Greater Peoria Mayors Spur Small-Town Development

by Jennifer Daly
Greater Peoria EDC

Two strong mayors are making a big difference in Lincoln and Havana.

Every community needs strong leaders to identify opportunities, navigate obstacles and generate economic success. But in rural communities, the need is even greater. There are fewer folks, smaller budgets and challenges that often require more inventive solutions. We are so fortunate in Greater Peoria to have some incredibly strong mayors at the helm in our small towns, including two women who are making a big difference for their citizens… and our region.

Positive Energy in Lincoln
Mayor Marty Neitzel served on Lincoln’s City Council for 12 years before becoming the city’s mayor. Her transition into that role was certainly unique: a former mayor resigned, and his replacement later passed away. When Marty became mayor in September 2015, she brought experience as an insurance adjuster, a small business owner and a lifelong resident of Lincoln. Her passion for the community meant she wanted to do everything she could to advance the city in a positive direction.

Marty is often described as Lincoln’s number-one cheerleader. She has worked hard over the past few years to seek input from her constituents and advocate the good things going on in the city. While her passion is sewers, Marty has developed a keen interest in economic development and is working hand-in-hand with city staff on a variety of projects to strengthen the city’s future, including a high-speed rail and depot upgrade, a new public works facility, and “Third Friday” downtown festivals. Her relentless, positive energy and supportive leadership style have already made a difference in a town historically known for leadership.

Moving Havana Forward
In another city about 45 miles from Lincoln, Brenda Stadsholt is developing her own legacy of leadership. Brenda and her husband, Fred, moved to Havana in 1977 for Fred’s job. A guidance counselor and mother of two, Brenda was elected to Havana’s City Council in 2001 and had served for 12 years when she decided to run for mayor in 2013. Her win was certainly not by a landslide; in fact, she and another candidate ended the election in a tie. A lottery drawing, using golf balls, was held and she was named mayor. She quickly became known for her swift laugh, and she began carrying her “lucky golf ball” to city meetings, speeches and presentations.

Over the next few years, Brenda worked extremely hard to move Havana forward on a positive path. She established a leadership team that included the local school district, park district, public health and housing staff, the county and others to begin planning for the city’s future. An old comprehensive plan was updated by the community with guidance from Farnsworth Group, and the team moved forward with several bold strategies and projects, including the physical refurbishment of Havana’s City Hall; the establishment of a young professionals group; renovation of the historic Riverside Club, which is used by seniors and other groups; renovation of a former industrial building into the new Havana Public Works Department and community gathering facility; renovation of 13 homes through CDAP and IDHA grants; new sidewalks supported by an ITEP grant; establishment of a growing downtown trick-or-treat event; and expansion plans for the Havana Business Park, which was recently awarded an Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant for infrastructure.

The work hasn’t always been easy for these leaders. Learning how to navigate complex city needs, frugal budgets and conflicting views amongst citizens has been challenging. But both women have identified a positive path for their cities and led the way through thoughtful strategy, collaboration and the belief that they can truly make a difference. iBi