Taking the reins: A few pointers from veteran mayors
What happens when you win election mayor?
For four of the five Tri-Cities area mayors and presidents gathered for a portrait Wednesday, life won't be much different.
Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke starts his ninth term in May; Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns and Sugar Grove President Sean Michels will start their fourth full terms. Elburn President Dave Anderson was unopposed in his bid for a second term.
The newest member of the club, St. Charles Mayor-elect Ray Rogina, is already familiar with the stress of governing, having been an alderman. He just has a bigger constituency now.
The retired schoolteacher expects his days will get a lot busier, as he intends to meet with residents, and will drop by businesses to ask owners their opinions about how the city does things, and what it could improve. "I'm just a hands-on guy," Rogina said.
"It is a marathon, not a sprint," Burns said when asked what he has learned. And new mayors should corral the energy and passion of their city employees, because "your professional staff truly do have the best interests of the community at heart," he said.
Michels said he was surprised by the pace of government. "Government moves slower than people anticipate or expect," he said. At the end of every year, he reviews the agendas for the past year's meetings, and notes how long it may have taken for something to get settled. Things have to be handled carefully, and the community needs to "vent" its thoughts, he said. "Don't get discouraged."
Anderson said the pace was a surprise for him, too, even though he had served on a school board and as a township supervisor. He carried over what he learned on the school board, he said. "Reasonable people, given the same facts and information, will come to the same conclusion" on a matter, he said.
Get used to being approached at the grocery store and church, according to Schielke. People may not know how to reach their congressman, or who their state senator is, but they know the mayor. "You are the government closest to the people," he said. A mayor also has to bear in mind that he is only hearing one side of the story. "It's valuable that you keep your perspective and understand what people are saying."
The last piece of advice may seem impossible.
"Be ready for the unexpected," Schielke said.
He recalled a day in August 1990 when he was in western Batavia and saw the worst-looking skies he had ever seen, over Randall Road. It turned out to be a storm front that sent a tornado through Plainfield, killing 29 people. "We just dodged the bullet by two or three miles," he said. " ... You never know when you are going to walk into a crisis."
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