Passing the Torch
Lawrence Mayor Steve Collier Announces Retirement
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photographer / Sam Zachrich
For 33 years, Steve Collier enjoyed a rewarding career in education, working at Lawrence North High School as a teacher, coach and administrator. His wife, Chris, was also in education, working as a first-grade teacher and reading specialist at Harrison Hill Elementary School. The pair opted to retire in 2010, but Collier used the opportunity to try something new.
“Quite frankly, I could have seen myself staying busy by wearing a red vest, working at Ace Hardware,” Collier says. However, multiple friends kept encouraging him to get involved in Lawrence politics.
“When I was asked to run for a council position, I was so naive, I had no idea what district I lived in,” Collier says. He filed for District 5 councillor and won by an impressive margin. After being a history teacher, dean of students, assistant principal, athletic director, and football, wrestling and baseball coach at Lawrence North, people in the community knew and trusted him. When Paul Ricketts was defeated in the mayoral election, Republican party leaders asked Collier to be their next candidate for mayor.
“Frankly, I was pretty reticent,” Collier says. With his family’s support, he ran and defeated the incumbent. He’s now serving in his seventh year as mayor but has opted to retire, finishing up in December of next year.
“Chris, bless her heart, has been a coach’s wife, principal’s wife and now a mayor’s wife,” Collier says. “She’s done her time.”
Through the years Collier has been asked what makes him qualified to be a mayor.
“I call it reluctant leadership,” he says. “A lot of people are leaders because they’ve shown leadership abilities, and so while they don’t seek it out, people trust them because they aren’t afraid to make decisions.”
Such was the case with Collier, who says that his education background has benefitted him in his political career.
“That has paid off in spades for me, in terms of being able to make smart decisions,” says Collier, who has worked with Noblesville Mayor Chris Jensen and Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness.
“You quickly learn that mayors help one another out,” Collier says. “A lot of the skills and tools I’ve used, I’ve begged, borrowed and stolen from other successful leaders.”
When Collier originally took office, he and his team got on firm financial ground rather quickly. Since 2018 the city has been able to maintain a 20% operating reserve, which has allowed them to do capital projects.
“We were able to utilize municipal leases, and replace the entire fleet of fire and police vehicles – the same with utility and our Department of Public Works,” Collier says. “All these things really make the city look progressive.”
During Collier’s time as mayor, economic development has been hugely successful.
“We’re about to put a cap on $400 million of investment right here in downtown Lawrence,” Collier says. Four projects will either start or finish up in the next 12 months.
“It’s always good when businesses that are someplace else want to bring their company here,” says Collier, who notes that the biggest project the city has ever seen is about to happen. It’s a $60 million, multi-use building that will include apartments, office space and retail. Next door will be a five-story apartment garage.
He’s also happy that the public library, which was supposed to be erected 25 years ago, is finally being built and will open in the fall of 2023.
When economic development comes in, property taxes can go up. According to Collier, the city’s net asset valuation increased 18% this year (it is normally at about 4 or 5%). These projects create value in the city, which, in turn, enables the city to do more capital projects.
“We’ll probably see the same thing happen for the next two or three years,” Collier says. “The key is to maintain that 20% operating reserve.”
Having an overly large savings account in municipal government isn’t always good, as the goal is typically to keep investing back into the city. That’s why 20% is a sweet spot.
In his free time, Collier likes to garden. Though he calls himself a “frustrated farmer,” he and Chris have produced fruitful gardens, often putting up 80 to 120 jars of tomatoes and salsa each year. He also makes jalapeño jelly.
In retirement, Collier and his wife plan to visit England, France, Normandy, Italy, Germany and Belgium. They have already traveled through most of the U.S., having made it to 45 states. One of their favorite spots is the Black Hills of South Dakota, which Collier calls the “non-touristy Yellowstone.”
At one point, the post-retirement plan was for the couple to spend summers in South Dakota, working at a state park. Who knows? That may well be Act III for Collier.
“I don’t think I could ever be fully retired,” he says. “I started delivering newspapers when I was 12 years old and never stopped working. Clearly, I like it.”
Lawrence Accomplishments Since 2016 Under Mayor Steve Collier:
- Wages of all city employees have increased nearly 34% since 2016
- By 2023, nearly $40 million will have been invested in water and sanitary sewer infrastructure
- By the end of 2022, nearly $8 million will have been spent in paving
- By the end of 2023, residents will have seen the following economic development projects:
- Meyer Plastics
- Williams Comfort Air
- frēijē Engineered Solutions Company
- Police Headquarters
- Fire Department Station 38 (rebuild)
- David Weekley Homes
- Marion County Public Library
- Cultural Campus
- Tru by Hilton
- Five-story parking garage
- Davis Townhomes
- Construction of nearly 250 new single-family homes
- Keystone Group mixed-use development project
- Installation of critical infrastructure in the Trades District