By Brian Bearden, TSB Contributor
City councilman Don Day expects strong customer service and gets right to the point when discussing the job Jason Gray has performed in his first year as city manager in McKinney.
Day, owner of a real estate investing and holding company with investments in Rick’s Chophouse, Sauce on the Square, the Grand Hotel and Uptown in downtown McKinney, said, “Jason is something McKinney has not had for years, a trained City Manager who has comprehensive knowledge of city dynamics. This includes the business of the city such as balanced budgets and personnel management but it also includes the interrelations of residential needs, commercial growth, schools, entertainment and all the other aspects of a city that make it a cool happening place or a dreary place.”
Jason Gray, formerly city manager of Celina, Texas, took the job in McKinney on March 2011. Before Celina, Gray served as a Presidential Fellow while earning his Master of Public Service Administration degree at Texas A&M’s George Bush School of Government and Public Service. One of the cornerstones of the Bush School is the 41st president’s belief that public service is a “noble calling, and that a successful life, by definition, includes service to others.”
Gray said, “I remember seeing that, and that saying stayed with me. Public service is a noble calling, and should be treated as such.”
Gray took what he learned from the Bush School, and gained practical training as he rose through the ranks with the City of Frisco, where he worked for one of the area’s most respected city managers.
Frisco City Manager George Purefoy said, “Jason was hired on the basis of a telephone interview while he was still in graduate school at Texas A&M. That is how impressed we were with Jason. He actually started working for us while still attending class. He literally would drive up to Frisco for a few days a week and then go back to Texas A&M for his classes.
“Jason is a great manager, but more important is the fact that he is even a better person,” Purefoy said. “He has a great combination of integrity, intelligence, initiative, deal making ability, people skills, and faith. When given a project to do in Frisco, I knew it would get done and be done well with Jason.”
Frisco Mayor Maher Maso said, “Having lived in Frisco since 1992 and being elected to the City Council in 2000, then as Mayor in 2008, I have had the pleasure of being around Jason as he filled several roles during my tenure. First and foremost, in whatever role he was in, Jason was always deliberate and prepared. His approach was one of listen first, then understand, than gather the data that was needed.
“He was a young man, at first, who wanted to learn everything,” Maso said. “I then watched him mature into a well-balanced administrator who had experience under his belt. Jason had some foundational qualities that made it easy for leaders around him to see that he had potential. Those qualities included a strong desire to learn, a work ethic that was second to none and the integrity and honesty to be trusted by the organization.”
RIGHT FIT FOR MCKINNEY
Don Day, a North Texas graduate with a physics degree who now represents District 1 in McKinney and employs more than 100 in downtown McKinney through his properties, said: “Jason has already made large strides in helping to put McKinney on the path to become a sustainable City, and he has been here for only one year, therefore, I expect that the best is yet to come.”
Frisco’s Mayor Maso agreed McKinney should expect to be well-managed by Gray.
Maso said, “Jason started in a support role for the City Manager and quickly earned his way, under George Purefoy’s mentorship, to be a very capable Assistant City Manager. As one of the fastest growing cities in the country, Jason had to handle more than one job function in his role as an assistant city manager. Many times, he had to juggle multiple projects.”
Maso said, “Simply put, McKinney can expect to have a City Manager that is always ethical, will treat the community with the care he would treat his own child with and come up with creative solutions to help McKinney grow into a well-balanced community. McKinney is fortunate to have Jason as the City Manager, and the entire region will benefit with his cooperative approach.”
Gray’s progress in McKinney comes as no surprise to people who worked with him in Celina.
Celina Chamber CEO and former Plano Mayor Jeran Akers said, “Jason’s creativity in getting things done impressed me, particularly the very unique public – private partnership he organized in redeveloping the Celina Downtown Square.” Akers, a candidate for State Representative for a seat covering Richardson, Allen and Plano, said he expects more top-tier results from Gray for McKinney.
Collin County Commissioner Matt Shaheen said, “I was excited to see the City of McKinney select Jason as it’s City Manager a year ago. I’ve had the opportunity to work with Jason on several significant projects, and he will play an important role in McKinney’s amazing future.”
