How long have you been a council member?
I am finishing my second year.
Who or what inspired your desire to seek office?
When the council seat came open, I was contacted by Congressman Ray LaHood. Frankly, it was not even on my radar at that time, but other respected leaders in the community began to call in support of the idea of my candidacy; they thought I could jump in and make a difference. I was honored to be selected from a qualified group of 18 candidates.
What’s been the most challenging issue you’ve faced as a Peoria City Council member?
The toughest issue has been the budget. While we have had strong revenue growth, our expenditures continue to outstrip our income. Any person who handles their own budget—whether for their family or for their business—understands that this is not sustainable. We need to continue to work hard and challenge department heads to trim unneeded expenses. Going forward, we have some very difficult challenges, including funding our GASB 45 liability, which force us to account in today’s budget for future healthcare expenditures. We will also have to make large-scale improvements to our sewer and sanitary systems as mandated by the EPA, which will be highly expensive. We are going to need to deal with these very large financial issues while also maintaining a favorable tax climate for homeowners and businesses.
What’s your “pet issue”?
My pet issue is the Southern Gateway Project. For many years, I have been concerned about this very significant entrance to our city on Adams Street from Bartonville. Many people, legislators and business folks choose not to take this route when driving from the airport to downtown simply because it does not put our best foot forward as a city. There are many problems in this area on the river side of Adams Street. We have environmental issues due to our old landfills, floodplain issues, with much of the land at or below a 100-year-old floodplain, and infrastructure that needs attention. That being said, there are also great opportunities there. In conjunction with existing businesses and landowners, we can work together to draw businesses and jobs to an area that has been historically underemployed. People say manufacturing is dead. I disagree. We can grow high-quality manufacturing jobs in Peoria. When traveling up Route 55 north of Joliet, there is wonderful growth evident in distribution, logistics and warehousing. I look at that area and say, “What about us?” With rail access, river access, a high-quality work force and an excellent highway system, this area has outstanding opportunities. Working with other council members and the mayor, we have identified this as a high priority for our future.
What issue are you looking forward to tackling soon as a council member?
We need to continue to stabilize neighborhoods by supporting the efforts of neighborhood groups, listening carefully to their needs, and coming up with real-life, workable solutions. We need to have less theory and more measurable results. Last year by a very narrow margin, we passed a noise ordinance. This ordinance has dramatically quieted our neighborhoods by giving stiff and immediate penalties to those who would disrupt citizens’ peace. We funded a security camera test program to leverage the activities of our police force and we have also initiated “saturation patrols.” We have learned that crime moves around the city like in battle—the enemy adjusts their tactics, changes locations and moves quickly. We have matched this by allowing our officers to adjust to these changes and bring large amounts of resources to bear very quickly. This has resulted in our police force securing a large amount of contraband, generating arrests and, more importantly, demonstrated to our citizens that criminals will not be tolerated in our neighborhoods. Again, we have developed solid, successful solutions for the real problems faced by our citizens.
Is there a common misperception about you or council members in general that you’d like to clear up?
I think, as a person who owns a business, people assume that you have difficulty relating to neighborhood issues. Occasionally, I feel like developers and other business owners are painted as part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. I have been working to close this gap and engage these groups to work together. I feel very strongly that we need to live within our budget. I have led the charge not to raise property tax rates during the last two budgets. I have worked with department heads to be more efficient and effective. Yet we also need to understand that through working together with businesses, neighborhoods and committed citizens, we can have a wonderful impact in all neighborhoods and make this a great place to live and raise a family as well as start and grow a business.
What are the keys to a successful future for Peoria? How can the council help?
Peoria is on the right track. Our unemployment rate is at an historic low, and housing starts and sales are strong. We have tackled a number of very large issues with our budget including GASB 45. However, at the same time there continue to be issues that we must address. As mentioned, we must continue to attack crime. We have excellent progress in economic development and need to continue this momentum, particularly in areas like the Southern Gateway. We also need to be more efficient and effective with our service delivery. We are going to see an increase of nearly $7 million in expenditures this year—the majority of that is employee costs. For years the private sector has been driving many costs out of the system and improving productivity. We need to continue to do this in the public sector. We also need to continue to partner with our Peoria Schools, including District 150. The establishment of programs to support public education, like Peoria Promise and the Truancy Assessment Center, are working and have enormous potential. We need to continue to improve our school system by developing effective joint initiatives and improving communication.
What advice do you have for members of the public who want to be a part of city decisions?
During the last at-large election, less than 25 percent of registered voters exercised their right to vote. People need to get to know their public officials and make sure their voices are heard. I have found that being responsive and accessible is a real plus. Returning phone calls, emails and other contacts is critical. Being available for meetings and discussions is also key. The public needs to hold us accountable. When we make a mistake, pick up the phone and let us know. We have a very dedicated and hard-working staff. Our department heads are experienced and knowledgeable people. Make suggestions; let us know how we can do better. We also have a wonderful commission program for citizens to be involved in. Whether it is zoning, Peoria Civic Center board, the Mayor’s Advisory Commission on the Disabled or the other dozens of commissions, volunteer your time. These are working committees that allow citizens to find out more about this great city and also allow you to participate and give back. We also have numerous committees such as the litter committee headed by Steve Piercz. Steve is a Caterpillar six sigma black belt that is taking on our litter problem in a fresh new way. You also need to get involved in your neighborhood. Join your association or a neighborhood watch program. Keep an eye out for problems while meeting new friends. There are many, many ways to participate, jump in!
What does your political future hold?
I want to retain my seat on the Peoria City Council. It has been a wonderful and rewarding experience to serve the citizens of Peoria. I hope that my common sense approach and my leadership in providing solutions and securing results for real problems that people face is something that people will consider when they vote on April 17.
What’s surprised you most since becoming an elected official?
The biggest surprise was the large amount of people that live in this city who are committed to making it better. Our neighborhood associations are very strong and active. People in the core areas are rolling up their sleeves and preparing to fight to make their street, block or neighborhood better. If you reach out to people and prove that you genuinely care and are committed to supporting their efforts, they respond positively. This has been very energizing and so rewarding.
Do you think televised meetings help or hinder council proceedings?
Television can be a little intimidating at times…particularly for me because I truly have a face for radio! In all seriousness, I believe that television and radio allows accessibility to the city’s political process for those with special needs or citizens who do not have the time or resources to physically attend meetings. My style is not to grandstand; it is to carefully weigh the data and information available prior to making decisions that are in the best interest of our citizens. IBI