During the past two years at moreClaremore, I’ve been to several events where city manager Jim Thomas was also in attendance, but I wasn’t fortunate enough to merit an introduction until recently. And thanks to my task of interviewing all of Claremore’s city department heads, I got the pleasure of a sit-down with Mr. Thomas after that.
Jim, the eldest of nine siblings, spent his childhood as an Air Force brat, graduating from high school in west Germany. (Speaking of the Germany division, Jim actually saw the Berlin Wall in 1973.) After graduating from Weber State, he married his wife, Kathy, and they settled in Roy, Utah, with their two sons. (The clan expanded by two more, and all four Thomas kids are now grown and spread out across the US of A.) A short time later, the Thomas’ received word that a mobile home park would be built essentially in their backyard. A group of neighbors banded together and appeared before city council, and listed all of the reasons that they didn’t wish to have the park built. Their plea was ignored, and that’s when Jim Thomas decided to run for city council. At the watch party on election night, a local reporter approached Jim and asked how he felt. Jim said, “History’s going to be made tonight. We’re going to elect someone who isn’t a grandfather.”
Jim was right, and that quote was the headline in the newspaper the next day. Jim Thomas was elected for the first time at 25 years old.
He spent seven years serving on the city council, and earned his master’s degree in public administration in the meantime. His interest in city management was born, and he’s spent more than 25 years serving in that capacity.
As a city manager, Jim has lived in Illinois, Wisconsin, Colorado, Maine, and Rhode Island. During his career, he’s worked with more than 50 elected officials, mayors, and other city personalities. He said that each state is different in its own way. I got the feeling that he really enjoyed New England, with a beauty and character all its own. After working in an area of primarily blue states, Jim has now landed in Oklahoma, which is quite different.
Three years ago, Jim decided it was time for a change. He began hunting for a community in need of a city manager, and Claremore was on the list. Jim and Kathy had never even been to Oklahoma, but that was about to change. They weren’t sure what to expect, and were pleasantly surprised when they flew in to Tulsa International Airport.
In case you don’t know (and I did not), when a city is looking to hire a city manager, she looks for certain skill sets and personalities. The person is officially hired by the city council, along with the mayor, and it is a contract position, which is generally renewed annually. Jim and Kathy arrived in Claremore for a visit, and after whirlwind tours and meetings and interviews, Jim was hired.
The wish list of a city manager, according to Jim, is to feel welcomed, add value to the community, get along with the city council, and have a great staff. Jim got all of that and more. He’s very satisfied with the quality of Claremore’s department heads, and has a terrific team in place. He’s proud of the fact that his staff knows they can speak freely during their meetings, and, as he put it, “tell the emperor when he’s not wearing clothes.”
The responsibilities of a city manager include overseeing the budget, managing all day-to-day operations, and knowing a bit about each department and how it operates, from public works and CIEDA to finance and public safety. Jim prides himself on giving all of his departments the tools needed to operate successfully and efficiently.
In the past three years, Jim has seen some great changes in Claremore. A recent coup was the merging of the Claremore Expo Center and the Convention & Visitors Bureau, which is now under the reign of Tanya Andrews. It’s just one of the ways that Claremore continues to reinvent herself.
Construction has begun on the water treatment plant, which will update the facility and provide drinking water until the year 2040. The upgrade will double the capacity of water from 4 million gallons per day to 8 million. The two-year project is slated for completion in 2017.
When Jim arrived, there was no city planner and no CIEDA director. Jim approached Jeri Koehler and asked for input on some other items before offering her the CIEDA position, which she has now held for more than a year. As far as a city planner, Jim tracked down Claremore native Jill Ferenc and asked for her resume. Jill is now improving things in our city planning department, and CIEDA is working harder than ever to bring new retail and restaurants to town.
The main goal on Jim’s agenda is to improve Claremore’s transportation and infrastructure. A plan needs to be written that will allow citizens to get in and around town safely and quickly. Oh, and something about trains, maybe. Claremore 2020 has been developed and will hopefully tackle all of these issues.
As a newcomer, Jim’s take was this: “Claremore has been asleep. It’s time we tapped her on the shoulder to wake her up. Not being native, I can say that I care about Claremore. I care about the kids who go to school here, and the residents who live here. I worry when people get stopped by trains. I worry about the city’s finances, and whether we’re generating enough sales tax revenue. I wonder if the utilities are competitive enough.
“A lot of people think that the city manager is just a hired gun with no soul. But the people here have allowed me to become part of the fabric, so I thank them for that.
“I go to bed at night thinking about Claremore, and what I can do to make it better, because I truly care. If a city manager doesn’t care about the community, he’s in the wrong place. I’m in the right place.”
And you know what? I completely and fully believed Mr. Thomas as he spoke those words. It may be a few years too late, but welcome to Claremore, Jim. We’re glad you’re here.
Jim Thomas can be reached at City Hall, 104 S. Muskogee, Monday – Friday from 8a – 5p. His direct line is 918-341-2365, or he can be contacted via email at email@example.com.
Keep it local, Claremore!
-MCM Staffer Ashley,
who has thoroughly enjoyed meeting
all of Claremore’s department heads