Alex Berger grew up in Clayshire, the last subdivision built in Clayton, in a neighborhood called Davis Place. He moved to Ward 3 as a married man when he wanted to ensure his children could walk from his home to . Now he, his daughter and his 8-month-old grandson all live in Clayton.
“As an undergrad, my friends at Drake University said Clayton was all I could talk about. I have great roots here, and I’m proud my grandson will grow up here,” Berger said.
He started attending Board of Aldermen meetings in college. He later went on to earn a graduate degree in public administration. While working in private industry, he applied for a grant from the Clayton Chamber of Commerce for the Leadership Clayton program. “My fifth grade science teacher wrote my letters of recommendation. When asked why I was doing this, I said I was getting prepared to give back. I know it sounds cheesy, but I love this city.”
After serving three consecutive terms, Berger is preparing to step down in April because of term limits.
“After this, I’m opening a hot dog stand in downtown Clayton,” he said.
He jokingly plays down his own achievements, but the stand would have to share time with his consulting business, the boards of St. Louis Community College and , and the Clayton-based leadership initiatives that remain his passion.
Reflecting on his time as an alderman, Berger said many of the most dramatic changes to Clayton’s government over the last decade have been technological.
After a tornado came down Forsyth Avenue, knocking out power to many houses for days, Berger talked to and about finding a way to communicate with residents when the power was out. Because mobile phones can be charged from cars, they decided to set up Facebook and Twitter accounts to keep residents up to date. These evolved into an invaluable method of accepting public feedback. In addition to passively allowing citizens to look for information at their leisure, the Clayton police also have an alert line that people can opt into to receive phone calls or text messages.
“There’s a neighborhood association here called Old Town Clayton, which is a great prototype for neighborhood activism. It’s mostly empty nesters. Thank goodness for grandkids, because they were the motivating factor for these people to join Facebook, and now it’s an invaluable resource. When the chairman asks how people learned about their meetings at , the majority of them got it on Facebook, then the association’s website. It’s how people communicate, and the city has changed and adapted over the last decade to fill the new needs and opportunities created by technology,” Berger said.
In addition to the technological changes during his tenure, Berger said, the city has focused on transparency and open communication with citizens and stakeholders, such as business owners and employees who don’t live in Clayton.
“We have a system today much like in private business. It’s a customer-relationship management system where we track how quickly we respond, how quickly we create solutions. We couple that transparency with constant feedback. We post, we text message you back, we e-mail you back, we use Facebook and Twitter, because that’s how people today communicate.”
He considers patience and perspective the greatest lessons he learned as an alderman.
When asked about his proudest accomplishments, the outgoing Berger shrugged dismissively. He said everything that happens in Clayton is possible because of the way that city departments, various wards and citizens work together. When pressed, he said he is pleased with the Downtown Master Plan, Brown Shoe’s attention to Clayton, and the Carondelet Village development.
“My favorite thing, though, was when I created an award to recognize citizens that had done something really amazing for the community,” Berger said.
The award was inspired by a group of parents who created a theater group at Meramec Elementary. Once a year, they wrote an original script and had one performance on the school’s playground, about a week before school began. As Berger walked home from the performance, he told his wife they needed to find a way to recognize people who did things like that in the community.
The city named it the Creme de la Clayton award. In the years that followed, the award went to a group of parents who helped get a clinic revitalized and upgraded, a group of parents who created a public educational garden where kids could grow their own food and business owners who have given back to the community.
Berger’s future plans include continuing his consulting business, sitting on educational boards and working on a project designed to help bridge the gap between multiple generations of people sharing the same workforce. He recently created a video with Webster University on the leadership challenges of intergenerational employee engagement.
When he is once more eligible to run, Berger said he might give up his chance to open a hot dog cart in favor of serving as an alderman again.