Chris Burkett recalls driving through downtown Mansfield in the early 1960s as his parents looked for investment property.
“I was 11 years old and I was not impressed,” said Burkett, who grew up in Arlington. “Why would you want to buy property here in Mansfield?”
The family didn’t buy any land in Mansfield, but Burkett’s view of Mansfield changed. Burkett has been the assistant city manager for more than two decades. Before that, he was director of planning and development and the city engineer. From roads, bridges and water lines to public private partnerships, city hall and the library, his fingerprints are all over the city.
Mansfield has gone from a few thousand residents to about 68,000 people during his tenure—an amazing journey that, for Burkett, officially ends this week.
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On June 17, he will retire, going from someone who’s heavily involved in nearly every decision the city makes to doing home improvement projects, taking vacations and working in the yard.
It’s not an easy decision for the 65-year-old but he said it’s time. Some of his coworkers have tried to talk him out of it, saying he needs to see certain things through to completion.
“There’s this project. That project. There’s always another major project. At some point, you’ve got to say, it’s time for somebody else to take on the next big project,” Burkett said.
Instead, he’ll be expanding a closet for his wife Shanda or redoing the kitchen. The two married just four months after Burkett started at Mansfield in 1984.
Burkett will have plenty of time for relaxation, too.
“I enjoy working in the yard, adding flowers and landscaping and that sort of thing,” Burkett said. “Sitting outside, listening to music and enjoying the pool.”
City Manager Clayton Chandler said Burkett was one of the first people he met when he was being recruited by the city of Mansfield in 1984.
“You can go all over the city, and see projects he’s been involved in, the roads, the facilities, he’s had a critical part in all of those,” Chandler said. “He can depart this job and say that he made a very real difference. That’s about the highest compliment you can say to somebody in public service.”
Burkett will miss his coworkers just like he misses those who have already retired. The hardest part will be learning to be just a Mansfield resident.
“I’m not going to have the first-hand knowledge of some of the more exciting things that may be happening,” Burkett said. “That part of the job I’m going to miss. I’ll be like someone else who always asks me, ‘What’s going on with the city?’”
He’s proud of what he’s accomplished as he’s watched the city evolve. He worked at the old city hall—a former hospital that the city converted into a makeshift municipal complex. Today, it’s the site of the DPS headquarters. He remembers duct tape holding the carpet together. As the city grew, it took over a nearby dentists’ office before eventually building the city hall on the old Winn Dixie site.
An amazing amount of economic development has occurred during his time at Mansfield, too. There were few lunch choices when he started in the 1980s.
“You got tired of eating at the same restaurants and you had to venture to Arlington,” Burkett said. “People don’t have to leave the city to go shopping anymore, you can eat here, shop here and the parks are great here. And there’s more on the horizon.”
He also been at the forefront of getting the main lanes of Texas 360 built.
“I would have liked to see it be a freeway and not a tollway,” Burkett said. “But it would never have been built without going that route.”
Chandler credits Burkett and others for making sure the right-of- way was secured for the highway project.
“He and I made numerous trips to Austin together meeting with the state highway department as well as members of the legislature,” Chandler said.
Moving on up
Burkett graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington with a bachelor of science and civil engineering degree. He worked for the city of Dallas in the 1970s and did some private engineering work before he heard about the Mansfield job.
“I thought it was a good opportunity,” he said. “They needed an engineer. I applied and the rest was history. I never thought I’d be in the same place for 32 years and seven months.”
He was the first public works director who was also an engineer. By September 1984, he’d been promoted to director of planning and development. That job title meant he had either a planning and zoning meeting or a city council meeting nearly every week.
“Back then we were spending long, long hours because we were heading into rezoning,” he said. “Then we were back here first thing to follow up what happened and go to the next step.”
At the same time, the city needed new infrastructure to handle the growth that was coming. Many of the city’s two-lane country roads had to be transformed into streets with curbs and gutters.
In September 1993, he was promoted again to assistant city manager.
During that time, he and Shanda raised two sons, Josh and Jeremy, who both graduated from the Mansfield High School. Josh is a Texas A&M graduate who works for Barclays as an investment banking associate in New York City. Jeremy just finished law school and is preparing for his bar exam. Both played soccer for the Tigers. Jeremy joined the varsity team as a freshman and played a select team.
Burkett cites raising his sons as one of his biggest accomplishments.
Filling the hole
Burkett oversaw everything from capital improvement programs and planning to economic development and code enforcement. So, he’ll be leaving a major void that has to be filled. The majority of those jobs have been divvied out to the deputy city managers, Joe Smolinski in particular, Burkett said. Chandler will even take some of the jobs. Ultimately, Mansfield will hire a new assistant city manager, but Chandler said he doesn’t plan to do that right away.
“He’s certainly tried to help those who are coming along with his knowledge as he goes out the door,” Chandler said.
Looking back, Burkett has accomplished everything he wanted to with the city of Mansfield. But there’s still one childhood opportunity that nags at him.
“They shouldn’t have listened to an 11-year-old kid,” Burkett said. “They should have bought property here and I would have been better prepared to pay for my college. It would have been very profitable for them.”