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For Radcliff Mayor Sheila Enyart, walking away from her duties as the chief executive of the city will be more than difficult.
“It is bittersweet,” she said. “I’ve come to look at the departments as my family, and I’ve probably spent more time with them than my natural family.”
Enyart walks away after 12 years at the helm, turning the office over to J.J. Duvall, who captured the Nov. 2 general election. By state law, Enyart could not run for another term.
The retirement, she said, will give her a chance to catch up on reading and resume a steady regimen of walking. Enyart said she wanted to walk the city’s neighborhoods when she was first elected and saw no need to stay within the confines of an office all day. The mayor, she said, should be seen.
But as responsibilities mounted and her knowledge of the role deepened, she realized how difficult it was to stick to that routine.
She also said she plans to travel around the state and better acquaint herself with Kentucky as a whole. While she is familiar with the larger parts of the state, Enyart said she has an interest in exploring the smaller towns in the Commonwealth.
Enyart, an Iowa native, lived throughout the northern Midwest before settling with her family in Radcliff through her husband’s military career. She said she still considers herself a northern girl at heart and was anxiously awaiting colder temperatures and snowfall during an early December interview.
At first, Enyart said she had no interest in politics, but she was “pulled” into the fray through a friendship with Martin and Elizabeth Tori.
Enyart opened a consignment shop with Tori and was helping her on campaigns when she started noticing a lack of council members at public events.
The absence troubled her, and she often vocalized her disapproval with her husband. Eventually, she said, he challenged her to “put her money were her mouth is,” she said.
She eventually would run for and be elected to Radcliff City Council, where she served one term before making a run for the mayor’s seat.
Enyart said this was inspired in part by Mayor Jennings Smith, who was planning to retire from public office. Enyart said Smith was “brusque and blunt.”
“The man, really, kinda scared me,” she said.
Beneath the gruff exterior, however, she found a kindred spirit who helped her navigate political waters.
Councilman Chuck Angus, who ran against Enyart for mayor, said he thought at the time he had a sounder vision for Radcliff and could do a better job, but he was impressed with her decision making and leadership after she took office.
By the end of her first term, Angus added, she had performed as well or better than he could have.
Angus also said Enyart knows how to work with others and has a personable approach that suits a mayor well.
“Mayor Enyart is a good compromiser and she knows how to build consensus,” he added.
Councilman Don Yates echoed Angus.
“She’s just a lady, that’s exactly what she is,” he said.
Yates said she played a key part in landing hundreds of jobs through the acquisition of Cardinal Health and has worked diligently with Fort Knox during the Base Realignment and Closure Initiative.
Enyart said the infusion of BRAC into the community left many people worried, including her as she wondered if Fort Knox would be closed, downgraded or “mothballed.”
When it was clear Fort Knox would remain intact, there still were questions to be asked of the arrival of Human Resources Command and the exit of Armor, she added.
Despite the uncertainty, local communities rallied together to tackle the transition through the formation of One Knox and the aid of the CORE Committee, Enyart said.
Brad Richardson was placed in the role of director of One Knox, and she said his sources at the state level helped the city and Hardin County tremendously.
Yates said Enyart also has shown fiscal leadership, he said, by helping the city build its reserve fund. When she was elected, less than $1 million was in the reserve, he said.
Through it all, she has kept an “off-the-wall” sense of humor, he said.
“She’s had me in stitches before,” he said.
She flexed her funny muscles during a council meeting on a cold, snowy day earlier this month. Dressed in a hot pink boa and a silver tiara, she passed out candy and pencils to the council and posed for photographs.
When Angus called her “princess,” she quickly corrected him by pointing to the words etched on the tiara.
“Queen for a day,” she said.
Enyart also has shown herself to be unafraid to tackle contentious topics — even in the twilight of her political career.
Twice this year she cast controversial tie-breaking votes to increase real property taxes and to allot $475,000 to the North Hardin Economic Development Authority to level a portion of Millpond Business Center on Ky. 313 to grade.
On both occasions, Enyart was in the thick of the debate and argued both decisions were necessary.
For the tax increase, Enyart said additional revenue would help the city wade through an economically difficult time and offset rising expenses, while she bluntly argued that the Millpond work was past due. If the city hopes to grow jobs, she said, its officials must take the risk on economic development.
Angus said Enyart is friendly and willing to work toward an agreement, but she also is knowledgeable and will fight aggressively for what she feels the city needs.
“She’s a pretty tough cookie,” he said.
Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or firstname.lastname@example.org.