Whealon wants to shake things up at City Hall

Mayor-elect says he will take it slow at first and be flexible

Leader file photo by Greg Mellis Ed Whealon casts his vote at Shawano City Hall in the April 4 mayoral election.

Shawano Mayor-elect Ed Whealon has a long list of priorities he outlined in his campaign and a host of changes he would like to see at City Hall, but, he said, people shouldn’t expect to see those things happen right away.

“I know I’m going to have my hands full the first couple of weeks,” he said.

“I want to sit down with the council members and meet with department heads and tell them what my vision is and what my expectations are.”

He said there could be some resistance or at least hesitancy, particularly from some council members.

“I know there’s some undercurrent there, that they’re not happy with some change,” Whealon said.

“As the mayor, I need the council’s support to implement some of these changes and some of the ideas I have,” he said.

Whealon said he is willing and wants to hear the views of others.

“I’m hoping and expect if we have differences we’ll deal with that mano a mano,” he said.

Whealon said he plans to be flexible.

“I’m not the bull in the China shop,” he said. “Am I going to be the dictator and strong-arm guy? No. But I’m going to be a little stronger in my positions and let it be known to the public.”

Whealon’s approach to city staff, he said, would be much the same as it was when he led the Shawano Police Department.

“We’ll discuss issues,” he said. “I want the staff to be problem-solvers, too, or recognize and come up with solutions. Sometimes your staff comes up with the best solutions because they see it through a different light.”

Whealon said any good manager doesn’t have a management style, but is flexible.

Though, he added, “there are some times when you have to put your foot down and say no.”

Whealon said he is looking forward to working with everyone at City Hall.

“I’m not Atilla the Hun,” he said. “I’m not chopping heads off. The decisions we make are going to be rational and well-thought and for the benefit of the taxpayers of the city.”

Whealon said he does want to address, however, the perception that some city staff have not always been responsive to the business community.

“There’s an attitude down there (at City Hall),” he said. “Some people forget who they’re serving. The business owners feel they’ve been treated poorly. We need to get the city to be a little more responsive to some of these concerns and not pooh-pooh them.”

Whealon said not all of those concerns are valid, but some have been.

One of the first things Whealon will be doing will be making changes to boards and commissions.

“This is going to be critical,” he said.

He will be offering his nominations for appointments to boards and commissions after he is sworn in Tuesday night for approval by the Common Council.

“I think it’s time to take a look at putting some younger people on some of these commissions,” Whealon said. “I want to put more youth and some different perspectives on there. I’m trying to put people on there that are qualified.”

Whealon said he could end up disagreeing with some of the people he appoints.

“I’m not looking for ‘yes’ people on the boards,” he said, though some might represent a more conservative bent, particularly on spending.

“I lean a little more to the conservative end,” Whealon said, “and I’m wondering, ‘where we’re going to get the money from?’ We don’t have a blank checkbook.”

Addressing the city’s debt is among Whealon’s top priorities.

“We have to take a serious look at reducing it,” he said.

Those reductions will have to be balanced against the need for growth and development.

“Both are important,” Whealon said. “I think there are ways to bring the debt down by looking at budgets a little more carefully.”

Whealon said bids often come in far below the amounts budgeted. While that sounds good, it means the city might be borrowing more than it needs to.

Another issue Whealon raised in the campaign was Tax Incremental Finance districts.

“TIF districts have a purpose,” he said. “It’s probably the only thing municipalities have as a tool to compete with and attract businesses and make it viable and affordable. There’s a huge value.”

Whealon feels the city, which has six TIF districts in operation, has to more closely evaluate them.

He mentioned in particular the TIF district created along East Green Bay Street.

“Is it benefiting the businesses and spurring development? I’d like to see more than just Culver’s going in out there,” Whealon said. “How are we marketing that?”

Whealon also wants to see more collaboration between the Redevelopment Authority and the Business Improvement District, and he has concerns about the RDA’s downtown development plan.

“I think it’s important to have a vision, but how you going to pay for it?” he said. “We can’t go into debt any farther than we are.”

Another priority, Whealon said, is working with adjacent townships on a plan for future use along County Road B.

“It’s going to be the next area of development for the city of Shawano,” he said.

Another top priority, which was also a major campaign issue, is transparency of government operations.

“They talk about transparency, but they held all closed-door budget sessions,” Whealon said. “That’s not kosher and probably illegal.”

Whealon said there would be no closed-door budget discussions while he is mayor.

“It should be wide open to the public,” he said.

Whealon met with outgoing Mayor Jeanne Cronce on Friday and had what he said was a good discussion.

He said he also plans to heed Cronce’s advice about the initial approach to the job coming in, that he should go in slow and see how things work.

“It’s good advice,” Whealon said. “It’s going to be a never-ending learning process.”