How long have you been mayor?
I first took office in May 2001 and was re-elected in 2005. My current term expires in April 2009.
Who or what inspired you to seek office?
It may have been back in high school when I first thought about being the mayor of Washington. Ed Habecker was mayor at that time and I admired him not only as the mayor, but as a person with integrity. Throughout the years, I became active in my church and community. Then, in 1993, I was asked by a longtime friend, Tom Berlett, if I would be interested in running for the high school board. I said yes and fortunately I was successful. It was during my eighth year of service on the high school board when I heard that Don Gronewold was not seeking a fourth term as mayor, and I thought this might be the time to serve Washington in a different way. It has been my commitment to help keep Washington a great community in which to live and to raise and educate a family.
What’s been the most challenging issue you’ve faced as mayor?
Managing the city’s rapid residential growth has been the most challenging. Over the last five years, building permits have been issued for 970 new residential dwelling units. The city’s population has grown from about 11,000 to an estimated 14,000. Service demands have increased accordingly on all aspects of city government including its infrastructure. We are making progress in dealing with water and wastewater capacity issues. Further attention is needed regarding our local street network as total city mileage has grown by nearly 50 percent over the past 10 years. Public safety services are also experiencing steady growth in service requests.
What’s your “pet issue”?
Along with many other Washington area residents, I have put a lot of energy in moving the Washington Area Community Center project forward. Having four governmental bodies (city, park district, high school and library district) and one not-for-profit corporation collaborate on a project of this type has been both challenging and rewarding. Each entity has benefited from the economies resulting from the cooperative venture and the resulting momentum. Today, a 130,000 square-foot facility costing $20 million is under construction. When completed in late 2007, the facility will feature a 1,021 seat performing arts auditorium, an 18,400 square-foot public library, an aquatics center including both a recreation and an eight-lane competition pool, a banquet center suitable to accommodate meetings and gatherings of up to 500, a state of the art recreation, wellness and fitness area, consisting of an elevated track and a 12,000 square-foot multi-purpose gymnasium, senior/youth centers and a child care center.
What issue are you looking forward to tackling in the future?
The upgrade of Illinois Route 8 is among the city’s highest priorities. This high-traffic, high-accident, narrow, two-lane roadway is detrimental to motorists and its planned upgrade is essential to the continued growth of the city. While the city has had its local funding in place for many years, the project is awaiting IDOT funding authorization.
Is there a common misconception about you or mayors in general that you’d like to clear up?
I think that some people think all we do is make public appearances and look for photo opportunities. During my term in office, I have found that there is a lot more to it. We have numerous meetings with residents, developers, business owners (current or future) and other elected officials at the local, state and federal levels. Then we have trips to Springfield making sure that the city’s interests are well-known by our state legislators.
What are the keys to a successful future for Washington?
While the city has experienced dramatic residential growth in recent years, its long-term financial viability is reliant on the continued expansion of its commercial sector. We are not only reliant on new business development, but on the maintenance of our existing commercial sector. The redevelopment of the Sunnyland Plaza and the maintenance of the downtown square are critical to both the appearance and overall health and viability of our community.
What advice do you have for Washington residents and members of the public who want to be part of city decisions?
There are numerous opportunities for area residents to participate in city decisions: direct contact with city officials, attendance at meetings and hearings, volunteering to serve on boards and commissions and actually running for office.
What’s surprised you most since becoming mayor?
I was a little naive at first because I wanted to please everyone. I soon realized that was not going to be possible. Being a lifelong resident of Washington, I have built many relationships throughout the years. The city has to make many tough decisions and the outcome may affect people differently. I’m surprised that some people just cannot understand that when I take a position, it is not personal. I will always try to do what I feel is best for all of Washington and its citizens. We do have a few special interest groups, but I feel that most citizens understand why we do what we do.
Do you think the council meetings should continue to be televised? Why or why not?
Our meetings have been televised on a taped-delayed basis for many years. It offers a convenient opportunity for residents to observe the City Council in action. You’d be surprised how many people will stop me and ask about a meeting that they had watched on TV. I support the continuation of televised meetings.
What has been your proudest moment so far as mayor?
It was the day four taxing bodies and one not-for-profit board signed an intergovernmental agreement to build the Washington Area Community Center. This says a lot about who we are—to imagine this many people working together for the benefit of the entire Washington area. You might have to look outside of Illinois to find any community that has had five different groups working together on a project of this magnitude.
Will you be seeking office again when your term expires in 2009 and do you have any other future political aspirations?
Yes, I currently expect to run for re-election in 2009. I would consider running for a state legislative office in the future but only if our current state representatives chose not to seek re-election.
How do you balance your time between mayoral work, your career and family?
I have worked at Caterpillar for the last 32 years. I’m currently a Senior OEM Account Manager in PSMD (Power Systems Marketing Division) working at the Mossville facility. Caterpillar encourages its employees to be active in their communities. My wife, Lada, has been very supportive of my commitment to Washington. Our children, Brooke and Chase, grew up knowing that there would be times when I needed to be away from home. I think that they appreciate what I am doing. They have had to make some sacrifices over the years because I have used most of my vacation days on city affairs. I think you have to enjoy serving the public. The city was without a City Administrator for over eight months and I spent about 30 hours per week working on city issues. Since hiring Bob Morris, our City Administrator, my time commitment has decreased to about 15 hours per week. Sometimes I need to be reminded that it is a part-time job. IBI