The position of city manager is nothing new to Larry Stevens, who has been the top administrator in three Midwest cities since he began his career 27 years ago. Now, Stevens, who is one of five finalists for the Columbia city manager position, says he is ready to return to his home state of Missouri.
Stevens has also held the position in Pittsburg, Kan., and in Brookfield, Mo. He is in his third year as city manager in Edmond, Okla. In seeking to replace the retiring Ray Beck, Stevens said he wants to make a long-term commitment to Columbia.
A native of Blue Springs, Stevens attended Central Missouri State University, earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and political science and a master’s degree in public service administration. After finishing his education, Stevens began his career in public administration, which he says has given him a thorough background in city government.
“Based on my qualifications of education and experience in different governmental settings, my experience would be of some value to the people of Columbia,” Stevens said.
On top of his city government expertise, Stevens said he has a good working relationship with his staff. He said his employees would describe him as straightforward and having a good sense of humor.
“I would think they’d say what you see is what you get,” he said.
Stevens begins each workday with an early-morning workout. “I’m kind of a fitness guy,” he said. “It helps with the stress of the job.”
Stevens’ current job in Edmond offers similar challenges to those he would face here. Edmond, with a population of 73,000, is not much smaller than Columbia, although, according to Stevens, the Oklahoma city is growing even more rapidly than Columbia. Edmond’s annual city budget is $248 million; Columbia’s is $280 million.
“To me, working with the budget, even though amounts are different, is similar between communities because you still have to go through the same process of how to manage it,” Stevens said.
Stevens emphasized communication as one of the most important factors in the council-manager form of government. Stevens, who has a casual, conversational demeanor, discussed his views on communication between the city manager, council and other commissions during a Friday community forum with the other four finalists.
“I think, in terms of communication, it is the key to everything we do in city government,” he said. “It’s extremely important for the staff to have access to me.”
Despite his emphasis on communication, Stevens gave very general answers to questions during the Friday forum. He often focused more on what he has done in Edmond than on what he would bring to Columbia.
For instance, when he was asked about developing policies to boost citizen involvement, he replied, “I think that one of the first things you initially need to do is go out and figure out why those people feel detached. I think you need to find out what is the source of discomfort.”
Stevens said he meets regularly with officials from the county, the local school district, the University of Central Oklahoma, as well as the Edmond city staff, to keep in personal contact with all areas of government. Stevens said he likes to establish informal relationships with city employees by visiting work sites and hosting “city manager coffees.” He said he would strive to do the same in Columbia.
“I think you need to consciously make it a part of your schedule,” Stevens said. “I would try to meet with as many employees as soon as possible and get them to know me more than someone at city hall.”
Edmond City Councilwoman Paula Sanford said that Stevens has good communication skills.
However, she said she voted against giving him a pay raise and, in the last two years, was among the minority of council members who voted not to retain him.
Sanford, who has been on the Edmond City Council for two years, declined to talk about Stevens’ job performance, citing her own limited experience on the council.
Stevens has made more positive impressions on others. Edmond Parks and Recreation Director Jim Bowlin praised his leadership.
“I’ve only been here for a year and a half, but during my time here he has been very proactive,” Bowlin said. “He has paid a lot of attention to quality-of-life issues, which is important to me.”
Bowlin also has enjoyed working under Stevens.
“A rule of thumb that I use for people I work for, and for those who work for me, is that I ask if I would work for them again,” Bowlin said. “I wouldn’t hesitate a bit to work with Larry again, and I can’t say that of every city manager I’ve worked under.”