The faces of Peoria's leadership changed last month.
Jim Baldwin retired as Riverfront Business District Commission (RBDC) chairman early because he was being second-guessed publicly. And who can blame him? The City Council and others had other ideas at every step of the way – despite the fact that Jim and his Commission were supposed to be calling the shots. Even the infamous Sears block is no closer now to a final concept than it was at the start. Jim was shown no loyalty for his position, despite an illustrious career at Caterpillar and unsparing devotion to the community.
Don Welch, general manager of the Peoria Civic Center moved to the private sector. His farewell was a publicly joyous one, but we're guessing it was prompted, in one way or another, by the constant attacks against his employer, SMG. While he will not admit the discord and disharmony between board members, management, and public opinion was a major factor in his decision, one can only surmise it did. Don and his team were responsible for bringing the Civic Center up to its current speed, and we credit his leadership.
Greg Edwards, President of the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, will begin his style of cheerleading and leadership in Des Moines this month. While Greg's relationship with his governing board differed from that faced by Jim and Don, it's safe to conclude Greg's efforts to sell Peoria to non-Peorians wasn't an easy task as our region has become known as a "difficult place to do business."
Jim, Don, and Greg were well qualified to handle their respective positions in the community and we think they deserved more loyalty and respect from the community than they were accorded.
There's a way to do things in this country, and a way not to do things. When you appoint or hire or elect someone to a public position, you expect them to perform admirably and if they're performing admirably, then they should be allowed to do their job-and we should respect and support them.
Loyalty obviously has its limits. An official can't be loyal to someone they have authority over if that person has been disloyal to them–if that person acts 180-degrees differently than expected–or if that person turns out to not be competent for the position.
It seems like a predominant way of thinking these days is "each man for himself." But we know loyalty, trust, respect, cooperation and consensus building is necessary to make a business community work. Even though each of these leaders had different circumstances that prompted a change, their exit gives us an opportunity to reflect on our commitment to those we recruit and elect for leadership positions.
Peoria was once loosely run by a group of businessmen who were informally referred to as the "good old boy network." If one of the men wanted a major project to be done, there was a sort of consensus reached among the majority of those men–and it got scheduled. Let's face it–if you wanted to get anything major accomplished in the community, you made sure one of those gentlemen became its champion. If he decided it was a good thing for Peoria, the others were loyal enough that they agreed. And so it was done.
I'm not suggesting that we rejuvenate the "good old boy network" in Peoria–after all, I am a businesswoman. But I'm wondering if there couldn't be a suitable variation that would be acceptable to those of us who would never be considered one of the "good old boys." Innovative new thinking is good-but so is respecting history and tradition. The latter two can provide valuable insight.
How should Peoria react to changes in leadership? To a large extent, the people who make the big decisions are those we have elected. As a result, we need to make sure that those who seek public office exhibit a strong sense of loyalty, especially to those who do well–and then make sure those people get elected. We have another opportunity to elect and support leadership in the coming months. I challenge each of us to take a very critical look at ourselves-how we have supported-or not-elected officials and local businesses.
While the face of leadership and business is changing in central Illinois, perhaps the greatest lesson we can learn is the loyalty and community focus shown by Jim, Don, and Greg that continues to pay dividends in our community.
Loyalty is a two-way street, and its value is priceless. IBI