By Brandi Makuski
Getting Plover Administrator Dan Mahoney to talk about anything not related to village business can be tough.
In the office, his comments are utilitarian but cordial. When talking about his work, he uses “we” instead of “I.” He rarely offers extemporaneous remarks about his personal life, the last movie he saw, or the inside jokes that sweep through village offices.
But he’s never at a loss for words when it comes to the village’s accomplishments, which have exceeded everyone’s expectations during his time at the helm.
Save a brief stint working for Rettler Corp., the Class of ’81 UW-Stevens Point graduate has worked continuously in public service since 1987 when he began his career as an associate planner with Portage Co. Planning and Zoning Department. He spent a decade working for the county, then for the City of Schofield, before being hired as Plover’s village administrator. He also sits on several area boards.
In February, he steps down from it all.
His background in urban planning put him ahead of the pack when he applied for the job, Mahoney said. Through his work with the county, he helped create the village’s comprehensive plan and had a solid understanding of economic development.
“[The Village Board] saw that as a strong advantage for an administrator to have. I will tell you—time has born out that that was a good choice,” he said.
Mahoney immediately went to work increasing the village’s assessed property value and tax base, working closely with the late Community Development Manager Richard Holden (who died in 2019) to secure the village’s first major retail development in 1998 with the Shopko-Copps complex on the 1800 block of Plover Rd.
“We were thrilled because we were having our first million-dollar project; it was our biggest retail development to date other than the Menards project,” Mahoney said. “It was fun doing that.”
The shopping center would serve the village’s booming residential growth until Shopko declared bankruptcy and closed in 2019. But by then, other retail developments in the village would dwarf it—most notably, Crossroads Commons, which has an assessed value north of $70 million.
“That project was critical, not just to the village but the entire county. Look at the Portage County Business Park, the development and the [property] value that’s in there today; that would not be there without the Crossroads development,” he said.
But he’s quick to avoid taking direct credit, saying it was the developers who brought the value to the shopping district.
“There was no need to put a TIF district out there. So I think that put Central Wisconsin on the map,” he said. “When they put this together they thought it would be a regional hub with visitors from adjacent counties. What they learned was, they were getting people from across the state—the development was way more successful than they ever thought it would be.”
In early 2020 Mahoney oversaw the presentation of a multi-tenant project for the former Shopko building from local developers Rolly Lokre and Mike Masgy, which is opening in phases. He called the reinvention of the big-box development “incredible.”
“People are going to be astonished when the outside parking area is finally done—there’s going to be a courtyard and entertainment area, and an area for ice skating; it’s really going to be spectacular.”
Across Plover Rd., Village Park is another commerce center Mahoney said he’s proud of.
“I know some people are upset that Rainbow Falls went away, but what people don’t recall is that, after Chet Skippy sold the business, and the next owner couldn’t really make it go, the mall was already closed and torn down—the rubble was just sitting there,” Mahoney said. “Now that value is over $47 million, where, before, it was somewhere between $2-$4 million.”
Mahoney also mentioned increased development in the Pines Corporate Center—the village’s business park—and continued residential growth along the village’s south side. Increased population has translated into increased interest from national retailers and franchise establishments.
But Mahoney has also been a strong advocate for the village’s environmental concerns. He took ownership, on behalf of the village, for sections of the Little Plover River drying up and took measures to fix the problem, pulling together dozens of business, agricultural, and citizen groups, and government agencies, to transform more than 200 acres of agricultural land into wetland, prairie, or conservancy areas. It was Mahoney’s connections that brought about the Little Plover Conservancy Area and the Soik Wetland Restoration Project.
“I think I’m very proud of the village’s efforts on the Little Plover River issues,” he said, adding that pride extended to establishing a strong relationship with UWSP. The college’s Natural Resources professors and students are regular participants anytime specialized work needs to be done in the village’s natural areas.
“We couldn’t be more thrilled with the relationship or the work that was done, and that will be work that continues,” he said.
Mahoney said there were two additional projects he wanted to check off his list before announcing his retirement: widening Bus. 51, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation project that has just entered its final phase, and remodeling Lake Pacawa Park. The latter will be funded entirely by private donations, which is the same way the village pays for its annual Celebrate Plover event.
