As a new year unfolds, many of us are still groggy from the anxiety and rancor of our national and state elections in November. And now, Peoria residents must evaluate and participate in a primary election on February 28th, and then the general election on April 4th. But I would offer the perspective that local elections are the bedrock of protecting the right to democratic self-government. Elections for municipal and township offices present an opportunity to determine the course of government that impacts our lives on a daily basis. I believe that good, transparent and responsible government begins at home, and I welcome those with the courage to place their reputations and honor on the line by standing for elective office.
Our community faces many important issues as we contemplate voting for district council members, mayor and two at-large seats to replace those who have gone on to other public offices. The City of Peoria’s ability to provide quality and dependable service begins with the conscientious work of elected officials who set the policy framework for our administrative team. I am proud of the dedication and accomplishments that City Manager Patrick Urich and his staff chalked up in 2016.
Our budget template is among the best in Illinois government: balanced, responsive and affordable, the product of well-intentioned debate and discussion on the council floor. We live within our means—which is a rarity compared with many state capitals, as well as the federal government. Peoria’s public safety departments (police and fire) are professional, well-equipped and well-trained, and increasingly involved in the very neighborhoods they serve. Our infrastructure needs are well-documented, but progress is being made with leadership from an enthusiastic public works organization. Planning for future growth and enforcement of our land use and various building codes has been improved through organizational and code revisions. Economic development is moving forward in many areas of the city, in tandem with the private sector’s need for a stable and predictable municipal development policy.
Our economic challenges are significant—especially with Caterpillar’s adjustments to very challenging global economic and political forces, coupled with, at times, crippling regulatory and political strangleholds from Washington. I have no doubt that Caterpillar will come out of this stronger than ever. I want to again thank Doug Oberhelman for his partnership with the city, and I look forward to working in similar fashion with new CEO Jim Umpleby. Henry Vicary, Caterpillar’s Director of Community Relations and Guest Services, has done a superb job of keeping us at City Hall informed of the sometimes painful steps needed to preserve the company’s overall competitiveness and future growth.
We are blessed with a robust health services sector that continues to expand and attract talent from throughout the world. The University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria is an outstanding institution for physician and medical professional training and research. Together with a great private university in Bradley and community college in Illinois Central College, we are experiencing growth and advancement in spite of other economic setbacks.
As readers of this column are certainly aware, I place the highest priority on education, and I am encouraged by steps taken at Peoria Public Schools to further engage local stakeholders through the Alignment Peoria initiative. Make no mistake that access to high-quality, local education is the foundation of our community’s quality of life. In addition, the success of Peoria Promise to help students at our local schools attend ICC is a wonderful achievement for the entire area. We are helping local kids get the advanced, practical training they need to land good-paying careers that build our economic future.
Peoria is an exciting, diverse city. Our ethnic and racial composition continues to change and present challenges of fair and just access to social and economic development opportunities for all qualified individuals and organizations.
In past years, I have utilized this first column of the year to preview my annual State of the City address, but considering the importance of the upcoming elections in setting the framework for our municipal operations and initiatives, I wanted to underline their importance. Democratic self-government begins at home, so please take the time to study the issues and individuals seeking office, and most importantly, vote in the best overall interest—and for the future—of our great city. It has been a privilege to serve another year as your mayor, and I will continue to do my very best in our honored tradition of democratic self-government. iBi