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Grafton city manager working to improve both community, attitud

Kevin Stead is the 28-year old city manager of Grafton.

Born and raised in Grafton, the city council appointed him in 1999. Stead feels a calling to civic duty and is particularly interested in economic development and community revitalization.

He oversees more than 50 employees in various departments, from finance to public works.

He is a graduate of Fairmont State College and holds a master's degree in public administration. He likes Italian food, hiking, the television show "Survivor" and vacations at Walt Disney World in Florida.

This is his story, as told to staff writer Jennifer Biller.

I think I'm the youngest city manager in the state. That's fine by me. It gives Grafton a name I guess. If I'm doing a good job, then that's OK. I don't think 28 is too young.

I know a lot of people when I first got the job said, "he's too young, he's right out of school, he's wet behind the ears." I know that in the back of my mind. But, I tell myself not to let that bother me and try to prove them wrong. As long as I'm accomplishing what the people want, what council and the employees want, then I don't care what my age is.

The critics -- they're out there. I know that. But when they make those comments, it's almost like "just come down and spend the day with me and you'll find out."

A lot of people in Grafton and Taylor County think the town will never change, and it'll always be run-down.

I think there's potential. There's some obstacles and giant hurdles to overcome. I see this as a great opportunity for myself to gain some experience and to prove that things can be done.

The key issue is cleaning up the town. Our town, throughout the years, had very little planning. Now, the city has taken more of an active step in public works projects -- water and sewer, streets, sidewalks -- things that are actually seen by the public. They actually see where their tax dollars are going.

I think some of the residents of Grafton have really changed their thinking about what can happen. There seems to be more of positive attitude toward the city than what there was two or three years ago and most definitely what there was 10 years ago.

A lot of it is how well you market your community to your own residents. I think that was something that if it was done in the past, it wasn't done correctly. People's perception of their government is critical to the success of the government. Fortunately, me being a local person really helped that out. A lot of people know me and know my family. Most of them know I'm honest, and I'm giving it all I've got.

We've been fortunate to receive a number of grants last year toward improvements. We've removed a number of condemned homes, and we're getting ready to start late summer/early fall to remove about 25 more. Last year, of course it was an election year and I have to throw that in, but we received over a quarter million dollars in grants. That's a good bit of money for Grafton. I think we got our first community development grant since the early 1980s.

I think the days of having department stores and restaurants are over. What I can see happening is moving more toward a service-oriented downtown -- doctors, lawyers, dentists, some small restaurants and specialty shops like antiques, centered around tourism. I think it can work, if we can remove some of the large structures and make some off-street parking.

It's different every day. No day is similar. Some days I like to just go out and check on the work of the employees. The employees are the heart and soul of the government. Typically, I don't have any problems in that area. The employees all respect me, and I respect them.

Fortunately, I haven't had very many conflicts with the public or the city council. There have been some disagreements between myself and a couple of the council members. They seem to respect my viewpoint and I respect theirs. If they disagree with me, I'm not vindictive. I don't hold anything against them. The council and department heads put their faith in me to do the job. They come in and check on me from time to time, and I like that. It's kind of a checks-and-balances system.

The job's almost like a game, pretty much. You have to learn to balance the needs of the community, the employees and council and intermesh that with my goals and objectives. It's a balance. It's not hard. I enjoy the challenge.

My father passed away when I was 18 -- a senior in high school. My father would probably look at me now and say, "what are you doing being the city manager of Grafton?" But with that statement, you have to realize that when he was living back in the mid-'80s, there was a lot of turmoil in Grafton. The city council was in the news almost every night. There was a lot of problems, a lot of distrust, with city government.

One of the last things my father told me was, I could accomplish anything I wanted in life, if I was willing to work for it. I think my father would be proud of me. I think he'd be a little surprised that I was in this job.

My mother is proud of me. She was telling me the other day she still has a difficult time thinking that I'm managing over the city. Sometimes, she thinks something I'll do or say will get me in trouble. I say no -- that's my responsibility. That's my job. I attribute a lot of where I'm at to her. She helped me get through college, after my father passed away.

Life is pretty good right now. I'm getting married in August to a wonderful girl. There's still some things I want to accomplish. I've had some tempting offers to leave. I know it will probably happen to me one day. The time will come. I just wanted to prove to myself and others that I could do some things here.

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