DECATUR — Scot Wrighton is leaving a small LaSalle County city nearly transformed from when he arrived for his second stint as city manager there, business leaders and local officials say.
"What's happened here in the last four or five years is remarkable," said Steve Broadus, owner of fuel supplying business in Streator, where Wrighton has served as city manager since 2014. "A lot of it had to do with just an attitude change and getting people involved and Scot was able to do that. I think that was very important."
In 1987, Wrighton was hired as Streator's first city manager, after voters decided to change its form of government by referendum. He left in 1994, serving for nine years as city manager in Kirksville, Missouri, and later joined the faculty of the University of Georgia's Carl Vinson Insitute of Government. Before coming back to Illinois, he spent five years as a city manager for a privately planned city in India called Lavasa.
Streator is about 80 miles southwest of Chicago and has a population of about 13,000. Area leaders pointed to a revitalization of a shopping center, new national chains in the area — like Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin Robbins — and grants that refurbished downtown storefronts as recent successes under Wrighton's stewardship.
"We're seeing things we haven't seen here for years," Broadus said.
Wrighton also helped Streator shore up its finances by finding new revenue sources and moving municipal work done by full-time employees to private contractors and part-time employees who are not eligible for public pensions benefits.
"You can't keep hiring new employees to do things you'd like to do because of pensions essentially," said Streator City Councilman Ed Brozak.
He also worked to draw in a flurry of solar and wind farms in the area as a way to generate new tax revenues. "Streator's probably got more wind farms around and solar farms around than anywhere in Illinois, and that's all Scot's doing," Broadus said
The success has not come without hard decisions and criticism.
Wrighton met strong resistance from Streator's local police and fire unions when the city tried to negotiate new contracts that would allow, among other changes to worker benefits, part-time officers to work hours if no full-time employee of the force was available. An arbitrator through the Illinois Labor Relations Board ruled against the city's proposal and in favor the police union's proposal.
"At the end of the day, on multiple occasions we just had to move onto these next processes of these disagreements," said Kurt Snow, president of the Streator Firefighters Union Local 56, which has now moved into further legal proceedings to settle similar disputes, including the use of part-time workers. "He's a very smart guy — he's kept us on our toes, I can tell you that much."
Others in Streator noted Wrighton's intelligence and drive for results. "I think Scot's a bulldog," said Jack Dzuris, executive director of the Streator Area Chamber of Commerce. "When he gets something in mind to get done, he sees it through."
One reason the new city manager in waiting won over the Decatur council was his eclectic resume in academia and other parts of the world.
"I think that the different experiences that the city council saw in my background are ones that enable me to bring a wider range of options" to accomplish the council's agenda, Scot Wrighton said at press conference in the City Council Chambers inside the Decatur Civic Center Wednesday. "Some of which are creative and outside the box, but all within the context of the direction the city council sets."