How long have you been a mayor?
I’ve served in elective office in East Peoria for a total of 31 years. I’ve served as mayor the last seven years. I was a commissioner on the City Council from 1975 to 1999.
Who or what inspired your desire to seek office?
When I left our family business in 1974 and went from working 68 hours a week to a little more than 40 hours per week, several citizens asked me to run for office. The professionalism of the elected officials serving on the City Council in 1975, and through today, inspired me to seek elected office.
What’s been the most challenging issue you’ve faced as mayor?
Over the decades, we’ve sought to spur economic development to enable services, products, and amenities to be provided to East Peoria citizens that simply weren’t available in East Peoria 30 years ago. Our most challenging issues arise from our continuing effort to create quality jobs at the Peoria Area Technology Park on the Caterpillar Inc. former manufacturing site.
What’s your “pet issue”?
I believe East Peoria and the entire metropolitan area will lose vitality if we fail to take the steps necessary to be a player in the new knowledge-based economy. I don’t want East Peoria to rely upon only the manufacturing and retail service jobs. Creating the environment that attracts high-technology employers and the entities that service them is a long-term undertaking. We’re grateful for the employment Caterpillar offers within our area. We welcome the quality retail that has chosen to locate in East Peoria. We’re pleased we continue to expand the tourism segment of our economy. But the most important task on which we must focus is preparing for the new knowledge economy. That, frankly, is why I’m an ardent supporter of the PeoriaNEXT regional initiative.
What issue are you looking forward to tackling soon?
Our East Peoria riverfront has a new Embassy Suites Hotel under construction and soon we’ll initiate construction of the adjacent publicly owned conference center for meetings. We’re initiating construction of the roadways, sidewalks, water and sewer mains, and storm sewers to serve this area as well as the area south of the Michel Bridge which we’ve targeted for restaurants and an office building. At RiverFront Park, we have restrooms, a playground, and a gazebo under construction. My immediate plans are to focus on tacking this redevelopment of our riverfront.
Is there a common misperception about you or city officials in general that you’d like to clear up?
We must constantly remind ourselves and each other that a rising tide raises all ships. We must not react when elements of the media try to spice the story by highlighting one community’s success at the expense of the other community. We should refrain from initiating efforts to entice a business located in one community to the other. But we must also understand it’s better to keep a business in the metropolitan area than to have it leave. I believe East Peoria must understand that Peoria is—and will remain—the major urban city, and that a strong Peoria is absolutely critical to the future of East Peoria and the region. I believe Peoria must understand that not every project of regional significance must occur in Peoria for Peoria to benefit. These understandings must be shared by the business community as well as by local government officials.
What are the keys to a successful future for your area? What can the mayor do to help?
A successful East Peoria calls for collaborating with Peoria and other communities in the region to accomplish great things that will benefit the metropolitan area. The mayor can lead this effort through example, participating with the Heart of Illinois Mayors’ Association, the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission, Heartland Partnership, EDC, Chamber of Commerce, etc.
What advice do you have for members of the public who want to be part of city decisions?
Whenever I have the opportunity, I encourage others—especially young people—to become involved in local government. Public service can be very satisfying and the quality of local government has a direct impact upon the quality of life in a community.
What does your political future hold?
How do you balance your time between your mayoral work with your career and family?
Fortunately, I’m retired from a rewarding career at Caterpillar Inc., and my wife, JoAnn, accompanies me to many social events. It’s difficult and challenging to balance mayoral work with family obligations, but JoAnn is very supportive and understanding.
What’s surprised you most since becoming an elected official?
A pleasant surprise over the decades has been that East Peoria has countless citizens who volunteer a great deal to improve our quality of life—citizens who volunteer with the Festival of Lights, boys’ baseball, girls’ softball, EastSide volleyball, Planning and Zoning Boards, the Riverfront Development Commission, our Beautification Commission, Youth Council, Police Auxiliary, and the list goes on and on. East Peoria is truly blessed with “community pride”—which is, appropriately, our city’s motto.
Do you think televised meetings help or hinder council proceedings? Should more people would attend the meetings?
I understand citizens have busy schedules and can’t attend meetings every other week, but would like to stay abreast of what’s going in on the city. Televised meetings keep citizens informed about city business and activities.
Is there any additional information you’d like to add?
To secure the future, we’ve got a job to do and need to get on with it in a spirit of cooperation. I hope the perception of East Peoria is that we’re creative and aggressive in our efforts to improve the quality of life in our community and in the region. IBI