Clint Gridley was in his new job for two weeks when the wish lists arrived.

It was budget-setting time in 2004 and there were "all kinds of budget requests," said Gridley, Woodbury city administrator.

A big line item came from public safety leaders who, lobbying that it was important to bolster their ranks, wanted to add three firefighters and a trio of cops.

That was not in the budget, Gridley said, but it triggered a wide-ranging review of the city's public safety services and changed emergency operations.

"He sort of sensed that that was just the tip of the iceberg, that personnel request," recalled Todd Johnson, deputy public safety director, who was involved in the review. "He wanted to really sit down and figure out what our long-term needs are and how to best serve the community."

The results included organizational changes within the department, cost savings and improved emergency response times.

"This was kind of a big switch," Johnson said.

It also was the first step in Gridley's effort to lead city government through an ongoing period of what he describes as "deep introspection." Employees have spent the past few years reviewing city operations to make them more efficient.

Gridley, who marks five years this summer as Woodbury's top manager, cites his start of those organization studies and a desire to give workers more influence in decision making among his chief accomplishments.

An organization study may not wow taxpayers, but Gridley said the work has saved them money and improved city services. Employees have eliminated redundancies, identified core services and cut unnecessary costs.

"While citizens may not always get to see the detailed work of employees, I am very encouraged by what I see and by the increased ownership of our employees in all of what we do and how we deliver services to our customers in the best fashion possible," Gridley said.

No surprises

The Woodbury City Council has reviewed Gridley's performance annually. There is general satisfaction with his work, Mayor Bill Hargis said.

When then-administrator Barry Johnson retired in 2004, Hargis said, the city council wanted to make sure his successor was a good fiscal manager.

"I think we haven't been surprised since we had him, and that's always good," Hargis said, noting that Gridley "inherited a pretty stable situation."

But the financial instability that hit Woodbury because of the economic downturn has been Gridley's biggest challenge. He has written city budget proposals that took into account unusual economic scenarios for Woodbury: residential construction fizzled, property values dropped and developers got skittish.

In addition, Gridley said, cities including Woodbury have had a tumultuous relationship with state government. In response to their own budget problems, state policymakers altered tax laws affecting local governments and reduced financial aid to cities.

"The extent of the problem that he's facing - that the city is facing - is certainly, in the time that I've been involved, unprecedented," said Barry Johnson, administrator from 1987 to 2004, adding that Gridley and city leaders have done well navigating the turbulent economic waters. "(They) definitely need to be complemented for their continuing emphasis on improving the services of the city and seeing that citizens get the best value from their tax dollars."

More on this story is available in the Wednesday, Aug. 19 print edition of the Woodbury Bulletin.