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Retired FBI agent Thomas Relford is nearing the one-year anniversary as Bolivar city administrator.
Tawnie Wilson | SBJ
Retired FBI agent Thomas Relford is nearing the one-year anniversary as Bolivar city administrator.

Executive Insider: Thomas Relford

Ex-FBI official settles into Bolivar leadership role

Posted online

Thomas Relford traveled around the world for the FBI before settling in small-town Bolivar for what he calls his second career. He began as city administrator last year – a role he says lines up with childhood interests.

“This is something I’ve always been interested in. Going back to a little kid, I knew the person who had that position in the town I grew up in,” he says of his hometown of Cameron, a city of roughly 8,500 residents north of Kansas City.

It’s been over 10 months since the city of Bolivar hired Relford as its newest city administrator. His predecessor, Tracy Slagle, retired in January 2023.

“I did the law enforcement thing for 25 years and I was interested in taking the skills that I learned in FBI and applying them to something different,” Relford says. “So far, I’ve really liked it.”

Relford’s duties, which are authorized by city ordinance, include serving as the chief purchasing agent, budget officer, personnel officer leading 125 employees and liaison officer with the Board of Aldermen. He oversees a $14 million budget for the city which has a population of over 11,100 residents, a 4.2% increase from 2020, according to Census Bureau data. That makes it the fourth-fastest growing city in a 50-mile radius of Springfield, according to Springfield Business Journal list research.

Although Relford has a master’s degree in public administration from Troy University, his current job is his first foray into city government.

“It was a pretty steep learning curve, to be quite honest with you. The Board of Aldermen, they knew that when they hired me, but they gave me the chance,” he says. “Luckily, I have a really good staff who was patient, and I hope I was a quick learner and then I got up to speed as quickly as I could. I feel a lot more comfortable now than I did in month one.”

As one of the department heads at City Hall, Bolivar Community Development Director Kyle Lee says he’s among those who meet weekly with Relford about infrastructure projects.

“Even when things were new, he was a fast learner,” Lee says. “He builds trust by trusting people who are working for him and has a ‘give me the facts’ kind of view.”

Lee says Relford also has developed and strengthened the relationship between the Board of Aldermen and city staff on issues including pay and benefits.

“I’m really excited for Thomas to be here,” he says. “Do everything excellent – that’s kind of his perspective. We also try to do things as quick as we can, and I appreciate that always with someone that wants to identify the problems and just solve them and move on.”

Relford says his leadership qualities largely developed over his FBI career, which wrapped in 2021 when he retired as the special agent in charge of the Albany, New York, field office. In that position, he oversaw daily operations, including investigations, tactical field operations and administration. Additionally, he served as a liaison to other local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

During his FBI career, Relford was stationed in Kansas City, New Orleans and Baton Rouge, as well as the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. He also spent five years as a legal attache in Dakar, Senegal, and Nairobi, Kenya. Legal attaches work with their police counterparts in foreign countries to obtain information for the FBI on crimes and criminals that could harm U.S. citizens or interests.

Relford, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business with an emphasis in finance from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 1991, said he had good timing when he applied for the FBI in the mid-1990s.

“The FBI had a big hiring search,” he says. “They’re always looking for people with that finance and accounting background. I just went through the process, which took about nine months to a year. In April of 1996, I went to Quantico and that’s where I started.”

After graduating from Quantico, the FBI academy in Virginia, Relford was assigned to the New Orleans field office, where he was a street agent. He worked in the office for 12 years, handling cases dealing with gangs, drug investigations and public corruption. Then 9/11 happened.

“It changed a lot of things at the FBI, so I started working a little more in international terrorism,” he says.

He was then promoted to be a supervisor at the Baton Rouge office, roughly 90 minutes away from New Orleans.

“In a small office like that, you’ll have a squad instead of like in a big office where you focus on one thing, like public corruption or violent crime or whatever,” he says. “They do kind of a myriad of things on a squad. I had pretty much everything except the foreign counterintelligence, international terrorism. I had mainly all of the traditional stuff you would think about within the FBI as far as criminal stuff.”

After two years in Baton Rouge, Relford raised his hand to go overseas, which led to a stint in Africa with his wife, Marcy, and three children in tow.

“The bureau has about 50 offices overseas. Basically, you just coordinate law enforcement, intelligence, operations and activity with the bureau counterpart in those countries,” he says, adding the offices are small extensions of the U.S. Embassy. “In Senegal, it was just me, another agent and a support staff.”

In West Africa, Relford was frequently in traveling mode.

“I had 14 countries that I was responsible for,” he says, noting his work primarily involved international terrorism, along with providing training and support to local law enforcement. “If I wasn’t in the car, I was on my way to Guinea-Bissau or some other country you had never heard of, dealing with issues that had a connection to the U.S., FBI, etc.”

The time in Africa also provided an opportunity for his family to see the world, he says, adding his daughter graduated from high school in Nairobi.

“That was another major reason that we took this chance is because we wanted our kids to experience something different than what you would think a normal kid from the U.S., at that time, would encounter,” he says.

Investigations in Africa included hijacking of ships in Somalia, a bombing in Uganda and the 2011 kidnapping of Jessica Buchanan, an American held for ransom by Somali pirates for over three months before being rescued by Navy SEALs.

“It was 24/7 living that. It was super exciting,” he says. “It was President Obama who personally called her family and let her know that she’s been recovered.”

After leaving Africa, Relford served six years as assistant special agent in charge in the Kansas City office, which eventually led him to New York, where he retired after a 25-year career.

Relford moved back to Missouri to be near family, including two grandchildren. He says some of his past work experience applies to his new job.

“I call it my second career,” he says. “A lot of the stuff I learned in the FBI being in leadership and we have budgets in the bureau – all the things that you deal with within the federal government – you also have on city government.”

Noting Bolivar is on the cusp of a lot of growth, Relford says the city is facing challenges such as staffing needs and sales taxes that don’t align with the level of services and programs the city offers. To try and address that latter issue, the city has added a three-quarter cent sales tax to the April ballot. Officials estimate the tax, if passed, would annually generate $2.1 million.

“It will be dedicated solely for the Fire Department and for the Police Department, and it’ll allow us to not have to worry about dipping into our reserves every year to fully fund everything that we have going on in the city,” he says. “We’re trying to stay on top of the growth.”


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