Since first picking up the mayor’s gavel in 2005, I’ve had the privilege and opportunity to submit dozens of articles for Peoria Magazines. I find it has been a most beneficial way to communicate with a large constituency of readers from many walks of life. As I write my final article as Peoria mayor, I want to express sincere appreciation to publisher Jan Wright and editor in chief Jonathan Wright.
Their team has done an excellent job keeping the community aware of important developments, challenges, and opportunities for future growth and success. As my abilities and responsibilities have evolved and advanced over the past 16 years, so has their professionalism and well-informed journalism. With so many changes impacting the daily newspapers—including more limited coverage of local affairs, non-local ownership, and increased costs on top of downsized staffing—Peoria Magazines has stepped up to the plate. I extend a most sincere note of thanks for their continuing achievement in communicating the essence and promise of Peoria.
Always on the Go
This month’s focus on the workplace couldn’t be more appropriate as I prepare to turn over the gavel to a new Peoria mayor. Of course, “workplace” has many definitions depending on one’s field of endeavor. This past year, with all of its WFH (work from home) arrangements, has presented unique challenges. I’d like to share a few comments with you on the City of Peoria’s workplace.
The men and women who provide Peoria’s essential public services have a most challenging and ever-changing workplace. Our physical size alone—more than 50 square miles; hundreds of miles of streets, roads and alleyways; hills, valleys and everything in between—is uniquely challenging. And with a “customer base” of 113,000 residents plus thousands of daily commuters, the workplace is often a moving target.
Sure, you might say, but there are many physical offices and buildings that host City of Peoria administrative staff, law enforcement personnel, firefighters, public works employees, code enforcement and community development professionals. And the City has made many physical adjustments in light of the pandemic’s impact. City Council meetings are a prime example, with implementation of protective dividers and other distancing requirements.
The fact is there are very few WFH options for most City of Peoria staff. Our services—like those of contracted services such as refuse collection by Peoria Disposal Company—are always “on the go.” Whether responding to law enforcement and firefighting emergencies, ensuring roadways are safe and passable, or providing building code and development support, our City employees get the job done.
Reclaiming Our Momentum
In addition to health and safety challenges, our “moving” workplace has been negatively impacted by the economic punch of the pandemic. When the 2020 budget was developed and approved, it was a balanced plan with revenues and expenditures evening out. Then the bottom fell out. Revenue projections showed an April deficit of $54.5 million; and while this was reduced to a deficit of almost $28 million in August, all financial considerations have needed to be recalibrated. This is an ongoing, daily challenge for City Manager Patrick Urich and all City employees.
In our form of municipal government, it is the city manager who develops financial blueprints, creates operational plans, and administers the 24/7 services of the City. The mayor and city council consider policy direction and preferences to meet citizen expectations and needs, and provide the desired plan and approach based on discussions with the city manager and his leadership team.
In the spirit of this article’s title, I commend Patrick for his outstanding leadership. We made it through 2020—albeit with very tough decisions—and I believe we will reclaim our momentum in 2021. That is in large measure due to his steadfast dedication to quality and his consistent managerial excellence.
As I near the conclusion of my tenure as mayor, I want to extend a heartfelt “thank you” to the voters and residents who afforded me the privilege and honor of serving them. To my wife Mimi and other family members, I thank you for your support and dedication to our City’s health and wellbeing—and I look forward to a little more time enjoying the warmth and blessings of family.
We do not yet know who will hold the gavel in May, but whoever it is, I offer my sincere best wishes and God’s continued blessing on our wonderful City of Peoria and the good people who call it home. Thank you! PM