in Ennis has been a contract with a new management company for the hospital.

'They have recruited seven physicians now,' Howerton said. 'That alone is a huge economic engine for improving the quality of life in the city.'

The 2000 census is expected to return a figure of close to 17,000 residents in Ennis. The city issued 259 building permits last year, and expects to issue 600 to 700 this year. The population was 12,110 in 1980, one year before Howerton took over.

Outside of work, Howerton said he enjoys spending time with his family, fishing, working out, and even piloting aircraft. Howerton and his wife, Janey, a second-grade teacher at Travis Elementary School, have been married for 29 years.

'It doesn't seem like a long time,' Howerton said with a smile.

The couple has two children, Stephanie age 16, and Matthew age 11.

Stephanie is an excellent student at Ennis High School and plans to enter the ministry or study medicine.

Matthew especially enjoys fishing with his father at Bluebonnet Park, where the city stocks Georgia hybrid perch, Florida bass, hybrid bass, and catfish.

'Large amounts of very small fish,' Howerton said.

To Howerton, the best part of the job is the dedication of a public facility - a park, a library, or a new road or museum.

'It's sort of the payback for all the effort,' Howerton said.

'When you can see somebody enjoy what you've really worked to achieve, that's really rewarding.'

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