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Q&A: Carlton Christensen, newly appointed director of development for Salt Lake County

Published: Saturday, March 8 2014 10:45 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — He’s certainly no stranger to the public eye in his own right. This past December, he retired from the Salt Lake City Council, where he served four terms for 16 consecutive years. His current job — regional development director for Salt Lake County — has also received plenty of attention.

But still, Carlton Christensen routinely gets mistaken for his big brother Clayton.

“It’s not uncommon at all for someone who’s not close to me to turn around and call me Clayton,” Carlton said when he sat down for this interview. “I thought you were probably wanting to do an article on him.”

Comes with the territory when your brother is not only the famous Harvard professor who wrote the best-selling business book “The Innovator’s Dilemma” and coined the phrase “disruptive innovation,” but also happens to have a name that sounds very much like your own.

“All the time during high school, teachers would call me Clayton,” said Carlton, who is 14 years younger than Clayton. “I was only half-joking when I said I think my mom went to name me Clayton until she realized she’d already given that name out.”

Half-joking because she was running out of names. Carlton, 48, is the last in the line of eight children born to Robert and Verda Mae Christensen. First came Elliott, followed by Clayton, Milton (who died at age 11), Maribeth, Spencer, Bradley, Nancy Ruth and, finally, Carlton.

Robert and Verda Mae raised this prodigious group on the west side of Salt Lake City in Rose Park, in a house where Carlton resides to this day.

Of all the wisdom the parents imparted to their offspring, getting an education was right there at the top of the list. Every one of the kids owns a college diploma and many of them more than one. Carlton has a bachelor's degree from the University of Utah. Among the siblings they have 15 degrees, including three MBAs, two Ph.D.s and one Rhodes scholarship.

(They’re also all tall. Robert was 6-foot-8 and Verda Mae almost 6 feet. The shortest Christensen is Nancy at 5-foot-8. Spencer is the tallest at 7 feet, then Carlton at 6-foot-10, Clayton at 6-foot-8, Elliott at 6-foot-6, Brad at 6-foot-3 and Maribeth at 6-foot-2).

For careers, half went into education and half into business.

The lone politician is Carlton.

He was 31 when he first ran for the Salt Lake City Council, in 1997. He retired undefeated after being re-elected three straight times.

Last summer, upon learning of his decision to leave city politics at the end of the year, Ben McAdams, the newly elected Salt Lake County mayor and a Democrat, created the position of development director and reached out to Christensen, a Republican, to fill the chair.

He might be a Republican, but a moderate one, with a reputation as a bridge-builder and peacemaker and legions of friends throughout the county and the state Legislature.

The Deseret News sat down for a question-and-answer session with Carlton, not Clayton, Christensen.

Deseret News: Thank you for your time and this opportunity. Your position as development director with the county didn’t exist before you came on board; what does the job entail?

Carlton Christensen: It brings together areas of county government not previously focused under one roof. This includes emergency services (disaster response), economic development, community resources and development (affordable housing programs and homeless services and special loan funds), the Criminal Justice Advisory Council, the Grants Office, and long range planning and transportation.

DN: What do you hope to accomplish?

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