By Kristy Robinson Horine

 

Mayor ChristensenNearly 15 years ago, Claude Christensen circled the globe in 21 days.

He started in Washington, D.C. and during the course of his travels he stopped in London, Azerbaijan off the Black Sea, Kyrgyzstan, Kathmandu, New Dehli, Bangkok, Tokyo, and Detroit.

His travels brought him right back to our nation’s capital where he worked for five years with the Peace Corps as the Deputy Chief Information Officer and the Chief Information Architect. His job was to manage the organization’s global conversion from a hodge-podge of technology into a standardized Microsoft-based technology environment.

“Part of this trip, I would do what I was supposed to do, but I made it my mission to make sure I went out and visited some of the volunteers. These are the people who have to live with the technology. These are the people who have to live with the decisions we are making in Washington and I wanted to know what it was like out there and how we could do what we were doing to support them better,” he explains.

Christensen, a Utah native, visited a young man in Nepal who was teaching high school science, and a former Wall Street mover and shaker who had volunteered to teach micro-economics in a little mountain town in Romania.

“It was amazing, the places I saw, the people I met, the things I ate,” Christensen says. He pauses and leans back in his chair, spreads his hands wide, as if to hold the world in the open space. “I was sitting in an upstairs balcony café one night eating water buffalo in Kathmandu, Nepal and I was thinking, ‘This is a long way from Utah.’ That was a framing moment.”

Christensen currently serves as Sadieville’s mayor. That framing moment in Nepal is but one of the many life experiences that led him to the small Northern Scott County city of 328 people.

 

Growing up good 

Christensen is one of six siblings who grew up on a Tremonton, Utah ranch and farm where his family raised dry crops like barley, wheat and hay on about 600 acres. The ranch side covered several thousand range acres with several hundred head of cattle.

“I think it really made its mark on all of us kids. Every one of us knew how to work by the time we got through,” Christensen says. “Everybody pitched in and had their thing that they did. I think it taught a lot of great life lessons and it paid off for all of us in our lives.”

When Christensen graduated, the U.S. was deeply involved in the Vietnam War. His older sister had joined the Air Force, and he liked the idea of having more control in where and how he served.

“I figured I could fly over hills for four years, or I would walk over hills for two years. That’s the simple view of it,” he says. He joined the Air Force in 1968 and served for six years, nine months and 15 days. At the end of his basic training, he had a chance to choose his positions. From a long list, he chose air traffic controller as his number one, security police as his number three.

For his number two slot, though, he chose the job with the longest name: photogrammetric cartographic analyst.

“That’s what I got. Turns out, that was a critical field, making maps,” he says. “I back into stuff a lot, but putting a bookmark in that one line changed my whole life. It got me into a really cool job, great training, and it’s paid off big time for me.”

In July of 1975, Christensen and his wife Sandi, along with their three children, were ready to leave the Air Force life behind and move back to Utah where Christensen would enroll at Utah State and find a job to make ends meet. The day before they left, he received a letter in the mail offering him a job with the Bureau of Land Management as a cartographer in Denver.

“I figured I could go to school in Denver just as well as in Utah,” Christensen says.

He ended up with a degree in geology and another degree in land use. In addition, the Department of the Interior had a program that offered participants the equivalent of a Master’s in Public Administration which he completed later on.

Over the next two and a half decades, Christensen worked himself up as far as he could go within the Department of the Interior. In 1999, the IT opportunity with the Peace Corps opened up and Christensen took it. After five years with the Peace Corps, Christensen was ready to retire.

“One good thing about working for the government is that they offer you lots of resources. One was retirement classes where you get help thinking about what you are going to do next because there is always a next,” he says.

Their ‘next’ was to choose a place to retire. After traveling over much of the United States, not to mention all the trips abroad, Christensen and his wife both remembered liking Kentucky, having driven through it separately years before.

In 2004, with a contract on their Maryland house, they realized they had to do something. They bought a house in the northern part of Scott County, not knowing what they were getting themselves into.

 

New Kentucky home 

Mayor Christensen ribon cuttingWhen Christensen and his wife Sandi bought the house just off of KY 32, they never even visited the small town they saw on the next hill, but within a year, Christensen started to attend the city commission meetings. In 2005, when a commissioner stepped down, Christensen took on the role, overseeing Public Works for Sadieville.

At about the same time, the city’s sewer system had reached a critical point in operations. Given his background in public service, his extensive knowledge of all kinds of systems, and the luxury of time in his retirement, Christensen set to work to come up with a plan to get things moving.

The sewer plant leaked and was obsolete, service lines were leaking all around town, and the town was “bleeding money” since the utility was not financially viable.  The project would mean a complete rebuild top to bottom.

sadievilleRegionalization of Sadieville’s sewer system seemed logical and had been kicked around as an idea by several possible partners. They could connect to the line that would run along US 25 that was necessary to fix the leaching problem at the landfill just two and a half miles south of Sadieville.

“In regionalizing, we found favor with a lot of people. The county was willing to give us half a million. The state gave us two different grants a little over 3.2 million. That was to redo everything, get rid of the plant, run the lines, annex some ground and extend the sewer service out to the interchange to spur some economic development.”

Under Christensen, the Mayor, the commission’s leadership and the Bluegrass Area Development District , the city gained enough financial backing through county and state resources to complete the project and then some.

“Economically, this opened a lot of doors because we didn’t have to levy anything new, we didn’t have to raise taxes or rates. We had 100 percent grant funding and the fact that we were now a regionalization project, we could use that to get grants from the state,” he explains.

David Duttlinger, executive director of BGADD, recalls the remarkable network of partners involved in bringing the regional project to fruition.

“We wrote and administered both grants, said Duttlinger.  “It took bringing together several partners – Georgetown, Scott County, Georgetown Municipal Water and Sewer Service, State Divison of Water, State Division of Waste Management and, of course, Sadieville.

“It actually was a very unique and special project, because it not only brought regionalization, removed a failing sewer system but also prevents leachate from a landfill from entering a precious groundwater source – the Royal Spring Aquifer. ”

The project also had ripple effects.  Sadieville was able to leverage funding for additional but related projects.  Main Street was resurfaced with grant monies because the new sewer system went under it. A new bridge was built on Vine Street and there was money available to clean and fix and rebuild in connection with the project. The city also annexed a commercial block near I-75, bringing with it the potential for more growth.

In 2010, Christensen was sworn in as Mayor and has now spent nearly 50 years of his life in public service.

At one point in the last decade, he held positions on 23 different committees around the state, including President of the Chamber of Commerce, first vice president of the Kentucky League of Cities, and Scott County United Board. In addition, he serves as Chairman of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Committee, Vice Chair of the Regional Transportation Committee and on the Water Management Board at the Bluegrass Area Development District.

Mayor Christensen rosenwaldHe’s involved because he cares. He’s involved because he knows that’s how things get done.

“I don’t work well from the bench. I kind of need to play and it’s just easier to fix things from the inside if fixing things needs to be done,” he says. “In Sadieville we can do very little on our own, we have few staff and a little budget, but if we can partner, we can prosper.”

 

Kristy Robinson Horine is a freelance writer from Paris.  She wrote this story for the Bluegrass Area Development District.