My Thoughts on Dean Zuleger’s Departure from Weston

I pride myself on being one of those people who are prepared.  I have a plan A, a plan B, sometimes I have to even go with plan F option 2 when faced with a challenge.  However, every now and then I am completely blindsided.  Yesterday, I was caught by complete surprise.

 

A friend of mine who knows I am considering leaving real estate and knows that I have applied for the Kronenwetter Village Administrator job sent me a text message asking if I had plans on applying for Dean Zuleger’s job in Weston.  What?  Why would I apply for a job that is filled?  It wasn’t, Dean resigned.  I sat there staring at my phone, and quickly jumped to the Wausau Daily Herald’s website where this was confirmed.  After over a decade, Dean had stepped down as Weston’s Village Administrator, resignation effective immediately.

 

Holy Crap!

 

Dean and I have an interesting relationship.  I will be honest, I don’t consider him a friend.  However, I really don’t consider many people my “friends”… my threshold for friendship is pretty high.  Do I like Dean?  Sometimes…  However, I have the strongest amount of respect for him.  That is my primary feelings for Dean – RESPECT!  In all my years working closely with a number of municipal governments, and a number of people in each of those government entities… I can say that I respect Dean more than any other municipal leader I have ever worked with, with the only exception maybe being the late Mayor James Krause of Schofield.

 

Dean is a very no nonsense guy.  He didn’t mince words, he told you what he felt.  And, that type of up front personality sometimes doesn’t mesh well with others.  But, his job wasn’t to make friends and blow sunshine up peoples’ butts.  His job was to provide guidance to Weston’s elected leaders and then, once those elected leaders set policy, to carry out their policy objectives.  And whether you like Dean or not, it is very difficult to deny that he is very very good at what he does.

 

Dean was different from many municipal leaders because he really wanted to know what you had to say.  When you called the phone number listed for him on the Weston website, you didn’t get the front desk who would screen the call, that phone number rang in his office.  Of course he is a busy guy so you got voice mail more often than not.  But I would get a call back fairly soon after leaving the message.  And, although you often got his voice mail, you also often got him.  Has anyone called the number forWausau’s Mayor and had the mayor answer the phone directly?

 

Many people who don’t like him or had disagreements with him would argue that he was not open to different ideas.  Personally, I think that may be because these people didn’t understand Dean’s personality or leadership style.  I did.  I am one of those people who complain a lot.  If you have read what I write, I am quick to criticize when I think our leaders are doing an awful job.  However, I do have a personal philosophy that you should not criticize unless you have a better idea.  Telling someone they have a problem is pointless unless you have a suggestion for a solution.  It is very likely they already know they have a problem.

 

So, if you wanted to confront Dean about how wrong he was about a certain issue or action, that was fine with Dean.  Well.. that was fine as long as you were willing to actually DISCUSS the issue.  Sit down, talk about what was wrong with the issue or action, and determine if there was a different or better way the situation could be handled.  If instead you were looking for a fight, saying he was wrong and you were going to go with the philosophy that the loudest voice should win…  well… Dean was not one who often backed down.

 

I don’t think that Dean is without his faults.  One of his biggest was that he claimed that he really wasn’t political, he just was doing his job getting things done that needed to get done.  However, in my opinion, he was very political.  He knew the game.  There is politics in government, and to get things done you have to play political games.  I hate those games, but I know that if you don’t play, you don’t win.  I had no problem with Dean knowing and playing the game so well… my only problem was his insistence that he wasn’t playing the game.

 

Even those that hate Dean and are celebrating his departure would have to admit that Weston is better now than it was when Dean started 11 years ago.  Weston’s tax rate has only gone up very slightly in those 11 years.  However, at the same time Weston has turned from a bedroom community to a place where there are a large number of employers.  Weston’s infrastructure has improved considerably.  The hospital has to be one of the best changes in Weston over that time.  The Everest Metro police department has grown to offer many services that can be found in larger departments, but at a fraction of the cost.  Weston now has full time fire and ambulance service (and their response to a small fire at an apartment complex of mine Monday evening was nothing short of amazing).  While other communities are losing valuation, Weston is gaining it.

 

How much of this was Dean?  I don’t know… but it happened under his watch.  And let’s be honest, when things go downhill, we blame the leader even if said leader had no control over the situation.  So, it is only fair to give some credit to the person in charge of day-to-day operations when things go very well also.

 

There are some things that I don’t like that have happened under Dean’s watch.  Although I think doing something to “spice up” theSchofield Avenuemedians was a very good idea, I do think it was overdone.  Making a left turn ontoSchofield Ave.from an intersection without a stoplight borders on suicide if you are not in a high profile vehicle where you can see over the raised median.  (They did listen to people like me and cut them down a bit near intersections to help with visibility, but that only helped a little.)  The Ross Avenue round-about (or traffic circle if you prefer) annoys me, and I am very happy that 1) I don’t go that way very often and 2) the Schofield Avenue/Birch street round-about never got past the planning stage. 

