Jan 2, 2020

Watertown Mayor Looks Ahead

Watertown Mayor Emily McFarland sat down with the Watertown Daily Times to discuss the events of 2019, including her first year in office, as well as her hopes and goals for the city in 2020.

McFarland, who is the first female mayor in the city’s history, was elected in April at the age of 34. During her first year as mayor, McFarland has overseen numerous changes for the city of Watertown, including creating a plan to revitalize Main Street, overseeing renovations to the city’s library, passing stricter laws against who may purchase electronic smoking devices in the city and countless other city-wide events including a 9/11 moment of silence and even an ugly sweater day.

During her interview, McFarland discusses the accomplishment of bringing together all the different city departments into one complete unit, the struggle of balancing work in the city with the number of city employees and her goal to bring new aesthetic changes to the downtown and continuing progress with new city council members to be elected next year.

How was the first year in the mayor’s office for you?

It was exciting and challenging, but very fulfilling. I feel really thankful to be able to have this job and to serve the community that I love and that I think is one of the best communities in the state of Wisconsin so it’s a privilege. I’m happy that I won and that I’m able to do it and I have a really great team so I’m appreciative of them.

What has been the city’s biggest accomplishment for 2019?

Internally, I’m incredibly proud of the movement we have made towards becoming one united team versus 12 separate teams. We have 11 departments, then there’s me, then there’s the airport and I am really pleased with the movement we’ve made and coming together as one and just seeing the value of doing things collectively versus divided up.

Externally, it is tough to pick one thing, but I think the positive momentum downtown is pretty powerful. In a matter of six months, the downtown is going to aesthetically look different. A lot of that footwork is behind the scenes right now. It’s inside of buildings and in designs and things people can’t see, which is probably more of why I should say that is probably our biggest accomplishment. We’ve had so many plans over the course of time, even in the time I was on the city council, so to actually have this plan that we said we are doing this, whether it is the 100 block or the library and truly mobilizing it, is a profound success.

What is a personal accomplishment you felt proud of this year?

I feel really proud of the success we’ve had inside of these walls (city hall). Public employees are something that matter a lot to me. I think if we value the people who are providing service they provide even better service and I want them to know how much I appreciate them and advocate for them. I can start to feel that momentum swing. I spent a lot of energy and time cultivating that and so I’m really proud that has come to pass.

What was your favorite moment of the year (2019)?

I have to tell you and it may be because it was early on, but one of my favorite moments that pops into my head right away was speaking at my first DARE graduation. I was a kid who was pretty straight-laced so to be able to stand in front of a room full of young children and tell them it is possible to be successful and somewhat cool, is normally what I joke about, in life and to have done it. I have never used drugs, I have never smoked, I have never chosen violence—to be able to say that in front of a bunch of kids was really fulfilling personally. Then I would say, (being able to visit) the White House, it’s kind of a tough one to top. To be able to be in the White House for work to advocate on behalf of this city was pretty profound.

What was the biggest surprise for you?

I could tell you, hands down, the largest surprise I have is the amount of work that we accomplish with the amount of staff we have. This is the first time in my career where I’ve had more issues to address than I have had staff to address them, so that’s been a challenge for me as a leader. I can’t just say, “Hey, secretaries office, I need more people” and with a few hoops to jump through we get them. I don’t have that luxury here. So I, hands down, was shocked by the volume of work we achieved with the level of staffing that we have. We reduced the staff in around 2008 and we have not returned to that level of staffing and the work has surpassed….We have more development than we had in ‘08, we have more emergency service needs. All of that is more, but our staffing level is not, so for sure the most surprising.

What was the biggest struggle of the year?

I would say (staffing) is my largest struggle. We can achieve so much more if we had more people, but that comes at a cost, so it’s really about benefiting the cost benefit of that. I am very confident in saying that investments and infusions of a person here or there would make a big impact for us….We have people working 100 hours a pay period, 90 hours a pay period, consistently, and research will tell you that is not sustainable. So that’s a tough point for me.

What are your goals as mayor in 2020?

I want to make sure we make some physical design aesthetic change in our downtown. There’s going to be a couple of larger ideas that I need us to flesh out. If I wouldn’t have said staffing, my next answer would be our limited revenue streams is a huge challenge for us. So I’m going to be asking my team and I to run down some ideas, truthfully just ideas. I don’t know if any of them are going to work, but we’ve got to run the course and see if any of these ideas can help us create additional revenue streams. I’m looking in 2020 to firm up our IT situation. I think that’s a risk for us. We’re looking at ways we can engage a different section of our citizenry. I always talk about it as reaching a new population of people. So if that’s welcoming new residents or providing some of our information in Spanish, we need to start to reach new populations of people in the city. We will be having interns more widespread….We are looking to expand, given the limited staffing I just talked about. We are looking to expand our internship representation here so we need to formalize that. I could go on and on, but I won’t.

What do you hope for or expect out of 2020?

2020 is going to be a big year because half of our council, I think, will turn over. We have three alders who are term-limited and one that has noted he won’t be running for re-election, so we’ll have four new seats. I know that we are going to need to do some education of that new council and I’m expecting continued progress. Once we get the new team in the fold with the new council, I’m expecting us to start knocking off some of these ideas. I’m expecting things to be a little more efficient. We spent a good amount standardizing stuff since April and I’m hoping we’ll be able to provide a little bit more data around some of the decisions that we make.