Former alderman Dave Nold, now Mayor Nold, has his work cut out for him now that he leads group he characterized as having “too much dissension and acrimony”
Former Oconomowoc Mayor Floss Whelan is right: New Mayor Dave Nold deserves a chance to show that he can lead the city. Nold was appointed mayor by a split vote of his peers at the July 21 council meeting. Whelan made her observation in her column in a recent Oconomowoc Focus.
That Nold was a candidate for the post was not a surprise. That he won a majority of the votes was a surprise because Nold, while championing his leadership qualities and extensive experience as an alderman, has not been a leader, at least not publicly. In fact, Nold voted regularly in favor of former Mayor Jim Daley’s agenda. Rarely, if ever, did he stake a position on his own. His reluctance may have been because he saw no need to do so; like Daley, Nold was decidedly pro-development. That’s not necessarily bad, but it often left him in the shadow of the former mayor.
Nold is not a smile, say hello, pat-you-on-the-back type of politician. He can be blunt, direct, and inflexible. Again, this is not necessarily bad, but in a deliberative body, which the council is, that approach can be divisive.
During the questioning session that was held with all the applicants for the mayoral appointment, Nold said a couple of things that were surprising. For example, when asked by a fellow aldermen, Ken Herro, if he thought that the council was “stronger today than it was a year ago,” due to the regular scheduling of committee of the whole meetings, Nold quickly said, “No.” He then characterized the council as having “too much dissension and acrimony.” That surprised a number of people, including Herro, who along with several other aldermen, has championed the use of committee of the whole meetings as an important tool for helping the council move forward. Daley disdained the meetings and Nold, as the council president, also did not see their value.
Nold also attacked former alderman Jay Larsen for what Nold characterized as Larsen’s lack of leadership. Larsen offered himself up as a compromise candidate for the mayor post, one who would serve as a caretaker until the next election. Nold would have none of that and his attack on someone who had served the council honorably for almost as many years as Nold was unseemly and a surprise. Yes, politics can often be bloody, but Nold’s self-aggrandizing approach was in sharp contrast to Larsen and Charlie Shaw, another alderman seeking the appointment. Shaw was clearly uncomfortable being forced to say, “Look at me,” while Nold, the aggressor, did not hold back.
That leadership style apparently was enough to convince aldermen Mike Miller, Tom Strey, Jeff Schmidt, and Nold himself (the rules adopted by the council allowed Nold to vote for himself and ask questions of the other applicants, who were unable to direct their questions to him) that he was the man for the job.
Let’s hope that Nold, now that he is out from under Daley’s shadow, will emerge as a true leader and that he will be less combative and more embracing of others who may differ from his opinions and style.
One of the first things he must do–since he raised the issue–is figure out how to lessen or decrease the dissension and acrimonious nature of the council’s deliberations. If he doesn’t, if he doesn’t reach out to the members who he thinks have created the issue, he will find it difficult to move the city forward. “I mean we have valid debates, but we don’t get anything done,” Nold said about the body of which he was a key player.
Changing what he perceives is a council that isn’t getting anything accomplished won’t be an easy challenge for Nold, especially for someone who is not used to fostering collaborations and who has shown a willingness to attack rather than negotiate. But if he is successful, if he is willing to recognize the opportunities that exist for him to become a leader, and capitalize on them, everyone will benefit. Time will tell.