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Schmidt is the man in Milton

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Stacy Vogel
April 28, 2008
— Todd Schmidt points to a pile of sturdy, colorful maps leaning against the back wall of his office as evidence of Milton’s progress over the past five years.

He digs through plans intended to create busier industrial areas and more vibrant commercial districts.


He eagerly pulls out various designs for Crossridge Park, once the hoped-for site of a dog park and now site of a planned collaboration with the YMCA.


He gestures at maps showing the planned realignment of highways 59 and 26, something Schmidt says has been one of the city’s biggest projects since he came on board in 2003.


This month marks Schmidt’s fifth anniversary as Milton city administrator. He has overseen a period of steady population growth—the city has grown an estimated 5 percent since 2003—coupled with economic and infrastructure expansion in Milton.


Schmidt, 33, has grown with the city in his first administrator position, he said. Although he came to the job from an assistant manager position in Brown Deer, a suburb of Milwaukee, his roots are closer to Milton, having grown up in Elkhorn.


He presents the image of an all-American boy, with his carefully maintained crew cut and crisp shirt and tie. Photographs and drawings around his office bare witness to the importance of family—wife, Tonya; 6-year-old daughter, Sydney; and 3-year-old son, Sawyer—and his Christian faith.


But don’t let the boyish exterior fool you. Schmidt has learned political skills in his five years in Milton.


In fact, Schmidt said two of the most important things he’s learned in his five years are how to balance competing interests and “portray the community in a broader spectrum, particularly with the media.”


“I’ve learned things about how an administrator needs to act and hold his or herself within a position like that,” he said. “That’s really hard to learn without being in the seat itself.”


Mayor Nate Bruce described Schmidt as media- and technology-savvy and a good listener.


“He has firm opinions, but he can change his mind, which is important,” Bruce said. “You need someone who can compromise.”


Schmidt also has learned about delegating authority, Bruce said.


“He’s learned more to channel his work that he needs to have done to other people in the office so he’s not as overloaded as he was when he began,” Bruce said.


As the full-time representative of Milton government, Schmidt becomes the go-to person for the mayor and city council. He and the rest of city staff do much of the research on proposals and other city issues, helping the council make well-informed decisions, Bruce said.


Schmidt also takes heat from residents about city affairs. For example, comments in The Janesville Gazette about the ethanol plant controversy at times invoked Schmidt when complaining about the city’s closed meetings with United Ethanol.


“Todd Schmidt says he hopes people will give the Milton council an opportunity to show it can be trusted,” read one anonymous comment in the August 12, 2007, edition of the Gazette. “Maybe some council members, but I would never trust Schmidt, and a lot of us feel that way.”


“(Schmidt) takes a lot of criticism, but he shouldn’t,” Bruce said. “People who criticize do not know all the facts.”


Schmidt said he considers himself a cog in the wheel of city government.


“It’s the elected leaders who represent the public that establish the direction for the overall community to go,” he said. “A good city administrator then helps that particular council achieve their goals.”


Ever conscious of Milton’s image, Schmidt prefers to dwell on the positives of the last five years.


Together, city elected officials, Schmidt and the rest of city staff have brought new business and vitality to the industrial park and downtown districts through tax incremental financing districts, façade improvement grants and other programs, he said.


They’ve established relationships with organizations such as the YMCA of Northern Rock County and the Milton Area Chamber of Commerce, Industry & Tourism, an organization formed last year from three pre-existing groups.


“Todd has been a great asset to us in forming MACCIT,” Chairwoman Lori Warren said. “He’s a wealth of knowledge, a strong supporter for our organization.”


Asked about controversies during his time as administrator, Schmidt e-mailed the following response to the Gazette:


“Milton’s officials and employees try to serve our citizens with integrity, honesty and accuracy. We serve many with unique needs and wants, so it’s impossible to satisfy all. Yet, we try.


“I’d be concerned if we feared risk and failure. Failure creates opportunity to learn and improve. Risk-taking shows that the city seeks continual improvement, stays ahead of the curve and attempts to succeed in every way possible.”


The city will continue to seek improvement in the next five years, Schmidt said. It will continue to deal with growth and start to address aging city facilities, such as the public works building, police station and fire station.


It will also see the fulfillment of projects already in the planning stages, such as the Crossridge Park collaboration and the reconstruction of highways 59 and 26.


Personally, Schmidt would like to find more ways to connect with the community, something he often doesn’t have time for with his busy job, he said.


“I enjoy talking with people and learning with them at a personal level, and it’s just been terribly hard to do that,” he said. “But that comes with the territory in a place like this.”



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