Maybe it was in her DNA, maybe it came from her environment, but Katie Killen comes to public service naturally. Her father was a town manager in Colorado before moving to Kansas, where he was finance director in Merriam before moving next door to become Mission’s city manager.
No wonder this Rockhurst University graduate wound up in another neighboring municipality, Shawnee, working her way up from intern to assistant city manager while picking up a master’s in public administration at the University of Kansas. Still, that wasn’t enough for Killen, who has made it her mission to change our cities and communities for the better after she graduates from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law in May.
“I really wanted to be able to affect public policy in a different way,” said Killen, 32, a Kansas City native and resident. “As a staff member, working around legislation, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go at it that way — I wanted to understand the law and affect it in a different way, in a policy-making way.”
As part of the Shawnee municipal staff, she researched and drafted ordinances, coordinated grant projects, helped to secure funding for wind turbine study and took on recycling, conservation and other issues. Still, she sought to achieve more.
That brought her to law school and internships with Neighborhood Legal Support and Legal Aid of Western Missouri in its Adopt-A-Neighborhood program. There, she has performed research on affordable housing and worked on Abandoned Housing Act litigation as an intern and later as a part-time paralegal. She also assisted the National Association of Women Business Owners with its policy work.
“So far, I’ve been able to really pursue different internships. I’ve worked in the area of public interest and really focused on property and housing, especially in high-needs, urban-core areas,” Killen said. “I’ve been able to do quiet title actions for urban houses through tax sales.”
Her nominators said of Killen: “Katie has been active in leadership roles at the law school. She has been president of the Environment Law Society and Vice Justice of Phi Alpha Delta. Katie is a teaching assistant in the Lawyering Skills Program and is the unspoken leader of the group. The other teaching assistants are drawn to her for advice and guidance . . . Without question, Katie’s future career in public interest is bright. Katie imbues everything we need in our leaders of tomorrow.”
Killen is scheduled to graduate in May. What comes next is still to be determined, although she said she likely will be practicing in public interest or municipal law. For now, she knows this much about her future course: It will involve people and the places in which they live.
“I’ve always been interested in current affairs and politics,” she said. “My father was involved in local government, and we would talk about public affairs. I just see the law as a way to help people and also to make things more fair for people in the long run.”