Q&A with new Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly, Pt. 2

Chris Kuhagen
New City of Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly had the support of a majority of the Common Council, including then-Common Council President Terry Thieme leading up to the mayoral election. One of Reilly's main goals is to work with the Common Council on issues.
Published on: 4/11/2014

Shawn Reilly has been an attorney his entire life.

Waukesha's new mayor says going to law school has taught him to break any type of problem down effectively.

"The method of teaching is helpful for anyone who wants to be problem solvers," said Reilly, who will be sworn in as Waukesha's mayor on Tuesday, April 15, at City Hall.

Reilly talked about using this problem-solving approach and what problems he wants to solve in part two of his sit-down interview with Waukesha NOW.

Link: Q&A with new Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly, Pt. 1 

You were heavily involved in the downtown Waukesha Business Improvement District. As the mayor, what are your plans for bringing property owners and business owners together?

In regard to mending fences in what may be two sides to downtown, that really isn't the mayor's job. My job will be to make sure both sides have a fair and level playing field and encourage both sides to discuss the issues and to try for both of these groups to figure out how they get along. It isn't going to be me telling them how they're going to get along. They're going to have to figure out how to get along.

But I'm going to be fair about it. I'm not going to be picking sides. More than anything it's going to be making sure if there are issues, they're allowed to be discussed and brought to the table. A lot of these issues don't have to be city issues.

There's been a lot of focus downtown. The city isn't just a downtown. My hope is that the people who are invested in the downtown figure out how to work together and that the mayor and the city not be deciding the issues unless it's required to be decided by the city.

Where do you see the downtown in four years?

There will always be things that need to be addressed downtown but I do see the downtown continuing to be vibrant. I'm hoping even more vibrant. I'm hoping we'll have more people using and spending money in the shops and restaurants and less vacant storefronts. Part of that is the economy, part of that is people coming back to downtown. I'm confident we can figure something out that the streets are kept clean, that the city's infrastructure is well maintained. I think it will end up being better, more inviting.

Construction will make this difficult in the interim, though, right?

The next two years are going to be tough for downtown, because we know this year you're going to have Clinton Street basically ripped to pieces. Next year you're going to have Main Street and that is going to hurt a lot of businesses. It will be a lot better when it is all completed, but construction is difficult and sometimes a killer for retail business, because if people aren't going to be walking through their door the way they were before they don't have a way to make money. However, the city is in a position where they have to fix the roads. That's going to be difficult for the businesses to weather this year.

Vacancies were popping up more before construction started. How do you combat that?

Yeah, I think there have been more vacancies downtown. I'm not going to go into whether there were disputes with landlords. I have a good idea of what the rents are. I think they're reasonable. I think some of the small businesses that have left for whatever reason and new small businesses haven't come in overall. It's skewing toward more leaving and less coming in and I see that changing big-time once all the construction is done. But right now it will be difficult for a business to come in when they see the streets being ripped up.

What will the reporting structure be between you and the city administrator and what type of relationship do you want to have with Ed Henschel?

My understanding is that Ed Henschel reports to both the mayor and the Common Council. I would hope that wouldn't change and don't see there would be any change unless some problem requires the procedure to change. I would like to have a good relationship with the city administrator. He has a tremendous amount of expertise. I'm going to be dependent upon that expertise.

What will your role be in the budget process?

What I want to stress is that we keep taxes low. I think it's clear the taxpayers are demanding that. How we do that is something that will be fully vetted during the budget meetings. When the process starts I will be fully involved in it. My goal is to increase the assessed value of the City of Waukesha, so that there is more money for paying for stuff, which hopefully will help reduce the tax levy.

What will you do to make sure the city's application for Great Lakes water is approved?

When it goes to the governors (of the states bordering the Great Lakes) to be signed, that's when the Waukesha mayor and Water Utility representatives need to try to be in contact with their governors or administrations to make sure this isn't a political issue. It needs to be about science and an issue that is decided based on the compact. Not on politics. I'd be happy to go to the other states and talk to their governors if I think it will help.

I wasn't kidding that this is an intergenerational issue for Waukesha. Getting Lake Michigan water will help solve a problem for our generation, my children's generation and their children's generation.

Where do you see Waukesha in terms of business growth?

We have seen that there are many large retail businesses who are interested in Waukesha. I think that will continue. That's not going to be my focus. I'm not opposed to retail; however, I don't think the city needs to spend a lot of capital to make that happen. What I'm interested in is increasing our manufacturing as well as trying to get some type of professional office facility. The bigger the better because both of those will add significant tax base but not add to the cost of running the city.

What areas of vacated property is of concern to you?

Obviously, I'm interested in the Fox Run Shopping Center but to a certain extent the city needs to wait for the property owner to at least come in and provide some type of proposal, the same by (the Riverfront near downtown). The city can't keep saying this is what we want there. The property doesn't get developed unless the owner decides to develop. I'm going to wait until the property owners come to the city. I and the Planning Department will have some ideas, but I'm not going to start throwing out some ideas because I think it would be offensive to the property owners that you're telling them what they're going to build without them asking or providing you with their ideas.

What kind of relationship can the city have with its neighbors, particularly the Town of Waukesha?

Towns and cities and towns and villages are kind of set up ... there's a conflict already created because property owners in towns can petition to have their land brought into a city or village. The towns don't like that, but it's set up in the statute, so there's an automatic conflict built in. All I can do is work with the Town of Waukesha and any other adjacent municipality where we have mutually beneficial ways of working together. My goal, if we do have a disagreement, is to not make it personal.

You've been an attorney for 20 plus years. Did you think you'd ever change careers?

Yes, I thought I'd change careers. I've enjoyed it tremendously. However, I'm thrilled to be trying something new. I like a challenge and I think there's no question this is going to be a challenge. I'm going to be challenged every single day. And I think I'm going to love it.