Vito tries private sectorJeff Vito started working for the city’s street division in 1973. These days, you’re more likely to see him in a suit and tie, but that’s not going to last much longer.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
Jeff Vito started working for the city’s street division in 1973.
These days, you’re more likely to see him in a suit and tie, but that’s not going to last much longer.
Next week the city’s longtime public works director — now development and government affairs director — is trading the suits and ties for more casual attire, at least for a little while.
“After almost 37 years and six different mayors, and the privilege of working for the best mayor who I consider to be Dave Ross, I just didn’t think I could top that,” Vito said. “It just seemed right that it would be a good time to go.”
In fact, Vito stuck around as long as he did because he made a commitment to Ross to stay through his second term. Now, with retirement age on his side, Vito is going to put in his final week as the city’s first development and government affairs director next week before he retires.
“I’ve been telling people I’ve been spending my weekends thinking about all the things I don’t have to think about anymore,” Vito said.
Vito is planning to take some time off, but he isn’t planning a life of leisure.
While he’s not ready to talk specifics about his next step, Vito said one thing is certain — his next career is going to be in the private sector.
“I’m going to go out and see what the other side does for a living,” Vito said.
Vito started his career in the city’s street division in 1973, but moved to the engineering division six months later to guide the city’s sewer project to separate wastewater and storm sewers in the city. From there, Vito was charged with oversight for construction to create Barker’s Island Marina and revamp Tower Avenue in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
After that, Vito served as the city’s public workers director for 17 years until he became the city’s first development and government affairs director in 2007.
“First of all, you’re losing one of the best city officials that has ever served the city of Superior, and I say that with no reservations whatsoever,” said former Mayor Dave Ross. From his humble beginnings with the city to effectively representing Superior in Madison, and guiding economic development in the city, Ross said Vito has served both him and the city well during his 37-year career with the city.
“He’s a very steadying influence, he’s just a very steady person,” said Kaye Tenerelli, director of the Superior Business Improvement District. “It takes a lot to upset him and he could deal with what was put in front of him in a very rational way. When you worked with him, you walked out of their feeling like you really got the full picture.”
She said while Vito may not have always said what someone wanted to hear, they walked away better equipped to deal with the situation.
Dave Minor, president and chief executive officer of the Superior-Douglas County Chamber of Commerce, said he got to know Vito when he came back to the area and worked temporarily for the city under former Mayor Herb Bergson.
“I got to know Jeff very well from the inside,” Minor said. “What I have always admired and respected Jeff about is no matter what the situation is — either then or through the years — you may not like the answer you’re going to get, but you’re going to get the bottom line answer. … At least for me, I never got a lot of the politics into it. It was factual. It was always ‘how do we make something happen’?”
Despite the politics involved, Minor said Vito really cared about and focused his efforts to make things happen for the community. With all of the administrations and councilors Vito has worked with over the years, Minor said: “I think people appreciate Jeff for his knowledge and his candor.”
Vito said he learned — in a job that carries numerous complaints — that if you are straightforward with people about why things are the way they are, they can accept that.
“I’ve also got to meet a lot of great citizens in the community,” Vito said.
It was Vito’s knowledge and candor that prompted Ross to create a new position to free up Vito’s time and talents to focus on bettering Superior.
It’s a vital position, Minor said, and he hopes the city considers filling it.
“I couldn’t be more proud of Jeff,” Ross said. “It’s going to be a big loss because a lot of knowledge will walk out the door when he retires,” Ross said.
And after nearly 37 years, countless city and development projects, Vito said the pinnacle of his career came when a nearly 30-year injustice was finally righted in 2006 after a concerted lobbying effort by the city.
In 1974, then-Gov. Patrick Lucey announced a change in state law that would return taxes paid by the pipeline terminal to the city. However, wording of the 1974 legislation prohibited the city from receiving the terminal tax as intended.
The money has given the city the tools necessary to encourage economic development.
“I think the most exciting one was when we were able to get the change in the terminal tax,” Vito said “We certainly worked long and hard — many, many trips to Madison on that issue — but certainly one of the most rewarding. It was a big accomplishment for the city.”
If you go
What: Jeff Vito’s retirement party
When: 2-4 p.m. March 18
Where: Government Center Atrium, 1316 N. 14th St.