Ward 4 councilman shares thoughts after eight years on city council
After eight years as the Ward 4 city council member, David Wiechman’s term has come to end. On Nov. 7, David Skilling was elected to fill his seat and will be sworn in on Nov. 27.
The Sentinel spoke with Wiechman about his experiences on council, challenges facing the city and advice for Skilling.
What were your goals when you were first elected?
I originally ran to heal the community divisions arising out of the Solterra and Switch for the Ditch controversy. I believed if someone from the community was involved in the city’s decision-making process, we could achieve better outcomes. My goal was to create a real collaboration between citizens and city government.
What’s the biggest change in the community you’ve seen during your time?
Obviously, the massive housing development in Rooney Valley and along Union Boulevard, with the associated overcrowding problems, that resulted from the radical changes to the zoning code in 2013.
What accomplishment are you most proud from your time on council?
Stopping the insane proposal to spend $25 to $28 million (we never did know how much) of the taxpayers’ dollars to acquire (and therefore be responsible for) the 59 acres of contaminated land on the Federal Center to build another high-density housing project. The incredible financial risk and adverse impact of all those additional people could have ruined the community. And the fact they tried to cram it through at the last moment was just unconscionable. Although the city did waste a million dollars trying to pull it off, in the end we managed to dodge the bullet.
What do you wish you’d made more progress on during your time on council?
In the area of growth management, I wish we could have restored the previous requirement that developers either donate land for parks and open space or pay a fee equal to the fair market value of the land. I would have re-established the caps on how many housing units could be crammed into a housing project. Finally, I would have clarified that multi-use zones must have more than one use rather than being solely devoted to multi-family housing (and therefore are able to avoid providing the amenities required in residential zones).
I wish I could have done more to open the process to ordinary citizens. Rather than council just appointing citizens who are cheerleaders to our boards and commissions I wanted to involve citizens with diverse views.
What plans do you have once your term is over?
Travel, enjoy retirement but be available for advice and assistance so the new councilmembers aren’t forced to re-invent the wheel. Continue to work to make a better community.
What advice do you have for your successor?
The administration will subtly pressure you to be a team player (the council team) and go along with their program. While a councilmember needs to work with everyone, they should never forget they don’t work for staff. Instead the administration should work for the council and the council should work for the citizens.
Our system of checks and balances requires our elected officials to oversee staff and be a watchdog for the people’s interests. If councilmembers get too friendly with staff they can become complacent, lose their objectivity and eventually become compromised. As a former president once said, “Trust, but verify.” Councilmembers have a fiduciary responsibility to their constituents to be constantly on guard to protect our community and its assets.
What do you want to say to your constituents?
A big thank you to my constituents for advising me these past eight years and for sticking by me. Thanks to all the voters who were wise enough not to be swayed by the flood of advertising bought by the ton of special interest money that poured in.
While your council member is your champion and protector, you have an equal responsibility to be an informed and involved citizen. This is a partnership where you need to help your councilmember with your wisdom, insight and encouragement. Don’t become lazy and expect council to do everything for you. This partnership requires citizens be the other half of the real team — the community team.