Superior mayor shares vision for future
Mayor Jim Paine raised the bar for the city council and for himself during his state of city address on Thursday, May 18.
SUPERIOR — The state of Superior? Unfinished, according to Mayor Jim Paine in his annual state of the city speech Thursday, May 18 at the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center.
“I should be satisfied with what we’ve achieved, but I’m not,” Paine told the crowd. “That’s why I ran for re-election.”
It’s time, he said, to raise the stakes. He tasked City Council President Nick Ledin and Vice President Lindsey Graskey with raising the bar.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen the city council quite so inspired and motivated and ready to work,” Paine said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen the council with this much vision. I’m hearing new ideas for our parks, neighborhoods and business districts; for our environment and our economy; to bring this city alive with art and culture and history.”
His own vision for the coming years includes saving the Carnegie Library and the Princess Theater; bringing swimming back to Billings Park with a new waterfront park on the St. Louis River; building affordable housing in Superior; a reduction in utility fees; and an expanded sidewalk plowing operation.
He also plans to light up the East End Business District for the holidays. It’s a project 4th District Councilor Jack Sweeney has been suggesting for nearly a year, Paine said, and it’s worth doing.
Superior’s Billings Park and South End neighborhoods have Christmas lights, Sweeney said, and the East End business owners are eager to light up their section of the city.
“It’s hard to say exactly how that would benefit the business district, or facilitate transportation, or bring prosperity, or opportunity to that neighborhood. But it would make East End nicer. It would bring a little bit more light to a dark time of year. It might make people happy. It might make them a little more proud to live here. That’s the kind of project that I want to define the next four years,” Paine said.
Backing the council in building a vision of Superior that works for everyone is a group of new leaders and professionals “that are every bit as eager and ambitious as the city council,” Paine said.
He highlighted the Superior Fire Department’s new, more efficient medical response vehicle and upcoming solar array project. There's more to come.
“I got an email at 3:49 p.m. from the Fire Chief Camron Vollbrecht, which reads ‘Jim, we are going to Rosenbauer on Wednesday to demo an electric fire truck. Would you like to come along with us and check it out?’” Paine said.
The mayor didn’t think he could make the trip, but he was excited about the prospect.
“Folks, that’s our new fire chief ... If this project is successful, we will be only the second city in Wisconsin to prove that a fully electric fire truck can work in a city like Superior,” the mayor said, to bring sustainability, protect the environment and also make the department more economically efficient.
Vollbrecht said the new solar array slated for the fire department headquarters was built with an electric fire truck in mind. The solar panels are expected to produce 150% of the headquarter electric utility budget. That 50% reserve could be used to offset the cost of electricity at the outside fire stations or to charge an electric fire truck, Vollbrect said.
There is a two-year build time for a new fire truck, the chief said, and the department is looking at replacing its smaller Engine 2 in 2026.
“We have to start planning for that in '24 how we’re gonna get that accomplished in '26,” Vollbrecht said.
Citizen of the Year
Paine handed the Key to the City to a fellow veteran, Butch Liebaert. The reason he chose Liebaert, commander of the Richard I. Bong American Legion Post 435, as Citizen of the Year was because of his service, both in his youth and today.
“He’s never left service, and he’s never abandoned his oath,” Paine said, adding Liebaert rarely says “no” to a call for volunteers.
Liebaert is a member of the honor guard; conducts the fallen comrade table ceremony at veterans events; is a member of the Retired Enlisted Association and an active member of the Elks Lodge. He spent his working life active in his union, serving as their recording secretary long after his retirement.
“I thought awarding him this key to the city would be unfair or biased because Butch is such a good friend of mine, but then I remembered that he’s everyone’s good friend, which is why he’s our citizen of the year,” Paine said.
After sharing a handshake and a hug with the mayor, Liebaert looked out at the crowd.
“Wow,” he said.
Paine began the event with a video of what he called “the most important thing any of us will ever do,” the ceremony last summer where the city returned the sacred burial grounds on Wisconsin Point to the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.
He encouraged citizens to think big, and imagine what one thing they would do in the city if they had a magic wand. Superior has the ideas, the momentum and capable leaders, he said.
“If it can be done, it can be done now. By us. So let’s do it.”