Rock Island was reeling from the loss of a Super Wal-Mart development planned for Watch Tower Plaza when then public works chief Randy Tweet was named interim city manager in 2016.
City employee morale was low and many Rock Island residents were unhappy with a local government that had spent millions in taxpayer dollars with little development to show for it.
When he steps down from the city manager post and retires Thursday, Dec. 23, friends and fans say Mr. Tweet will leave the city in far better shape than it was when he took over Rock Island’s top administrative post five years ago.
“I’ll start with the simple,” Rock Island Mayor Mike Thoms said. “He’s going to be missed. He’s so well respected within his peers, among other city managers, and department heads, and he’s such an asset to Rock Island and the whole community.”
“It’s great to see great people promoted from within the City of Rock Island,” the mayor said of Mr. Tweet’s rise through the city government ranks.
Though Mr. Tweet was raised in Rock Island and attended Rock Island High School and Augustana College, it would be more than two decades before he made his way back to the hometown he’s served for nearly 22 years.
“I applied (unsuccessfully) for a position with the city after I graduated from Augustana,” Mr. Tweet said. “When that did not pan out I was open to any options. Ultimately, that turned out to be flying helicopters in the U.S. Navy for almost 18 years.”
From there he headed to Chicago for a short time, eventually joining the Rock Island city staff in 2000 as information management project manager. In 2003, he transferred to public works where he was appointed director in 2013.
Mr. Tweet said he had expected to spend the rest of his working life in public works. Instead, in 2016, he was appointed interim city manager to replace Thomas Thomas. Mr. Tweet later won the job after a nationwide search.
Mr. Thomas, who had replaced popular longtime City Manager John Phillips, had a rocky tenure. He was hired in part because the city council believed he would bring development to Rock Island. He abruptly left town after Wal-Mart declined to build on the largely shovel-ready 11th Street site. A second deal to develop Jumer’s Crossing at the 90-acre site at the Interstate 280 and Illinois 92 intersection also failed under his watch.
When Mr. Tweet assumed the top job, he said he was “focused on reconnecting the city with the citizens and, I hope, restoring some faith in our city government.” Another priority was “restoring the morale and confidence of the employees. There was quite a bit of staff turnover and employees were looking for some stability,” he said.
Mr. Tweet’s experience and management style helped him accomplish that and more, said Roger Ruthhart, retired managing editor of The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus.
“At its roots, Rock Island had generally been an open and honest government,” Mr. Ruthhart said. But during Mr. Thomas’ tenure, “residents, business leaders and the media were generally kept in the dark,” Mr. Ruthhart said.
After Mr. Thomas’ departure, city leaders “wisely relied on Mr. Tweet to pick up the pieces and move the city forward during often difficult times,” Mr. Ruthhart added. It worked, because Mr. Tweet “knew the system and its strengths and weaknesses, understood the successes and errors of the past, knew the people the city needed to depend on, and trusted and relied on the city’s employees.”
Crediting Mr. Tweet with with quickly reopening lines of communication and moving the city forward, Mr. Ruthhart said “History will show he’s been a good steward of the city government during difficult times.”
Rather than offer a laundry list of his own accomplishments, when Mr. Tweet was asked what he’s proudest of during his tenure, he said, “I’ve always tried to do my best to serve the citizens of Rock Island.”
Others are happy to fill in the blanks including Liz Murray Tallman, vice president of Development Services at the Development Association of Rock Island (DARI).
“In March 2020, DARI and the City of Rock Island created a public private partnership to emphasize a city-wide economic development approach to business investment in Rock Island and Randy Tweet was a driving force in the development of this partnership,” Ms. Tallman said.
“Through his leadership we have been able to create a collaborative economic development team that has helped facilitate more than $100 million in business expansions and investment in Rock Island,” she added. “We will greatly miss Randy’s involvement with our economic development team and also his contributions to the DARI executive board.”
The city’s biggest challenge when he took the reins, Mr. Tweet said, was financial stability. “The city was looking at a large gap between revenues and expenditures. That’s something we’ve been working on for the last five years.”
Under his stewardship, Rock Island also has continued to find ways to address the infrastructure needs downtown and throughout the city while searching for ways to grow its economy.
“I wish we could have made more progress in the area of economic development, specifically the Watchtower site on 11th Street,” Mr. Tweet said. “We’ve had a number of very promising potential projects over the last five years but nothing came to fruition.”
The timing of Mr. Tweet’s departure is tied in part to the City of Rock Island’s need.
“I decided to retire now because it seemed like the best time for the city, my family and me,” he said. “The city is preparing for some major projects including a significant investment in the downtown and the allocation of $26.5 million in ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds. A city manager coming in now will be able to see those projects to their completion.”
The interim city manager charged with leading the city is another homegrown product: John Gripp, who serves as the city’s parks and recreation director. Mayor Thoms says a search has been launched to find a permanent city manager and the search firm should have recommendations ready sometime in the spring.
What of Mr. Tweet?
“I have no plans other than I don’t want to have any plans,” he said. “I hope to take each day as it comes.”
His hopes for the city, however, remain the same. “Many citizens are proud to call Rock Island home. I hope that continues,” Mr. Tweet said.