TEXARKANA TEXAS CITY MANAGER SHIRLEY JASTER LEADS THE CITY WITH KNOWLEDGE AND SKILL
by LISA PORTERFIELD THOMPSON
Shirley Jaster is the very definition of a homegrown success. In a monumental move in October of 2017, the Texarkana Texas City Council unanimously voted to name Shirley the first female City Manager of Texarkana, Texas, forgoing a nationwide search as they’ve done in the past, and instead choosing to rely on the talent and capabilities of an internal candidate to lead the city. This decision was celebrated among the community and city staff alike.
Shirley grew up in Texarkana, Arkansas, one of eight children in a large Catholic family and graduated from Arkansas High School. Her parents, Gus and Mary Wolf, moved the family to Texarkana from Iowa when Shirley was in elementary school to follow her father’s job as a mechanical engineer. She has fond memories of growing up here, and a vision for the future as well. “My hope for Texarkana is that it will keep growing, eventually big enough to attract more entertainment venues and provide the needs and wants of its citizens while keeping the friendliness and values of a small town,” Shirley said.
“If I had to describe Texarkana in one word, that would be it: friendly.”
Shirley has worked for the city since the early eighties, took a break from full-time work when her sons, Lee, now 31, and Derek, 29, were born, and returned to work in 1998. In the 20-year career since, she has held a myriad of positions within the city, eventually working her way to the very top.
“I began as a drafter, and had the best job ever at the time, getting to color and design maps” she said. “That’s when I really gained a solid understanding of the intricacies of the city and various neighborhoods. I learned which parts of the city were residential, commercial and industrial and learned the street names and gained some historical perspective on properties. Then I was the Zoning Administrator, then the Director of Planning, the Director of Community Services, and the Director of Community and Public Works. Each job taught me something new and interesting about the city, and helped me understand how the city operated on a larger scale. With each new job, I learned a new level of city operations, and it has really been an interesting adventure.”
In 2014, Shirley was named Assistant City Manager, and then Deputy City Manager in 2016. On August 4, 2017, Shirley was named the Interim City Manager after her predecessor retired, and she was officially made city manager on October 23, 2017. “I was extremely excited, and proud to become the city manager,” Shirley said, “and of course the part I’m most proud of was to be the first female in this position.”
Shirley is quick to commend city employees for the work they do to offer quality services to residents and visitors of Texarkana. “I’m always impressed with the hardworking, inspiring, genuine individuals that work for us here at the City,” Shirley said. “I brag about our employees all the time, and I want people in the community to recognize our employees for the professionals they are. Throughout this entire organization, we employ people who are the very best in their fields. I hope to change the way the public thinks about working for the city, because we truly do have a fine group of people working for us who are competent, skilled and well-educated. Leading people like our employees is my very favorite part of this job!”
As expected, Shirley has certainly earned the respect of her employees over the years. Often she can be seen visiting project sites throughout the city to check progress, getting out of the vehicle to talk to employees, understanding issues and challenges they face, knowing their names and the names of their family members, and having a personable relationship with each member of the city’s team. “My focus as city manager has shifted to understanding the roles and services for every single area of the city, instead of just a few,” Shirley said. “It can be arduous, but it’s worth the effort.”
She has also built a good rapport with community members and leaders across the city. On any given day at lunch, Shirley can be found making her way through a lively restaurant, stopping at each table to greet the familiar and smiling faces she encounters. Shirley’s smile and laugh truly are contagious, but it isn’t her congeniality that earned her the top position at City Hall.
Shirley has an extensive knowledge of many aspects of the city, from zoning and problem properties to utilities and easements. Mayor Bob Bruggeman has even claimed Shirley knows where every manhole cover in the city limits is located.
While that assertation may be a bit of a stretch, Shirley has indeed built an impressive knowledge of the code of ordinances, key players, internal operating procedures, zoning specifics, and other unique details that make Texarkana what it is. Her career path into City Management has not been a traditional one.
“Most city managers have a background in law enforcement, or business management, but I have a Bachelors Degree from the University of Arkansas in Agriculture,” Shirley said. “Before working for the city, I was a landscape designer at a nursery.”
While her educational background may come as a surprise to some, this journey of hers should be an inspiration to everyone who has ever imagined themselves leading in a similar role. Shirley is living proof that there are many ways to achieve a dream, and not one clear path to any destination.
In her spare time, when Shirley is not dealing with regional water issues, disgruntled residents, or head splitting legal jargon, she enjoys reading, being outdoors, visiting family, flower gardening, and going to the city’s parks.