OREM -- Jamie Davidson is no stranger to difficult situations.

The incoming Orem city manager, who will take the reins at a time when the city is years into a fiscal crisis and at loggerheads on how to dig its way out, was the city administrator and LDS bishop in Lehi on Jan. 6, 2008. Before sacrament meeting that day one of his ward members, Kristy K. Ragsdale, sought counsel from him. He was sitting on the stand 10 minutes later, presiding over sacrament meeting, when she was murdered in the parking lot by her estranged husband, David Ragsdale.

Bishop Davidson got the news and ran outside to find himself confronted with the mortally wounded woman. He went back into the church, approached the microphone and told his ward that they would need to stay put, that Kristy Ragsdale had been shot and that the parking lot was now a crime scene. Then city administrator Davidson went back outside to help with media inquiries and aiding the police.

"That experience has shaped my life. It was a growing experience. I was caught in the middle. I needed to find a sense of peace with all of this," Davidson said.

That experience propelled him to a position of assistant city manager in Orem two years ago. On Tuesday, the Orem City Council unanimously approved Davidson to replace city manager Bruce Chesnut, who will retire June 28. Davidson has found the peace he was looking for in serving Orem.

"I've always had a professional desire to work for the city of Orem. Two years ago the opportunity came. That doesn't come very often, and I jumped on it," Davidson said.

Mayor Jim Evans is grateful that desire remains strong. Davidson continues to be recruited by other cities and Evans knows that when other cities are seeking what you have, you hold on to it.

"Jamie has great respect from his peers around the state. They don't want him just because he's a good guy," Evans said. "He brings a wealth of experience. Jamie is one of the reasons why we have our new guiding principles for the council to help govern the city now and into the future."

Evans adds, "We have a lot of tough issues and Jamie's been in the thick of it to try and help us out of it."

Before Orem, Davidson was the Lehi city administrator. However, his credentials in civic leadership go beyond Lehi. Davidson has served as the assistant chief administrative officer in Sandy city, director of human resources in Sandy and other leadership positions in that city. He also has an MPA from BYU.

Credentials, however, won't solve Orem's problems.

"There's definite concern on going forward, on how we progress," Davidson said. "This period has been a challenge for us. We've had to take an exhaustive look at our organization. We've economized." He adds that in some areas there just isn't more economizing available.

Orem's concerns

So what does Davidson see are the biggest issues for Orem? He has a two-tier focus -- keeping citizens taken care of and keeping the city financially solvent. The difficulty is that in some of the issues facing Orem, those two things appear to be at odds with each other.

"I am concerned about the ability to serve customers at the city center and make programs and buildings accessible. We want to service our customers better," he said.

Financial concerns remain high, however, and for the short term the city may need to cut hours at the city building and library and some programs.

Public safety is a great concern to Davidson. "We need to maintain and provide tools for police and fire to do their jobs and what they need is expensive. These investments save lives."

Davidson added, "These are the kinds of things that will affect us."

An aging infrastructure is of great concern to Davidson, "not because it's old, but because it needs to be maintained. I am concerned we have the means for regular routine maintenance every three to five years. We can extend the life of things if we can take simple maintenance measures."

And then there is UTOPIA, the beleaguered fiber optic network of which the city is a member. UTOPIA is not at fault for the city's financial situation, he said.

"Our responsibility to UTOPIA is only a part of our general fund. In fact, it is only $2.8 million of the $46 million budget. It's not an all-consuming number," he said. "Unfortunately people are using UTOPIA to define the problem we're having here. UTOPIA is a concern, but there are other structural problems."

He also is dealing with an environment that is changing all the time, while the city struggles to keep up. The recession, online shopping, even cars that last longer have driven sales tax revenue down, while the city has not increased property taxes since the 1970s.

"We have to have a sustainable revenue model and understand that some of the city operations really do require a lot of resources," Davidson said. He noted that in times of plenty the city set aside resources to pay, but the recession has been much longer than anticipated and the city has reached a point where it no longer has the reserves.

"The recession was longer and at the same time nothing is getting cheaper. The cost of doing business is increasing," Davidson said.

Davidson noted there has been talk about how much city employees get in retirement and insurance benefits. "We've been criticized for our retirement programs. We are required to use the state-mandated program for retirement. We are given the rates by the state as required by the Legislature," he said. If residents have issues with the amounts they should take it up with their legislative representative and the Utah State Retirement System.

Looking ahead

Davidson still lives in Lehi, giving him a disconnect between his professional life and his personal life. No longer is he discussing city issues in church interviews. It also gives him an outsider's perspective on issues.

"I enjoy life and I love what I do professionally. I have made great efforts to involve myself in the community," Davidson said. "I have young children and I have made a decision to maintain a home base in Lehi."

That said, he's gearing up to tackle Orem's problems.

"Orem is experiencing a season of change," Davidson said. "Our potential and future is bright. I don't see our future without hope. I want citizen engagement. Not just a particular group but 92,000 people."

The council, which voted unanimously in a time when they are not in agreement on much of anything, is hoping they have the right guy.

"I like him, we get along," Councilman Hans Andersen said. "He'll bring some new blood and new thoughts." Andersen added that Davidson respects people and respects the employees.

"Jamie brings an incredible amount of insight into this position," Councilwoman Mary Street said. "He brings practical application experience to Orem city. He knows how to foster a growth economy while still maintaining a higher quality of life."

genelle-pugmire
-- Genelle Pugmire covers Provo City, Provo School District, Orem City, UDOT’s I-15 CORE Project. She also tackles variety of other topics including business features.
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