The head of Branson’s Engineering and Public Works is preparing to sail off into the sunset on his new bass boat.
Keith Francis announced he will be retiring from his position, but said contrary to community gossip, it has nothing to do with the leadership changes at the city or the environment within city hall.
“I’ll be 67 years old this year and I finally qualified for Social Security and Medicare and all the stuff the government has to offer us,” Francis said. “My wife and I have discussed this and this will give us more opportunity to see our grandkids, fishing with our new bass boat and enjoy all our beautiful Ozarks area has to offer.
“I worked for the city of Springfield for about 12 years and would have been here with Branson for 13 years on March 30. I thought, ‘Well, I can work part time somewhere in the engineering field,’ keep my license current, and then enjoy time with my grandchildren.”
Francis says he plans to work a few days a week with a Springfield engineering firm, but will focus on taking full advantage of what the Ozarks have to offer someone who loves the outdoors.
“I am an avid outdoorsman,” Francis said. “I love the outdoors. Working in the yard, fishing, hunting, all of that.”
Francis said during his time with the city, the high points have been helping to design and move forward projects which have enhanced the city such as the 76 Country Boulevard improvements, the new fire station, and the renovation of the White House Theatre into a public safety facility.
“Working on the downtown projects as well,” Francis said. “We’re kicking off the next phase of it this year, because it’s in this year’s budget.”
He added working with the people downtown on those projects was a high point.
“I’m kind of a people person,” Francis said. “Working with the downtown property owners and business owners, things like that, it’s what I’m really going to miss. I also loved meeting the tourists who were walking our sidewalks and passing projects. They’d ask us questions about the town and I always loved to answer their questions.”
Francis said the people in his department are amazing.
“My staff, they’ve just been over the top,” Francis said. “The engineering staff, the entire public works staff, everybody’s been great to work with. Everyone digs in and they excel in their jobs. We’ve added more positions this year, and we’re continuing to find good people who love our community.”
He said during his time with the city he realized many residents don’t understand he and his team actually share in the public’s frustration about issues like potholes or improvements which need to be made to streets and other infrastructure.
“It’s very frustrating, because we’re the ones who catch the heat about them,” Francis said. “We prioritize everything we do, no matter what part of our department. If it’s a safety hazard, we’re on it, and we get to that first. It might be a stop sign laying over, or yield sign, and that takes a priority over a pothole because public safety has to come first. It’s not that we don’t want to fix all the potholes or other problems, but we have to put issues of public safety first and then try to take care of everything else within our budget.”
Francis addressed the impression among some in the community of upheaval at city hall, and department heads being frustrated with new city leadership, as a driving force for retirements or people leaving city jobs.
“The change in city leadership has absolutely nothing at all to do with my retirement,” Francis said. “I heard rumors of that on the street. The aldermen, I feel have a good relationship with them, with the mayor, and with our new city administrator. The city of Branson is going in a positive direction.”
He said employees within the city feel the same way.
“They feel it’s a more positive atmosphere,” Francis said.
Francis specifically mentioned he has no problems with new Branson City Administrator Cathy Stepp and finds her to be an asset to the city.
“Cathy has been wonderful, absolutely great,” Francis said. “I have no qualms about Cathy in any way, shape, form, or fashion. She’s been very supportive of all the staff here, not only the directors, but the other staff as well. Absolutely great to work with and great to work with us if we have budget questions or a new project which would be different but make things better around here.”
He said Stepp has been empowering the experts in their departments to lead the way rather than having them react to edicts from her.
“She’s always after more positive input, what we can do, what we see needs to be changed, to make things better for people,” Francis said.
Stepp returned the praise for Francis.
“Keith’s fingerprints can be found all over the city as he has worked tirelessly on a wide range of projects that have significantly improved the lives of Branson’s residents and visitors,” Stepp said. “I am grateful for his positive attitude, creative vision and collaboration that have moved our city forward. He will now have time to enjoy his new bass boat!”
Branson Mayor Larry Milton said he just wanted to thank Francis for making Branson a better place.
“Keith has displayed nothing but professionalism, exceptional work ethic, and a positive ‘get ‘er done’ attitude while serving as Public Works Director,” Milton said. “I want to wish him only the best in this well deserved retirement chapter in his life. Thank you, Keith, from our entire community.”
Branson Aldermen also had high praise for Francis.
“Mr. Keith Francis, I affectionately call him ‘The Godfather of City Hall’,” Alderman Ralph LeBlanc told Branson Tri-Lakes News. “From the moment that I took on the role as alderman my first observation of Keith is, ‘This is a man that knows his craft.’ His leadership and management style fostered creativity at the highest level in his department. I knew after some time that if the perfect opportunity presented itself this would be a great off-ramp for retirement and to leave the stamp of quality on his workmanship. It is hard to want to let people like Keith go, but as with anyone that operates at that high caliber there are always more things to do.
“He has earned the right to choose the path of retirement and I support it wholeheartedly. To the Branson community his service will live in the day to day of your life forever and to Keith, Branson is a better place because you were here. Thank you for your years of dedication and service.”
Alderman Ruth Denham echoed LeBlanc’s praise.
“He’s been talking about this as far as I know on and off for the past year,” Denham said. “We wish him the best. It’s going to be a great loss. He’s done so much for the city. He’s such a creative man, and the way he gets along with the community is going to be greatly missed. The public really trusts him and will really miss working with him.
“I’m going to miss him, that’s for sure.”
Alderman Marshall Howden said Francis helped prepare Branson to grow well past his retirement.
“From the moment I met Keith Francis and began interacting with him I knew he was an asset to the city and a voice for good government,” Howden said. “That truly comes across when reflecting on his decades of service. In my time as a public servant, I have seen him look out for taxpayer dollars, and the infrastructure of this city to ensure Branson continues to thrive long into the future.”
Francis’ last day with the city is March 17.