Decatur City Council

I don’t think I’ve ever been so displeased with a city council than the one we have now.  I’m not impressed at all.  Some of their actions have been blatantly dismissive and needlessly rushed.  The recent decision to harvest trees near lake Decatur for profit (a small profit at that) was met with concerned citizens, including myself, wanting more answers and more time to ensure our concerns were addressed.  The city council simply didn’t care and our mayor said the conversation was over, when in actuality there never was a  conversation.

What was the rush to cut down the trees in the first place?  Then this week the council voted to hire a company to remove birds from the downtown area.  Honestly, I’ve never noticed any problems whatsoever of birds downtown but I’m assuming there is a problem that I’m not aware of.

Councilman David Horn wanted to ask questions regarding the methods the company would employ to rid pigeons and starlings from downtown.  A representative of the company wasn’t at the council meeting to ask.  Horn is a biology professor at Millikin and he has voiced his concerns regarding environmental issues before, including the sale of the trees.  Both Horn and Councilman Faber wanted to hold off on the tree contract but the other members didn’t want to wait on the vote and quickly passed it.  This time Horn was on his own.

I don’t think it was unreasonable to want to ask questions regarding what methods are going to be used before approving the bid.  Does city management even know?  Did they call up Springfield and ask how well the methods have worked there?  From what I’ve read, there’s been a lot of displeasure in the results seen in Springfield provided by the same company.

The larger issue is the pattern I see with this mayor and most of the members of the council.  They can be bullies.  They can be downright mean.  They pick at anyone who is different than they are and dismiss them as irrelevant.   It doesn’t matter who it is.  If that person isn’t in lockstep with their agenda, they’re ignored.  Councilman McDaniel said he’s “no fan of tree huggers”.  Okay, well it’s nice to know you don’t care about me or my concerns.  That makes me feel confident in my reasoning for not endorsing you before the election.

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In the midst of finals week for school I learned that the city of Decatur is planning to harvest trees on city property and sell the lumber.  The money would then be used for beautification projects.  The profits for the lumber appear to be split 50-50 with the company harvesting the trees, so the amount the city walks away with isn’t substantial.

I have several concerns about this, of course.  If you’re not already aware from my blog postings over the past 4 years I am a natural resources major and forest ecology is certainly something that I have learned a great deal about.  I can say with good certainty that most of the forests in Decatur are not in good shape.

Before European settlement fire shaped the natural habitat in Macon County.  Trees that were fire-resistant survived, most notably oaks.  Maples, which are killed by fire were thinned out. Fire in the tallgrass prairies carried the fire into the woodlands.  Much of Macon County was oak savanna and along the Sangamon River was dense woodlands of various species.

Today, there are almost no oak trees regenerating in our forest  because there’s too much shade for oak saplings to establish.  Oaks need sunlight to grow.  Our forests are densely shaded and maples love the shade so they are taking over.  Throw in thick, impenetrable thickets of honeysuckle and few trees of any species are growing in the most infested regions.  The forests are basically becoming a monoculture of a single species which reduces biodiversity and the availability of food for wildlife.

The city has one thing right about their plan.  The woodlands in and around Decatur need to be thinned out but they’re thinning out the wrong species if they care at all about ecology and sustainability.  If we harvest the oaks, there will be almost no oaks at all in our woodlands within the next few decades.  The same can be said for walnut and hickory.  I can take you through Garman Park and show you exactly what is wrong with our forests very quickly.

Maples are not invasive species or undesirable species but they need to be managed.  They simply take over if fire or other means aren’t used to control them.  If we had plenty of oaks and other commercially desirable species in our forests, I wouldn’t be opposed to harvesting some.  Trees are a renewable resource after all but not under the conditions they’re growing in today in Macon County.  In about 50 years, they’re will be no more oaks in many of our forest even without harvesting them for lumber.  Young oaks simply are not growing in most areas.  Period.

Other cities do harvest trees for profit but these are generally trees that are storm damaged or are potential hazards to structures or people.  I think it makes sense to sell lumber and firewood in these cases.

If you want to see how oak woodlands should be managed, visit Rock Springs.  Walk past the pine forest and look how the conservation district burned the understory of the forest on the other side.  Not only will oaks and other species be able to grow but also native woodland wildflowers and forbs that are ecologically valuable.  Fire may not be the best choice in more urban areas but mechanical thinning can be used to achieve similar results.

I hope that the city reconsiders their plan once they understand the ecological consequences of their actions.  I’ll be sending all the members of the council a message.

