A few weeks before the Jonesboro City Center was set to open, City Manager Ricky Clark was dashing about as workers applied the finishing touches to the $12.1 million structure overlooking the Lee Street Park.
Looking more like an Esquire magazine model than a public servant, Clark shifted his attention from scanning a blueprint to directing a crew of hard hats installing something outside the center. As he darted up a flight of stairs for a photo shoot, he turned to an interviewer and said, “The city is trying to re-define our community. This is a new and improved Jonesboro.”
Moving the historic municipality of Jonesboro from its Gone With the Wind mentality into the digital age of the 21st century has been his goal since joining the city seven years ago as a city clerk. Moving steadily up from clerk to city manager has enlarged his responsibilities and signaled a dynamic shift in the way Jonesboro is seen by others.
Clark has radically changed the city’s image with a totally new branding scheme that emphasizes business opportunities and quality of life. He re-designed the city’s website and created marketing materials that reflect the community’s commitment to creating an atmosphere where companies can work and thrive.
“You can breathe in a sense of hope,” he said.
He keeps connected to the local business community by hosting a quarterly business breakfast that brings together Jonesboro business owners to discuss the future of the community and what services business require.
Within the city, he has revamped old codes, updated internal policies, and revised long-standing procedures to establish a more efficient operation. Perhaps Clark’s most visible work has come when he implemented numerous events that bring attention to Jonesboro.
The Broad Street Project changed a drab street that lurked behind the Main Street buildings that most think of as Jonesboro. Anchored by the Nouveau at Broad Street restaurant that occupies the old fire station, the area is dotted with outdoor green spaces and patios where music might be heard while sipping on an adult beverage. The Nouveau boasts that it serves everything from chicken and waffles to lobster tails.
“We wanted this area to embrace all facets of this community,” Clark said.
Last spring, Broad Street hosted a Sip & Paint event where people got to enjoy their favorite drink while painting their version of a masterpiece. A few days later, the area hosted Jazz Night at the Broad where local groups entertained the crowd under a soft April sky. Along with the music, the gathering stuffed themselves with seafood and grits, jerk chicken with mac and cheese, or Southern fried catfish served by Nouveau.
The latest transformation of Jonesboro is the new City Center, a bright and shining city on the hill, as it has been described. The 23,000 square foot center will include city hall, courthouse, police department, the permit and licensing department, and a community room, among its many functions.
Clark started his public service when he was just a teenager in Griffin serving as a booking clerk at the local jail. “I think I celebrated my 18th birthday there,” he said. He had been influenced by his mother, a Sargent in the police force and one of the first African-Americans to hold that position, and his brother, who joined the U.S. Army.
“They talked about their service. That is what I wanted to do but I never knew it would be a career,” he said.
He was then assigned to the Warrants Division of the Spalding County Sheriff’s Department, which was just then expanding their operation by using QuickBooks. The electronic budgeting software soon revealed that the Sheriff’s Department was not getting all the money it was due. Although he admits that he had no understanding of how government works, he worked with the county clerk to remedy the deficit. There he learned that the county clerk is “the tentacles of government,” reaching into every aspect of the administration.
He was recruited by Union City to become its city clerk. “No way was I qualified,” he said. “I remember asking, ‘What am I getting myself into?’”
During that time governments across the state were moving from paper to a digital platform for records, an occurrence that Clark said, “Transformed my life.” When he was hired by Jonesboro, he immediately was given a diversity of responsibilities to bring the city into the digital era. First as City Administrator and then City Manager, Clark coordinates and administrates policies set by the City Council. He prepares all agendas. He supervises all departments and is the keeper of all city records. He handles all city personnel including recruitment, benefits, and workers compensation. The City Manager prepares all agendas. He is the Superintendent of Elections for city elections and the Executive Director of Jonesboro Downtown Development Authority.
Asked his main responsibility, Clark said, “I need to ensure the continuing growth of the city and make sure the housing options diversify.”
One development exemplifies the housing diversity. Going up near the downtown section is a four-story senior living complex that includes one and two-bedroom apartments, a community room, a bistro, a fitness center, a garden, and wellness services.
Clark is not only a trend setter in executive government operations, but he also smashes the stereotypical look of a typical Georgia government employee. Taken to bright colors, pattered shirts, and pocket squares of various hues, Clark has loved clothes since he was young.
“My grandmother worked at J.C. Penney. She always brought me clothes,” he said. “But a suit doesn’t make you.”