José Reyna is GR’s Man Above Town
From his office in the northwest corner on the seventh floor of City Hall, Jose Reyna has a clear view of Grand Rapids. It’s a unique perspective, and just of many he has in his job as Fiscal Services Manager/Purchasing Agent for the City of Grand Rapids.
Reyna, 51, is part of a growing group of people involved in the remaking of Grand Rapids, a group not born here but who’ve chosen to make the city their home.
“I love working for the city,” he says. “I’m always hoping to provide value…and doing work outside the job —going to the neighborhoods and making contacts, working with non-profits.”
Like many who’ve adopted GR, Reyna comes from some distance. He is the last of five children in a family that lived in southeast Texas, not far from Mexico. It was an area that Reyna remembers as “poor…and risky.” Money was scarce and his mother headed east to look for a better opportunity. She found it in West Michigan.
“If you weren’t working in the oil industry, you weren’t making any money,” he recalls. “The first week, she made four times what she was making in Texas.” Young Jose, 11 at the time, and his siblings soon followed his mother to their new home
Reyna thrived here. He graduated from Central High School, earned a B.A, in Sociology from GVSU and a Masters in Public Administration from Western Michigan. But when the time came to begin a career, Reyna looked beyond Grand Rapids for his future.
“I went back to Texas.” he says, “I stayed with relatives and worked for a while there, but I missed Grand Rapids; I missed the people.”
He came back to West Michigan and a series of jobs that led him to where he wanted to be. He first worked as Human Relations/EEO Director for the City of Holland, then trained for and became a deputy sheriff for Ottawa County. It wasn’t enough.
“I couldn’t see having one job forever,” Reyna says. “Things were happening here (in Grand Rapids) and I wanted to be part of it.”
The opportunity came in 2000 when he landed a job as an assistant to city manager, Kurt Kimball. When Kimball left in 2009, Reyna was one of the applicants for the job.
“I felt compelled to apply,” he says now. “I had been working with people in the community and saw what was happening with the budget. Times were tough but the cuts seemed too severe.”
While Reyna didn’t get the job, he did get promoted to the city’s fiscal manager, a job that includes serving on the city manager’s executive team and as manager of the city’s public art collection. A city job is not what it once was, Reyna contends, explaining that much more is expected from government…including listening:
“Planning used to be done in isolation,” he says. “It was very deliberate. They’d sit on the ninth floor, most of them landscape architects or traffic engineers, and there was no community input. Now there’s huge civic engagement — the potential users of a place have impact on how it’s developed.”
Reyna cites the Creston area business district as just one example. M-Dot was scheduled to redo a roadway in the heart of the neighborhood. “They had a hearing and the residents got engaged. They said they wanted to see a boulevard. They made it happen.”
The same public participation is happening with the Michigan Street Corridor Initiative, a project headed by Suzanne Schultz, the City’s Director of Planning. The project began as an area-wide plan for Grand Rapids’ Medical Mile, but is inching beyond that boundary almost daily into a much larger plan. It’s the type of engagement Reyna sees as critical to the city’s future.
“We should be transforming our city,” he explains. “These projects give us a chance to look at ourselves and reaffirm our core mission.”
A big part of that mission is, according to Reyna, “to make government more agile; to reinvent ourselves; to encourage investment…and to see what other opportunities are there for things to occur.”
Along with a holistic approach to development, Reyna sees social networking as a useful tool in bringing people and ideas together. Crowd sourcing, for example, was a driving force behind the City’s myGRcitypoints program, a free site that promotes recycling by offering points participants can cash in for rewards sponsored by local businesses.
But as high as he is on the future, Reyna is quick to point out that following a vision does not automatically mean ejecting the past. He laments the loss of a number of landmark buildings, suggesting that development could easily honor the work that’s already there.
“I’m happy to see older sites used for economic benefit,” he says. “It’s all part of a creative economy.”
The term ‘creative’ is, believes Reyna, a literal one. “I see the creative class driving growth,” he contends. This group, culturally identified as artists, writers, musicians and the like, is also viewed as one in which entrepreneurialism is a major force. This energetic spirit, he adds, is supported by the health of the area’s cultural institutions and events and a key reason s the city continues to be attractive to newcomers.
And to long-time residents as well. For Reyna, the father of two — a son, 8, and a daughter, 5 — The attraction leads to more active participation. Outside of making contacts, he’s also a willing volunteer, serving on the boards of the Arts Council of Greater Grand Rapids, the Dyer Ives Foundation, the Grand Rapids Community Foundation Advisory Council, and the Grand Rapids Youth Boxing Foundation — sponsors of the highly successful MLK Mentoring Program.
Looking ahead, Reyna sees Grand Rapids as “an emerging core city…much more inclusive, more diverse.” And from Jose Reyna’s perspective…home:
“This where I choose to be; this is where my heart is.”
— Story: G.F. Korreck :: Photography: Terry Johnston