As we all know, there are more than a few outstanding capital projects at different stages of progress underway in the Peoria area at this time. As elected officials, we have the opportunity to demonstrate the responsibility that accompanies the privilege of holding elected offices. Not only does the elected position assign an officeholder the responsibility of fulfilling the public’s trust, but it also includes the obligations of providing leadership and policy direction in areas which may sometimes be beyond the core functions of municipal government.
For example, even though Peoria’s health services industry, educational institutions, cultural endeavors, recreational resources and human services initiatives are outside the traditional fabric of what we call “city government,” the citizen-taxpayers and voters in general hold the elected council and mayor responsible for success or failure of undertakings that impact quality-of-life and civic progress.
Whether we like it or not, those of us who are entrusted with the leadership of city government bear the full brunt of the public’s concerns, positive and negative, even if the issue in question is beyond our direct control. We accept this as a fact of political life. It comes with the territory. How we respond to this fact is a measure of our leadership character.
It is with this perspective in mind that I reflect on the many ambitious and well-intentioned projects and ideas taking place in our community.
The Peoria Riverfront Museum is indeed fortunate that public and private individuals are doing all they can to bring success to the planned $65 million development. It appears that ultimate completion will depend on a combination of additional private funding and voter-approved taxes. We welcome more informed discussion of this project. The City has done its part and remains hopeful for the project’s completion.
Expansion of the Peoria Park District’s Glen Oak Zoo is another exciting initiative. It appears that the primary sponsors are well on their way to completing the project. In this case, the Park District is exercising its ultimate public oversight responsibility for the zoo’s success.
The growth and dramatic developments taking place in our health services industry are benefiting from generous private support and public assistance through an assortment of state and federal programs. The City’s role in providing an economic-development-friendly environment is being demonstrated on a daily basis. How fortunate we are to have OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, Methodist Medical Center, Proctor Hospital, the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria, the US Ag Lab and so many other outstanding medical professionals investing in our community!
The City’s partnership with District 150 on a number of fronts is most encouraging as well. The School Board’s collaborations with the Public Building Commission to assist in funding for new school construction seems to be a positive development.
Another project that is moving to center stage is the planned improvement and expansion of library services provided by the Peoria Public Library. There are some thoughts in the public that our current libraries are under-utilized, and not just in Peoria, but in Peoria Heights and Dunlap, too. Conscientious citizens, many of whom supported an advisory referendum on the Library Board’s vision in principle, are questioning the wisdom of moving forward with $35 million in bonded debt at a time of heightened anxiety over the economy’s ability to sustain an added “public mortgage.”
As elected officials with financial responsibility under the current statutory authority for this debt, we may be asked to pause, reassess plans, balance the vision with economic reality and constructively determine if there might be a more practical way to proceed. Perhaps a strategy that places the accountability for the project’s success on the shoulders of those who are closest to library operations, planning and daily oversight.
We will be examining this strategy in the weeks ahead and exploring with an open mind what ultimately is in the best long-term interest of the voting and taxpaying public. I urge you to participate in the discussions and make sure your voice is heard. We all have a vested interest in these outstanding projects as Peoria continues to grow and progress. We aim to set the bar high and let other communities measure their success compared to Peoria. Our ability to access and make strong, measured decisions will be critical to our success. IBI