Oak Creek — After six years in Oak Creek and 34 years in the field, Gerald "Jerry" Peterson has seen his share of administrative ups and downs.
At least he ended on a decisive high note.
Peterson recently retired as Oak Creek's city administrator, leaving behind a city that has seen drastic development during his tenure. Among other things, his retirement now allows him to reflect on his role as well as Oak Creek's recent past and its near and distant futures.
On the job
Peterson views Oak Creek as a community that had challenging development issues but achieved a significant success nonetheless.
He said it's not hard to find people with the vision of a "shining city on a hill," but there's much more to the job than that in terms of organizing, managing and leading a team.
Peterson said during his time he took the public trust seriously and he valued honesty and integrity. He said one of the biggest challenges is keeping the discussion between the public and government ongoing. He said people need to participate, and when they don't, the sense of community can be lost.
"We need an informed electorate, we need active outreach," Peterson said.
While the city has done a good job pivoting from a more rural community into a more complex city, Peterson said the city is still going through "introspective questions." He said Oak Creek is still young and needs to "continue to think bold."
"The city's growing up," Peterson said.
When he came to the job in 2010, Peterson said Oak Creek officials wanted a new city hall and a new library, and they got it. He said the common council chose to invest in the city and it's paying off.
Regarding the continued development of Oak Creek, Peterson called the interchange at Drexel Avenue and Interstate 94 a "catalyst" for the city's success.
He said the city still needs to work on the development of the 27th Street corridor. Peterson also said he looks forward to future activity near the IKEA site.
Other updates include Abendschein Park, which is included in the 2017 budget. Peterson said he'd like to see a splash park there instead of a possible pool.
Additionally, residents could see pavilions and the completion of a trail and bridge system. Potentially, the city could even purchase property nearby to make the park bigger.
Peterson said Drexel Town Square has an entertaining future in the works as well with a twice-a-week farmers market, food trucks, movie nights, and concerts all being discussed.
Looking to the future
The more distant future, of course, will solely rest on the work of others, including his immediate replacement.
Andrew Vickers started in late October and fully took over the job of city administrator for Oak Creek on Nov. 1. Peterson called Vickers "energetic and knowledgeable."
When asked what changes he wishes the city would implement, Peterson said the organizational structure could use some adjustment. Additionally, he said there are "tools" that could be used more as well as working to coordinate and consolidate services.
"The city would do well to look at organizations that they respect and emulate them," Peterson said.
As for his own future, Peterson said it was going to be hard for him to unplug, but he plans to take it easy with some of his hobbies including hunting, fishing, and gardening.
Now that he's retired, Peterson told his wife he can now stay home with the kids.
He said she reminds him they're already out on their own.
"See how well that worked out for me," Peterson jokes.
At his final common council meeting, city officials commented on Peterson's work for the city.
"You know your stuff," said Alderman Mike Toman.
Mayor Steve Scaffidi said he gets a lot of credit for the growth of Oak Creek, but he's not solely responsible.
"A lot of credit should go to you," he said, looking at Peterson. "The story of Oak Creek is told by the people who work in Oak Creek."
Alderman Dan Bukiewicz said Peterson was "professional through and through" and he'd learned a lot from him.
Peterson thanked the common council for the opportunity to "lead in a transformational time."