So how big of a bus does Jon Costas drive?
Well, it is big enough for him to look out of the window and see the future of Valparaiso?
Does he drive a bus? Of course not! But he used this as a frame of reference in describing his duties as mayor in “driving” Valparaiso. His point: managing a community is important, but managers are not just caretakers, they’re leaders.
It’s ironic that buses figure prominently in this story. After all, the Valparaiso “Dash” – the commuter bus to Chicago – just passed a milestone of 100 daily passengers. But this is only one of the achievements of this mayor and his team. Because so much has been accomplished, he asks: “How high can we fly as a community?”
In writing this column, it has been my privilege to wave the banner of innovation across this region. And in doing this, I have the privilege of interviewing hundreds of innovators.
Each is different, but they are similar in that they “think differently.“ No better example than Costas, whom I had interviewed the year before when he was nominated to the Society of Innovators. Ultimately, he was selected for this honor, and on this occasion, I wanted to follow up on his progress. I wasn't disappointed.
Now in his ninth year as mayor, he is poised to do great things. Not that I was surprised, but I found him more contemplative. Like other mayors, he's grappling with tax cap realities, and emphasizes keeping residents informed of challenges as well as opportunities. Clearly, he is enjoying his duties as mayor, but also in running a law office and his diverse interests.
He acknowledged he and his team had picked the low-hanging fruit on city projects that had needed to be done. Foremost was revitalizing the downtown, but so was a balanced approach of reviving growth along Lincolnway leading to the first roundabout on the east side, as well as progress on the north side of Valparaiso.
His comment about “driving the bus” came when I asked if the job of a mayor wasn't to manage the city. Then he discussed a major upcoming project to enhance U.S. 30 within the city limits. Interestingly, although this project is still two or three years in the future, he told me he had already moved on.
Costas emphasized the importance of knowing where you are going so good decisions can be made. When he became mayor, he said, the needs of the city were “obvious.” He added, “Now the needs are not as obvious, so we need a new vision.”
Then he introduced a major project he and his team are launching to tap the collective ideas of all residents in creating a robust vision for the city. “We want to know what people think the city should be 10, 20 and even 50 years from now.” He described this as one of the most ambitious projects of any city this size in the United States.
When asked if his views toward innovation had changed, he said he saw himself as more of a facilitator than a creative individual. I'm not sure about that.
I find Costas one of the most innovative public officials I know. That’s great for Valparaiso and great for Northwest Indiana.
John Davies is managing director of The Society of Innovators of Northwest Indiana, launched by Ivy Tech Community College Northwest. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.