Probably better than anyone, Donald Troy Royer knows the condition of Neosho's fiscal ship.

Probably better than anyone, Donald Troy Royer knows the condition of Neosho's fiscal ship.

He ought to. He spent 18 months heading up a special state audit on the city — an audit that handed down a poor performance rating at the end.

So being aware of the choppy waters still ahead for Neosho, why would Royer want to pilot the city through the financial gale as its permanent city manager? Not only does he want to, though, he's looking forward to it. Monday was his first day at the helm, after being hired in August.

Royer — who goes by his middle name, Troy — said in an interview last week that he accepted the Neosho city manager post because of the challenge it offered.

“It's going to be a challenge, but I think it's something that can be overcome, as any challenge,” Royer said. “We all end up in difficult times from time to time. It's just how you deal with them and overcome them. I think there is promise here or I wouldn't have taken the job.”  

There were other reasons, too, of course. Sure, there will be a substantial increase in his annual take-home pay, according to state public employee records. But with 12 years in at the Missouri Auditor's office, Royer said he was ready for a change. Like Neosho, budget crunches at the state level have meant staff reductions and pay freezes.
Royer's daily 150 mile round-trip commute from his home near Joplin to his Springfield office was getting old — and a bit costly — as well, he said. But he and his wife, Debbie, didn't want to move away from the immediate area, partly because they babysit their four grandkids quite a bit. Royer also said he was getting tired of being on the road for so long and living out of motel rooms as he audited counties and cities across southern Missouri.

Royer was the auditor in-charge during the city's recent special state audit. In fact, he basically wrote the audit report that was publicly presented by Royer's former boss, Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich, in late July. Neosho was given 90 days from that time before state auditors return for a follow-up to see how the city is addressing the issues flagged in the audit. Royer said he is aware that city staff have a checklist to track that progress, but as of last week he had not yet seen it. That is now at the top of his list, he said.

“I know what [the state auditors] are going to want and, hopefully, we can get those issues all addressed and get a 'good' or at least 'fair' report on the follow-up, compared to the 'poor' one received before,” Royer said.

Big picture-wise, Neosho's obvious priority, Royer said, is to crawl out from under its heavy debt load. He said the city would continue to look at ways to reduce its debt, or at least keep that debt from going up — even as the scheduled yearly installments do — while exploring more options to increase revenue.

“That's going to be the number one goal is just taking care of what is here without obtaining more debt,” Royer said. “Hopefully, no more COPs (certificates of participation). But you can't say for sure because you never know what your future is going to hold. There may be a need someday.”

He admitted it's going to take “a number of years” before Neosho really gets back on solid financial footing, but if sales and property tax revenues hold steady, the outlook over the next couple of year is “favorable,” he said. Again, the biggest problem, he noted, is the city's long-term debt, especially now that heavy principal payments are coming due and are scheduled to increase every year.

“That's going to put a little more stress on the city to handle those bigger payments, but we'll just have to tackle those when they come and see what we can do with it,” Royer said. “But we'll get it.”

If he sounds confident, it's because “you have to be,” he said.

Royer said that as the new city manager he has “a few ideas” and that he also plans to make some changes, though he's keeping most of them under his hat for now. Generally speaking, Royer said he plans to implement a “total open door policy” at city hall, if it hasn't been done already.

“I know that the attitude when (former city manager) Jan Blase was here was that 'you're not important,'” Royer said. “You know what? To me, the city residents are really our boss. You pay your taxes, you live here and we work for the city.”

And that policy starts at the top, he said.

“I'll talk to anybody that wants to talk to me,” Royer said. “I will make sure I see them personally if they want to see me. I am very public-orientated, as that is what my job has been for the last 12 years is to work with the public and make sure things are done the way they are supposed to be done.”

“Most important to me is going to be the public,” he continued. “I know they've had some skepticism with the city in the past and I do want to change that and just let everybody know that we are going to be open here and that if you have a need, come see us and we'll see what we can do. We may not be able to address every problem, but I will hear them and I will consider them and take them to whomever needs to look at it and see what we can do.”
More specifically, Royer said he plans to do away with the automated phone system at city hall during regular business hours.

“I want a phone system where people are going to call and actually talk to a person and get to whom they need to talk to,” he said. “If you don't know somebody's last name, how do you know who to get ahold of? No, I want them to be able to talk to someone. We have a receptionist out front who is going to be answering the phones and directing phone calls to whomever they need to talk to. And if that person isn't in, they can leave a message and I'll make sure that those phone calls get returned. And if they don't, they can call me and I'll make sure they get returned.”

As city manager, Royer said he would be easy to work with but also be very direct, know what he wants and when he wants it, expect his employees to meet his standards and that when directed to do something by the city council he would do “whatever it takes to get it done.”

On a more human level, though, what kind of person is Troy Royer?

“I'm probably one of the easiest guys to get along with,” he said. “I'm pretty easy going. I'm a people-person. I love people. That's something I loved about my job with the state auditor's office was being able to travel around Missouri and meet people ... I love dealing with people. I am very team-orientated ... It takes teams to get things done. Everybody working for the same goal. I do believe that everyone that is here now really does want to better the city. And I believe that of this city council, too. Or I wouldn't have taken the job. I believe there is promise here.”

Royer, 41, was born in Santa Monica, Calif. He attended second through fourth grades in Neosho and later attended Joplin Memorial High School in the last year before it consolidated with Parkwood High School to form the present Joplin High School. He spent the next three years at Joplin High, but “took the hard road” his senior year and dropped out of school, though he earned his GED soon afterward.

It was probably while working for his uncle at Royer's Tire Service in Joplin when he first realized he wanted more out of his life.

“I saw other people who were a lot older than me doing the same thing I was doing and I asked myself 'is that what I want to be doing when I'm their age?'” Royer related.

 By then he was also married and had three kids. Royer eventually went to work for his father-in-law, keeping the books at his property management business, while also cleaning and remodeling apartments. He kept that job when he enrolled at Missouri Southern State University.

Royer earned his bachelor of science degree in business administration-accounting in 1997. He immediately went to work for a CPA firm in Joplin and spent a number of years there before a friend told him he should apply with the Missouri auditor's office. He did and got the job. He was there 12 years.

Now he is city manager for the City of Neosho, earning an annual base salary of $85,000.

Royer has a house on Table Rock Lake and in his spare time loves to fish and hunt, especially deer.

“I love being out there just by myself in the woods, with lots of time to think and contemplate things,” Royer said. “And I love nature.”

He has two grown sons and one daughter, and four grandchildren — two boys and two girls.

Royer and his wife, Debbie (who is a home health nurse in Joplin), currently live in Leawood, though they are looking for a home in Neosho. The city charter requires the city manager to live in town, which is the reason interim city manager Harlan Moore wasn't eligible to stay on permanently.

So just how long does Royer intend to be a part of the Neosho community?

“I have plans to stay here as long as they'll keep me,” he said.