 

I am not a fan of the fact that Weston’s sidewalk policy changes almost every year.  One year all streets get sidewalks… then that changes where there is a sidewalk plan and only certain streets get them.  One year adjoining property owners must pay for the installation of sidewalks through special assessments, then that changes where the Village will pay for them from the general fund.  As much as I appreciate that the reason why these sidewalk policies kept changing (from input from Weston taxpayers), it is still frustrating when you don’t know from year to year what the policy is.. and what it will be next year.

 

One thing that Dean brought to Weston was stakeholder input when tackling complicated issues.  The Wausau Daily Herald article commented on how those affected were asked to participate in the process of establishing a smoking ban before the state addressed the issue.  I had the chance to serve on two such “task force” type committees in Weston.  I represented multifamily housing owners when Weston was exploring creating a stormwater utility to help pay for some unfunded DNR mandates without raising taxes.  And, most recently I chaired the task force that was tasked with re-writing Weston’s chronic nuisance ordinance.

 

The nuisance ordinance was an interesting little adventure.  Weston was looking at updating theirs to better address zoning compliance issues as well as criminal activity.  However, the one they were proposing was not well written at all.  I had a chance to review it, posted a blog entry about it, and then was on the road to southernWisconsinfor an appointment I had for something or other.  I remember getting a call from a reporter from the Daily Herald about my thoughts.  Then the reporter called Dean for comment.  After reading my blog, Dean thought I made some valid points and made some tweeks.  So the reporter called me back to say that Dean changed this or that… so I then brought up some other issues, the reporter called Dean back.. and through about 3-4 phone calls, the final decision Dean made was to do what Weston normally does, and that is get the opinions of those that will be most impacted.

 

As I said earlier… many that really don’t like Dean simply don’t understand his leadership style.  But… I do.  Dean called me to discuss this nuisance ordinance issue.  Again, I not only pointed out some problems with the proposal, but I was also able to provide some solutions (remember, for me it is pointless to point out an issue unless you have an idea to make it better).  Dean called me out.  If he thought I could do better, then I should… he was going to put together a task force to look at the ordinance and asked me to chair it.  I accepted the challenge and everyone who has seen the finished product that came out of that task force admit that it is probably one of the best such ordinances in the state.

 

I am going to miss Dean.  I still miss long time Village President Vilas Machmueller.  Vilas and Dean truly worked as a team.

 

I have to wonder if that team relationship is still in place with Dean and Weston’s elected leaders.  Dean and Vilas shared a similar vision for Weston.  Therefore, it was probably enjoyable for Dean to follow the direction given to him by the board when he agreed with it.  I don’t know if Dean and the board still share that same vision.  Of course, I am now only speculating.  I don’t know if Dean and the board share the same vision or not.  But if they don’t, it would seem like a good time to walk away.  From personal experience, when your job is to carry out what your leader(s) envision, but you don’t share that vision, the job because very stressful.

 

In my job, sometimes I have to be the bad guy.  But, it is less stressful to be the bad guy when you are doing it for what you believe is the right reason.  But, when you are trying to establish a new policy and you are told by those affected how bad that new policy is… it becomes much more stressful to enforce the new policy when you agree 100% with those who are fighting you.  (Again, I don’t know.. but I speculate that Weston’s bus service question is an issue where Dean was asked to enforce a new policy that he probably didn’t agree with totally.)

 

Going back to the question that prompted my learning of Dean’s departure… will I apply for this job?  I don’t know. CurrentVillagePresident Fred Schuster and I have butted heads on more than one occasion and I don’t know that those previous incidents would allow serious consideration.  Also, I don’t know that I am qualified.

 

The Kronenwetter job is different.  There are a lot of challenges that community is facing and I am very good at handling challenges.

 

Dean… Thank you for what you have done to make Weston a better place.  Thank you for the spirited discussions.  Thank you for being willing to listen.  Thank you for showing me the same level of respect that I have earned through our interactions that I have given you.  Thank you for allowing me to participate in local government.  Thank you for being a role model when it comes to municipal leadership, if I am chosen on a career path of municipal government leadership, I will take much of what I have learned from you and try to apply it. 

 

Finally, Dean… please stay in touch.  You know how to find me.

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About drrent

Wausau, Wisconsin Landlord, past president of the Wisconsin Apartment Association, Host of the Dr Rent Radio Show on WNRB-LP, 93.3 FM, Wausau, WI
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One Response to My Thoughts on Dean Zuleger’s Departure from Weston

  1. JT says:

    My direct contact time with Dean was probably less than 15 minutes back in the 1980s. However, his insight and direction have been instrumental in my interning with a few MCs. For his taking the time to advise me, pro bono, I am very grateful.

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