In recent weeks, Mark Schwiebert has been clearing out notes and files that he’s kept over the past 20 years, trying to make room for Rock Island’s next mayor.
Most of the paperwork is in his writing, which he jokes no one else could interpret.
“I’ve been kind of ruthless going through my old files and getting rid of stuff,” he said.
Schwiebert is looking forward to having more time for family and hobbies once the new mayor is sworn in May 4, but there are some things he will miss at City Hall.
“The staff and fellow mayors,” he said. “I will miss them for sure. The relationships and ability to problem-solve.”
Schwiebert said some of his most enjoyable experiences as mayor have been sitting down with others to brainstorm solutions to local problems, such as the potential closure of the Rock Island Arsenal or the purchase of a hydroelectric plant to cut down on utility costs.
“We’ve had to decide how to use money creatively,” he said. “We’ve come up with ideas on how to use things like Habitat Park.”
Habitat for Humanity has used the park to build new homes on vacant lots.
Of the accomplishments he’s most proud of, Schwiebert lists three above the rest. The first was maintaining a responsible government that tried to be proactive by encouraging downtown redevelopment, anticipating government trends and managing conservatively.
He said the city has reduced property taxes while also facing federal requirements for various repairs, including sewer improvements. He said officials have done so by reducing the city’s reliance on tax revenues.
The second accomplishment he listed was building partnerships between the city and local businesses and neighborhoods.
“We’ve tried to be a community that welcomes expansion of businesses,” he said.
The last accomplishment was “regionalism,” or building relationships with other local cities. Schwiebert said that effort has kept the Rock Island Arsenal from closing and has reduced costs for each city through shared services.
“Twenty years ago, we didn’t think about doing things together,” he said. “We kind of looked at each other suspiciously over the back fence.”
Schwiebert said he now meets with area mayors once a month to discuss development opportunities and possible threats.
His greatest disappointment was not doing more to restore the city’s population, which suffered a steep decline after factory closures in the 1980s. However, Schwiebert is encouraged by Rock Island’s recent success at drawing younger residents to renovated lofts downtown.
“Those upper floors stood empty for 30 to 40 years,” he said. “Now, we’ve filled up most of the buildings.”
The mayor thinks the city needs to continue efforts to attract younger residents and said the community’s diverse cultural activities should be a draw.
As for the perception of Rock Island’s crime problems, Schwiebert said the city has been trying to address those issues.
“We’ve been very proactive in changing the image of the city,” he said. “There are some negative stereotypes that we need to get away from. They’re not accurate. What we need is to ask people to take a look and open their eyes.”
As an attorney with his own law office in Moline, Schwiebert has managed to adjust his daily schedule for his mayoral responsibilities over the years. He practices law through the day, saving his city work for morning, noon and night.
When trips to Washington, D.C., and Springfield have been necessary, he’s made the time for travel.
“It’s been a challenge,” he acknowledged, adding he’s avoided any municipal work as an attorney for fear it would compromise his relationships as mayor.
Once he leaves office, Schwiebert will continue his law practice, spend time with his wife and stay active on a few boards he’s already on, including a consortium that is pursuing options for sustainable energy.
“I’m going to stay involved with that because it’s something that I care deeply about,” he said.
Eight organizations already have asked if he could serve on their boards, but Schwiebert has declared a personal “six-month moratorium” on accepting such offers. In the meantime, he will keep himself busy with hobbies, such as writing, painting and travel.
“I’ve been squeezing my hobbies in on Sunday,” he said.
Thoughts on Mayor Mark Schwiebert’s departure from office:
Connie Hayes, Community Caring Conference: “I think Mayor Mark is great, and it was a pleasure working with him, and the Community Caring Conference team really thanks him for all his support. Anytime we called him he was there. He was just a hands-on mayor.”
John Phillips, Rock Island city manager: “He represents the city very well at local, regional and national levels. He’s just a great spokesperson for the city. He understands our form of government and understands the importance of providing that strong policy leadership. He allows people like us (city staff) to do the job we’re trained to do ... He will be missed.”
Brian Hollenback, president Renaissance Rock Island: “I credit his creative leadership to setting the stage for all of the things we’ve accomplished here. It’s a real privilege to be able to work for and with someone who has so many talents and so many convictions about what he believes and does.”
Diane Oestreich, Rock Island Preservation Society member: “Mark was a young alderman when we initiated the preservation commission, and he took a great interest in that, and as a lawyer, he was able to explain it to the council in a way they were comfortable with. He is a historian and an artist, and I think those sensibilities show in his work.”
Jim Morgan, Rock Island Arsenal Development Group: “He was very instrumental on trying to get the focus on the island and the importance of it. There was an Arsenal task force, and he was a mover behind that.”
Bill Gluba, Davenport mayor: “Mark’s service has always reflected the mettle of George Washington, a public figure whom he most admired, who had no other view than to promote the public good … unambitious of honors not founded in the approbation of my country. There is no question in my mind that he has been one of the finest and most principled mayors in the country.”
W. Kenny Massey, president Modern Woodmen of America: “As a Rock Island business, we at Modern Woodmen have worked with Mayor Schwiebert over many years. The mayor has been a wonderful representative for the city during his time in office. I admire his desire to improve Rock Island, especially the downtown area.”
Don Welvaert, Moline mayor: “Mark has always been a friend and a statesmen. He really has supported not only Rock Island, but he has worked hard to bring the Quad-Cities together as a region. I remember my first day in office four years ago. He offered to get together for lunch and help me getting started with my mayoral duties. He was my first call.”