Ritch Wheeler assumed his first elected position as the mayor of Shenandoah after voters took to the polls to support him in early May.
A native of Houston, Wheeler moved to East Texas with his family when he was in middle school and graduated from high school in Longview. From there, he continued his education at Norwich University in Vermont, where he ran track and played soccer until transferring to Baylor University. After spending some time in the U.S. Navy/Navy Reserve, Wheeler worked in retail automotive car dealerships before taking on his position as a regional sales manager for American Financial & Automotive Services Inc., where he has worked for 10 years.
Wheeler and his wife, Laura, have been married for more than seven years and moved to Shenandoah five years ago to raise their two sons, Matthew, 5, and Jacob, 4. Prior to taking on his mayoral duties, Wheeler was involved with the Shenandoah Civic Club as well as the city’s Planning and Zoning Committee.
What are your daily job duties as the mayor of Shenandoah?
The most important part is, of course, is the two City Council meetings per month that we have. As mayor, part of your job is to run those two City Council meetings, so obviously I have to be at those.
Over and above that, I attend a variety of community events and help establish goals, budgets, policies and changes in city ordinances. I somewhat get a little bit involved in contract negotiations and development of projects—mostly a lot of it is just trying to increase awareness for the city of Shenandoah.
What is your vision for Shenandoah?
We have a great city; there’s nothing wrong with our city. I want to help it get better. My vision is to continue, as we grow, to add great businesses that can provide either a service or product that our residents can be proud of, that our residents can get use out of … obviously businesses that generate a good revenue stream for the city. But overall, build out with those types of successful businesses that we can be proud of and then use that revenue stream to help add benefits and amenities for the residents. That’s the goal: to take those revenue streams that those businesses create and then use it to enhance our city for our residents.
What prompted you to run for mayor?
Well, my two sons to some degree. From the minute we moved into the city five years ago, right off the bat we just knew that we wanted to serve in some capacity. We started off with helping to do the Civic Club newsletter and then I became co-chair of the Civic Club. From there, I was asked to be on the Planning and Zoning Committee. So it just kind of continually grew.
I don’t know that I ever started off thinking I was going to become mayor, but it was one of those deals where as soon as we moved into the city, we just loved it so much that we wanted to help and pitch in and be a part of it.
What are some challenges Shenandoah is facing?
We don’t really have challenges; we have opportunities—we’re only going up. One of the things I want to make sure that we do as we are in this growth pattern is to stay true to our roots. Our opportunity is to continue to grow and get even better, but at the same time use that growth to stay true to our roots and be a small community.
What do you think makes Shenandoah unique?
If you take a look at our footprint, we straddle I-45 and we are in one of the most economically advantageous areas in Texas for sure, if not the country—I mean we are booming. We have great businesses, hospitals, we are centrally located to a major airport, the fourth largest city in the country and obviously we’re very centrally located to The Woodlands.
At the same time, we have this small-town community where our residents get to know their police officers, their city staff and each other. So we have this interesting mix of this really cutting-edge economic growth and development, and yet we also have this small-town feel. It’s that really cool balance that makes us unique.