On January 1st, 2012 at the age of 28, La Porte native Blair Milo was sworn in as one of the town's youngest mayors and only its second-ever female mayor. In August of that year, she stopped by Ideas in Motion Media to tell us how life in office was going. As she begins her 3rd year in office, Mayor Milo took the time from her busy schedule to sit with us once more to fill us in on how she got where is today, how things are going two years in, and how she spends her time when she isn't operating a city.
"I've always been kind of a government nut. One of the ways I got involved early on was in high school. I participated in the American Legion Auxiliary Girls State program [there is one for boys too], which is a summer program that lets students spend a week learning about how local and state government works. It's a great way to learn about government in an interactive fashion. Everyone picks a position to run for and they hold a mock election at the end. It's really fun," Mayor Milo said.
After high school graduation and with a strong desire to serve in a "somewhat removed" government capacity, Milo investigated military academies at her mother's suggestion. Though researching the Naval Academy is what sparked her interest in serving in the Navy, Milo attended Purdue and earned her commission by graduating through the university's NROTC program. She went on to spend five and a half years on active duty, serving on board the USS Mason, protecting one of two offshore oil platforms in Bahrain, and eventually working with the Pentagon and the Office of Naval Intelligence. Currently, she's on "standby reserve," which means that she's still in the service, but it is officially recognized that she has duties in civilian life that would be difficult for her to leave if she were called up.
"I enjoyed my time in the Navy, and that's even with remembering the tough days. The Navy prepared me for any number of things and taught me how to work in a team, how to manage my time efficiently, and how to work with different personality types. Most of all, I learned that there is nothing anyone can throw at me that I can't solve if I have the support of a good team. That has been an invaluable lesson for me," Mayor Milo said.
While working in Washington D.C., Milo kept up to date on news in her hometown. She was increasingly disturbed in reading that La Porte was facing significant financial troubles. Without any intention of getting as involved as she now has become, Milo began writing solution-focused pieces. Her message and her approach proved popular, and before long she found herself encouraged to run for mayor.
"At first I found all of that very funny, because I had my own plans for my career elsewhere and those plans were already underway," Mayor Milo said. "But I've been very blessed with some unique opportunities in my life; to work with some of the leaders that I have worked with, to manage large budgets at the Pentagon, and to know what it's like to have to make the tough decisions. I felt that if there was something I could do with my skills and experiences that would help with the situation I saw at home, I should do that."
Now two years into her term, Mayor Milo says that her administration has for the most part stuck to its original plan, and to good effect.
"I have a poster of my campaign promises in my office so that they are always in front of me. We outlined three areas to focus on to improve La Porte's future: create a positive climate for economic development, form sustainable infrastructure, and encourage positive lifestyle choices," Mayor Milo said. "Two years in, we've moved forward with the NewPorte Landing development, with rail service to our industrial parks, and with finding ways to fund ongoing infrastructure maintenance and improvements. I'm very proud of the work the City Council has accomplished already in addressing all of this. We've also created programs like Fitness Fridays and Saturdays in the Sun to give people a way to get out and get active. Offering positive options goes hand in hand with solving negative lifestyle issues, and we're seeing that these programs are having that effect."
Although being mayor takes up much of her time, Mayor Milo makes exercise a personal priority and gets outside to run a couple times a week. She completed her first marathon just last year, but apparently that milestone wasn't satisfying enough for her.
"I didn't get the time that I was hoping for, I missed it by a few minutes. So, type-A personality that I am, now I have to try again so I can beat my time. I have a new, different goal that I'm working on for 2014 that is going to occupy a lot of my running time though. I'll be excited to announce that when it's ready, but with all of that I don't think that I'm going to be able to do another marathon this year. I am planning on doing another half this summer though," she said.
She still has plenty of family in La Porte including her parents, and at home is her "roommate," Xylophone the cat.
"I'm not sure she's just a cat though. She might actually be 1/3 cat, 1/3 dog, and 1/3 dolphin," Mayor Milo joked.
In an age of divisive politics and growing political apathy, it's refreshing to hear from someone so down-to-earth who not only believes that people have the power to change their communities and their world, but is also actively engaged in doing just that herself.
"One of the questions, especially in this area, is how to get young professionals more involved," Mayor Milo said. "I don't think that there is a lack of willingness to help at all, but I think that there is a difference in how people are willing to go about their service, and I think that that's what a lot of folks are trying to get their arms around right now. We need to rethink how to reach out and encourage and invite people to get involved in issues that are important to them."
That's not at all to say there aren't plenty of citizens involved and active as part of the community Mayor Milo returned home to help rebuild. In fact, it seems like the energy of the people of La Porte is a big part of Mayor Milo's inspiration.
"In my time as mayor so far, I've been really encouraged by the people of La Porte. I think we are seeing more and more of that involvement. I've tried to involve more young people in this administration and I've found that, when you ask, there is absolutely a willingness to be a part of what's going on. We just need to rethink how to reach out," Mayor Milo said in closing.