By Bob Uphues
Just eight months into his tenure as Brookfield's community development director, Ross Klicker will soon be on his way out of town and heading to the northwest suburbs for a new position.
Klicker, who started in Brookfield last October, was seen as just the right person to steer real estate and economic development, a veteran planning and development professional with three decades of professional experience.
Chosen from a field of 60 candidates and recruited to apply for the job, "Ross was unanimously thought of as someone who was going to fit into the culture that we're trying to build around here," said Village Manager Timothy Wiberg at the time of his hiring.
On June 8, Klicker begins his new job as community development director for the village of Wheeling, a town of roughly 38,000 people that spans Cook and Lake counties in Chicago's northwest suburbs.
"It wasn't something I was seeking; I was recruited for it," said Klicker of the new job. "But, quite honestly, with its proximity to my residence and family factors, it was something I needed to do at this time."
Klicker was born and raised in the northwest suburbs, and for the seven years prior to coming to Brookfield, he was the economic development coordinator for the village of Niles, about 12 miles down Milwaukee Avenue from Wheeling.
"I've grown up seeing the changes there," Klicker said. "My whole life is in the northwest suburbs. I want to keep the ball rolling and make it better for those coming after me in the northwest suburbs."
Klicker said he knew next to nothing about Brookfield before arriving last fall, but added that he quickly recognized its potential and grew very fond of the village. The village, he said, needs to reach people like him, members of Brookfield Zoo from other parts of the metro area who otherwise don't realize what the village has to offer visitors.
"We'd visit the zoo and either picnic in the car or drive to the closest place we ran into, which was always the McDonald's at 31st and Wolf Road, never knowing what was adjacent to the zoo," Klicker said. "Brookfield is a great little town with great restaurants, an arts community and people. I've been blown away by its architectural variety and community engagement. The message of Brookfield needs to be brought out there."
According to a job description posted online for the position, Wheeling's community development director oversees a staff of about dozen employees and a $1.8 million departmental budget. At the low end, the advertised starting pay was about $150,000.
In Brookfield, Klicker oversees a handful of staff and was paid $112,500. He was involved in a number of important initiatives during his short time in Brookfield, the most high-profile of which was winning village board approval to fund a redevelopment study for Ogden Avenue.
Earlier this year, Klicker issued a request for proposals from firms to lead that planning effort. The village received 16 responses, but the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed the effort. A decision on who will lead the Ogden Avenue study will now fall to Wiberg, Village Planner Elyse Vukelich and perhaps a consultant who will oversee day-to-day operations of the department during a search for Klicker's replacement.
Vukelich will also lead a newer initiative to examine Brookfield zoning code to modernize it and bring it in line with the village's development goals. A new initiative to establish a marketing plan and shopper rewards program to help stimulate local commerce as it emerges from the COVID-19 shutdown will also need attention.
Wiberg said he planned to reach out to Martin Bourke, who served as the interim community development director last summer during the search that resulted in Klicker's appointment, to see if he was interested in working again as a consultant.
A search for a new community development director is likely to take at least three months.
Wiberg said he was disappointed by Klicker's decision, particularly given his short tenure in Brookfield.
"Wheeling has things going on that make it attractive, but I expressed disappointment he'd accept another job and leave so quickly," Wiberg said. "When you have good people, you know this can happen, but you don't expect it to happen so quickly.
"My job now is to get the right chef in the kitchen."