Shawnee County Commissioner Shelly Buhler

Women of Influence: Shawnee County commissioner proud of work to boost community’s quality of life

Shawnee County Commissioner Shelly Buhler will be honored for community service Wednesday, Sept. 20, at GO Topeka’s 2017 Women of Influence Awards. (Samantha Foster/The Capital-Journal)

When Shelly Buhler reflected this week on her proudest accomplishments as a Shawnee County commissioner, those that came to mind involved long-term benefits to the community.

Her first big vote was tied to major upgrades to the Bettis Family Sports Complex at Lake Shawnee that brought tournaments and revenue into the community. After several years of discussion, a public-private partnership with Waste Management made curbside recycling standard. Just last month, she celebrated completion of the new Willard Bridge, a hard-fought victory that followed years of safety concerns and pleas for funding to replace the deteriorated structure.

Through three terms as a commissioner, Buhler said, she has enjoyed “working on (constituents’) behalf for things that are important to us, not just today, but in the future.”

Buhler will be honored for her community service Wednesday, Sept. 20, at GO Topeka’s 2017 Women of Influence Awards. The awards banquet recognizes women who have influenced decisions on issues and enhanced the quality of life in their community, as well as serving as a role model for inspiring others to change their community.

Buhler grew up in Junction City in a family that instilled in her a commitment to community. Faith, family and community were top priorities, and she looked for ways to contribute.

She graduated in 1987 from Benedictine College — where she met her husband, Steve — with a bachelor’s degree in community services, an interdisciplinary degree combining sociology and human ecology. At the time, she said, she had no idea she would later use it as a politician.

“I think I have used a lot of what I have learned in just being a community volunteer,” Buhler said. “That definitely has been helpful.”

After graduating, Buhler worked as community outreach director for Community Action in Atchison County, where she worked with low-income families. She later worked as assistant director for a regional food bank.

She began volunteering in her Shawnee County church and community while staying home to raise the couple’s three children. She was encouraged by others in the community to run in 2001 for mayor of Rossville.

When Rossville experienced flooding during her second term as mayor, the county’s emergency response efforts piqued her interest in county government. In 2006, she ran mid-term for a seat on the Shawnee County Commission that she has held ever since.

Buhler said she has chosen to be a full-time county commissioner, which allows her time to volunteer with organizations that include the Topeka Community Foundation, for which she chairs the board of directors; Safe Streets Coalition’s Recognition Council; Heartland Healthy Neighborhoods’ leadership team; the Rossville Community Foundation; and Rossville PRIDE. She also is tri-chairwoman for Momentum 2022, a massive, holistic development strategy that will be implemented in 2018.

Involvement with Heartland Visioning made her feel it was important to maintain focus on quality of life and quality of place in the Momentum 2022 plan. Community feedback obtained during the process showed the steering committee that people want to contribute to improving Topeka and Shawnee County, she said.

“I think we’ve listened, and now we need to work together and take some action to improve the quality of life for everybody in our community,” she said. “That’s really hard work.”

Leadership courses, including the 2003 class of Leadership Greater Topeka, introduced Buhler to a different approach to leadership. People approach problems differently and with different perspectives, she said, and she learned skills to help break down barriers so people can work together.

“I hope that I exercise leadership in a positive way,” she said.

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