Craig Freeman reflects on his first few months as city manager
Craig Freeman took office as city manager on in January, succeeding Jim Couch as the City government’s chief administrative officer. In this role, Freeman manages day-to-day operations, a staff of 4,803 employees and a budget of $1.57 billion. Prior to becoming city manager, Freeman served as the city finance director and has been with the City of Oklahoma City since 1992. After more than two months in his new role, Freeman sat down with VeloCity to reflect on what he’s learned on the job and how his past experience has impacted his approach to city government.
VeloCity: You’ve been on the job for a little more than two months. What has been the biggest surprise so far?
Freeman: The pace and the schedule of this job, although maybe “adjustment” is a better word than “surprise” because I expected this to a certain extent, watching Jim manage his schedule. It’s also been interesting to see how much more I still can learn about our operations, even after 26 years with the City. I knew it would be fast-paced, and I knew I had a lot to learn, but it’s always refreshing to begin a new challenge.
With a background in budget analysis and finance, how does that shape your approach to the role of City Manager?
We have a long history of strong financial performance that started long before I took a leadership position. But obviously because of my background, the cost to provide a service and how to fund it is always on the top of my mind. It’s not that I see money as the only priority, but my perspective is to always be mindful of the resources it takes to make something happen. It’s using that mindset from the start that allows us to not only provide those services, but sustain them.
"My perspective is to always be mindful of the resources it takes to make something happen."
Oklahoma City has a lot of new leadership at the helm – a new city manager, new faces at City Council, etc. What impact do you think those new perspectives have on the City as a whole?
We’re going to find out together, because the culture of cooperation that has been built here over the last few decades makes it possible for these new perspectives to make an impact. It all starts with the tone set by the Mayor and City Council. Council members work together, and they set a standard for the rest of us to follow. With that mentality, when fresh perspectives come to the table, we put those strengths to work.
"The culture of cooperation that has been built here over the last few decades makes it possible for these new perspectives to make an impact."
What do you think sets Oklahoma City apart from other places in the United States?
The vision and support that we have from residents, businesses, nonprofits, our elected officials and City staff. We’re always pulling on the same rope to move the City forward. That’s not as common as it should be, and we’re blessed to be where we are in Oklahoma City. We’ve got broad support for what we do, and it’s because of the cohesiveness in our community. We don’t always agree on everything, but we agree we have to work together to move the City forward.
"We’re always pulling on the same rope to move the City forward."
What is one thing you wish more people knew about the City of Oklahoma City?
Looking at the City as an organization, I wish more people understood what a great group of dedicated employees we have at the City. They are dedicated to excellence in the services we provide to our residents. We know that we have areas where we need to do better and our team is committed to continuing to improve in the services we provide.
I wish more people knew about the quality of life in Oklahoma City. The advances that have been made in the quality of life due to the investment of our residents and the favorable environment for employers, and the low cost of living. Oklahoma City is a great place to live and the momentum continues to grow. We’ve got a bright future, and it’s easy to see because the present is pretty good, too.
What was the biggest lesson you learned so far during your career in City government?
You can’t overstate how valuable it is to have the integrity, professionalism, and commitment to excellent service we have on staff here at the City. People love working here, and with each other, for our residents. It translates to the services we provide. It also means we’re serious about improving where we can.