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Todd Schmidt, Village of Waunakee

IB Wisconsin's Professional of the Week is the premier way to meet the state's professionals. This week features Todd Schmidt, village administrator/economic development director for the Village of Waunakee.

Business Address: 500 W. Main St., Waunakee, WI 53597
Phone: 608-850-5227
Birthplace: Elkhorn, Wis.
Spouse/Partner’s Name: Tonya
Board Membership: Wisconsin City/County Management Association (past president), Wisconsin Center for Music Education Board of Directors (community liaison)
Organizations: Waunakee Rotary, International City/County Management Association, Wisconsin City/County Management Association
Education: B.S. in political science, UW-Platteville; master’s in public administration, Northern Illinois University

Todd, when did you start working for the village, and how would you explain your role?
I began serving Waunakee in October of 2010. As village administrator, I oversee the day-to-day operations of the village, and am fortunately able to do so in partnership with a wonderful team of managers and staff. I serve at the pleasure of the seven-member Village Board, and am appointed to my position (not elected, which is a frequent misunderstanding). I also wear the hat of the village’s economic development director. In that role, I interact and build strong relationships with Waunakee’s existing businesses. I also work on strategies to attract new business and industry to the village.

We think that acknowledging mentors is important. Who has influenced your career the most, and in what way?
I have had the honor of serving under a number of excellent municipal managers, whether as an intern or assistant manager – Russ Van Gompel in Brown Deer, Steve Sheiffer in Janesville, Dick Maslowski in Glendale, and Al Probst in Platteville. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to them and their willingness to let me fail, learn, and grow.

If we wanted to “get into” municipal government – or stay current – what would you recommend we read?
I am a huge believer in the role of local government in enhancing the connection that people feel with where they live. A few books on my desk include For the Love of Cities (Peter Kageyama), Bowling Alone (Robert Putnam), Rise of the Creative Class (Richard Florida), and Live First, Work Second (Rebecca Ryan). I’ve also got the Bible on my desk – the greatest source of professional and personal advice that exists.

What was a personal high point in your career?
Brown Deer, Wis. – 1998. As assistant village manager, I was able to acquire a multimillion-dollar FEMA grant to assist with the acquisition, relocation, and cleanup of 10 homes that experienced severe flooding (flooding above the first floor – folks were evacuated by boat). A severe 500-year flood event occurred one week before I started the job. The high point was working with the affected families and individuals to help them through such a terrible life-changing event. It was tough to negotiate property acquisition with these owners, but we were able to reach agreement with all 10 owners and “made them whole” in the process. The passionate thank-yous I got from many of those families meant the world to me, and in many ways answered the question of why I do what I do.

What is a long-range goal that you’d like to achieve before leaving the village?
First, I have no desire to leave! My family and I have quickly fallen in love with this community. As village administrator, my key goal is to help the elected officials achieve their goals. Success is measured in my (and the village staff’s) ability to do just that. I do have a personal passion as well for enhancing the connection that people feel with the community in which they live. I find great personal satisfaction if my efforts help increase that sense of connection – aka love – for community.

What body of study or career led to this position?
I entered college majoring in electrical engineering and then switched to industrial engineering. After two and a half years studying engineering, I found that I had little passion for that profession and couldn’t see myself doing it for the rest of my professional life. So I switched to political science, worked a few internships in local government, and found my calling.

Do you feel you had any entrepreneurial interests at a young age?
If Matchbox cars and Transformers equal entrepreneurial interests, then yes.

How did you earn your first paycheck, and what did you do with it?
Cleaning dishes and mopping floors at a bakery in Elkhorn. I believe I purchased the Bryan Adams CD Waking Up the Neighbors.

What do you do “beyond the office” that brings you happiness or relaxation?
Family time – playing with kids, camping at Wisconsin state parks, exploring the world with my wife, Tonya. Love to play the drums. I like being involved and serving at our church.

Your family – care to elaborate just a little?
I’ve been married to Tonya for 13 great years. She is an assistant dean of students at UW-Madison and is fabulous at what she does. Together we have two adorable redheads – our daughter Sydney is 10, and our son Sawyer is 7. Tonya’s mom, Barb, lives with us in her own “grandmother’s suite.” It’s been a blessing to have her as part of our household. Along with our two cats and one hamster, our home makes for a bustling hub of activity.

Travel? Two questions – have you always lived in Wisconsin, and what is your favorite vacation spot?
I was born and raised north of Elkhorn near the Lauderdale Lakes area, surrounded by farm fields (but not on a farm). My wife and I love Mexico and the Caribbean islands. We spent our honeymoon in Jamaica – the awesome Jamaican people, the sounds, the smells. … Aghh, take me back now!

I can pack quick! But if we were going to Jamaica, what book might you take on the plane? What is a recent title that might give us the flavor of what you like to read?
I really enjoy the James Bond novel series in the post-Ian Fleming era. Also like Mario Puzo and Dan Brown. I have a personal goal of reading all of the presidential biographies, but have only finished two so far. Got a long way to go.

What character in any book would you most like to be identified with, and why? Mr. Bond?
Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird – wise, value-centered, full of humility.

Todd, what three words might you use to best describe the real Todd?
Christian, easy-going, value-centered.

Given those strengths, who would you most like to be a mentor to, or have the most influence on – and in what way?
Young college-age students who are interested in a career in serving the public as a local government manager. My profession, like many, is seeing an exodus of many seasoned baby boomers, and there is hope for a strong, passionate, and talented next generation. However, working in local government is not considered glamorous, and is often a thankless task. But there are so many rewarding aspects to serving the public and making a positive impact on individuals and families and where they live. All that’s great about this job, when looking at the big picture, easily overshadows all that is challenging.

What special career advice do you have for someone who is looking for meaningful work in this economic climate?
Be optimistic. There is great power in optimism, and it’s obvious whether you’ve got it or not. Unspoken optimism reflected in an interview is a huge selling point.

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May 17, 2012 06:28 pm
 Posted by  pvansan

Great article. I have the privilege seeing and working with Todd as an administrator colleague from another Dane County community. Todd has struck me as an innovator and very hard worker in our profession - I'm glad to be able to learn from him.

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