Archive for Thursday, March 9, 2006

Wildgen accomplished much in office

March 9, 2006


Mike Wildgen, 58, began working for the City of Lawrence in 1974 following two years in the city manager's office in Olathe and two years in the city development department in Kansas City, Mo.

He received his master's degree in public administration from Kansas University in 1972.

The oldest of four brothers, Wildgen grew up in Hoisington where his parents owned and operated the Barton County Lumberyard. His father, Henry, served on the Hoisington City Council.

Wildgen became the acting city manager on Oct. 25, 1989, following the death of City Manager Buford Watson. On April 12, 1990, Wildgen had the acting title removed and was named Watson's replacement after a four-month, nationwide search. He was hired on a 4-1 vote with Commissioner David Penny expressing concerns about the hiring process.

Wildgen was the commission's second choice. A month before his hiring, commissioners offered the job to Gary Eide, city manager of Salem, Ore. Eide declined the job, which sent the commission into a monthlong regrouping effort.

During his tenure, Wildgen was most often praised as an astute budget maker. That was his primary responsibility while an assistant manager under Watson's administration. At times, though, Wildgen was criticized by some commissioners for being too conservative and keeping too much money in reserve for contingency funds. But Wildgen avoided any major budget crises during his tenure, in part, by falling back on reserve funds during economic downturns when sales tax collections grew slower than expected.

Major events that happened during his tenure include:

¢ Significant additions to the parks and recreation program following the approval of a countywide 1-cent sales tax in the mid 1990s. Included in the list of projects were an indoor aquatic center, the Eagle Bend Golf Course, the Lawrence Softball Complex, renovation of the outdoor aquatic center and the East Lawrence Recreation Center.

¢ Creation of the T, the city's public transportation system.

¢ Approval of Horizon 2020, the city-county comprehensive plan.

¢ A number of responses to the 1993 flood that left much of North Lawrence under water. In addition to overseeing emergency efforts to drain flood water, the city rebuilt portions of North Second and North Third streets and added a large stormwater pump station to the area.

¢ Merger of the Lawrence fire department with the Douglas County ambulance service to create Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical.

¢ Oversaw expansions of the city's wastewater plant, including the most recent one that wrapped up in the early part of this decade. There has been some criticism that the most recent expansion was not planned well enough, forcing the city to undertake building a second plant sooner than was needed.

l Created a stormwater utility that charges households and businesses in the city a monthly fee to build and maintain projects designed to alleviate flooding.

¢ Saw several downtown projects occur, including a new 400-plus-space parking garage in the 900 block of New Hampshire. The garage was built as part of a public-private partnership that marked the first time the city had used Tax Increment Financing. The development attracted the Lawrence Arts Center, which built a facility in the block, but it has not attracted the large-scale commercial development that was anticipated to help pay for the garage.

¢ Continued westward growth of the city. Bob Billings Parkway west of Wakarusa Drive was extended during his tenure, along with a major expansion of Sixth Street west of Wakarusa. The city experienced its first significant growth in the northwest part of the city during his tenure.

¢ Led efforts to make city government more e-government friendly. He has put many city documents online for the public to access.

¢ Led implementation of city's smoking ban.

¢ Oversaw reduction in trash collection from twice per week to once per week, while creating a curbside yard waste collection program.

¢ City began using roundabouts and other traffic-calming devices during his tenure.

¢ City Commission successfully fended off attempts by Columbia/HCA to build a second hospital to compete with the nonprofit Lawrence Memorial Hospital.

¢ Added a police department service station near Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa Drive.

¢ Successfully lobbied for federal funding to expand the runway and other infrastructure at the Lawrence Municipal Airport.


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