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Tonica’s newly elected village president Kevin Sluder (left) celebrates at a goodbye party for outgoing village president Roger Thompson (right) before the re-organization meeting Monday night. Village treasurer Jessica Schneider said the village was saying “aloha” (goodbye) to Thompson and “aloha” (hello) to Sluder. NewsTribune photos/Amy Flanery
TONICA — The village board gathered in advance of Monday’s reorganizational meeting to honor Tonica’s outgoing village president Roger Thompson. Village treasurer Jessica Schneider and incoming board member Monica Kreiser organized a surprise party with a Hawaiian theme.
“‘Aloha’ means ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye,’” Schneider said, adding that the village is saying goodbye to Thompson, and hello to incoming village president Kevin Sluder. Thompson, who served as village president 1981-1993 and 2001-2013, did not seek re-election this year. Sluder has served a number of years on the village board.
“I would just say congratulations to Roger on 23 years of dedicated service,” Sluder said, “and I hope he enjoys his time off.”
Thompson reflected on his years of service in a previous interview with the NewsTribune, recounting major projects such as the new water tower, renovation to the water system, significant roadwork and the current efforts to build a new sewer plant.
The new plant will be “very costly” for the village, but the village is under orders from the Environmental Protection Agency to correct problems with the current system.
“Our system is 40 years old,” Thompson said. “It’s just not going to last forever, and it can’t.”
The new plant is going to mean increased water rates for residents, but despite the probability of increased complaints, Thompson said he would have liked to have seen the project through.
“I wish I could have stayed for that, but I think it’s time to get somebody else,” he said. “There’s always a time, and you can always feel it.”
“You don’t want to get to a point where you think, ‘They can’t go on without me,’” he added. “That’s not the case.”
Thompson also cited the village hiring superintendent of public works Marc Lemrise as a significant change for the village. That gave Tonica its own water and sewer operator.
“He’s been a very good worker for us, and he’s really been a good guy. It’s saved us a lot to have him in-house,” Thompson said, adding that Lemrise’s assistant Jake Summers also has been an asset to the village. “Those two guys, they’re the backbone,” he said.
Thompson was quick to defer credit for any progress the village has made, particularly highlighting the work of the village treasurer and village clerk.
“They’re the ones that make the whole thing work,” he said. “We just as the board, we just kind of direct them the way we think it should go. ... You just nudge them in the right way and they take the ball and run with it really well.
“We’ve really been very fortunate.”
Village trustee Rich Higgins said he was proud to have served with Thompson for the last two years.
“I hope his complete retirement gives him time to do some of the things he’s been wanting to do,” he said.
Trustee Ron Sons has worked with Thompson for more than 15 years and called him a “very great” village president.
“He’s done a lot for the community,” he said, “and I wish him the best.”
Sons also has served with the incoming village president’s father, Jim Sluder, and expressed confidence in the new mayor’s ability to lead.
“I think he’ll do well for the community,” Sons said. “He has a lot of knowledge.” Trustee Dennis Ford has known Sluder for a long time.
“He grew up with my kids,” he said. “I think he’ll do a good job.”
Sluder said he plans to focus on the sewer plant project and continue working to build the town by bringing in new businesses and increasing revenue.
“To make the town larger is the goal,” he said. “Baby steps, I guess.” That attitude is in keeping with Thompson’s own philosophy of government.
“Everybody wants that instant gratification,” he said. “You can’t always do that with government though. Government’s a slow-moving entity.” The retiring village president said he had done his best for the village residents.
“I never wanted to see anybody get hurt, and I didn’t want to see government take over,” Thompson said. “I don’t like that, all those darn ordinances. You don’t want to have to have an ordinance for everything. That’s terrible. You’ve got to trust people to do the right thing, too, a little bit.”
Thompson said he believes Sluder will be successful.
“Kevin’s a really nice young man and he’s a very aggressive young man, and I’m sure that he’ll do very well,” he said. “And we’ve got a good board here, and we’ve got some strong people here that’ll help him out a lot.”
Thompson’s advice to the new village president would be to listen to the trustees’ opinions.
“It’s always a compromise,” he said. “You can’t think that your ideas are the only ideas. Too many guys think that way, and you can’t do that.”
*The board convened Monday night to swear in the new village president as well as newly elected trustees Monica Kreiser, Rich Higgins (elected after serving a two-year appointment), Dennis Ford (re-elected after serving a four-year term) and David Wiesbrock, (elected to a two-year term after serving a two-year appointment).