By Brandi Makuski
Since the April election, the Stevens Point City Council has been comprised of seven new alders- outnumbering veteran city representatives for the first time in several years.
Along with all of those fresh faces, the city also has a brand new mayor. Mike Wiza beat Jerry Moore for the seat by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. Wiza’s advantage in the mayor’s seat is his many years of experience in public service for the city, and that confidence which should serve him well.
Wiza’s reliance on that past experience has already yielded small sprouts of progress in the city, but he needs to remain open to suggestions from past mayors. After all, former Mayor Gary Wescott himself said there’s a “three to four year learning curve” in the mayor’s office. Wescott, the longest-serving mayor in the city’s history with three consecutive terms plus five months of an interim spot prior to April’s election, said even he hadn’t figured it all out until near the end of his first term in office.
A new mayor and almost an entirely new Council: it’s a circumstance the city hasn’t seen in decades. Whether or not that’s a good thing for the city is yet to be seen, but there’s certainly some-thing to be said for tradition and experience.
Despite its inexperience, the Council needs to show a little muscle. Already we’re seeing swift movement on many issues without much in the way of conversation. Thankfully those issues have been small- and include a new parking lot approval near Mead Park. During that discussion on the committee level, it was Alderwoman Mary McComb who admitted to not having been to the park to witness existing parking issues- despite the park being inside her own district. Ignorance once is somewhat forgivable, but McComb announced her lack of knowledge on two separate occasions at two different committee discussions.
Two of the new Council members stand out more than others: 2nd District Alderwoman Denise Mrozek and Mary Kneebone, District 7, both actively seek out information and are among the most vocal of the new members. Both also made an appearance at a recent fire department training event, and Kneebone attends committee meetings she herself is not a member of to gain a better understanding.
Mrozek is on track to almost fill the shoes of the late and much-loved Alderwoman Joanne Suomi- who offered the residents of District 2 some of the strongest representation the Council had ever seen. Suomi held regular “town hall” meetings with her constituents and sought their wishes on most issues before voting. Hopefully Mrozek, who already takes regular notes during meetings, continues that strong tradition.
Very few of the new alders ever attended a Council meeting prior to announcing their respective campaigns- some didn’t show up for meetings even during the race. Some of those members continue their seeming distance to such a point one wonders why on earth they ran for the office at all.
The Council has the fortune of not being forced to match wits with a difficult mayor. But new Council members need to remember they are no longer regular citizens, but elected officials. They now work for the people of the city: we should see them at public events, shaking hands and talking with constituents.
Wiza may continue to show he is not a difficult mayor, but he has a very apparent love for and deep knowledge of the community, and he has a very strong personality. The Council needs to catch up.