Scott Thompson grew up in Rushville, and spent the past ten years in city government – the first four as an alderman, followed by six years as mayor.
But he resigned in the middle of his second term as mayor after his wife took a job with the Iowa Department on Aging and he decided to pursue a PhD at Iowa State University.
Thompson said it’s been difficult to leave, but it’s for all the right reasons.
“It’s been a tough month saying goodbyes,” Thompson said.
“When you’re the mayor, you always hear the worst first. And it’s funny because now that people know that I’m leaving people have been really nice. But it’s nice to know people care.”
Thompson said one of the most important achievements during his administration was to build social capital in Rushville. He said the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs (IIRA) helped the community form citizen-based groups such as Exercise Rushville and the Housing Committee.
“Building roads – that’s a valuable asset, it’s important. Improving water and sewer, that’s important. But the most important thing that you can do, especially in a rural community, is to increase the social capital of a community.”
He said even in a small town there are people who get left out or forgotten or missed, and he said they’re usually in the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum. Thompson believes it’s important for leadership in rural communities to pay more attention to lower income residents.
Thompson said the renovation of the downtown square has helped build the community’s social capital. He said a lot of people are now spending their lunch hour in Central Park, and people are using the new sidewalks around the park to get some exercise.
In addition, Thompson said more children are now using the park.
“It’s almost like it’s a public front yard for kids who come uptown. That is really gratifying because it shows that this park is being utilized by not just patrons of downtown businesses but kids feel welcome to come in.”
Thompson said he was gratified to see the community reach out to welcome the French-speaking African population that has moved into Rushville in recent years. He said faith-based groups helped set up English as a Second Language (ESL) labs, Rotary secured a grant to make Rosetta Stone software available, and a Peace Corps Fellow who came to the community through the IIRA set up a manual to help people work through the immigration process.
Thompson said he wished he had more time to work on zoning code enforcement issues and to work on improvements to Schuy-Rush Park.