A dominant thought we all have as a new year rolls around concerns “resolutions.” I’m not talking about the ones we present on the Council floor to honor extraordinary achievement, but the ones that address hoped-for improvements and successes in our personal and professional lives. And even though you will not read this article until February, I am penning it in the midst of rather challenging early January weather.
I thought it would be useful for readers of this fine publication to know where I am coming from in terms of resolutions for the first year of a new decade. My approach to New Year’s resolutions—in fact, to life in general—is to think in terms of finding solutions, to look at challenges with a “glass half-full” attitude. For example, note that I refer above to a “rather challenging early January,” not “a most brutal and bitter winter.” The fact is that we will get through the tough times if we work together and aim towards a common goal. Come to think of it, that’s why people formed villages and cities in the first place…to work together for common security, economic gain, social relationships, and so on.
With this in mind, I will share the following 10 resolutions that represent my sincere aspirations for our great city and its citizens for 2010.
First, I intend to strengthen focus on a core ingredient to good, representative government: transparency. Hard as we try as elected officials, there is a persistent feeling among citizens that we have hidden agendas and operate behind closed doors. The best public policy is that which is developed hand in hand with taxpayers. While I believe the City does a good job at transparency, we can do better. We must listen better and constantly remind ourselves that citizen disengagement with elected officials increases proportionally when the doors are closed.
Secondly, I resolve to work even harder with other units of government to improve our effectiveness in serving the taxpayers. We face common challenges in terms of certain mandates from the federal and state government that are literally bankrupting us. An example at the state level is the continual uptick in pension legislation and related costs landing at the steps of city halls throughout Illinois. Only by working together can we hope to finally get the attention of those in the State House for more responsible legislation and affordable action.
Next, and of course, closely related to the above, is to live within our financial means. This past year’s budget process was indeed painful. Services were reduced and real people lost their jobs. I regret that any of this had to occur, but the only way to prevent future pain is to resist the temptation for short-term budget adjustments unless there are permanent, identified and committed financial resources that the citizens can afford.
Fourth is to remember “affordability.” I happen to believe that it is only in local government that people can literally be in your face, which balances budget pressures with affordability. During our recent budget process, I received frequent advice to “just raise property taxes.” At a time when employers are laying people off, homeowners cannot meet house payments and folks are cutting back on whatever they can, it is just not right for us to raise taxes. President Harry Truman said “the buck stops here,” and that was never more appropriate than it is today.
My fifth resolution is to do whatever I can to bring the great developments on the drawing board into fruition. A little over a year ago, the City Council gave the go-ahead to a huge hotel project in cooperation with developer Gary Matthews. I am confident that we will soon have good news on this wonderful potential that will do so much to further revitalize the central downtown area. Likewise, the Warehouse District has exciting developments under way. Pat Sullivan and others’ vision for this area are my priority as well. And of course, the increasingly promising prospect of turning the dirt on the Museum Block is a primary 2010 wish.
Sixth, I resolve to concentrate our attention on accomplishing an effective and successful census. Our Planning and Growth Management department is leading this effort, but it will take sustained work to make sure everyone is counted. After all, the final tally is the basis for most, if not all, of shared revenues derived from the state and federal governments. An accurate census count is in everyone’s best interest.
My next resolution is to heighten my involvement in helping improve local educational performance. Not only do I want District 150 to be the best it can be, but I am driven by the vision of Peoria Promise. Peoria Promise is on a constant drive for funds to help deserving kids in our local schools attend Illinois Central College and get a leg up on their adult lives through a solid academic background. Our community’s ability to effectively compete with similarly sized and located cities is directly related to the performance of our educational system. We must do better. I look forward to developing a collegial relationship with District 150’s new superintendent.
Eighth, is to do a better job of drawing on the expertise of others in the solving of problems. The Mayor’s Office is certainly not embarrassed to seek advice and counsel from those in the private sector and elsewhere to solve problems and plan for the future. We have a wealth of talent in our community. Former Councilman Bob Manning is an example of one who is generous with observations and suggestions. We are blessed with a Fortune 50 company at our very doorstep, and Caterpillar has never turned away from sharing its globally-tested management talent. The same applies to our friends at Bradley University and Peoria’s strong healthcare network.
My next resolution is to improve our ability to bring good people into local elected office. Former Governor Jim Thompson once said, “Good government comes from good people serving in government.” We have a strong City Council, but we need a constant reservoir of skilled and dedicated people who are willing to suffer the slings and arrows of public office and are ready to put their names on the ballot. Last October, former Mayor Bob Lehnhausen, upon receiving a resolution honoring his 90th birthday, thanked the Council for their courage in serving. He went on to challenge those who have better ideas to have the guts to put their name on the ballot. I liked that!
Finally, I resolve to always look for “a better way.” There is no process, system, service or individual performance that cannot be improved. A constant striving for higher performance is the stuff of economic and social freedom. My sentiments in this regard were summed up nicely in a Wall Street Journal editorial of January 5, 2010, that observed that in the final analysis, prosperity has been built over the years on the basis of the old reliables of economic freedom, the rule of law, hard work and sound management. This applies in our households, our places of business and City Hall. iBi