 

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Something unusual happened while I was buried beneath a mountain of schoolwork this quarter (that I thankfully finished yesterday).  The city council race has become interesting and that’s something that hasn’t happened in a quite a few years.  Even more rare is a real competition for the mayoral position.  Things became really interesting when current city councilman Bill Faber openly threw has support behind John Phillips for mayor, over current mayor Julie Moore-Wolfe.

Before I learned of Faber’s endorsement, I had read a post on social media from current councilman Jerry Dawson endorsing Moore.  Dawson’s seat is one of the seats up for grabs but he chose not to run again.  The endorsement seemed a little strange in its logic because Dawson went after “liberal” politicians in Springfield and essentially blamed them for Decatur’s inability to attract business.

Bringing Partisan Politics Into a Non-Partisan Race

From Dawson’s Public Facebook Page“The real reason Decatur has a hard time attracting good jobs is due to the poor business climate in this state thanks to Bill’s (Faber) liberal friends in Springfield.” 

There’s a couple things wrong with Dawson’s statement.  The first being that our stellar governor is hardly blameless in our state’s stomach turning budget impasse and secondly, the city council race is supposed to be non-partisan.  Oh, and I should throw in a third.  Moore-Wolfe is a Democrat… that last I knew anyway.  And I’m pretty sure Phillips is a Republican, though don’t quote me on that.  So, how does Dawson think Moore is going to fight against “liberal” legislators in Springfield…when she’s a Democrat?  Aren’t Bill’s liberal friends Julie’s friends too?  And it’s not like it’s such an awful thing to have liberal friends in the first place.  What is awful is blind allegiance to a particular political party on either side. If you want to know what is wrong with our state (and nation).  That’s it.  Anyway….

I don’t think it’s smart to bring in partisan politics into a city council race.  A few of the people commenting on Dawson’s post were turned off.  It didn’t exactly make me want to run out and hammer in a Moore-Wolfe sign in my front lawn, even though she wasn’t the one who wrote the divisive statement.

Dawson also said that Phillips would be “scary and dangerous” for Decatur if he were to win.   That seems a bit extreme.  It’s not like he would have the codes to Decatur’s nuclear arsenal. Haha!

Phillips came to the defense of Faber’s endorsement and basically said that Faber’s suggestions on the council are ignored.  I would have to agree.  Faber is ignored.  It’s no wonder why he isn’t endorsing the current mayor.  I’ve watched several meetings in which Faber has tried to bring a topic up for a study session and nobody would second him. I’ve liked some of his ideas and I think they were worthy of at least a discussion.

Phillips Might Have A Good Chance

According to an article I read on the Decatur Tribune, many believe that Phillips has a good chance of winning.  Just driving around town, I’m sure seeing a lot more Phillips’ signs in people’s yards than Moore-Wolfe’s.  I don’t know if that means anything but that’s what I’m noticing. If signs could vote, Phillips would win by a landslide but that’s not how it works.

So who am I endorsing, as if my endorsements mean much?  For city council,  I will be voting for Chris Riley and David Horn for sure and I will write more about that later. (And for the record, I don’t know either Riley’s or Horn’s political party preferences and I don’t care to know.)  I’m just not settled on the third vote yet.  There’s two other candidates that I think are both a good choice and that’s why I’m having a hard time choosing.  What a wonderful problem to have!  I wish all elections had tough choices like that.

For mayor, I’m going to keep who I’m voting for to myself.  I want to be on good terms with whoever wins.  My decision is purely a pragmatic one.  Anyway, at least the race is going to be interesting this time, even if hardly anyone shows up to vote, which will not be unusual unfortunately.

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The municipal election is coming up quickly and it’s getting time to take a look at all of the candidates and figure out who will get my vote.  This year the mayor and three city council seats are up.  There are also other local offices that we’ll be voting on including school boards and park commissioners.  I’ll be taking a look at those separately. I’m much more familiar with the city council (and to a lesser extent the park district) than the others.

As of today, before I have listened to any of the debates or interviews (though I have read each candidate’s thoughts about a variety of issues elsewhere), I am leaning heavily towards certain candidates but I’m going to wait to make my final decision until I’ve learned more, which I think is wise.  Speaking of that, this would probably be a good time to present an abbreviated version of Decatur Government 101 because a lot of people seem to be confused about what our mayor and city council does.

Our Mayor Is Just One Vote…plus some extra stuff

Our mayor is just one vote on the council.  He or she doesn’t run the city on a daily basis.  They usually have other full-time job and they aren’t paid much to be mayor.  The last I heard it was $8,000 a year, so they’re hardly cashing in on taxpayer expense.  Our mayor and council members do not run as Democrats or Republicans, which is refreshing, considering how politically divided the country is along partisan lines.  It makes our form of government much less politically toxic.