One thing Mahoney asserts time and time again: none of the village’s work would be possible without a true philosophy of teamwork. By the time a development proposal reaches the floor of the Village Board, it’s been vetted by a joint meeting of department heads to such a degree that there’s rarely any debate amongst the Board members.
“We bring in wastewater, water, police, and fire, parks—they’re all involved in the planning discussion,” he said. “Our job is to help the developer understand our ordinances so they can follow our requirements. It’s just well-organized from that standpoint.”
He’s heard from a lot of developers that it’s unusual for any community to be so prepared. While he admits that teamwork wasn’t as obvious when he first came on board, he said “it’s a culture that had to be created,” and he’s never felt the need to micromanage any of the village’s departments.
The village completes projects with far less staff than most municipalities have, and with very few seams showing, though he doesn’t believe it would have been possible without the village’s form of government.
“I think a big advantage of this community is they have an administrator, someone who is not an elected official. They’re always doing their job, they’re not running for office or worried about being re-elected,” he said. “But the good news of that is, you still have the elected leaders who are going to make the decisions. So you can have a staff person available to make recommendations to them, but communities that have an administrator will tell you it’s very, very beneficial because you know who’s in charge.”
A community with only an elected leader isn’t as cohesive, he said, and it can force departments to operate within individual silos. He believes an administrator keeps everything consistent.
“I’ve heard horror stories from developers about other communities, but our staff is very different. And development is clearly a focus of the Board,” he said. “We had to create a culture; the way I’ve always looked at the administrator position is, it’s like being the CEO of a company. Previous leadership maybe didn’t provide the leadership the Board was looking for; they were hungry for change.”
Mahoney is regularly heard saying, “the village does more with less” than what other municipalities have, and while he doesn’t have any regrets, he said the village’s constant forward motion has meant that staff shortages haven’t been adequately addressed.
“I’ve never thought about regrets…the one thing I’ll tell you is, I’m so busy in this position and how much that business has exploded over the past several years,” he said. “I can’t figure out why. It’s like somebody flipped a switch; I can’t keep up with my work, I need someone to help out.”
He took his concerns to the Village Board, where, during a closed session, he expressed a need for two additional positions to help take some work off the future administrator’s plate. Those talks become public in July and August.
“If there’s one thing I could’ve done better, from a staff perspective, we don’t have as many employees as other communities have,” he said. “We do more with less; we’re very proud of that, but at some point, you’ve got to recognize that the workload is increasing. You really have to stay on top of what your staffing needs are.”
Mahoney initially planned to retire in 2023. But after suffering from a heart attack last June, he knew it was time to take better care of his health. A transition plan has been in place for some time, and includes creating an assistant planner position for the community development department, and adding some administrative duties to the community development manager’s job description.
“I was involved with so many things, so it’ll be a challenge from an administrator standpoint; most people coming into that position would probably not have the ability to take on all those extra things because they don’t have that experience,” he said.
Once he steps down, Mahoney plans to take two years off from public service. He’ll golf, do some traveling with his wife, Carrie, and finish cataloging his stamp collection. He plans to keep his seat on the YMCA Board of Directors, and may eventually return to some volunteer work at Celebrate Plover, an event he’s been instrumental in establishing.
“I realized that my health had to be a priority if I’m going to continue to be around,” he said. “My wife retired last year so she provides daycare for the grandkids. I look forward to helping her take care of them…they are two incredible little girls who keep us laughing all day. I always wondered why my father-in-law laughed all the time; now I understand. You can’t help but laugh and enjoy life with what they say and do.”
While his official departure is still six months out, Mahoney said he’s begun to feel sentimental about leaving. He admits he was nervous about breaking the news to the Village Board, but said they were supportive of his decision. After that, he sent a letter to each member of the village staff with the news.
“We’ve established a culture here…the relationship with the Village Board, I’m sorry, I don’t think there’s a lot of communities that have what Plover has, with the relationships between the Board and the staff. We’ve worked hard to build that culture,” he said. “Every one of those folks is pulling more than their share and working hard. We’re not perfect, but overall, the public sentiment is very strongly in support of us. The staff has no idea what they all mean to me. I know every one of them. That’ll be the big thing that I miss; those strong relationships and not being part of it every day.”