Despite a long, loud clash over Great Hangups rezoning, City Hall veteran and new(er) city planner share love of public service
COLUMBIA, 7/18/11 (Beat Byte) -- When Columbia College was still Christian College in 1970, then-professor Sue Gerard -- the Columbia Tribune's longtime Granny's Notes columnist who passed away at age 96 one year ago tomorrow -- suggested that a young student she'd mentored take up "counseling through activity."
Janice "Cookie" Hagan took the advice to heart. "She spent that summer riding around town on a bike loaded with balls, bats, first aid and who knows what - to playgrounds at various schools," Gerard wrote about Hagan.
The Historic Sunset Lane Neighborhood Association president whose clash at a public meeting with city development services manager Patrick Zenner is one for the record books, Hagan retired after nearly three decades at what the Tribune called a "vibrant career with Columbia Parks and Recreation."
"It’s one of those happy-sad situations," said Hagan, a recreation supervisor who organized the Heritage Festival; managed recreational activities for Paquin Tower public housing residents; and became an advocate for people whose voices weren't being heard.
"Our clients have benefited from her tremendously. She’s somewhat a champion of the underdog," supervisor Gary Ristow told the Trib. "She looks out for some of the populations that tend to get overlooked" -- the very young and very old, the poor and the disabled; children and seniors.
Advocacy has kept Hagan young -- she looks much as she's always looked, as the Trib described her eight years ago: neat as a proverbial pin, with jet black bobbed hair, taut skin, and shining green eyes. Championing people without a loud public voice has also given Hagan great presence: listening to the tape of the May public meeting, her voice moves with the drama and precision of a stage-savvy trial lawyer. She's an effective debater whose points on equity and procedure are hard to ignore.
Navigating City Hall
Six years after Hagan retired, Columbia City Hall created a position designed to help builders and developers navigate the very complexities Hagan and her neighbors are now facing: development services manager. Midwesterner Pat Zenner came to that position in 2009 well-trained: relocating from Myrtle Beach, S.C. but originally from Barrington, Ill., he brought bachelors and masters degrees in planning and community development.
"I have worked in the planning profession for approximately 14 years," Zenner told the Columbia Business Times. "My employment prior to working for the city was as a land development director with a national homebuilder. Due to the housing market turmoil, my position was eliminated."
A church goer and family man, Zenner has been married for fourteen years and has two children ages 8 and 9, the Business Times reported in 2009. He credits his "supportive and encouraging spouse" and his "two wonderful children" for taking him on the journey that led him to Columbia.
He also credits a "shared vision" about community engagement. "What sold me on the city and the position were the efforts that were made to create an inclusive process for all residents to participate in," Zenner told the Business Times. "One of the core visions of the planning profession is to engage the public in the discussion of what the future should be like."
Planners, Zenner explained, "can help establish win-win opportunities that facilitate community growth or can be instrumental in developing regulations that will provide protection." He views his job as one of "impartial and observant facilitation" with an "engaged and representative cross section of the public participating in the process."
Rapid growth, sprawl, regulations, and the intricate ins and outs of the development process mandate "negotiation, open-mindedness, and relying on the expertise of those professionals participating in the process," Zenner said.
As staffers who ultimately answer to political officials, Patrick Zenner and Cookie Hagan share similar philosophies. About those politicians, Hagan told the Trib she'd seen "plenty of ups and downs," but always amidst a basic understanding at City Hall: "the importance of learning and growing through recreation."
Zenner expressed similar thoughts about politicians and planning efforts such as Visioning. "Politicians often get a bad rap in most communities, and you often don’t what to aspire to be like them," he told the Business Times. "But I’ll tip my hat to those on the Council. They took a bold step to engage the community, and a lot can be said for that."
Hagan and Zenner have also thought about life outside public service. On retirement, Hagan said she wanted to redirect, from "a job in which you do a lot of talking. In that latter part of my life, I want to follow my heart and listen."
If Zenner weren't a planner, he'd be an airline pilot. "The opportunity to soar above the clouds -- which is often what people say planners do -- and the world travel interests me," he told the Business Times.
About City Hall generally, Hagan acknowledged her colleagues -- and the public trust invested in them.
"I’m grateful to have worked with such great people over the years. I’ve always been surrounded by outstanding colleagues," she said. "I think the Columbia community is very confident in us -- they have given us the ability over the years to develop something for most everyone."