Our city manager is in charge of the day-to-day operations of the city and he or she (I don’t think we’ve had a she yet), is hired by the city council. The council has the authority to decide to retain or dismiss the city manager.  The most important role the mayor plays is probably in the council chamber where he or she oversees the meetings and basically makes sure it doesn’t devolve into mayhem and disorder.  Believe me, it’s come close over the years!  I recall people getting irate when once-a-week garbage pickup was implemented.  The National Guard almost had to be called in.  Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating but not by much!

Most of all the mayor sets the tone for the council and the city as a whole and that tone can be cooperative or very contentious and unproductive.

The City Council Does Not Have Control Over Our Parks

Another big misconception many residents have in Decatur is that the city runs the park district and is responsible for what is happening in Nelson Park or at the lakefront or any other park property.  Decatur has a separate park district that does not fall under Decatur city management.  They have their own elected commissioners.  However, the city and the park district often tries to form a singular vision for large projects.  For instance, the park district owns Nelson Park but the city owns the lake and the docks.  So, development along the lakefront will require cooperation between the two.  For example, not too long ago the city helped chip in funds to renovate the beach house.  So the city and park district can work together but they are separate governing entities.

I thought it was important to explain these things because I read a lot of social media comments that reflect people’s misunderstanding of our form of government and who is responsible for what.  Now back to the council race…

Who’s Running For Decatur City Council?

For the three seats up for election on the city council we have six candidates.  The only incumbent running is Pat McDaniel.  The others vying for a seat are Chris Riley, Chuck Kuhle, David Horn, Andrew Apel, and Marty Watkins.  Riley is currently serving as a commissioner for the Decatur Park District.  Kuhle has served on the Macon County Board in the past and is currently the tennis director for the Decatur Athletic Club.  This is the second time Horn has run for city council.  He is a biology professor at Millikin Univeristy.  Marty Watkins is an ordained minister and Apel is a local businessman.

At this point I’m fairly certain of two of my votes for the city council but I’m still undecided on that third seat.  I encourage anyone interested in the election to learn about the candidates.  The Herald & Review and local radio talk shows are good places to learn more about the candidates in their own words.  That’s what I’ll be doing.

In the meantime, here are links to the each candidate’s Facebook page and/or website that has either:

Andrew Apel

David Horn

-Website: http://hornfordecatur.org/

Chuck Kuhle

Julie Moore-Wolfe

John Phillips

-Website:  http://johnphillipsfordecatur.com/

Chris Riley

Marty Watkins

 

 

 

 

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Well now that the election is over, for better or worse (don’t get me started) I’ll turn my focus once again to good ole Decatur.

Overlook Adventure Park New Aquatic Center

On one hand I’m happy that the park district is moving ahead with an aquatic facility for Nelson Park, aka Overlook Adventure Park.  With the amphitheater coming soon, it makes sense to get much of the original vision coming together in a timely fashion.

overlook-adventure-park-sign

The new aquatic center is going to be located adjacent to the miniature golf course.  Looking at the conceptual drawing the plan looks okay and that’s the problem – it’s just okay.  If it’s trying to be marketed as a waterpark then it really needs to have waterpark features.  Probably the two most important ones are a lazy river and a wave pool.  They did leave the option to add a lazy river in the future, so I guess that’s good.

I’m also not thrilled with closing Fairview’s Pool.  It seems like such a waste.  I’d rather it be leased to a private club than just have it sit and decay or be demolished.  Having both facilities would ease overcrowding.  I stopped taking my kids to Fairview a long time ago because it wasn’t enjoyable.  It was always too crowded to truly swim and I spent most of my time frantically keeping an eye on my then young son hoping he didn’t get separated from me and drown.  Honestly, I think Decatur needs both facilities open to ease overcrowding and leave an important amenity for the West End.

New Playground

I hate to be a party pooper but I’m not really all that thrilled about the new playground for Nelson Park either.  It’s pretty much the same thing we already have at Scovill Zoo, which isn’t that far away.  I think that money could have been put towards neighborhood parks or something else that we don’t currently have.  That’s just my two cents.

City Is Going to Demolish 1,000 Structures

The city is really getting aggressive and serious about demolishing dilapidated houses in Decatur.  The city council will be discussing this more soon and I’ll wait to comment in detail about it till then but I think it’s a good idea.  Some parts of town just need to start from scratch again.  That opens up so many possibilities.  I’d love the city and private developers to push for ultra-energy efficient homes. It’s something that isn’t offered yet in Decatur or nearby communities but it is the future of home design.  Imagine living in a home with no power bills!  It would definitely help paint Decatur as a progressive (not talking politics), forward-thinking community.  Go for it!

 

 

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