JOLIET – City Manager Jim Hock had some firsts in Joliet.
Hock is wrapping up a 39-year career in government with a retirement that starts after his last day as city manager Wednesday.
Asked whether he ever had an experience like the Rialto Square Theatre, which required Hock to get some quick lessons in the theater business a year ago as the city stepped in to save a few acts when the Rialto ran out of money, the city manager shook his head several times.
“No – not with a theater,” Hock said. “And this is my first baseball stadium, too. And my first prison. It’s the only prison people want to break into.”
Among Hock's last recommendations as city manager is a proposal that the city take joint ownership of the old Collins Street prison with the Joliet Area Historical Museum.
“Everybody already thinks we own the prison,” Hock said, noting the city gets blamed, although the prison is owned by the state, for such incidents as when a girl got in and locked herself in a prison cell.
Still, it’s those firsts in his career and the variety that comes with managing city government in Joliet that has made his three years in the city rewarding, Hock said during an interview at his office last week.
“It’s a city manager’s dream,” Hock said. “You’ve got new residential construction going in. You’ve got huge industrial development. You’ve got a downtown area that’s an old city center where redevelopment is going on.”
In other words, a lot is happening in Joliet.
Joliet is the biggest city Hock has ever worked for, although he was assistant city manager in Sterling Heights, Michigan, a Detroit suburb with nearly 130,000 people.
Hock is from Michigan, which is where he and his wife will return to live in a lakeside home they own. Hock described it as a “home base” they will use with plans to travel and host visits from family when they’re at the house.
His time in Joliet has included some of the busiest years in his career.
A proclamation read in his honor at the Tuesday City Council meeting recognized Hock's work in the continued development of CenterPoint Intermodal Center, the new train station under construction, and downtown redevelopment planning that included a redesign of Chicago Street.
Despite all the projects in the works, when Hock talks about accomplishments in Joliet, he tends to mention such things as the creation of a strategic plan tied to city budgets so goals would not be developed without price tags. He also talked about the formation of a staff development team to streamline the process for developers who come to City Hall.
His retirement announcement just a month before his departure raised some eyebrows, but Hock said he did not want the city manager’s job to become an issue in the City Council election April 4, so he chose to wait until after the election.
Asked why he decided to leave Wednesday rather than later to allow more time to find his replacement, Hock had a pretty simple answer: “To enjoy the summer.”
Hock thinks he has helped the city run more smoothly.
Smoothly enough that he feels he can get away and leave Joliet in the capable hands of department heads until a new city manager is chosen.
“I came to realize that too much is going on here to say, ‘When this project is done, then I can retire,’ ” Hock said. “There’s always things going on, and there always will be.”