Retiring Village Manager William Barlow: Maywood Was The Fulfillment Of A Career Aspiration (Part One)

By Michael Romain

Often, when people talk about epiphanies–those singular moments when they realize something so grand it immediately changes the course of their lives–they’re exaggerating. When Maywood Village Manager William Barlow shared his ‘Aha! moment’ during the Neighbors of Maywood Community Organization’s (NOMCO’s) monthly meeting, his account seemed entirely plausible.

It was a day like any other day at 40 Madison Street–busy, frustrating, challenging, stressful, exhausting. During his more than two years in the manager’s position, Mr. Barlow had adapted to the demands of the job, but only sloppily so. He was more than fifty pounds overweight with high blood pressure and medicated. During his off hours, while at home in Schaumburg, a suburb twenty or so miles away, Maywood stayed with him–its problems burrowed inside of him like unwelcome pests.

He wasn’t smiling very much and his wife noticed. This Christmas she gifted him a little book with space to write his thoughts, a way to release his tension. She hoped that by writing, he would begin to loosen up and smile more.

That momentous day, Anthony Thomas, Maywood’s gifted coordinator of compliance wasn’t smiling. He wasn’t moving much at all. Mr. Barlow was among the people who discovered Mr. Thomas–a man about the same age, and who’d devoted about as much of his life and energy and talent to municipal government, as Mr. Barlow–”in a debilitated state” (as Mr. Barlow described it at the meeting) on the floor of the code enforcement department.

“When [Anthony] died, it opened my eyes,” Mr. Barlow said before a half-full room of well-wishers and concerned citizens–Maywoodians and non-Maywoodians alike–who wanted to pick the brain of the man whom Gary Woll, former longtime Village trustee and clerk, described as one of the most engaged and self-effacing Maywood village managers he’d ever worked beside.

“There are two tragedies in life,” said George Bernard Shaw. “One is not to get your heart’s desire. The other is to get it.” Mr. Barlow, recounting the arc of his 35 years in local government, said that his desire since his career began was to work in a place that was racially diverse and struggling economically; a place with hurdles high enough that they’d yield deep, lasting satisfaction when they were finally cleared.

Dayton, Ohio, was that place in 1978, the year Mr. Barlow first began his career. And Maywood is that place in 2014, the year he decided to end it.

“I’ve enjoyed my time here,” he said. “There have been great challenges put forward and I’m a guy who enjoys challenges. The worst thing is to come to work and not have things to do. Everyday in Maywood, there are things to do. Everything I learned prior to coming to Maywood was put to the test here in this job. And there have been very satisfying things taking place.”

That satisfaction, however, comes with a price and one that the 57-year-old believes has taken its toll on his health and his family.

“There are things I need to change,” he said. “I may look robust, my color’s good and all that stuff, but the fact is that I’m not as healthy a man as I need to eventually become in order to avoid the problems that come with being overweight, having high blood pressure and working in a stressful job.”

Mr. Barlow said that, despite retiring, he still plans on maintaining a relatively stress-free source of income to supplement his pension.

“I’ve got some time to work. I have a real estate license, I can practice real estate. I even thought about bagging at Jewels, something real mindless. My wife will be happy,” he said light-heartedly, but seriously relieved.

He said that among his most satisfying accomplishments was hiring new police chief Valdimir Talley and assistant village manager David Myers. That these seemingly mundane aspects of the job stuck out most for Mr. Barlow were revealing. They reflect the importance placed on, and the respect that Mr. Barlow often gave, to procedure. The idea that if the process isn’t right, the output will be wrong.

“I’m most proud of hiring a new police chief,” he said. “I’m proud of the process that selected him. We could’ve gone an easier route and selected someone who was known, but we needed someone who could look at the department from an outsider’s perspective and we need integrity.”

Despite the successes he touted, Mr. Barlow also emphasized a major area of weakness that’s dogged him throughout his tenure here.

“One of the things I’m most disappointed about is littering. This community has an epidemic of littering,” he said. “People litter in Schaumburg, where I live. We’re not so different. But the magnitude of the littering here is much greater. One thing I thought about introducing to the board is a proposal to raise the penalties for littering. For instance, throwing a cigarette butt out your car window can expose you to a $1,500 penalty from the state.”

Mr. Barlow said that its close proximity to the interstate means that Maywood is particularly susceptible to polluting commuters who may litter while driving through on the Village on their way home.

The Village has utilized various measures to deal with the problem. For instance, Mr. Barlow noted that Maywood is one of the few communities in the Chicago area that utilizes the Sheriff’s department 30 times a year.

“They can spend their entire day with 20-30 prisoners picking up the garbage that gets deposited on the street. That’s one thing I wish I could change in the community,” he said, while acknowledging the entrenched culture of indifference to littering, in particular, and the Village’s public appearance, in general, that has burdened the town in recent years. However, Mr. Barlow emphasized that that culture could be changed. And the change has to start in the home. VFP

Part Two will be published Monday.

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