At 22 years old, Clayton Schulz is leading his hometown as the president of the village of Brooklyn.
He was elected as a write-in candidate in the April 4 election, defeating incumbent Patricia Hawkey, 138 to 106 votes. The village of Brooklyn is located in Dane and Green Counties, about halfway between Madison and Janesville off of Highway 14.
Though this is Schulz’s first experience working in the village’s local government, he has been invested in the community. Schulz grew up in the village, attended the area elementary school and is a volunteer firefighter and paramedic.
“I feel very strongly about how important it is to give your time to your community, especially one that’s helped raise you and shape you as a person,” Schulz said.
Schulz said he wanted to bring “new blood” to the board, which has some longstanding members. Hawkey previously served one term but had been involved with the board prior to her leadership role, Schulz said. Additionally, Schulz cited a lack of communication regarding a decision to withdraw from the Fire and EMS district.
“I wanted to bring some overall clarity to how we do what we do and why we do it,” Schulz said. “A little less closed session and a little more open discussion.”
He is even contemplating live streaming board meetings to engage more residents in local government and to help him and board members make the best decisions for their constituents.
“I think it’s really hard to make decisions on a village when you don't really hear the thoughts and ideas that you have from your population because they’re the people you truly are serving,” Schulz said. When you don’t hear from them, you kind of have to shoot in the dark sometimes.”
Being young and new to a governmental body presents some challenges, but Schulz said he is prepared to listen and learn from constituents and fellow board members.
“There will always be a learning curve the entire two-year team, but I’ve accepted that and am ready to step up to the plate and take it head on,” Schulz said.
Why did you want to run for village board president?
I knew that was one way I would be able to represent my community members and serve in a different way than I have been. I think there was a need for change on the board, some fresh blood with new ideas and a different perspective — someone that an individual my age might be able to … bring to the table
Given my age, I’m able to communicate much better with the younger population. Brooklyn does have a fairly high population of first time homeowners as well as young renters, so I think that is going to help me in the future for various discussions. People that are going to want to come to the meetings and talk with me.
What is it about the community that you love so much?
It’s very peaceful. It’s very quiet. As you can imagine, it isn’t a large city. The crime rate is really low. If you don’t pay much attention, it would see as if it were nonexistent, which I truly enjoy. The school district as well, we have an elementary school that just expanded recently. Brooklyn Elementary is a truly great school. I attended there, my younger brothers attended there, my mom worked there for a period. It’s somewhere that people will move to this location, to raise their kids and go to that school district. After the elementary school, they’ll go on to Oregon. That is a big draw definitely.
Are there any particular areas you’re working on in your role as president?
Currently we’re dealing with a lot of very average thing: Ordinance enforcement. We have a new business park we’re currently developing, and I’m really looking forward to seeing that grow … I want to see that happen so we can bring some jobs in and bring some population in.
As it sits now, Brooklyn is a real bedroom community. People, usually they either work in Madison, Janesville or any of the surrounding communities, but there’s not a lot of jobs in Brooklyn, unfortunately and I want to change that.
Your age is unique in this situation. What are the benefits and challenges to being young in this role?
I think I can communicate well with a younger population, which Brooklyn has a lot of. I want more younger homeowners and renters to be able to come and feel as though if they have issues that arise municipal issues that the village would handle that they can come and talk to me personally because at the end of the day that is my job to deal with the issues that are residents have.
I was worried I was going to get a little kick back: people would try to test me, push me around a little bit. That really hasn’t happened a whole lot. I received a lot of great support not only from my board but many upstanding citizens in the community. So many people were willing to offer advice and assistance in any way they can, and it’s been very reassuring to me. It’s helped me gain a lot of confidence personally because I know that I have such as structured organization behind me and people that want to see me do well for the community not just personally. They want to see me develop along with the community as a whole. So like I said at first, I was a little nervous but I think any feelings of that have gone out the window