By Brandi Makuski
Mayor Mike Wiza sure gets around.
While he’s always been very social, his time in office thus far must have been a whirlwind. He’s been seen in an official capacity at nearly every ribbon-cutting, business opening, fundraiser and community event for the past six months- longer still if you include his months of campaigning prior to the election.
Publicly, Wiza is jovial and well-liked. But he also works hard at being well-liked. He’s skilled at shootin’ the breeze and making friends; he has a large following on Facebook. He is familiar with the city’s past and knows local history; he is what some might call a “townie”, with many relatives locally and a strong presence in his north side neighborhood.
His official predecessor, Mayor Andrew Halverson, was easy to dislike because of his fast pace and strong personality. Due to Halverson’s demand for efficiency- something often referred to more as a “lack of transparency” by the public and Council alike- people knew how they felt about him quickly.
Wiza, on the other hand, can be difficult to find fault with if you don’t follow the details of city politics. He’s fun and he jokes around a lot; heck, within the first ten minutes of the Oct. 19 City Council, Wiza had already addressed his recipe for Empty Bowls, asking the public three times to vote for his soup entry, and then made joke about recognizing “Back to the Future” day.
But key elements for the success of this mayoral administration are strong guidance and efficiency. This administration has the unique challenge of working with almost an entirely brand new Council; the mayor’s office must set the standard for public service. Seven of the 11 Council members are new to local politics, never before having served a day in public office. Many on the Council entered office without having done homework on local ordinances, municipal processes and community events- and some still don’t. Many also came with personal agendas; one demanded new ordinances aimed at keeping college students from having off-campus parties, while another asked that a third fire station be constructed.
Council members frequently ask questions previously answered- and often the discussion goes off-topic from the posted meeting agenda. Members of the public, and of local organizations, addressing the Council are no longer restricted to a time limit, as has been customary for the sake of efficiency, and speakers are no longer required to give their name and address for the record.
All are signs leadership needs to be stronger during city meetings; but this could grow as Wiza becomes more confident in his duties.
But then, there’s this:
No doubt, an exciting moment, having your name mentioned in any national publication, especially one as respectable, time-honored and revered as Rolling Stone. But it’s hardly city business and has no place on the city’s website. The Rolling Stone article in question isn’t about Wiza, nor his cannon. It’s a feature article on Paddlequest; Wiza isn’t mentioned until the 12th paragraph, though he is referenced in the story’s subheading just after “drunken pirates” and “bog demons”.
One also wonders if this “news” is attractive to developers who might have interest in building locally.
But is this something to recognize at all? Certainly Paddlequest is; it’s a unique event that is part-boating race, part-role-playing theater and part-treasure hunt. But this notice on the city’s website skips that annoying fact, zeroing in solely on the mention of Wiza within the article as though it were his personal PR firm. It brings an air of collegiate tomfoolery to an otherwise distinguished website: Dude, we got a cannon-firing mayor!
Former Mayor Gary Wescott, known in many circles as “mayor emeritus” for having served more time as mayor than anyone else in the city’s history, said there’s a steep learning curve for becoming an effective mayor. While serving as interim mayor in March, he recalled his difficulty adjusting to life as the city’s chief executive.
“It takes a long time to get good at being a mayor,” Wescott said in March. “I’d say the learning curve is at least three to four years.”
But with a largely-new Council in place- and potentially several more new alders coming in April’s spring election, this administration would do well to leave the jokes at the door, dig in and address city business in a more dignified, structured and serious manner.