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Baker reflects on 5 months as York County manager

York County manager Jim Baker
York County manager Jim Baker

York County Manager Jim Baker took the reins of a divided County Council in July after decades working in St. Louis County, Mo., as a county administrator and prosecutor.

Since then, council meetings have been much shorter and council discussions less vibrant. Baker isn't sure if his presence changed the course or if the council is taming on its own.

More than five months into being county manager, Baker talks about challenges, successes and goals for the county in the future. Responses have been edited for length.

Q: What's been most challenging as you transition into the job?

A: "It's just getting used to everything. Every organization has its own culture and ways to do things. Not getting caught up on differences has been challenging. It's OK that there's differences."

Q: What are some of the differences between York County and St. Louis County?

A:"One big difference is magnitude. The entire staff here is more 'jacks of all trades.' I came from a staff of 4,000 to about 800 people. A lot of people here are wearing a lot of hats; there's less specialization."

Q: What's it like coming into a council known for controversy and division?

A: "The funny thing is that I haven't experienced this much. I've gotten along well with councilmen individually. They have different points of view, so I can see how they would be divided. I knew the reputation of the council coming in. If it doesn't impact day-to-day operations, I wasn't expecting that to be a problem. And it hasn't been."

Q: Have you had an impact on the calmer meetings?

A: "I don't know if my presence has made a difference. That's hard to tell from my perspective. When you walk into a new job, no one commands respect. You have to earn it.

"I think in four, five months, I have generated respect from council and staff. If I helped, that's great. But nothing was consciously done to downplay controversy on the council or to make them get along better."

Q: How about York County Council meetings not lasting until the cows come home or much past 9 p.m.?

A:"I have taken a role in that. Material we are presenting to council is now in a form ready to act on. If we present an ordinance, I want it final-draft ready when they see it. If we just throw ideas out and ask them to make suggestions, meetings last a long time."

Q: What surprises you about the county?

A: "It's surprising there aren't more people with Southern accents and are native to South Carolina. A concern coming here was being accepted in the community. I thought I'd stick out as a Yankee. Here I find out the lack of accent isn't an issue at all."

Q: What about the county do you see bringing companies like Freightliner here?

A: "Freightliner is far from the last large company to come here. You need enough people in an area to draw an employee base from, and we are big enough. That's why we're seeing commercial development.

"As we become more attractive as a place to locate a business, you'll see more shops and restaurants, and if we do a good job managing it, you'll see fewer people commuting and more working here."

Q: Where in the county do you see need for improvement?

A: "Biggest thing overall, as the county grows, government has to grow in the same way. We have to become more professional, more proactive in the changes occurring to provide more services for people."

Q: What goals do you have for the upcoming year?

A: "Truthfully, I haven't thought of it in those terms. When I took over the same job in St. Louis County, I was 35 and wanted to accomplish 60 things in the first six months and probably accomplished two.

"At 53, I think the best contribution I can make is to ensure the staff can do their best job on their own. My focus is on strengthening staff instead of focusing on one particular issue. My role is doing my job well and teaching them -- instead of telling them what to do."

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