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After 24 years with city, Rossbach decides not to run again
Encourages November’s candidates to be ‘flexible’
Maplewood Mayor Will Rossbach has elected to take a break from politics.
After living in the city for 56 years and serving for 24 in capacities from commission member to mayor, Rossbach decided not to run for re-election in November for another four-year term.
He says his decision is sparked mostly in an increased demand for his time from his business.
”During the last year, things have changed a lot in my company (Rossbach Construction in North St. Paul). I have a much more rigid schedule than before,” Rossbach said. “I don’t have time to do the job I want to do as mayor.”
Rossbach first ran for mayor in 2005, against Diana Longrie. Longrie won that match, but in the 2009 vote Rossbach, a council member at the time, won the seat.
Rossbach’s uncle, George Rossbach, whose extensive civic involvement in Maplewood included a stint as mayor from 1998 to 1999, inspired him to become involved in Maplewood’s government.
Following his uncle’s example, Rossbach served on Maplewood’s planning commission for 14 years before he chose to run for city council, where he served for six years. His time on the city council led him to run for mayor.
Rossbach admits that his idea of what mayors do has changed since assuming the office.
“When I came into office, I was naive about how much time it would take to be mayor. You need to have a lot of involvement in and outside the city.”
“Different people will do a different job. I wanted to do as much as I could. Before I ran, I didn’t realize the impact and importance of networking with adjoining cities or even on the national level. You have to get involved in a lot of outside activities,” Rossbach added.
Observers on city staff and the council say he's handled the responsibilities well.
“He’s been a good ambassador for the city of Maplewood,” city manager Jim Antonen said. “He’s well-respected by fellow mayors in the metro area.”
Director of Citizens Services Karen Guilfoile and Council member Kathy Juenemann expressed a similar sentiment.
“He is endlessly and tirelessly looking for volunteer opportunities,” Guilfoile said. “He is very good at letting people know the city cares.”
"He has gone out of his way to do things in the community and outside the city," Juenemann added. "He gives our city a positive presence in our surrounding communities."
Rossbach says he is proud of what he and the council have accomplished in the last four years.
“One of the things we continued as a council was our commitment to being green,” Rossbach said. “We are one of a handful of Minnesota GreenStep cities who are on the third step. That’s a big deal, and something I hope we will continue to work on.”
Rossbach also acknowledges that some of the council’s decisions have encountered resistance, but he believes the council made good decisions in the long run.
“We completed the fire training center, which I’m proud we accomplished, and reorganized the fire department, which was not a popular decision,” Rossbach said. “We also organized trash collection for the city, and that makes me really proud."
The change didn't come easily. Opponents of the organized collection plan packed the council chamber and overflowed into the lobby during raucous public hearings. Rossbach, who occasionally gaveled down speakers and called for recesses to calm the crowds, and former council member John Nephew became focal points for those dissatisfied with their support for the move; Nephew was defeated in the 2012 election mainly because of the trash issue.
However, Rossbach says the result has benefited citizens across the board. "It’s a way for us to save $1 million every year, and residents can see (the savings) on their trash bill every month.”
Antonen believes the city’s organization of garbage collection was one of the most difficult challenges for Rossbach as mayor.
“Maplewood was the first city in 20 years to organize city-wide trash collection,” Antonen said. “It was the one of the toughest things he had to face as the presiding chair of the council.”
Challenges of the office
Part of being a mayor is learning how to deal with disagreement, Rossbach explained.
“Every time you do a project, there are probably going to be people who are against it. Every time you do anything, you’re going to gain some people who don’t like you.”
“There are those who appreciate what you’re doing, and there’s a group of people you’re not going to satisfy, and you’re never going to be able to make them happy,” Rossbach added.
Despite the challenges of dealing with opposing groups, Juenemann says Rossbach did his best to give each group a chance to express their opinions.
"He's done a very good job of giving everyone a say. We all have different perspectives, and he was good at giving everyone the option to say what they want to say, but then get back to the task at hand," Juenemann said.
The key to being mayor? Flexibility, Rossbach says.
“My hope for a potential candidate would be someone who is retired or has an extremely flexible schedule,” Rossbach said.
“My general philosophy is that I want to elect people who have been active in government before. If you have a better understanding of what’s going on, you’re going to be better suited to an elected position.”
However, Rossbach also encourages those with little or no prior political involvement to run as well.
“New ideas are great too,” Rossbach added. “Bringing new ideas to the table is a good thing.”
Strong connections at City Hall
“It certainly hasn’t been an easy four years,” Antonen said. “Maplewood suffered a number of problems prior to Mayor Rossbach’s term in office. It hasn’t been a cakewalk.”
Guilfoile agreed with Antonen, saying over the past four years Rossbach has been very “concerned with moving the city forward.”
Luckily, Rossbach had a solid support team to help him guide the city over the years.
“Mayors don’t do anything by themselves—they have a full council to help,” he said.
"He gave us stability that we needed, and hope to keep," Juenemann added.
Johanna Holub can be reached at email@example.com or 651-748-7814.