Woodbury Bids Farewell to Longtime Mayor
After 17 years leading the city, Bill Hargis is stepping away from public service to return to business world, spend time with family.
Friends and colleagues say Bill Hargis has played by the rules in his 17 years as Woodbury's mayor.
But there's one place where it's not true—the golf course. Do-overs, relief from sand traps on otherwise good shots and minor rule bending is the norm when he and a group of friends get together on Thursdays during the golf season.
"He's a serious guy," said Ron Hamilton, a longtime friend and Hargis' former pastor at Woodbury Community Church. "But he knows how to have fun. He knows how to cut loose."
Hargis will step down from the mayor's post in January after leading Woodbury since 1993. He is known for his civic involvement, his ability to build consensus and provide a vision for the city that grew from 27,000 when he became mayor to nearly 60,000 today.
Scores of friends and colleagues came together at East Ridge High School last week to honor Hargis.
Formerly a lawyer, 3M employee and founder of the Good Neighbor nursing home company, Hargis still found time to coach, develop the city's retail areas and parks, and expand the Woodbury municipal buildings and sports facilities.
Hargis, 61, said that after nearly two decades of being mayor, "I just felt it was time for a transition," he said. "Been there, done that long enough."
Hargis, who plans to return to the business world and spend time with his family, said he's most proud of relationships he has developed over the years.
"We have seen a lot of growth in the community: roads projects and interchanges, and good relationships with the schools," he said. "I'm smart enough to know that I didn't do this myself."
Hargis, who grew up in Iowa, married his high school sweetheart, Joan. They will soon celebrate their 40th anniversary. Although her husband was dedicated to the community, Joan said he always found time for family and these days enjoys walks with their grandchildren.
Despite his success in business, government and civic leadership, Hargis doesn't have everything figured out. Joan talked about a time when she was out of town and he ran into a problem with their grandchildren. "Which side of the diaper does the Mickey Mouse go on?" he asked her. "The front or the back?"
Looking forward, Hargis said Woodbury is in good hands and pointed out that staff and elected officials have several years of experience.
Asked to describe her time working with Hargis, Julie Ohs, recently elected to her second term on the Woodbury City Council, said simply: "Amazing."
"He's got a mind like a steel trap—he remembers everything," she said. "And he's got a great sense of humor; it's dry, but it's great."
What stood out to Ohs was Hargis' commitment to the job, which pays $8,520 per year.
"It's supposed to be a part-time job, but he was not a part-time mayor," she said.
Like many others in the community, Mark Fritz met Hargis through their shared interest in youth baseball and Woodbury High School football.
"He's been a great asset for Woodbury," Fritz said. "I've never heard anyone say anything bad about him in 18 years."
At the appreciation event, folks lined up to shake Hargis' hand. He took time with each, reminiscing and laughing and telling old stories.
Washington County Administrator Jim Schug expressed his appreciation for Hargis. He lauded Hargis' efforts to develop Woodbury's housing and transportation.
"He's been a true asset to Woodbury, and we will miss him greatly as mayor," Schug said.
Under Hargis' leadership, Woodbury:
- Expanded City Hall and public safety and public works buildings;
- Built three new fire stations and the Bielenberg Sports Center;
- Constructed Eagle Valley Golf Course;
- Added more than 7 million square feet of new commercial space;
- Built eight municipal wells and three water towers;
- Increased the miles of trails from 31 to 127;
- Was recognized by Money magazine and Business Week, among others, as one of the best places in the U.S. to live in and raise kids.
Hamilton, Hargis' former pastor, has known the mayor since 1985 and helped organize the appreciation event. Among Hargis' achievements, Hamilton pointed to the foundation of the Woodbury Prayer Breakfast and the Woodbury Community Foundation, and his involvement in the faith community. Yet what most benefited the city was Hargis' commitment to building consensus and bringing in varying viewpoints before deciding on an issue.
"Collective wisdom. That's probably one of his biggest strengths," Hamilton said. "The city has a lot of resourceful people, and he really helped build a sense of community. He was most proud when [national magazines and other outlets] recognized the city for being a great place to live."
Scott Swanson was among those who spoke at Hargis' appreciation event. He talked about the mayor's generosity, infectious laugh and unassuming nature.
"You were kind of a big shot, but you never acted like it," Swanson said.