Decatur City Council

Two subjects, that drew my attention at the Decatur City Council meeting last night were the Amtrak discussion and the Eldorado Streetscape project updates.  Betsy Stockard is hoping to lure Amtrak back to Decatur.  The effort to bring Amtrak to Decatur is going to require an organized and committed effort by not just Decatur but area communities.  Dan Brintlinger addressed the council and brought up the subject of bringing high-speed rail service to Central Illinois.  Brintlinger referred to the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, which is an organization hoping to bring high-speed rail to the Midwest.  Personally, I think that is a very good idea.  The Midwest, and many of its smaller to mid-size communities, who have trouble attracting and retaining air service, would benefit greatly from high-speed rail.  It would help spur economic development throughout the Midwest and make travel much faster and convenient.

The Eldorado Streetscape project is a beautification effort to help improve the downtown area.  The project would extend from Church Street on the West to the railroad crossing on the East.  This stretch of Eldorado  is very much dated with sidewalks and curbing well past their prime.  The project includes new lighting, sidewalks, curbs, trees and other landscaping details.  The funding is being provided by an IDOT grant with the city contributing around $350,000.  The council seems fairly unanimous in its’ support for the project though Councilman Caulkins, would rather do without the wrought iron fencing.  Personally, I think they’d be kind of cool!  Problems that the project have encountered has involved obtaining a 10 foot easement on private property along the road to install the new landscaping.  Most of the property owners are happily cooperating with the city.  Let’s hope the remaining property owners hop on board.

View the proposed plans.

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The Decatur City Council recently discussed upgrades to the current city council chambers and maybe I’m just behind the times, or inflation is even worse than I thought, but $2,196.26 for each council member’s chair?   What exactly do those chairs do?  I have a feeling Captain Kirk would be envious.

Take a gander at the last page for the entire budget for the chamber upgrades:

http://www.ci.decatur.il.us/citygovernment/council/packetinfo/Item%20V%203.pdf

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Nelson Park Decatur

Nelson Park Decatur

There are some interesting, well at least interesting to me, topics on tonight’s agenda for the council meeting.  I touched on this subject a while back but it’s something that could potentially be very beneficial for Decatur.  The Nelson Park basin on Lake Decatur is probably the most attractive site in all of Decatur, not just for the eyes, but for commercial and residential development.  I’d like to see some development in the area but not at the expense of public access to the lake front.  It will be interesting what ideas are tossed around tonight at the council meeting.

The city’s Web site has a short presentation regarding Nelson  Park, in its council packet, beginning on page 103.:  http://www.ci.decatur.il.us/citygovernment/council/packetinfo/councilpacket.pdf

Ducks crossing the road at Nelson Park

Ducks crossing the road at Nelson Park

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I’m not sure how it all happened but earlier this year I found myself feverishly debating the ChangeDecatur proposal that was on the February 5th ballot. I even went a few rounds on blogDecatur with Steve Daniels, a ChangeDecatur leader and spokesman. I was against the change to a commission form of government but not necessarily against the idea of a strong mayor. The change to a commission form seemed undesirable by pretty much everyone involved; it was intended to be a temporary change until a transition to strong mayor could be made later – I felt it was an unnecessary step, hence my opposition. On the day of the election my stomach was tied in knots waiting for the outcome; I felt I had some personal connection to the whole “thing”. I was relieved when the proposal failed but not completely satisfied with the current system.

In theory the council/manager form of government is supposed to be non-partisan, and “less prone to corruption” than other forms of city government. However, we’ve grown accustomed to many behind the door deals in the city manager’s office that often times leaves public input or awareness out. We’ve also witnessed council members seemingly left in the dark as to how management of the city is being carried out, and an overall sense, that nobody has their hands on the wheel and the ship is veering off course. Important decisions are constantly being put on the back burner. Often times there isn’t enough information provided by the city manager to the council, or the opposite occurs, and there’s an information overload that overwhelms the council, so much so, that they can’t make a confident decision about anything. I’ve always been in the camp that maybe it’s just a personnel problem but maybe it is the system.

Now that mayor Osborne has stepped down we’ve seen a quicker, swifter council led by Mayor Carrigan. As soon as there’s a sense that a proposal has four votes, it’s voted on and approved. However, the more efficient approach has led to some bone-headed decisions, like a water rate increase that is higher than what was initially proposed and the rather lamely, hastily debated “hybrid” ballot question that was kicked the curb after two brief “study sessions”. It makes me wonder if the proposal was a load of baloney from the start just to squash ChangeDecatur’s efforts. I don’t know. Maybe some of the blame is the community. Maybe we should get more vocal. Maybe I should have done what the council has repeatedly said we citizens have the right to do, and stepped up to the podium and pleaded my case for placing the question on the April 2009th ballot, but I doubt it would have made any difference.

At any rate, I’m beginning to concur, it’s time for change in a major way.

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The Decatur City Council race of 2009 looks to be quite interesting. Rumors have been flying as to who the candidates are going to be, their backers and their real motives. Will ChangeDecatur have a candidate of their own? Will the Chamber of Commerce roll out an unbeatable deep-pocket candidate? Will the labor groups have a new Carrigan protege on the ballot? All the rumors and conspiracies aside, as of right now, it isn’t clear who is going to be running for the Decatur City Council. The only for sure candidate is Julie Moore, who announced her candidacy in early July and I suppose fits the Chamber mold. Unless I’ve missed something, I haven’t caught head nor tail confirmation of anyone else officially announcing their intentions.

Possible mayoral candidates include current council members Betsy Stockard, Dan Caulkins and Larry Foster. No confirmations on any of those yet. Pat McDaniel has confirmed that he will be running for either a council seat or the mayoral position but hasn’t yet made a firm decision on which. Fellow blogger, Matthew Jackson of BlogDecatur, is also considering a run.

At any rate, it looks to be interesting and we could quite possibly have several new faces on the council next year. I sure hope Comcast gets the council chamber looking spiffy for television viewing by next April because it’s sure to be the most entertaining show on television!

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Former mayor Paul Osborne has a very interesting article about the inner workings and drama of the current council in the latest Decatur Tribune issue. I’ve been waiting for this! Tell us what you really think Paul!

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