Looking back on 20 years of elected office, former Warrenton Mayor Greg Costello said what has kept him motivated more than anything else is a desire to serve his community.
Recalling how high school classmates were drafted into the military and fought in Vietnam, some of whom were killed or seriously injured during combat, Costello said he finally came to the realization his opportunity to serve was to get involved in city politics.
“I came to the conclusion that I felt like it was my way of giving back for all those who served our country so unselfishly,” Costello remarked. “It might sound corny to some people, but once you get away from the adrenaline rush and the authority and the power and all those things, I think any good public servant finally recognizes it’s about serving.”
Now that his political career is over, Costello said that he is pleased that the city is in good financial shape and is proud of the accomplishments and progress that has been made since he successfully won his first election in 1986.
Since that time, he served as mayor for 12 years from 1986 to 1998 and then returned to city politics as an alderman for two separate two-year terms in 2003 and 2006. His second term as mayor began in 2008.
Some of the projects completed during his time serving the city include:
• Construction of city hall in 1986 and later renovating and expanding the facility in 2009.
• Voters approving a quarter-cent sales tax in 1989 to generate funds to build Morgan Park and the pool facility.
• Purchasing and developing property for the Warrenton Area Industrial Park.
• Purchasing property and developing the athletic complex.
• Reaching an agreement with Wright City officials on where the two municipalities’ city limits should meet.
• Multiple Highway 47 widening projects.
Costello is quick to defer credit for those and other projects. He says they were completed with the help of the current and past elected officials and a dedicated city staff.
“I have been there, been part of it,” he said. “I have been very blessed to serve with a large number of committed and dedicated people. These are their accomplishments while I was on duty.”
Though he won’t completely rule out a return to city politics, Costello said he is more likely to encourage younger residents to get involved. He’s also excited to not have to worry about keeping dates open for the bimonthly board of aldermen meetings and other work sessions that pop up.
Instead, he can spend more of his free time traveling around the country adding that living in a warmer climate during the winter is also appealing to him.
“It strikes you that holy cow it’s been 20 years,” Costello said.
The Record posed the following questions to the outgoing mayor:
Q: What are you most proud of during your time?
The professionalism that the city has reached. That being everything from a first-class police department, our grounds department is second to none. Really, every department head down there I am so proud of. . .I am very proud that we have as open city government, sometimes to a fault, as far as our records and what we make available. We truly do try to reach close to 100 percent transparency as we can.
Q: What is something you wished would have been accomplished?
I honestly can tell you I don’t have any regrets. They are all project related. I wished we would have passed and built a recreation complex. Having said that, I respect the voters’ decision. I wish we had more sidewalks and ways for our citizens to safely get around our community. It serves many purposes, one of which our citizens would be in better health from walking, biking or jogging.
Q: This past term has been frustrating and aggravating with all the time spent involved with disputes with the county. Looking back on it now, should there have been more done to avoid this?
I think you always would say that. Anytime you get into litigation, you wonder what you could have done to have kept that from happening. What I will tell you, it’s again one of those professionalism things I want to relate to, without any question the city of Warrenton has sought to be as fair and treat everyone the same as any government I have been involved with. We try to pride ourselves in that there is no special treatment. Obviously there is a difference of agreement. I think surprising to a lot of people, the aldermen that voted to treat the county the same as any other business constructing a building, they would be fine if ultimately the courts decide the other way. What we were then and what I presume what the city is looking for and will be in the future is to know exactly what it is supposed to be. In that regard, I can tell you if this case is overturned, the city quite honestly might benefit over the years from it. We pay the county for our prisoners who are incarcerated. Yet, you as a resident of the city of Warrenton pay the same taxes as those in the county pay. The mapping system we pay to the assessor’s office, again, we pay the same taxes that the other county residents pay.
We issue building permits, we perform building inspections and it’s the cost of those. It will be interesting to watch in the future. I just had a conversation this morning, in the longterm and if the city returns the building permit fee over the years, it might be a much greater savings than not having to pay similar fees and charges to other governmental entities. It’s an interesting argument and one I’m sure won’t be decided anytime soon.
Q: Looking ahead, what steps would you like to see the city take to continue moving forward?
You have seen a hopefully less micromanaged individual board members and certainly the case of the mayor. The city as I have served has truly been an aldermanic form of government. We all hate to see you lose that little small town and you have your finger on every little item, every paperclip that is bought, every permit that is issued. The first 12 years I served, that was kind of what the mayor did. He answered a lot of those real elementary, basic questions.
As we progress into the 21st century, the city will continue along those lines with needing a true city administrator. The city when I was out of office had a very bad experience with that. Terri Thorn is director of operations/finance officer; she very much wears the hat and responsibilities of a city administrator. I think in the future you will see the city has grown large enough to need a “city administrator” title. Trust me, that is not a decision I have come to very easily because I have fought against that for a very long time. But when you’re talking about the size budget we have, it’s no different than a school system without a superintendent.
Q: On the same token, you have referred to at times as maybe I stayed too long. You will always run into critics, some disagree and say you have too much interest and control of city politics, what is your response to those residents?
I would believe they need to come to more city board meetings. I would ask that they instead of making their decision based on what they hear at the coffee shop or over a beer at the Elks Club, they should come and see and examine exactly how and what our decisions are based on. I can tell you two years ago, we had someone elected as alderman and was critical of certain departments within the city. After orientation, after seeing what really happens, after six months as alderman he came back and said he couldn’t have been more wrong.
It’s easy to be critical if you don’t have to do it. I wish that every individual had the opportunity to serve the public at least one time in his or her life; whether that’s community service, Rotary Club, school board member, alderman, mayor. It causes you to realize that you can’t make everybody happy. If you do things for the right reason, everything else takes care of itself. You have to sleep at night and know that you tried your best to treat everybody the same and give everyone the same opportunities.