ORIGINALLY WRITTEN LAURA CAMPBELL
To hear him tell it, Jim Clemmer’s position as mayor of Tampa is as much of a sales job as he’s ever held.
And he’ll make a pretty convincing argument to sell you on that point.
“I’ve always sold something, but this is a selling job, too,” Clemmer said. “First, you’ve got to convince the council, then sometimes you’ve got to convince the public.”
It took a sales pitch just to get Clemmer onto city council, much less to run for mayor.
“That’s how I got on-somebody asked me if I’d do it,” Clemmer said. “I got on city council in 1989, and then in 1991, they wanted to know if I would run for mayor.
“And I’ve been on here ever since,” he said.
In turn, Clemmer said it can be difficult for him to sell other residents on the idea of volunteering their time on city council.
“It’s kind of hard to find someone who has the time-who’ll take the time-to do it,” he said.
As mayor, Clemmer earns a whopping $50 a month-“I think I’m one of the highest paid mayors in the north end of Marion County,” he said with a laugh.
The Emporia native moved into Tampa 25 years ago, not long after being put on disability because of having open-heart surgery.
Clemmer and wife Mary-married 59 years in November-had spent previous decades living in various Kansas towns for several years at a time, as he sold everything from sewing machines to coffee to insurance.
Along the way, the couple raised four sons, who in turn have given them seven grandchildren (two of them deceased), three step-grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
“I got a whole passel of kids,” he said.
While the oldest son lives with them in Tampa, Clemmer said most of the family lives in Salina, so he and Mary frequently make the 45-mile trip north to visit them and to buy their groceries.
In the rest of his spare time as a retiree, Clemmer faithfully performs small acts around town to keep things running smoothly.
“I mow grass for a few people,” he said. “Don’t have to do that, but I like riding the lawn mower.”
And when not answering phones and attending meetings as town mayor, Clemmer helps out as a member of the Tampa Lion’s Club, he said.
“They’ve got the two pop machines in town,” he said of the club. “That’s my job-buying the pop and keepin’ it full.”
Clemmer also puts years of sales experience to work at the town’s concession stand during sporting events.
“I try to keep it open every time there’s a game,” he said. “If you don’t keep it open-if it’s a hit-or-miss deal-they give up and start bringing their own.
“But if they know you’re going to be there, it’s a lot better sales.”
Overall, Tampa residents know that they can depend on Clemmer to be the go-to man when just about anything needs to be done, he said.
And it’s this unpredictability of his daily schedule that Clemmer enjoys most about being mayor.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “That’s what’s kind of fun.”
His desire to be available may lead Clemmer to devote more time to the position than some might expect.
“It’s taken more (time) than my wife likes,” he said with a laugh. “I could probably cut it down a little, but I guess I’m just ornery enough not to.”
His stubbornness helped him convince the council to let the city pay his expenses, he said, to attend meetings that would provide valuable information and, at times, grant money for city projects.
“Some of the meetings were boring,” he admitted. “But at others somebody would say something and I’d think, we could use that.”
And in Clemmer’s 14 years as mayor, the city obtained grants for a new siren, new housing and improvements to the city building.
“We’ve done a lot of improvements,” he said.
But the money for the city’s biggest improvement during Clemmer’s time as mayor came from residents’ own pockets.
“Two years ago we completely redone every street in town,” he said. “Then we put new sidewalk, curb and gutter in the downtown area.
“So far it’s been real good,” he added.
Also “real good” for the town is its population growth from 104 to 144 over the last 15 years, Clemmer said.
“We had the highest percentage of increase of any town in Marion County, and I don’t know why,” he said.
Like just about every mayor in the county, Clemmer said he wishes his town could secure even more housing and more industry.
But for now, his primary goal for the two years left in his term is to bring back the city post office.
“I don’t know if we’re going to make it or not, but I haven’t lost faith in getting it back,” Clemmer said.
Residents seem to have faith in Clemmer and his council, too.
“People seem to know that we’re trying to do things within our means,” he said. “I think they realize that we’re trying to do what’s right.”
It’s this trusting, friendly nature of the townsfolk that has kept Clemmer and his wife in Tampa longer than in any other town, he said.
“I like the people,” he said. “It’s a nice, quiet town.”
But while Tampa is his place of retirement from a long career in sales, Clemmer said he can’t help but continue to employ somewhat unorthodox sales strategies in his work for the city.
“I’m kind of weird,” he said. “I do things and I don’t know why I do them.
“But they work out all right.”
There is something to be said for knowing both when to crack a joke and when to keep your mouth shut, Clemmer said.
“You learn an awful lot by listening,” he said. “You can do a lot, too, by kidding around a little bit.
“I’ve been told I’m the oldest living teenager that they knew,” he added with a laugh. “I don’t know if that’s good or bad.”
Either way, Clemmer’s success as a salesman in whatever he does seems to stem more from a knack for the business than from any conscious strategy.
“I really don’t know how to explain why I’ve done it the way I’ve done it,” he said.
“I just do it.”