From Michigan to Texas, John McCarter interviews Clay Pearson about his job transition from city manager of Novi, MI to Pearland, TX. When we last heard from Clay, he was coming off the ultimate high of winning the Knope of the Week. Now we hear from Clay about the decision to changing jobs and the local government landscape in Texas.
Background Check on Pearland, TX
The City of Pearland (pronounced “pear-land”, like the fruit), is a full-service municipal government located along the Gulf Coast region in the US state of Texas within the Houston–Sugar Land–Baytown metropolitan area and is in the counties of Brazoria, Fort Bend, and Harris. In 2007, Forbes Magazine ranked Pearland as the 34th fastest growing suburb in the nation. It is therefore the fastest growing suburb in the Greater Houston area, and the 10th fastest growing in the state of Texas.
The City provides high-quality public safety, parks and recreation, public works and infrastructure, and economic development services to businesses, visitors, and more than 100,000 residents. The City of Pearland operates under the council-manager form of government with professional administrators and staff working in tandem with elected officials and the community.
Notables from Pearland
- Marcus Camby, NBA player
- Joseph Gutheinz, retired NASA employee who investigated stolen and missing moon rocks
- The 1980s punk and new wave band The Judy’s
- Tom Rasberry, exterminator who first identified the Rasberry Crazy Ant in 2002.
Background Check on Clay
Clay Pearson (LinkedIn and Twitter) comes to Pearland from the City of Novi where he served as the City Manager since July 2006 after serving as Assistant City Manager since September 2000. Prior to that, Pearson served the City of Elgin, Illinois for more than a decade in various capacities, including Assistant City Manager.
Pearson brings with him more than 20 years of experience in municipal government. During his tenure at the City of Novi, he oversaw all City operations and worked closely with City Council to carry out their annual goals and policy directives. Some of the highlights include: initiating and developing international business relationships, leveraging partnerships with schools, road and surrounding agencies for joint facility use and garnering national attention when the City was named in the Top 100 Places to live by Money Magazine and Top Ten Places in the U.S. for families by Family Circle Magazine.
Q & A with Clay
What are three projects going on in Pearland right now that you are excited about?
I am excited, and anxious, about the installation of a new city-wide enterprise software system that will update, upgrade, and bring together our financial software. It is such a big undertaking but is one of those behind the scenes projects that external audiences will never see or appreciate.
Working with our staff team to recruit, orient, and best deploy additional sworn personnel in the police department. We will have upwards of 10-14 openings for police officers this year and finding the right people to join our quality team is a big priority. Related, we are committed to making sure the public safety staffing and resources we have are used to maximum public benefit. We are getting deeper into data-driven decision making and analysis.
Capturing some of the quality private investments in this big dynamic Houston metro into Pearland. We are really loving the region and getting to know it even better. It’s an underappreciated place, but I think that’s the way Houstonians like it – just doing the work and growing without a lot of fanfare.
You were in Novi for just under 14 years. Why did you decide it was time to move on?
The Pearland opportunity came to us and represented everything that would entice us for a fresh opportunity out of the Novi we loved — Pearland has a bigger platform with its scale and continued growth, part of a positive diverse metro area, and warm blue skies all winter. Pete Auger, Victor Cardenas, and the Novi staff team are going to make the place even better.
Name some of your proudest accomplishments during your time at the helm in Novi.
- The new Novi Public Library adjoining new Fuerst Park in the city’s residential core on the government campus;
- The successful creation of Public Safety administration incorporating police and fire thanks to Chief David Molloy and his team; and
- Coming out of the great recession stronger than before.
What is your favorite Houston brunch spot? Detroit?
Houston has an outstanding restaurant scene. We go to Sunday brunch in the city just about every weekend. Some early favorites are the Grove, Frank’s Americana Revival; and Harry’s Restaurant & Café.
(Editor’s Note: Geri Maria Harris of the Houston Press said that while Pearland was not known for its restaurants, “if you happen to live there, you know there are plenty of places to get a good bite.”)
Detroit for brunch was either Toasted Oak or Moe’s on Ten, both in Novi.
Not counting the weather, how is living and working in Texas different from Michigan?
Texas is a great environment for local government. There’s a big tradition of professionalism and an emphasis on getting things done for the community. To do that, there are diverse revenue streams and a lot of flexibility to our administration and community.
Living here, we find the cost of living makes housing not as onerous, but filled with lots of choices. There’s zero state income tax and a sound statewide municipal pension program. People are VERY friendly. When they honk at you when you are driving, it is because they are saying hello.
Everything is bigger in Texas… including Pearland. Describe your experience transitioning from a city of 57,000 to one of 108,000.
I had the opportunity to work in Elgin, Illinois prior to Novi, which was of similar scale. The size thing means that you have to consciously schedule time to get out and about visiting with employees to listen and learn – you will otherwise not get around as much as needed.
What are the chances the Royals win the World Series?
100%. I grew up listening to KSAL in central Kansas when #6 was Willie Wilson. So, watching Lorenzo Cain wear #6, seeing George Brett at the Stadium, is nostalgic and exciting.
What news sources can you not live without?
- The Economist
- New York Times
- Business Journal for local news
Being Budget Director for the City of Elgin got me into a city-wide view of the numbers and operations. Following that to be Director of Code Administration and Neighborhood Services there was a first management experience and an important job within the community.
What book is on your nightstand right now?
Heretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created our World by Thomas Cahill. Cahill’s books are lively histories, he’s got a series, `Hinges of History’, which brings together big themes from our collective past that influence our today and tomorrow.
Many of our members are in the job market. What jumps out at you on an applicant’s resume?
A Master degree, experience in budget and economic development, some project management experience, having a good cover letter that is relevant and specific to the job being sought.
As an experienced world traveler, what is your favorite destination?
Istanbul in spring, Stockholm in summer, Houston in the fall, and Sydney in the winter.