James Crider, Chief of Staff, Outlines Vision and Purpose for City Leadership

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January/February 2024

This month, Carmel Monthly is proud to feature the first-ever City of Carmel Chief of Staff James Crider on our cover.

On January 1, Mayor Sue Finkam appointed James “Jim” Crider, formerly the Director of Administration for the City of Carmel since 2017, to a pivotal leadership position as the Chief of Staff. Praised by Finkam for his exceptional qualifications, Crider is recognized as a servant leader with a keen understanding of the city’s vision and priorities. Finkam emphasizes Crider’s capability to lead from day one, citing his commitment to world-class public safety, enhanced transparency, and the efficient delivery of government services to maintain Carmel’s status as a premier place to live, work, raise a family and retire.

James Crider Carmel CoS

An Honorable Resume

After retiring from a distinguished 29-year military career as a colonel in the U.S. Army, Crider joined the city’s administration. Crider’s last command position was as a brigade commander for the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, GA, where he was responsible for 3,500 soldiers.

Armed with a master’s degree in human resource management from Troy University and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Kentucky, Crider completed the Center for Creative Leadership program in Greensboro, NC.

Reflecting on his tenure, Crider expresses gratitude for the opportunity to contribute during a phase of unique and innovative initiatives for Carmel. He acknowledges the ongoing work and significant opportunities that lie ahead. Humbled by the invitation to assume a larger leadership role, he is committed to executing Finkam’s vision, building on past successes, and recognizing the responsibility to continually improve services for the citizens of Carmel.

The chief of staff position is a novel addition to the city’s organizational structure, underscoring the administration’s commitment to effective governance, strong communications and strategic leadership.

“I’m originally from Mayfield, Kentucky,” Crider shared. “I went to college at the University of Kentucky, and three weeks after graduation, I went straight into the army [in 1989] and was at Fort Moore [formerly Benning], GA for active duty. [I] spent [the] next 29 years as an infantry officer in the U.S. Army.”

Crider spoke about his experiences in the U.S. Army, having been stationed in Berlin, Germany—where he witnessed the Berlin Wall as it started to come down on November 9, 1989—and his tours in Iraq and Afghanistan post-9/11.

When asked how his military experiences will assist him in his current role and what skills/traits will be beneficial to the chief of staff position, Crider replied, “My [experiences] gave me an opportunity to work with a multitude of different people. Being in the U.S. Army, you work with people from all over the country with different backgrounds and [get] the opportunity to experience other cultures overseas. I was able to gather a great perspective of the world, and that was a tremendous experience that I bring with me today. Having to lead sometimes chaotic situations has also given me a good perspective of where I am today and what I am doing.”

Developing and Defining a New Position

Once retired, Crider contemplated what he wanted to pursue as a civilian and reached out to his peers and friends for advice. One fateful call to a friend led Crider to meet with former Carmel mayor Jim Brainard, who hired Crider as Director of Administration at City Hall. Crider relocated to Carmel along with his son, who is an avid soccer player and a senior at Butler University.

Crider said, “I consider Carmel my adopted hometown, and having lived all over the country and in many different places, I think this is a remarkable city to live in.”

Through their interactions at City Hall, Crider and Mayor Sue Finkam became acquainted professionally. They also got to know each other more casually at local soccer fields through their sons, who both played soccer and graduated together at Carmel High School.

Crider spoke about his role and duties as the city’s first chief of staff.

“The biggest part of what I’m asked to do is to take the mayor’s guidance and her vision and make sure that every director understands and acts on those,” Crider explained. “This position is a conduit between the staff and the mayor—not someone who’s in the way—but to serve as an advocate, often for the members of the staff, and to be the one person Mayor Finkam can turn to and delegate a task, knowing that it will get done. My job is to focus across the organization and down, which allows the mayor to focus up and out [on] the community and [on] other outside organizations. I make sure that things here continue to flow in an operational and synchronized way.”

Crider added, “The first word that comes to my mind when describing this position is ‘responsive.’ The chief of staff has to be responsive, and this office has to be the place where people know if it comes in this [office], it’s going to get acted on, and we will follow through until it’s done. As the mayor has said many times, there’s nothing going on here [at City Hall] that people can’t know about. So, for me, this office has to be responsive and transparent.”

When asked how he prioritizes the city’s internal and external communications, Crider replied, “Looking internally, first and foremost, my priority is that I get information to the mayor in a timely manner so she can make decisions. I am working with the transition team, which is coming up with recommendations to improve various processes that might work better for Mayor Finkam and her leadership style. We’ve been working on the hiring process for some key hires that we need to maintain momentum and are making sure we hire the right people for these positions.”

Crider continued, “I’ve had discussions with our IT director about improving our [city] app. It is possible to create an app that will allow people to interact with the local government. For example, if someone found something to report, they could take a picture and send it in, then the app would generate a response and let that person know that we received it [and] a work order has been generated. Then, [the person] would eventually get feedback to say it has been completed. This is an example of ways technology-wise that we are looking at improving communications and processes. Internally, we are looking to restructure and formalize the director meetings, which I think is welcomed and helps us to make sure that we’re all seeing the same things and have access to the same information.”

Crider also mentioned that the community survey Mayor Finkam has shared is one of her priorities.

“We are putting the finishing touches on the [survey],” Crider stated. “We are working with some professionals who are helping us put together an effective survey. Mayor Finkam has been clear that she’s going to be engaged with people and wants more feedback. Ultimately, she’s been elected as the executive, so the decisions rest with the mayor, but she absolutely wants to hear from everyone in the community as we continue moving forward.”

Crider concluded our conversation by sharing a more personal sentiment about his newest role with the City of Carmel.

“My experiences in the military had purpose,” Crider said. “I was there to serve, ultimately. I feel the same way [about] serving in municipal government here in Carmel. I certainly feel purpose and an attitude of service. Mayor Brainard was a driven individual, and Mayor Finkam is also a very driven and exceptional leader, and we’re bringing this attitude of service and focusing on relationships with people. If you have an attitude of [service] and have positive relationships with people, whether they’re internal or local citizens, you’re going to get results because people will feel valued. If you are empowered to take initiative, then good things will continue to happen.”