Provo Mayor John Curtis sits comfortably in his office, surrounded by memoirs of the past four years: an oscillating globe stamped with a Google Fiber plaque, a model airplane with Allegiant Air printed on the side. The mayor’s wife and his six children are smiling in a photo on the wall just behind him.
Mayor Curtis has now occupied that office for almost a full term. During that time, Curtis has witnessed truly remarkable events in Provo. A new Utah Valley Convention Center, expansion of I-15, a Provo Frontrunner line, a new recreation center, expansion of Nu Skin headquarters, Google Fiber making its home in Provo and the construction of a new LDS Temple downtown have marked Curtis’ four years in office.
Provo was recently named the top city in the nation for business and careers by Forbes Magazine. The city also ranks number one for quality of life and optimism according to Bizjournals and Gallup respectively.
“The last four years have been the most rewarding period of my life,” Curtis said. “What we’ve been able to do and accomplish has been really quite remarkable. There’s just a tidal wave of good things going on in Provo.”
Curtis is now running for re-election in the fall and is confident that he will win another four years in office; he spends his Thursday mornings with key administration officials, planning out their goals and priorities for the next four years.
“Let’s just say, I wouldn’t want to run against me,” Curtis said, laughing. “But at the same time I wouldn’t like a cocky mayor. So I think it’s important that the residents see that I don’t take it for granted. That they see that I want it and am willing to work hard to get re-elected and make them feel like I’ve earned their vote.”
A recent survey published by the BYU Marriott School of Business in May revealed that Curtis enjoys an unprecedented 94 percent approval rating from participants.
“Some days I’m driving to work and I think to myself, ‘I must be absolutely dreaming,'” Curtis said. “The sequence of events that has taken place in the last four years in Provo, and the opportunity to be a part of that — it can’t be real. It’s too good to be true.”
But despite the reality of good times and pleased citizens, Curtis says he tries to remain cautious and humble.
“The moment you start thinking, ‘well this is because of me,’ you’re just fooling yourself,” Curtis said. “I have a really competent, dedicated staff. Second, and equally as important, are our residents. They are incredibly supportive. I’m just a piece of this magnificent puzzle.”
Near the top of his agenda for next term, Curtis wants to address BYU parking and towing issues.
“I have not been able to resolve this problem, but I am bound and determined to accomplish it,” Curtis said. “What I would say to our students is, ‘I hear you. Please be patient with us. We’re not going to get rid of this in a month.'”
Curtis feels that the current problem will require a combination of better mass transit – possibly using a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system – and more students commuting to campus without using cars.
“There is no magic fairy who is going to give a parking spot to everyone who wants to drive,” Curtis said. “If you want to have your car, that’s fine, but that means you’re willing to deal with difficult parking situations.”
Interestingly, Curtis never originally intended to go into politics. He graduated in business management from BYU in 1985 and started a job as a regional sales representative for Citizen Watch.
“I was one of those who was really, really, really anxious to be done with school,” Curtis said. “I had this great job at the time and I thought, well, I had arrived at this job and I didn’t need school. School was almost in my way. But I had a really strong commitment to finish my degree.”
It’s that sense of commitment that Curtis credits for propelling him to a successful private sector career with jewelry distributor O.C. Tanner and later with firearms manufacturer Action Target.
“When I came home from my mission (to Taiwan), I never really knew what I wanted to do, yet my life has unfolded before me,” Curtis said. “One thing has led to the next, which has led to the next. I’ve always looked back and thought that it was more than accidental, that there were things that came together with purpose.”
Still, running the 7th fastest growing city in the country hasn’t been easy. Provo’s budget is balanced today, but when Curtis took office in 2009, the city was staring at a $5 million spending deficit.
“It’s been a good ride. Not like there hasn’t been hard things, but I’ve enjoyed them,” Curtis said. “I’ve loved the problem-solving. Some of the toughest problems we’ve had here in the city have been the most rewarding. And as you solve those problems, to look back and say, ‘That is so cool. We found answers.’ That is what I think floats my bubble.”