Joe Salzer has managed to turn what amounted to a political consolation prize into arguably one of the most important roles in the City of Rhinelander.
Back in 2004, on a whim, Salzer decided to throw his hat in the ring to run for the District #5 alderperson’s seat on the Rhinelander City Council. He lost that election, soundly, to incumbent Dawn Rog, and was discouraged. However, then Rhinelander Mayor Kevin Jenkins, who Salzer knew from their time together at Rhinelander High School, called Salzer with an opportunity.
“There was an opening on the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals, and he asked if I was interested,” recalled Salzer. “I figured, ‘Why not?'”
While the Zoning Board for the city only meets on an as-needed basis (often only a few times a year,) Salzer became even more intrigued with the operations at City Hall, and when the election was held again for the District 5 seat, he again gave it a shot. With Rog deciding to step down from the seat, Salzer only ran against a late-coming write-in candidate, and won the seat going away. For him, it was a first step into a field he’d always been interested in.
“I’ve been intrigued by politics since I was little,” said Salzer. “The idea of serving in local politics was enticing because it’s less about political ideology and more about making decisions that play into the day-to-day lives of citizens. It’s very visible. You see the decisions made at City Hall as soon as you go out your front door.”
While many new politicians tend to err on the side of caution and inexperience, Salzer instead hit the ground running, actively participating in discussions at both the council level and on several committees from the beginning of his tenure. “I wasn’t elected to sit there and not say anything,” said Salzer. “I think a big part of the responsibility of this job is to learn everything you can about the issues, and make sure your voice is heard in the discussion.”
Salzer was again on the ballot in the April 3 election, and although he ran unopposed, he still actively campaigned, placing hundreds of yard signs all over his district and going door to door to hear from the people he serves.
“Just because you don’t have an opponent in an election doesn’t mean you have to be complacent,” said Salzer. “If I’ve learned anything about politics, it’s that you can’t take anything for granted. When you take a oath to serve people, that’s something to take very seriously.”
That passion for his responsibilities hasn’t gone unnoticed by his fellow council persons. On April 17 Salzer was elected Common Council President by a 5-3 margin over incumbent Alex Young. Salzer said he was humbled by the result of the vote, and also takes his role as a new challenge, which includes presiding over some meetings and serving as a spokesperson for the council.
“It is very gratifying to be chosen to represent the city in that aspect,” said Salzer. “I obviously talked with Mayor Johns and many of the other council members beforehand, and they were all behind me and have put a lot of faith in me to help in leading this city in the right direction.”
Salzer, who works as computer technician in town, credits his mother, Linda O’Brien, his 12-year-old son, Miles, and his girlfriend, Joleen Baumbach, as his inspiration for putting up with the many often long and contentious meetings involved with serving on the council. He already knows his term is going to have some controversy, as the city continues to explore ways to shed line items to balance a decreasing budget.
“I think that, regardless of what happens with the recall election this summer, we aren’t going to see shared revenue to municipalities go up substantially,” said Salzer. “We will more than likely have to deal with reducing services to our citizens or raising taxes, neither of which are ideal.”
Salzer said he has been crunching numbers with City Administrator Blaine Oborn, and while there will likely not be any “magic key” to balance the budget, he sees areas that can be examined and possibly reworked.
“I have some thoughts that could possibly be implemented that would streamline services and save a substantial amount on the budget,” said Salzer. “In the end, it’s going to come down to determining what services the city provides that are essential, and what ones can be taken away without too much harm done.”
Salzer said that while he still continues to follow politics avidly at both the state and national level, and has thought about running for a higher office in the future, he has no aspirations at this time to seek that.
“Right now my primary concerns are my home and my family,” said Salzer. “We have a lot of challenges we’re dealing with right now on the local government level…but those challenges are sometimes what makes doing this the most rewarding.”
Editor Craig Mandli is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.