How long have you been mayor of West Peoria?
I have been mayor for 12 years now, first elected in 1995. I look forward to another four years if West Peorians so desire this April!
Who or what inspired your desire to seek office?
Public service and the value of giving back to one’s community has been a theme in my family. I wanted to “continue the tradition” as they say. Back in 1974, I was voted class president in high school and this instilled in me a desire to become a public servant later in life.
What has been the most challenging issue you’ve faced as mayor?
I’d say agreeing upon and adopting zoning ordinances to our city code right after I became mayor was the most challenging, as well as deciding upon one garbage collector for the city. Being a new city and having to start from scratch presented the city council, plan commission and myself with many difficulties. Numerous meetings and discussions were held before we were able to gain a consensus on these issues. The time and effort were well spent as 14 years later we have a community with its own identity and in which residents can take pride.
What is your pet issue?
A pressing issue in West Peoria has always been the improvement of our infrastructure, specifically our sidewalks and storm sewer/ drainage system. While we have completed much essential infrastructure work, there is still a great need to address storm sewer repair and replacement in West Peoria. I’ve helped to establish a Sidewalk Improvement Program, whereby residents on a particular street can choose to pay a small increase in taxes for a few years towards the reconstruction of their sidewalk, while the city contributes half the cost of the project. We have rebuilt over a dozen sidewalks with this program so far, and two more streets will be receiving new sidewalks this year.
What issue are you looking forward to tackling soon in the future?
This winter, the West Peoria township building, where we store our street maintenance vehicles, collapsed under heavy snow. This started a discussion among city and township officials regarding the need for a new building. Our volunteer fire department is also interested in more space at their current building, so we tossed around the idea of a new building to house all three entities. What I would like to see happen is the construction of a new facility in West Peoria to house city and township government, and to serve as a community center with a recreational and cultural aspect to it. This new facility could potentially house the fire department, a small banquet hall, an office for our local police officers and be a locale for our neighborhood association.
Is there a common misperception about you or city officials that you’d like to clear up?
I think there is a misconception of public officials being exempt from the rules. In fact, public officials are held more accountable and are more scrutinized than the average citizen. There are “no free rides” for elected officials.
What are the keys to a successful future for your area? What can the mayor do to help?
Of course, West Peoria must promote economic development and support business growth. We must continue to pursue new business development in our downtown area and at our main business districts along Farmington Road and Western Avenue. Being adjacent to Peoria, we have an opportunity to benefit from the establishment of the Renaissance Park area and the new business incubator going up on Main Street. From a regional perspective, West Peoria should seek to collaborate with neighboring cities such as Peoria, Pekin, East Peoria, Bartonville and Washington to promote our locality here in central Illinois.
The viability of our community also rests with the people who live here and their involvement in community activities. This past year residents and I participated in a strategic visioning process whereby we came up with a vision and goals for the community. Having a vision and a strategic plan is the best way to ensure a successful future in any community.
What advice do you have for the public who want to be a part of city decisions?
Get involved! I’ve recently read of a national trend in declining civic engagement. We need to reverse this.
What does your political future hold?
Well, I hope to be mayor of West Peoria for at least another four years. But I also have a desire to watch my son Jimmy pursue his own career in the political arena and will assist him in any way I can.
How do you balance your time between mayoral work with a career and family?
I have been in the plumbing trade for 33 years now and, as any public official knows, it is sometimes difficult to balance time between a full-time job, duties as mayor and family. My wife and kids have always been very supportive of my desire to be mayor. I enjoy being a public servant and I am very thankful that I have a family who understands and appreciates this. I am also very appreciative of the great city staff who help keep the city running efficiently.
What has surprised you most since becoming an elected official?
What continually surprises me is how people come together to help someone in need or for a good cause. I was amazed at the enthusiasm in our community when participating in the strategic visioning process. When people show that they care about their community through their actions, it is always a welcome surprise.
Do you think televised meetings help or hinder council proceedings?
I am definitely in favor of televised council meetings. One of the first things I did as mayor was to have delayed access of our City Council meetings on Channel 22. Televised meetings are important because there are many concerned residents who may not have been able to attend a meeting in person. I’m continually amazed at how many people I talk to who have watched our meetings on TV.
Any additional information you would like to add?
Like other municipalities, we are challenged by crime issues in West Peoria. The county, local officials and residents are continually working together to address crime in the area and provide a safe environment for everyone. I’d like to see West Peoria continue to move forward and grow while preserving its small town charm. I’ll end with our new logo: “Living is best… to the West of Peoria!” IBI