After a year in McKinney, Gray is moving closer to the office and has had his home on the market. He said it looks like they have a buyer, and there is now a contract on their house in Celina.
CHANGES AT CITY HALL
Geralyn Kever, the former McKinney ISD school trustee and school board president who now represents District 2 on the McKinney city council, said, “Having the right people in the right places is core to running an efficient, customer-centric city. One of Jason’s strengths is setting high expectations and releasing people to do the job they were hired to do. Organizationally, he has had significant impact over the last 12 months.”
McKinney Mayor Brian Loughmiller said, “With many staff changes in the first year of Jason’s tenure, much of his time has been spent evaluating processes for continued and future success.”
McKinney At-Large councilman Roger D. Harris said Gray has the talents to improve McKinney in many ways. Harris, the CEO of Metro Linen Services, who has served on the boards of the airport, chamber and McKinney Economic Development Corporation, said, “Jason began his career with the city of McKinney just before I was elected to the City Council. My interest in running for the City Council was to further the improvements in city leadership the council was accomplishing, specifically in the financial areas (due to the economic situation) and improve the environment for tax-base creation.”
McKinney At-Large councilman, Independent Bank CEO and former Chief Financial Officer at Baylor University David Brooks said, “Jason is a great listener who has brought with him a common sense approach to getting things done and solving problems. And he is building a team around him that does the same. He is the strong CEO that the city has needed.”
Harris, the businessman, praised Gray’s budgeting skills and management style.
“Mr. Gray, during his first year, has shown a fresh new style in creating a culture of results oriented, customer service friendly, management staff, ” Harris said. “While assembling his staff, he quickly implemented fiscal controls. He has forwarded a new balanced budget for the first time in four years, increased financial reserves, and refinanced debt to take advantage of lower interest rates creating substantial savings to the city.
“He is building an approach to economic development utilizing all resources available to him to bring development and tax base to McKinney,” Harris said. “As a Council Member, I am very pleased with his progress and appreciate his integrity and approach to management.”
Harris said, “My colleagues on the council deserve much credit for finding and hiring Mr. Gray. He is an incredible asset to the leadership team of the City of McKinney.”
“I understand we were in a Recession with the economy, but we were budgeted to have a $4- million to $5-million loss in the general fund,” Jason Gray said of the city budget he inherited. “I felt that it was imperative to get with a truly balanced budget and not depend on reserves. It was not without pain, and we made some cuts. It puts us in a far better position going forward.”
Gray said getting the city back on budget, finding solutions for McKinney’s Gateway project and keeping Emerson Process Management from moving away stand as first-year accomplishments. Emerson will keep more than 100 jobs in the city, and the company with more than 50 years in McKinney will become a corporate anchor for Gateway with a new three-story corporate headquarters. Emerson, which breaks ground this summer, made more than $175,000 in donations to local charities and institutions last year.
Kever, an A&M graduate with an electricial engineering degree and a corporate communications consultant, expects Gray to spark more involvement as the city grows. She said, “Over the next several years, I expect the city manager to work proactively with our citizens, the business community and developers, provide well thought out solutions to our challenges, and execute the policy directives of council.”
Mayor Brian Loughmiller said the foundation and staff changes put in during Gray’s first year on the job will lead McKinney forward in key areas such as the Gateway project.
“On a more tangible front, he has led the negotiations for resolution of our hotel conference center project that hopefully will begin construction this year,” Mayor Loughmiller said. “Jason also finalized agreements with Emerson for the construction of their new corporate facility on Gateway and helped the Council bring forward the Corporate Center designation for 185 acres in Craig Ranch here in McKinney.”
Loughmiller said, “Jason is currently negotiating the city’s position in corporate development in the corporate center as well as several other projects that are currently in the pipeline at the McKinney Economic Development Corporation. Jason has shown that he is experienced in evaluating the cost – benefit of an economic development project for the city and the MEDC.”
Gray said, “I really enjoy working in McKinney. I love being in public service. This is a good community to work in, and it is a lot of fun. This is all that I can ask for.”