When Steve Chapman started working at the City of Waxahachie his goal was to make a positive difference in the community and to help people where he could. Now, after more than 51 years of service as the city’s municipal court judge and later as the city attorney, Chapman is retiring from public service feeling confident he has met his goal.
Chapman announced his plans to retire from public serve at the March 6 Waxahachie City Council meeting but will remain at the post until a successor has been selected. While he intends to retire from the city, he has no intention of closing his law practice, Chapman and Chapman, which was established by his father Richard Chapman in 1929. Steve joined the law firm after graduating from Southern Methodist University in 1965.
“It was really rewarding practicing law with him (his father). He started practicing law in 1929 here in Waxahachie at the start of the depression. I am sure that he struggled along with everyone else to get through those times. At any rate, he was a very fine person. He served as city attorney in the 1940’s and early 1950’s,” Chapman said. “He also served as assistant district attorney. They just had a few people in the office at that time for a couple of years. He set up his practice in the Citizen’s Bank building downtown. He worked really hard. He specialized, you might say, in real estate and just general law practice. Did a little of everything. Whatever came in he could do it and would to make ends meet.”
Chapman said he started practicing law in the summer of 1965 and then began working for as the city's municipal court judge in Dec. 1966.While recalling the early beginning of his career, Chapman pulled a large book from a shelf. Opening the book, which is a handwritten ledger from his court, Chapman noted that his first entry on the docket is “Dec. 23, 1966.”
"I took the city judge job in December of 1966 and held it a few months, and then the city attorney’s job came vacant,” Chapman said. “When I was hired as city attorney they just causally interviewed three people and made a selection. Now they are going to have a request for services and it is very, very detailed.”
Chapman said what drew him into working for a municipality was the ability to make a contribution.
“The city attorney doesn’t make decisions or vote with the council. But still you're involved and can be an influence for the good or the better, and you can feel like you have made a difference,” Chapman said. “Public service is rewarding if you make it that way. Some people are easy to work with, and some are very difficult but they all deserve equal help. I have tried very hard to be fair and give to anyone who called.”
Chapman said the goal in any profession is to be able to help people and do you the best you can. He added that, in the legal profession, each client has a different set of issues and needs and you have to be on top of that by doing research — often to make sure the advice you give is sound, so the right action is taken.
Steve said the job of the city attorney is to represent the city, and, as such, is required to attend council, planning and zoning and various other meetings that council deems necessary. Other duties of the city attorney include drawing up ordinances, providing legal consultation to city employees, and working with the public to help find the answers they are seeking.
Chapman also noted that some of the work the city attorney used to do is now contracted out because it is specialized.
“At the time I started, city attorneys for smaller towns were almost always a local lawyer. Now, there are firms that specialize and serve as city attorneys,” Chapman said. "When I was first city attorney, I drew bonds, and now it is done by specialized firms. The law is more complex. You can’t be an expert in everything, and you are fooling yourself if you think you are. The city attorney does most of the real work, but an increasing percentage of it goes to specialists. Even contested ligation, I haven’t done that in several years.”
Chapman said the same basic framework of the city is the same from when he started, but the details have become more involved. He added that the character of the people hasn’t changed, as they remain “good people.”
Chapman's son, Jim Chapman, joined the family's law firm in 1991 and was a partner until 2010 when he was elected served as the judge for Ellis County Court at Law No. 1. Before taking his seat as a county judge, Jim served as the city’s assistant city attorney.
While the decision to retire from his post with the city was tough, Chapman felt that it was time to provide someone else with the opportunity to serve the community.
“Well, I am still enjoying what I am doing, but there is a time to turn it over someone else. I am 76. That is not too old to the job but there is probably is a time to slow down and give somebody else a chance to serve the public in that way,” Chapman said. “I do feel fortunate that I have been able to serve in this position. I find it very rewarding to work with the fine people of the city and the public during these years.”
Chapman said along with working at his law practice, he would spend more time with his family and will stay active in the community. Some of the boards he has previously served on include president or chair of Baylor Hospital, Sims Library, the Ellis County Museum and Historic Waxahachie.
Chapman advises his successor to be dedicated to public service and do the very best he or she can.
“None of us are perfect, but you want to do the very best you can. To me, being courteous to everyone you deal with is very important whether they seem to deserve it or not. You need to treat people fairly and equally,” Chapman said. “Just enjoy doing the job one day at a time whatever it is.”
Waxahachie Assistant City Manager Michael Scott said the presence of Chapman at city hall would be missed.
“I don’t think there is any question about Steve’s contribution to the community being significant and have been appreciated and will be appreciated for many, many years. He is the epitome of a statesman. He is very calm in his deliberations, and he thinks through his answers,” Scott said. “He has really contributed a lot to the city in the way of providing good stability, giving good legal council and keeping us out of legal troubles. His impact has been significant and he will definitely be missed as our city attorney for sure.”
Scott said one of the lessons that Chapman has taught him over the years is how to treat people. He stated that Chapman treats everyone he encounters with respect and courtesy.
"I think just that lesson in how to treat people is something that he has definitely taught me. That is just how you deal with people,” Scott said. “Steve always exhibits that no matter who is talking to and no matter how controversial or how a conversation is going he will always treat the person with respect and courtesy. I have learned a lot from Steve in that regard in how to treat people.”
Scott said the city attorney position is one of four council-appointed posts and for Chapman to hold that seat for so long speaks to his quality of his character.
“Any time the council has changed he potentially could have been replaced,” Scott said. "I think that it speaks so highly of Steve that people respected him and respected the job that he does that they wanted to keep him around as their legal council. It speaks volumes to Steve and this community.”
Scott said a date for Chapman's departure has not been set at this time, but when it is set, the city is going host a reception in his honor to give residents a chance to thank him for his service.
Waxahachie Mayor Kevin Strength Shared Scott’s thoughts about Chapman's contributions and the impact he has made in Waxahachie.
“His contributions are immeasurable. He has been there, him and Hilda (Steve’s late wife) both have really helped build Waxahachie. Kind of helped the standard of what Waxahachie is about. It has been my honor and pleasure to serve with him for the last seven years. I don’t know of a more upstanding person,” Strength said. “He is on many board and commissions and he had been a big supporter of the library. He loves Waxahachie. He just really loves Waxahachie and is pleased with the way things are going now and the quality of life issues that we are addressing. I can’t say enough about him. He is just a true gentleman.”
Strength said Chapman can get his point across without getting upset, studies things very carefully and doesn’t make claims before he checks them out. He is very diligent in what he does.
“He has been a true friend to me. After council meetings, Steve, myself and (the late) Buck Jordan (former council member and mayor) would go up to Whataburger and wouldn’t talk about anything about the city. We would just talk about what went on today, what is the latest jokes and it was just friends talking,” Strength said. “I was always honored to be sitting at a table with those two and knew that they would talk openly with me. Being included in the group with those two was really fun.”
Strength said Chapman's absence from the city government would be felt.
“It is not going to be the same in many ways. You always felt like Steve was on your side and would tell you right. You just knew that he was there for you and you could talk openly. Now we when go after a firm it seems like we have to have a whole army of attorneys with different specialties and different things,” Strength said. “Steve has managed to do all these things all these years. I think the hometown feel will go when he goes.”
Strength said Chapman is a true lover of Waxahachie and that is hard to find in somebody else.
“I have never known a finer person. He is an icon,” Strength said. “I can’t imagine someone dedicating that amount of time to anything. That shows his love for the city.”
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