No one in all of Indiana has a job like Kim Bowman’s, and being executive director of the Allen County Department of Planning Services puts her in a key role for all the development projects in the county, from your neighbor’s new fence to the biggest industrial investments. When she’s out and about, though, people are as likely to recognize her husband Jeff, longtime WPTA TV news videographer, though, which is okay with her. If they’re together, they’re probably not working. Find out why her job is so unusual and her rule about Friday nights as she plays 20 Questions.
1. How did you become a planner?
I grew up in Cincinnati and was always fascinated with how buildings were built and the way things developed. I had a high school teacher at St. Ursula Academy who taught us about the history of Cincinnati. There are several famous planning things about Cincinnati and the suburbs. I didn’t realize planning was a profession until my junior year at Purdue.
2. Most people call it city planning, but it’s not just that, is it?
The urban side is important with the urban impacts, but there are also many rural impacts so the need to preserve and grow and develop those types of land uses is just as important.
3. Why do people become planners?
People become planners because of the love of a community and a desire to make improvements to make it a better place. I get the biggest kick out of new developments where there are discussions about putting in sidewalks and often we hear that nobody will ever use this or it’s a sidewalk to nowhere. And I grin when I see people using the sidewalks. I feel like stopping them and thanking them for using the sidewalks that we insisted go in.
4. What makes you glad to do this work?
It’s fun being in on the beginning levels of development. Friends always ask “What’s going in there?” or “I heard Cheesecake Factory is coming to town.” There is a lot of interest in how our community develops, and playing the role this office and I personally do is really exciting.
5. Is there any other career you almost chose instead?
I was thinking about law school for a while, but the planning bug really got me.
6. What brought you to Fort Wayne?
In 1983 one of my classmates was offered a job with the city park department, and he turned the job down and mentioned my name to Bob Arnold. I have a minor in recreation from Purdue. It was a one-year grant opportunity for me to get a little work experience and get something on my resume.
7. Why have you stayed?
Fort Wayne is an awesome place to live. There are so many opportunities from sports to theater to our Philharmonic. It’s really easy for somebody who grew up here to overlook it, but it’s awesome when you get a $5 ticket at the TinCaps and can actually see the game.
8. Who is more recognized in town – you or your husband?
(Laughs) Usually it’s Jeff. It’s funny. Our daughters participated in the Galloping Gobbler race at Thanksgiving, and we ran into Mitch Harper. He said, “I have never seen the two of you together.” A lot of people see us individually and never realize we’re married.
9. What are the kids up to?
Our oldest daughter is an engineer in Louisville. Our youngest daughter is finishing her senior year at Ball State University and looking at going to graduate school to become a planner.
10. What is a fun Friday night?
I have a rule. I don’t cook on Friday night. It’s No Cook Friday. So Jeff and I go out to dinner every Friday night. We like to go with friends and laugh and have a release and toast the end of a long work week.
11. If you were getting away from it all, would you escape to the north woods or a Caribbean beach?
My family has a place in Mackinaw City, and that is the place where I go to relax and rebuild and enjoy the sunrises and sunsets and the beautiful scenery of northern Michigan.
12. What’s the last concert you attended?
The Philharmonic’s Holiday Pops at the Embassy Theatre with my family, and it was fantastic. Literally, it brought tears to my eyes.
13. Favorite movie of 2016?
Oh, just one. That’s hard. I love movies. I love going to the movies. Something about the big screen. To pick one would be difficult. Gosh. So many movies. “Star Wars” was good, “Rogue One.”
14. How many public meetings do you go to in a given month?
On average, probably about eight.
15. What book are you reading right now?
“Ming” by R.L. Gray. She is a dear friend of mine. It’s a fantastic book to get your mind off of the everyday world. Her grandparents live two doors down from us in Michigan.
16. How many other planners have a job like yours?
I think my job is unique in the state of Indiana. In 2008, I had the opportunity to lead the combination of the Fort Wayne and the Allen County land use department merger, and I think there is no other community in the state who has merged departments and has kept unique ordinances, has kept their plan commissions, their boards of zoning appeals.
17. What are the big trends in your work?
Transparency is especially important now. In general, people don’t have a trust of government, so by being open, transparent, customer-service-oriented, hopefully, person by person we can change a few minds in our community.
18. Your professional expertise is as a planner, but isn’t the first thing people think of when they have to go to your office for something a different, less friendly P word: permit?
Usually people come into this office because they have to. So we have gone through, as a staff, a lot of training with how to provide customer service. We understand people are angry and upset and afraid of change and sometimes they take it out on us. I hope that by the time they leave they will have received factual information, a sympathetic ear and maybe some suggestions on some things people can do to get involved or ways they can channel their ideas and input either by attending a public hearing or submitting letters or ideas. We are always here to listen and help.
19. What is your greatest strength?
I really have a desire to cooperatively solve problems.
20. How many permits did you issue in 2016?
Close to 4,000 permits, ranging from a fence to the billion-dollar investment at General Motors and everything in between.
First appeared in the February 2017 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.