Clingan: 'This is mostly not about me, what's going on right now.'
A pair of high-profile resignations and criticism from three prominent business groups isn't deterring Bill Clingan from accepting Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz's nomination to become the city's new economic and community development director, a cabinet-level position created to elevate business issues among other city priorities.
After the mayor picked Clingan over another candidate, Economic Development Commission members Mark Bugher and Tom Still resigned. Both stated that Clingan, a former school board member and division administrator in the state Department of Workforce Development, is wrong for the post.
In response to these criticisms, Cieslewicz dashed off a tersely worded letter suggesting that the resignations were sour grapes over his not rubberstamping Bugher and Still's preferred candidate. The mayor has been unflinching in his support for Clingan, whose appointment must be approved by the Common Council.
Clingan spoke to The Daily Page this week about the controversy, and whether it will make his work with the commission more difficult.
The Daily Page: Have Mark Bugher's and Tom Still's resignations made life awkward for you?
Clingan: Not at all. When you've been on the school board you undergo a lot of tough scrutiny and a lot of tough questions. It's not made it awkward. It's certainly made it more combustible, but I'm doing fine.
Do you feel that maybe you should step aside rather than lose these two key commission members?
No, not at all. Frankly, I'm getting calls from business folks and economic developers congratulating me and saying they want to work together, and that they're kind of surprised that this was the position taken by two people.
If the Common Council approves your nomination, do you worry that the Economic Development Commission might be dismissive of your ideas, that you'll come in with a reduced influence?
I don't think so. There's other people on the commission that I've worked with in the past who are supportive. There is a member who is working on an economic development plan for the city of Madison, so that'll be coming before the commission and we'll work at that together. I actually think we'll have a fine relationship. I think this is mostly not about me, what's going on right now. And once we get past this, I think things will calm down and practical minds will start working together.
Four of the five-person interview committee recommended the other candidate. Why do you suppose the mayor rejected the majority pick?
It's my understanding that there was a paper screening that had an achievement questionnaire, and I was passed on to the interview committee. The interview committee's job was to certify folks to be interviewed by the mayor. They certified three individuals -- I was one of the three -- and I was passed on to be interviewed by the mayor. That's the process.
So, this kind of ranking that was taken was in addition to the process and was not required, and folks did say that everybody who was certified was qualified.
So, there wasn't any cronyism?
No, no, no. It was a straight up, very righteous human resource process.
The Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Madison, Inc. and Smart Growth Madison do not support your appointment, either. What new difficulties will this backlash bring to an already difficult position?
Well, actually I have had discussions with the Chamber during this. My intent is to keep lines of communication open and [ensure] that, even though we might disagree, we don't become disagreeable. We need to realize that once this is over, and once I'm in that position, that we have work to do together.
How do you intend to direct economic and community development?
I think the mayor was looking for somebody who looked at economic and community development in a broader way, rather than a traditional business services [way], and how you retain businesses and expand business in Madison. That's very important. I have about 30 years of working with the business community in the workforce arena.
You're confident you'll do a super-duper job?
(Laughs) Well, I'm not overly confident, but I'm ready for the job, to take on the challenge and do the best that I can.