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Charleston's city manager ready for job

Sunday, March 4, 2007

CHARLESTON -- The budget and hiring a new police chief will be the first tasks to address for Charleston's new city manager.

Daniel M. Gruen, 44, was named city manager Feb. 20. Originally slated to begin his duties Feb. 27, Gruen was delayed by housing issues and will step into office Monday.

Gruen said he saw the position advertised in the Missouri Municipal League's magazine. In applying for positions, Gruen said he considers which communities he'd like to work in and which ones he would be a good fit for.

While he was also offered a job in an Iowa community, Gruen decided he didn't want to move that far north. When Charleston Mayor Jack Whiteside offered an interview, Gruen was happy to accept.

City Council members also liked what Gruen has to offer.

"I believe their interest in me was my dual background with municipal experience and economic development experience," he said. "I think they like that combination."

For economic development, Gruen said he will work on "expanding the city's tax base, and that requires new businesses, new homes, the growth of the community."

He noted Charleston's direct access to Interstate 57 gives the city an advantage over other cities. "It's very hard to grow a community that does not sit on at least a four-lane highway," he said.

In managing the city, Gruen has two initial areas of concern.

As Charleston's fiscal year begins May 1, Gruen is working on a short deadline to come up with an operating budget. "We may do an amended budget as I get more familiar with it," he said.

The City Council have also advised Gruen they want him to be involved in the process of finding a new chief of police.

"I understand they haven't had a police chief since last August," he said. Capt. Bobby Hearnes is currently the acting chief of police.

Hiring employees and department heads is a job city managers are usually tasked with, and Gruen said he intends to "make sure we can get the best individual for the community."

As for long-term goals, Gruen said he will rely on the mayor and City Council for direction and assistance from city staff. "They know the community very well," he said.

Gruen is a native of the Carondelet neighborhood in St. Louis and a graduate of Cleveland High School. "I grew up in the city," he said.

He received a bachelor's degree from Saint Louis University in 1986 and master's degree in urban affairs from the school three years later.

Gruen began his professional career as director for the Chamber of Commerce and industrial development specialist for West Plains.

After about a year there, he became the director of Economic Development for Jefferson City, a position he left in 1991 to replace Albert "Red" Villa on the St. Louis City Board of Alderman.

"It was an older historic neighborhood with a big commercial district," Gruen said of the ward.

Villa, who retired from the position after 32 years due to health issues, asked Gruen to come and run for the unexpired two years remaining in Villa's term.

After being elected for the unexpired term, Gruen was re-elected and served a full four-year term.

Alderman positions in St. Louis are paid full-time positions.

"It's a little different, the politics in St. Louis," Gruen said, noting St. Louis' board manages 4,000 employees and has a budget exceeding $1 billion.

He believes the experience as a St. Louis alderman, which involved looking at ways to attract and preserve jobs in his ward, combined with his three years of experience as the city administrator for Bowling Green will serve him well as Charleston's city manager.

"Bowling Green and Charleston a very similar communities," Gruen said. "They both have a correctional center, they are both farming communities, they are about the same size -- Charleston has about 1,500 more people."

While the cultures may differ with Bowling Green being a northern community and Charleston having a southern flavor, "people are the same," Gruen said. "I functioned well in Bowling Green so I think I will function well in Charleston."