New mayor seeks change, inclusivity in Watertown

May 2, 2019 GMT

Emily McFarland is taking the reins as the first female mayor as many things begin to change in the city of Watertown.

“I said the whole time I’m either the primer for change or I am the change,” she said. “So I’m either the person who kind of paves the way for the person behind me who’s going to be this person or I am this person, and thankfully the voters thought I was this person.”

Her first several weeks into her first term as mayor have been busy, exciting and informative.

She said she was working through meeting with each department head and all of the elected officials on the common council.

McFarland, 34, was born and raised in Watertown and is married to Kyle McFarland. She has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Carthage College and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

She was previously employed at the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families as a manager and policy adviser of the Office of the Inspector General. McFarland was alderwoman of District 1 since 2013.

It was a big decision for McFarland to run for mayor that took her about six months to discuss with her family.

She said she is competitive and the prospect of running a campaign and losing wasn’t desirable.

“But I got to a point where I realized that, regardless of the outcome, running was a win enough,” McFarland said.

During the election, some citizens said they wanted a new, fresh face to be mayor while others wanted someone who already had experience as mayor in the city.

McFarland said she tries to stay out of that argument because she needs to represent both those sides as mayor.

“There’s definitely a part of me that hopes that I inspire other young people to think that you can make a positive change in your community earlier in your life rather than later, male or female,” she said. “But I represent everyone, not just a minority of people. I try not to draw attention to it.”

One of McFarland’s goals right now is preparing the city for next year’s budget.

McFarland said she wants to create a mission-driven budget that is built around goals that elected officials and the city department heads collectively agreed to. She is working with the leadership team, which comprises all of the department heads to establish what they want to accomplish.

“I remember sitting as an alderwoman having a really difficult time going through the budget, because I would go through it, line by line, page by page, and figuring out places to cut, move or save because I really didn’t know as a city what we were holistically looking to achieve that year,” McFarland said.

McFarland said she is more of an incremental leader.

“I’d rather not throw everything at people and expect them to adjust,” she said. “I want to be a little bit more mindful of people’s ability to adapt to change.”

An example of doing that is with addressing drug addiction in the city. McFarland said she has spoken with Carol Quest, Watertown’s Department of Public Health officer and director, to discuss the city’s different resources.

″... A way to get at this topic right away is to task our health board with corralling all of those services into a consumable item, whether that’s a marketing piece or a video so that families know the resources are there for them if they’re struggling with a family member or they themselves are struggling with addiction,” she said.

McFarland is also serving on the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee.

McFarland wants to focus on updating and coordinating the city’s social media and communications as she tries to engage the community more.

She said she hopes to continue listening sessions to keep an open discussion with the public.

With her education in public administration, McFarland said it is on her radar to see if the city is ready for professional administration, but later in her term.

One challenge McFarland sees is prioritizing.

“I don’t want all of the momentum to fade before I’m ready to bring things to the public, but I also need to prioritize the things in front of us correctly and give them the time and resources they deserve before we prematurely push them to the public,” she said.

Alderman Tim Raether was at a Watertown Finance Committee meeting as a representative of the Public Safety and Welfare Committee last week and said McFarland was well-versed and conscientious about making decisions.

Despite publicly supporting McFarland’s opponent during the election, Raether said he supported both of them and was happy with the primary results.

“I’ve been on a few committees with her and she was always a good interjection with comments and she was very good with procedural items,” he said.

All calls to a number of other aldermen were not answered by press time.