OAK CREEK - The city has changed over the last few years with multiple new developments and a closer community following a tragedy.
The man at the helm during that time was Steve Scaffidi, Oak Creek's mayor from 2012 until his resignation this month to allow him to serve as co-host of a radio show, “Scaffidi and Bilstad,” on WTMJ-AM 620.
As he pursues a new challenge in radio, the city must pursue its own challenges as it adjusts to change again.
In the brief span of time since his resignation, Scaffidi has had a chance to reflect on his time as mayor, both the good aspects and the tragic, plus offer advice and discuss his new position.
Prior to his public service, Scaffidi recalls that he was always curious about local government and wanted to be more involved. His first foray into the field was as an alderman, saying he felt he was good at that job.
Following the passing of Mayor Dick Bolender, who was recently honored in Drexel Town Square, Scaffidi was elected to the position in 2012.
Coincidentally, that was the start of Oak Creek's current development boom.
During his time in office, Oak Creek’s Drexel Town Square took shape, offering residents a central hub of government with the new civic center, as well as retail, restaurants, and residence with multiple apartment offerings. Additionally, a new senior center and hotel will be part of the development down the line.
“I’m going to miss the projects,” Scaffidi said.
He added that the Drexel Town Square development looks better than he anticipated.
“It’s pretty rare when the real thing looks better than the depiction,” Scaffidi said, smiling.
What drives the success in Oak Creek?
Scaffidi said the biggest factors are the city’s diverse community and the good communication from local government to the residents. He said Oak Creek marketed itself before other cities were doing so.
Not surprisingly, some residents voiced the idea that they preferred Oak Creek to retain a more small-town feel. Scaffidi said some areas of the city will stay the same, but “communities have to grow to survive,” albeit in the right places.
One form of noncommercial growth Scaffidi said he is very proud of is the added acreage of parks within the city.
Overall, Scaffidi said the most rewarding aspect of the job revolves around doing things that the majority of residents want. He said when people say they love what the city is doing, that makes it worth it.
Of course, the news wasn't always good.
“We had stories, and sometimes they were tough,” he said.
One of the toughest was the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin shooting in 2012, when Wade Michael Page killed six members of the community and eventually himself. Scaffidi said the loss of life was the most stressful and challenging aspect of his term.
“You don’t want to see people suffering,” he said.
However, Scaffidi said he wouldn’t be on a radio now if it wasn’t for that unfortunate occurrence.
“It changed who I was, how I communicated,” he said. “All those things gave me a wealth of experience.”
Scaffidi said he is proud of the city for how it recovered – becoming a closer community in the process.
Scaffidi had some advice for the incoming mayor, saying that they need to promote the city and do things that make sense for the city. He said the mayor should also be a person residents can look to for leadership and inspiration.
“Being mayor is different than being an alderman or resident,” Scaffidi said. “It’s about having vision, a clear idea of what moves the city forward. Politics isn’t to take shots at people – it’s about promoting the city.”
One concern he has is that the city has a great momentum now and has a lot of “positive buzz.” He said it’s easy to stop momentum, and he hopes that doesn’t happen with the next mayor.
“The responsibility of being mayor is significant,” Scaffidi said. “Beware of people that think backward, think forward.”
During his time in office, Scaffidi said he learned a lot with the biggest thing is being the ability to listen.
“Everyone has something to say,” he said. “You become a better listener. Whether they’re a long-time resident or just moved in, their opinion is important.”
If he could improve something in Oak Creek, Scaffidi said it would be with resident engagement.
“People are very comfortable sending emails, but they tend not to come to meetings unless they’re angry,” he said.
Scaffidi said he is enjoying co-hosting “Scaffidi and Bilstad,” a show which focuses on big news, politics, and sports stories and premiered Feb. 28. He said it’s great to work for a station he grew up listening to and likes talking about news from a local perspective.
He said he took the opportunity now because it wouldn’t have been there a year from now when his term was up.
Even though he is no longer mayor, Scaffidi said he will still be around and be involved. He started Oak Creek Cares as a fund within the Greater Milwaukee Foundation and he said he may now have more time to work with that. The fund is used to grow anti-violence programs.
Scaffidi said he is also working on another book similar to his first, “Six Minutes in August,” about the Sikh temple shooting.
For the new book, Scaffidi said he is talking to mayors across the country who have dealt with crisis situations and discussing how they dealt with their situations and maintained leadership in a crisis.
Recreation-wise, Scaffidi said he’s looking forward to having Tuesday nights off after having a meeting on that day for years. Additionally, he said he hopes to get more golfing in.
Scaffidi said it was an honor to serve the community, one he won't forget.
“It's been my privilege and honor to serve the city of Oak Creek,” Scaffidi said. “I hope the work we did and projects we worked on made the city more exciting, vibrant and diverse. It's been an absolute pleasure and joy that I’ll always remember.”