Cronce hopeful about city’s future

Outgoing mayor would like to see Shawano keep moving forward

Leader photo by Tim Ryan Outgoing Shawano Mayor Jeanne Cronce received praise from council members and city staff at her last Common Council meeting Wednesday.

When Jeanne Cronce leaves the Shawano mayor’s office Tuesday, she will take with her a sense of pride in the progress she feels the city has made during her two-year term, and some cautious optimism that the progress will continue.

Cronce lost the mayor’s race by just 34 votes to former police chief Ed Whealon on April 4, a day that saw voting suppressed by a snowstorm. Only about half of the voters who showed up two years ago turned out this time.

“I’m not bitter,” Cronce said. “I mean, that doesn’t get you anywhere. That’s not how I’m built. I’m disappointed.”

Cronce has some concern that the direction the city had been going in could change.

”I am hopeful that it will not,” she said.

Cronce said the only way the city will continue to move forward is through positive action and working with different groups and the business community.

She said the focus on the city’s debt that had been a campaign issue was overblown and needed to be balanced against the growth and development that spending spurs.

“Unfortunately, we have to spend money to make money,” she said. “Anyone with any business sense knows that in order to encourage people to come into your shop you have to keep it updated, you have to keep it current, you have to change your merchandise. And that’s what we as a city have to do. We have to keep current.”

Cronce said those efforts have been supported by the Common Council.

“We have really got a good council,” she said. “They see the value in putting money into our city.”

Cronce said the city needs to look to the future, and future residents.

“What are we doing to keep the young professionals here?” she said. “What are we doing to encourage young families to move here?”

Cronce said opposition from some quarters to the city’s spending on parks was another issue that plagued the campaign.

“People kept saying, ‘We shouldn’t be doing parks,’” Cronce said. “Excuse me, it was the citizens that through the referendum said, ‘Yes, we want the parks.’ It wasn’t the government per se saying it. We took it to the people and the people said, ‘We want parks, and we want a splash pad and we want this and we want that.’”

Voters in April of last year voted 767-440 in favor of adding 25 cents per $1,000 to the tax bill to pay for $1.85 million in borrowing for park improvements at Franklin and Smalley parks and a splash pad at Memorial Park.

In addition to park improvements, other things of which Cronce is proud is the establishment of a welcome wagon for new residents, the advancement of a downtown Main Street program and a branding initiative, which has gone countywide with the Shawano Country Chamber of Commerce.

She also notes that new businesses are coming to the city and there have been business expansions.

Meanwhile, the Shawano Redevelopment Authority is finally addressing long-vacant and blighted downtown buildings that have been a community concern for years.

Cronce said she would like to see the mayor’s term set at something longer than two years, given the amount of time it takes just to learn the job and settle into it.

There was at least one surprise after taking office for which Cronce had not been prepared.

She said there were some members of the community that expected she would grant favors or give preferential treatment, which impacted her support in some quarters.

“When they found that I followed the rules, they jumped ship,” she said.

Some were also looking for restraints to be put on the city administrator, she said.

“The other part of it was trying to reel in Brian Knapp,” Cronce said. “They wanted me to get rid of him. And I said, ‘No, he’s doing his job.’”

Cronce said there are those who incorrectly believe Knapp has been driving the city agenda.

“It was always, ‘What would you like to see done?’” she said. “Not just to me, but to the council or to the committees. It was never, ‘I want it this way.’ I think that’s the misnomer that many people think that he sits there and drives the bus. He doesn’t. He comes in with ideas, thoughts, advice, and we can take it or leave it.”

Cronce said the final decision always falls to the committees and the Common Council, not to the mayor.

“I can encourage, I can direct, but as far as being the mayor I didn’t feel it was appropriate myself to say, ‘No, we’re not doing that,’ because it really isn’t that mayor’s decision unless it comes to a tie vote,” she said.

Cronce said she had a few words of advice for mayor-elect Whealon.

“First of all, just sit back and watch,” she said. “Just see how things run. As with any job, you can’t come in and demand changes, because you’re going to hit a brick wall. You have to see how things are running and then make the changes you’d like to see happen.”

Cronce oversaw her last Common Council meeting Wednesday and was honored with words of praise from council members and department heads.

“I was pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t expecting any of that,” she said. “I felt very honored that people thought I had done a good job. I tried to do the best that I could. It’s been my honor and privilege to work with so many different people.”

Cronce said her two years as mayor has been a learning experience.

“I love to learn things, learning this whole city government idea and how it works has been invigorating to me,” she said. “I’m very happy I had the opportunity to serve the citizens of Shawano.”