Former Mayor Bill Mischler, standing, continues to assist city residents even in retirement. Every Monday through Saturday, 8 to 9 a.m., he can be found at the McDonald’s in the Walmart Supercenter on U.S. 19 N. There he meets with friends and residents, helping to solve problems and answer questions about the city.
PINELLAS PARK – Most days of the week, Bill Mischler’s day starts the same way.
Mondays through Saturdays, unless he has a Pinellas Park/Gateway Chamber of Commerce breakfast or a Vincent House board meeting, he leaves his Mainland’s home to sit in the McDonalds of the Walmart Supercenter at 8001 U.S. 19 N. from 8 to 9 a.m. He’s joined sometimes by as many as 20 old friends and city residents.
Some have questions about city codes or new businesses coming to town. Others have problems that he tries to help them solve. Most still call him mayor.
“I don’t even try to correct them anymore,” he said.
These are his office hours. He’s kept them since 2001, a few years after becoming mayor of Pinellas Park, a role he held for 14 years until retiring in 2012. He’s been joined at this McDonald’s by sheriffs and state representatives. Though he had a nice office at city hall, for Mischler, 75, when everyone is sitting at the same Formica table at that fast-food joint, they’re on the same level.
“I don’t care if you’re the governor,” he said. “I’ll ask you to meet me here.”
When Mischler stepped down as mayor, he had spent 41 years in public service with the city. Nine of those years were on the planning and zoning board – five as chair – and 32 on the City Council. He fully intended to travel, and spend time with his wife and family.
They did travel a bit, he said.
“I love cruises,” he said.
But his wife has faced some medical issues in recent years. So they travel less.
“I can’t be down in the Caribbean and she has a pancreatic attack and I’m stuck in Belize or something,” Mischler said.
Even without the title of mayor, he felt the pull to do what he’d always done: help the people. You can take Mischler out of the City Council, but you can’t take the City Council out of Mischler.
“I love doing things for people,” he said. “I’m a people person. I can’t change me.”
In recent years, he served as healthcare surrogate and power of attorney for two elderly women, neighbors of his who have since died. With one, he spent nearly two hours every day making sure she was safe and comfortable in her nursing home. The other he visited every Sunday with a bag of popcorn, driving with it on his dashboard to keep it warm.
“They had no family, their spouses had died,” he said. “I liked to think about how I would feel in their positions.”
Then there are nonprofit groups he works with. In addition to the Vincent House board, he also sits on the board for Northside Hospital and works with the organization Clothes for Kids.
While working in city government, Mischler quickly earned a reputation as an advocate for the people.
He remembers the first planning and zoning board public hearing he attended. It was 1970 and he’d read about it in the local newspaper. So he figured he would check it out.
Pinellas Park was a different place at the time, he said. Cars sat on cement blocks in driveways. The city still had numerous dirt roads. And many homes were in disarray.
“It was trash,” he said. “It was redneck. But it’s changed.”
The city had “a bad reputation,” he added.
“For many years, it was bad, if you were a minority you better be passing through,” he said. “I don’t care what race you are, creed, whatever, you’re always welcome in this city. But that was the old good ol’ boy attitude years ago. Thankfully it’s changed.”
So when Mischler attended that first planning and development meeting, he was interested in learning more about the community and its issues.
“But when I went there and they opened the public hearing, they all looked at me, because I was the only one in the audience,” he said. “I thought, these people are passing things and nobody cares.”
This is when he was first moved to get involved with the city.
“If there had been two or three more people in the audience, I wouldn’t have gotten started,” he said. “I was an introvert. I was a total introvert. I was shy, really backwards.”
As he attended more meetings, he was invited to join the board. He started as an alternate member and served as its chair for his last five years on it.
Then, in 1980 he decided to take the next step and run for City Council, which is where he stayed until 2014. He said he had a successful run on council, but doesn’t take the credit.
“It was the employees that made me successful,” he said. “Any leader, you’re only as good as the people working beneath you. They made me and we had the best employees in the city.”
People often encouraged him to run for higher office, but he quickly would shut down those suggestions. He prides himself on not being part of any political party or organization.
“I like to help people. I’m here for the people. I’m not a politician,” Mischler said. “I could have run for higher office. But I have to live with myself and I can’t do that.”