The Peoria City Council’s recent consideration of the library’s request for approval of their $35 million improvement initiative has elicited a higher-than-usual volume of citizen commentary and interest. This interest has, among other things, focused on the Council’s questioning of library representatives of the case for the $35 million in public debt…and the facts used to make decisions that will, in reality, impact the taxpayer for generations. What the public witnessed was the City Council effectively exercising its due diligence responsibilities. To regular observers of Council proceedings, this is nothing new, but the recent issue has caused many more folks to appreciate what local government is about.
What is really being demonstrated is a cornerstone of good local government: due diligence. The Council is elected to represent the interests and will of over 112,000 citizens (120,000 if you add the two special censuses). Carrying out this solemn duty requires that we consistently ask tough, sometimes uncomfortable questions. Not only is due diligence an obligation of local government, it is an important management tool in well-run businesses and well-supervised homes. Due diligence is no more than asking your children, “Where are you going tonight?”
When you consider the amount of weekly information on a huge diversity of topics presented to the City Council, you begin to appreciate the time spent in homework and due diligence. It takes much more time—and it is substantially more challenging—to ask the hard, penetrating questions than to simply say yes. Development and oversight of public policy in local government usually comes with a taxpayer-borne price tag. When this is factored into the equation, you increasingly value why these questions are asked in the first place. And make no mistake, as I’ve mentioned in previous IBI columns, we face extraordinary challenges as we come to grips with separating sanitary and storm sewers in the older parts of the city—some say the price tag could exceed $100 million—and we have to do it.
When the City Council questions the police chief on technology enhancements, asks the finance director for deep analysis of changes in revenue, or challenges the human resources department on workers’ compensation cost control, it is not done to embarrass or undermine; it is to make sure the best policy is in place to serve the overriding public interest.
There is another critical reason for due diligence, and that is increasing public confidence in the local climate for business investment, residential living decisions and quality of life. Good government doesn’t just happen—it is planned, tested, examined and challenged. Our community is growing. There is new business and community investment as witnessed by Council actions on shopping center developments, neighborhood improvements, school impact zone creation and all other issues that are subject to due diligence and careful examination.
Peoria is progressing because the City Council is doing what it is elected to do—carefully build public policy on the foundation of solid due diligence. The next time a casual observer blasts the Council for asking the tough questions, why not simply look them in the eye and say, “Thank goodness!” The bottom line: due diligence is a cornerstone of good government. Anyone can say yes and walk away; it takes courage and commitment to question and seek answers—and construct a stronger and healthier community.