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Oklahoma City Manager James D. Couch to retire
“I’m retiring as Oklahoma City’s City Manager, not from the community,” said Couch. “I plan to stay in the City I’ve grown to love. I’m ready to write a new chapter in my life. I don’t know what it is yet, but I want to pursue it.”
“Sometimes, it can feel like Jim Couch is the unsung hero of the Oklahoma City renaissance. But if that is the case, today is a day to sing songs of praise,” said Mayor Holt. “Simply stated, Jim Couch is the best City Manager in the country, and he is absolutely one of the top five most important figures in this successful chapter of Oklahoma City’s history. It is no accident that he is by far the longest-serving City Manager in Oklahoma City history, and we would have welcomed his continued service for as long as he was willing to give it. We also understand that Jim has done this for a long time, and that he wants to leave time for new experiences. I know I speak for the City Council when I say that it is with the greatest regret that we hear this news, but we wish Jim only the best, and we look forward to the next few months we still have together.”
Couch was appointed City Manager on Nov. 9, 2000. He has since served with honor and distinction as the City’s chief administrative officer, overseeing the day-to-day operations of the City of Oklahoma City, its staff of 4,804 employees and its budget of $1.56 billion.
“I am proud to work for Oklahoma City, and I believe public service is a noble profession,” he said during his swearing-in ceremony nearly 18 years ago.
Securing Oklahoma City’s long-term access to dependable water sources for generations to come will perhaps be Couch’s most enduring legacy. Couch, through his position as City Manager and also as a trustee of the Water Utilities Trust, led negotiations that secured rights to water in Canton Lake and Sardis Lake for Oklahoma City.
The complicated, lengthy negotiations regarding Sardis Lake ended with a landmark agreement in 2016 between the City, state of Oklahoma and Chickasaw and Choctaw nations. The agreement protects the needs of water users in southeast Oklahoma.
“He ranks right up there with Stanley Draper for his impact on the water system in Oklahoma City,” said former Ward 4 Councilman and former Water Utilities Trust Chairman Pete White. “He’s a steady hand on the wheel. His ability to get along with all the players at the table during sometimes very contentious negotiations was and is remarkable.”
Couch was also a key figure, along with former Mayor Mick Cornett, in negotiating agreements with two NBA franchises – the New Orleans Hornets during their temporary, two-year relocation to Oklahoma City from 2005-07, and the Thunder before their permanent move here in 2008.
The NBA came to what is now known as Chesapeake Energy Arena, one of the crown jewels of the MAPS program investments overseen by Couch during his tenure. Couch was an Assistant City Manager and the MAPS Director for 2 ½ years preceding his appointment as City Manager, and has since shepherded the planning and implementation of MAPS for Kids, MAPS 3 and the current Better Streets, Safer City program.
“There has been a lot of talk about the MAPS Mayors – but very little about the MAPS City Manager. Jim Couch would never mention it because he’s a humble person who’s happiest working behind the scenes, but he was an integral part of Oklahoma City’s renaissance,” said former Mayor Cornett. “It’s one thing to have a vision and another thing entirely to implement that vision. Jim was there, every step of the way, helping to turn a vision for a better Oklahoma City into the reality we have today. He is the best city manager in the nation. He was a valued partner in my four terms as Mayor and a great friend. Terri and I wish Jim and his wife Cathy all the best as they move on to the next chapter in their life.”
Couch succeeded former City Manager Glenn Deck, who resigned after a little more than 2 ½ years in the position. Before serving as Assistant City Manager and MAPS Director, Couch was the Water and Wastewater Utilities Director for 11 years. He also serves or has served as a trustee or general manager of the Airport Trust, Zoological Trust, Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority, Metropolitan Area Schools Trust, Riverfront Redevelopment Authority, Economic Development Trust and McGee Creek Authority.
In Oklahoma City’s Council-Manager form of government, the City Council hires a City Manager to oversee day-to-day operations. The Mayor, who is elected at large, and one member from each of Oklahoma City’s eight Wards form the Council.
Couch is the current Chairman-elect of the United Way of Central Oklahoma Board of Directors, and will serve as its chairman next year.
Before coming to Oklahoma City, Couch was the assistant city manager for the City of Edmond. He also worked for the City of Casper, Wyo., and a consulting group with offices in Nebraska, Iowa and Wyoming. He’s a Licensed Professional Engineer with a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, and an honorary doctorate in public administration from Oklahoma City University.
Couch earned the Dean A. McGee Award in 2017 for his lifetime contributions to downtown.
Couch and his wife, Cathy, are the parents of two adult sons, Jacob and Joey.
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