Big Lake Mayor Mike Wallen wrote a speech 10 years ago when he first ran for Big Lake City Council.
Wallen never dreamed he’d be elected to the council, so he had a concession speech ready to go.
He has run for office four times. He won three times before losing his mayoral re-election bid in the Nov. 3 election to Councilmember Paul Knier.
“I never got to use it,” Wallen said of the speech.
But that changed on Wednesday, Dec. 9 when Wallen presided over his last meeting as mayor of Big Lake.
Wallen traveled back in time to when he was first elected to the city council and reached out to a mentor to share what had happened.
“Why the hell did you do that?” the mentor asked.
“It sounded like a good idea at the time,” Wallen answered.
Wallen went on to received three pieces of advise from his friend that served him well over the course of his eight years on the city council and two years as mayor.
One was to take his pride and throw it in the trash can.
“Admit you know absolutely nothing,” the friend said.
Second was what Wallen referred to as a lesson in life.
“Sometimes its really, really hard to do the right thing,” the friend said.
Finally, Wallen was reminded that as a newly elected government official, he represented all residents of the city- not just those who voted for him.
“I took it to heart,” Wallen said.
Then Wallen gave a message to the new, incoming council members.
“He wasn’t wrong on any of one them. He was not wrong. There are so many things you need to learn, you think you know something...but you don’t know diddly squat,” Wallen said.
“I’m saying that from a guy who was there...from somebody who lived it,” he continued.
Wallen said possessing a lack of knowledge isn’t a knock on incoming city leaders. It’s the God-honest truth.
“You are in for one of the greatest learning experiences of you life...make sure your tray tables and seats backs are in full upright position because there’s going to be turbulence,” he said.
In a message to staff, Wallen noted that when he gaveled his last meeting closed on the night of Wednesday, Dec. 9, his relationship with those staff members would be changing forever. That was a hard reality for Wallen to face, he said.
Wallen said bringing together the current staff is the greatest accomplishment he has left his fingerprint on as both a council member and mayor.
“I have never known a finer group of people,” Wallen said of the Big Lake city staff.
To be able to amass, and get all these great people in one place, doing one thing, going in one direction, is the greatest thing in my life,” Wallen said.
Those at the City have taught Wallen so many things, and made him a better person in so many ways, he said. All Wallen can say is thank-you, he said. Wallen thanked staff members for however many years they spent together.
Wallen said he never tried to let the position of city council or mayor define who Mike Wallen is.
“I tried to make sure Mike Wallen defined what this position was at any point and time- and I worked hard at that,” he said.
Before gaveling his last city council meeting closed, Wallen reminisced to his senior year in high school and the day he learned he was elected class president. He went home that night, told his father the news, and asked if he had any advice.
Wallen shared that advice.
“If you borrow something from somebody, make sure you bring it back better than when you picked it up. When you get up in the morning, make that day better than the day before. If you find yourself in a position of responsibility or authority and your tenure is over, leave it better than you found it.”
“I believe it’s better than we found it,” Wallen told the city staff members gathered in the council chambers that night.
Wallen was given a standing ovation.
With one thing left to do, Wallen picked up the gavel and made a motion to adjourn.
I’m going to be Joe Citizen now- and I think I’m going to like it. I really do,” Wallen said.
Reach Jeff Hage at firstname.lastname@example.org