Clayton Times Conversation: City Manager Craig Owens

Clayton’s City Manager Craig Owens spoke with us Friday to discuss some of the responsibilities his job entails and what makes Clayton such a unique place to live within St. Louis. Additionally, Owens discusses how residents of Clayton can have a lasting impact on the city.
Clayton Times: What are some of the responsibilities of being Clayton’s City Manager?
Owens: We’re what’s called a council-manager form of government, which means we’re set up to be run a lot like a business with a board of directors. I’m [similar] to a CEO of the company that provides police, fire, public works, parks and recreation, planning and zoning services for the city of Clayton. I report to seven people, my board of directors is the Board of Aldermen that is chaired by the mayor of the city who is the only at-large elected position.
Clayton Times: What’s the hardest aspect of being city manager?
Owens: We do a remarkably diverse line of business. I like to say that we restart hearts and we teach kids to swim. We reconcile changes in land uses in some of the most expensive property in the state or in the Midwest and we deal with code enforcement issues in neighborhoods. We [also] manage a capital budget that provides very high-quality roads and streets in our neighborhoods and in our business district. The challenge of this job has a lot to do with how diverse these skill-sets are to understanding the cultures and necessities of each of these businesses and to do that in the fishbowl of the transparent public process. A right answer in this business doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the way the community feels that we should go, with everything that we do we’re continuously having an important conversation that everybody can participate in.
Clayton Times: What are some of the qualities of Clayton that separate it from other parts of St. Louis?
Owens: We have a unique responsibility as the second business district and as the county seat, also as the center of three universities. We have those assets but we also have very unique neighborhoods that are part of that same community. We serve an important part in the region because we offer the top-tier in an office market [and] we understand that we have to be manicured to be carrying that mantle for our region. We’re trying to both [have] a small-town feel with wonderful neighborhoods and great schools and also be a regional center of business and entertainment that we’re renowned for.
Clayton Times: Where do you see the city of Clayton going in the future – in terms of development?
Owens: One of the best things that we did over the last few years is when the economy started to downturn, we started to plan. We built some great plans as a community with a lot of public input, and [also] the commercial landowners. We put some great plans together so when the economy recovered we knew where we wanted to go and the investment could go in a direction that was consistent with what we asked it to do. I think that will be the way that we continue to go forward in the next few years.
Clayton Times: Are people more in involved in the city politics in Clayton than other cities or towns?
Owens: I wouldn’t say that they’re most involved just from a political standpoint, I would say they’re more involved in caring about their community. I say that Clayton is a small city, the people who live here are high expectation, high appreciation. We survey them every other year and we benchmark against national comparisons on surveys of other cities and that bares that out. They expect a lot from us and we deliver a lot to them and they really do appreciate that. They see this as their community and they invest in it.
Clayton Times: If a citizen wants to be more involved with city politics, what would you recommend that they do?
Owens: We have lots of avenues for participation. We do provide information out on our website, through our newsletter and through our social media. That is a regular way for people to just stay informed about what’s going on so they can chose issues to participate in that matter to them. [Aldermen] also regularly meet one-on-one with citizens, we have email communication with them on a regular basis. There’s lots of ways to get engaged.

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