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About Utah: Ex-mayor of Ogden, Matthew Godfrey, doesn't miss his old job

Published: Thursday, Aug. 30 2012 11:42 p.m. MDT

OGDEN — Matthew Godfrey is wearing a freshly laundered shirt. He has a tie on. He's sitting in a boardroom and has a meeting he needs to be to in a half-hour.

He could still be mayor.

Only he isn't.

And man, does he look OK with that.

And he still looks young, too.

It's been 13 years since Godfrey was elected mayor of Utah's seventh largest city, in the elections of 1999. He was 29 years old. The ink on his college diploma at Weber State University, where he got a master's degree in accounting and was an All-American on the track team, was barely dry.

He was a runner so he kept on running. He won a second term as Ogden's mayor when he was 33, still another when he was 37. When he was 41 he decided that was that. Three terms was enough. Twelve years was plenty. A year ago he retired undefeated.

And now?

Now he is making the sweet discovery that there is life after stress.

The former mayor is part of a four-man firm with the Internet hip name of bettercity.us. They have a website and a small set of offices they've rented in a high-rise off Harrison Blvd. Their business is consulting municipalities about how to create jobs, attract businesses and in general increase their prosperity.

Or, as Matthew puts it, "We bring hope to towns."

It's really an extension of being mayor, but without the battles with the city council and other aggravations.

"It's gratifying work," says Matthew. "Everybody wants jobs, they just don't know how to get them. We're doing the part that to my knowledge nobody else does. Telling them how. But we're doing the fun part. We don't have to engage politically. I tell the client, 'That's your problem.' "

He says that last part with relish, like a man who can look at all the campaigning going on right now without an ounce of envy.

"I feel bad for Mitt Romney," he volunteers. "It's so intense, running for any office. It consumes your life. Imagine running for president."

Looking back, he's glad he didn't know what he was getting into when he got into politics.

"I think honestly my youth was a benefit to me and to the city," he says. "There's a whole lot you don't know when you're 29, so it was on-the-job training, and I was willing to take risks and go after difficult things."

What he's most proud of, he says, is establishing a clear direction for the city. On his watch Ogden evolved from an old-school railroad town to a new-school high-adventure recreation mecca with all sorts of new businesses, a revitalized downtown and thousands of new jobs, some 8,000 of them over the 12 years Godfrey was in office.

In 2011, Godfrey's last year, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, Ogden led the country in job growth with a 3.73 percent increase.

All that, and crime dropped by a third.

Not that it was easy, or everyone was happy.

Matthew remembers the advice he received from his late father, William Verl Godfrey, himself once the mayor of the Ogden suburb of Harrisville, when he was 28 years old and first thinking of running for mayor.

"He told me not to do it. He said people are mean. People that you love and respect will do vicious things to you."

And?

"And he was absolutely right."

Still, Godfrey acknowledges he wouldn't change a thing about his time as mayor — chiefly because outside of maybe a few vagrants and some drug dealers, no one is seriously arguing that Ogden isn't better off now than it was at the turn of the century when he came into office, or that the future looks even brighter.

Especially his. It's cool being mayor when you're 29. What's even more cool is not being mayor when you're 42.

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday.

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