FOX POINT - After 17 years on the village board, Fox Point Village President Michael West is ready to hand over his gavel.
West was recruited to the Fox Point Building Board in 1991 due to his expertise in structural engineering. When then-Trustee Stephen O'Connor left the village board in 2000, West was one of seven residents to apply for the seat. The board appointed West to the board, and when O'Connor's term expired the following spring, West was elected without opposition. The following year, he ran unopposed for village president. He would continue to serve as village president for 15 years — always without opposition.
There's no particular reason for resigning at this time, West said. Fox Point's longest-serving village president, Evan Schwemer, held office for 16 years. But even the temptation to break that record could not hold him back from retirement.
"I've enjoyed being village president, but 15 years is a long time," West said. "If you add in my time as trustee, it's a third of my adult life."
During his time as village president, he also served on the North Shore Fire Department Board, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District Commission, North Shore Water Commission and the Intergovernmental Cooperation Council. As if it wasn't already obvious, West enjoys local government.
"I believe I'm the only person that is a member of a water commission that takes water out of Lake Michigan and a member of a sewer commission that puts treated effluent back into the lake," he said. "What that means is that I make sure Lake Michigan is well taken care of."
West's membership on those boards and commissions will expire when he steps down from the village president position in April.
Although he is technically retired from his career as a structural engineer, he still has an office and makes regular appearances at Computerized Structural Design. West, who was a vice president at the firm, worked at the company for 38 years.
One of the most locally-relevant projects West worked on was the Coventry Apartments and BVK office building, which houses the North Shore Library on the ground floor. He was also the engineer for the original conversion of University School of Milwaukee into the Karl Jewish Community Campus. He's proud to say he structurally engineered the pool and the jogging track suspended from the roof of the gym.
Some might say that an architect and engineer might not be a good fit for the role of public servant, but West disagrees, explaining that a good engineer should communicate ideas to clients and carpenters alike. It also helps that he has been interested in government since high school, and that he has a particular soft spot for "The Federalist Papers" and the idea of representative democracy.
West's interest in hearing from members of the public has been particularly useful during several packed public hearings over controversial issues. West said the most controversial issues he has tackled as village president include Best Buy's application to join the Riverpoint Village shopping center and the replacement of the Bridge Lane ravine footbridge. The footbridge was a particularly arduous process, involving multiple consultant reports, fluctuating cost estimates and lengthy public hearings over a four-year period.
"It was controversial, but when all was said and done, we did what we were supposed to do, which is listen to staff, get expert advice, listen to the people and decide," West said.
West was awarded the "outstanding public official" award by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2014. He said he enjoys the "intellectual challenge" of government, despite the negative stereotypes often associated with politicians.
"Government gets all kinds of raps — good, bad, indifferent — but the streets don't get plowed automatically," he said. "Somebody's got to plow those streets, and that most likely means a government is involved."
When he retires, West is looking forward to traveling more often. He already has tickets to see a Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park, which will complete his circuit of all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums. He will also serve on the governance board for the Charles Allis Art Museum and Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum.