Shane Evans went home to Delphi, Indiana, after graduating from law school last year and walked straight into the top job in city hall.
At 25, the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law grad is among the youngest municipal leaders in the state. He jumped into the election as an independent after the former mayor was toppled in a primary, then trounced the competition, winning 55 percent of the vote in a three-person general election.
“I think I am young; that played into it,” Evans says of his support. “I have energy.”
Evans is putting that energy into making Delphi a destination not just for day-trippers who might stop by the historic Wabash & Erie Canal or courthouse square boutiques, but also a place for families to put down roots.
“We need to try to get some fresh faces,” he says, confident his city of 2,900 about 17 miles northeast of Lafayette has what it takes to attract young people. “They want the good schools, they want the low crime, they want the two stoplights in a town that has that community feel.”
‘Good time to be mayor’
Evans drops by the Delphi Opera House across from the Carroll County Courthouse, where he boasts performances have been sold out since the venue was restored recently. Evans is greeted by a volunteer who shares good news: There are more volunteers for upcoming functions than can be trained right away. “It’s a good time to be mayor,” the volunteer says after a bit of small talk.
Evans agrees. The opera house was renovated as part of years’ worth of projects under the $17 million Stellar Communities grant program that also gave downtown façades a facelift and converted historic buildings to loft apartments, among other improvements. The program concludes this year with new curbs, sidewalks, pavers and streetscape, all in an effort to make downtown more appealing and walkable.
The rehab blitz coincides with the recently completed Hoosier Heartland Highway on the south edge of the city. The new limited-access, four-lane State Road 25 diverts truck traffic from downtown to a freeway that holds the potential for development from Lafayette to Fort Wayne.
“Economic development is huge,” Evans says of his priorities as mayor. “We’re trying to foster the business community here in town. We’ve got really good businesses and we’d like to see them grow. We’d also like to target a major business to locate out on the Hoosier Heartland Highway.”
Evans says IU McKinney’s mantra of “Think like a lawyer” served him well in considering due process and the consequences of actions the city may take. He says he’s spent much of his first month in office studying city ordinances that can be perplexing at times, such as when they refer to outdated state codes. He’s absorbed all he can, though. “It’s still illegal to spit on the sidewalks,” he notes.
That level of attention to detail wouldn’t surprise IU McKinney professor Carlton Waterhouse. He recalled that as a student in his environmental justice class, Evans wrote a research paper analyzing the distribution of air pollution in Indiana’s 50 most populous cities. The paper, which found its way into testimony at the Statehouse, demonstrated pollution levels increased in areas with greater numbers of minorities and higher levels of poverty.
“His research was well above what you would expect to see from a student,” Waterhouse said. “The quality of his work was on a level you would expect to see from faculty.”
Law school classmate Zach Clapp, now a Marion County deputy prosecutor, has known Evans since they were undergrads – Clapp at DePauw University and Evans at rival Wabash College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. Clapp said Evans “was always down to help out. He always helped me out and I helped him out with outlines and such. He was pretty reliable if you needed help in class.
“I think he’s going to make a good mayor, even though he went to Wabash,” Clapp quipped.
Passion for politics
Evans’ mayoral run marked his second campaign, both launched during his years in law school. At 22, he unsuccessfully ran as a Democrat for a seat in the Indiana House of Representatives. This time, things were different: “This is my home. This is my community,” he says.
And he ran a hometown campaign. He sent a few mailers, supporters went door-to-door, and he did meet-and-greets at chicken dinners. Evans says word-of-mouth was the key to his victory. It didn’t hurt that people knew him from Little League, as an Eagle Scout, and as a multi-sport athlete at Delphi High School. Still, he said, “I was pretty nervous on Election Day.”
As a high school classmate, Meagan Mowrer didn’t know Evans as a political creature. But as she prepared for the noon rush behind the counter at The Sandwich Shop in Delphi, she said she wasn’t surprised he succeeded in his run for mayor. “He’s committed to whatever it is he does,” she says. “He was a good teammate, a good classmate, just an all-around good guy.”
Evans said in his childhood he looked up to local lawyer Pat Manahan, who coached him in Little League. “He’s a great kid, a bright kid, and far and away he was the best candidate,” Manahan said.
“He’s a young, energetic person with ideas,” he said, who’s proved to be a committed, capable politician. “Our little community is fortunate to have people who are committed to the community. And people in the community recognize his talents.”
These days, people around Delphi also know Evans as a member of the Lions Club and other organizations and someone who seldom misses an opportunity to volunteer. Just as he had to play both offense and defense and shift positions when players got hurt on the Oracles’ football team, he said the volunteer spirit and stepping up to fill a need is part of what makes the community special.
“Nobody’s just one thing in Delphi,” he says.
Evans acknowledges a few people discouraged him from running for mayor, thinking he could do much better for himself coming out of law school.
The job demands can be daunting and the pay, about $49,000 a year, might be less than he could make pursuing a different career. Evans said he’s still not sure where his J.D. will take him in the future, but he hopes to serve as mayor for as long as Delphi will have him.
Choosing to run for mayor, Evans said, “without a doubt” was a factor that limited his bar preparation. He said he just missed passing the bar on his first sitting, and he’s planning to retake the exam, even though carving out prep time can be tough. Serving as mayor comes first, and it’s clear Evans is enjoying it.
“I’m here after 5 (p.m.), five nights a week, maybe more,” he says. “That’s what I envision a mayor should be doing. It’s kind of hard to see where the mayor line stops and starts, and where I’m doing this just for personal pleasure. Maybe the line doesn’t stop.”•