The opportunity afforded me every other month to pen an article for iBi is very much appreciated. Unlike the daily media rush for sound bites and quips about events of the moment, this column provides the opportunity to reflect on what really is important to the welfare and prosperity of our community. And so it is for the June 2013 issue that there are two striking examples of why this is a great city… an All America City! Those two examples are the superlative management of mid-April’s historic flooding threat and the initiative of a small group of young professionals to nominate Peoria for the prestigious All America City Award! In reality, these two subjects are inseparable. It comes down to a common denominator: people. In both cases, Peoria is well served by people with extraordinary dedication, unflinching leadership and managerial excellence.
It is truly ironic. At the same time Peoria was battling to keep the historic floodwaters from bringing downtown to a standstill, the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce’s Young Professionals organization was working tirelessly to nominate Peoria for the All America City Award. Both of these efforts were successful. The enormous cleanup along Water Street is accomplished, and Peoria is one of 20 finalists for the All America City Award. We will present our story to a jury of peers on June 15th in Denver.
When the National Weather Service began predicting record rainfall in mid-April, the City of Peoria management team—led by Patrick Urich, with quiet leadership by Dwain Deppolder of the Peoria Fire Department’s Emergency Management group—began its preparation to minimize as much as practicable the damage. By the time the almost seven inches of rain deluded the Peoria area on April 17th and 18th, a plan was in place. Readers will recall the previous record flood level was 28.8 feet in May of 1943. When all the rain had choked the creeks and streams (and other runoff) dumping into the Illinois, our barrier along Water Street from Caterpillar’s parking deck to south of 401 Water was in place, holding back a record crest of 29.4 feet of Illinois River overcome with not just water, but debris of every sort imaginable.
This was no ordinary sandbagging operation. The building of the great barrier wall (more than 30,000 bags filled with over 50 pounds of sand each!) was coordinated by Scott Reeise of our Public Works Department. With excellent leadership from Interim Director Jeff Smith, Public Works—and it was their “show,” so to speak—put in more than 580 hours of hard labor. Couple this with 1,000 hours of contractor time and 200 hours of City Police time, and you begin to appreciate the magnitude of the challenge.
City Manager Urich was the overall coordinator of this effort. He and his “flood management” team of Public Works and the police and fire departments not only planned and implemented the physical response to the flooding, but worked with riverfront residents and businesses to form a historic All America City team effort. Everyone pitched in to help… providing food to the barrier construction crew, arranging temporary working quarters for those displaced from their normal working environs, and assuring that federal and state emergency management protocols were met. Patrick’s flood management team—Jeff Smith, Kent Tomblin, Steve Settingsgaard, Chris Setti and the folks mentioned above—deserve a standing ovation!
This leads me to the other outstanding example of Peoria teamwork. On June 15th, the Chamber’s Young Professionals Organization will be making its 10-minute presentation to the jury deciding the 10 winners of the coveted All America City Award. This fine group of young men and women is led by its chairman, Tim Cundiff. Tim and a contingent of more than 30 Peorians representing a diverse and inclusive group of energetic and dedicated individuals will focus on three of the city’s recent community-driven initiatives: downtown revival and the museum block, education/youth workforce development, and the tremendous progress in the healthcare field. I’ll have more to say about the All America City Award presentation and the Young Professionals Organization in a subsequent column.
Being named one of 20 finalists is an incredible accomplishment in itself. Due to the leadership and hard work of many iBi readers, Peoria was successful in receiving the All America City Award three times in the past (in 1953, 1966 and 1989). You can be proud that your commitment to Peoria during those times in our history set the groundwork for yet another attempt this year for national recognition of our community excellence and leadership.
And as I said at the outset, the common denominator of these accomplishments is people. We have the best, as demonstrated by the way we manage our city and how we work together to achieve sustainable economic and social improvement and success for all our citizens. Thanks to all for what you’re doing. I’m privileged to be a part of this dynamic and caring community! iBi