Opinion

I’m finishing up the second week of my last quarter at school.  I knew it would be hard to get back into the swing of things after attending my commencement ceremony last month.  Mentally, I was finished with school and ready to move on.  In reality, I still have a few classes to finish this summer to complete my degree.  It’s like winning the Super Bowl and instead of going to Disneyland to celebrate, I had to go back and win another playoff game. It’s been hard to concentrate.

Waterparks

Yesterday my family visited Knight’s Action Park in Springfield.  Can you believe I had never been to that waterpark?  It’s true- I never had.  We all had a good time but something became very obvious in regards to the waterpark Decatur is planning.  I’ve visited other much larger waterparks including Great Wolf Lodge and Mt. Olympus in Wisconsin Dells, Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana and Raging Rivers in Grafton, Illinois.  They’re all a little bit different but by far the most popular features for adults are the lazy rivers and wave pools.

I still think it’s a big mistake to not include either one of those in Decatur.  Slides are neat but who wants to stand in line forever and climb hundreds of stairs over and over?  Not me!  I remember reading that the waterpark is being geared towards kids and I think that’s a big mistake.  Every successful waterpark I’ve been to caters to all ages.

What are parents and grandparents going to do while the young people are on the slides?  Be bored out of our minds?  Plus kids love lazy rivers and wave pools too.  They get sick of standing in line as well.  I understand there’s going to be a pool but that’s not enough, especially if it’s too crowded.  I think they should ditch a couple of the fancy slides and give what almost everybody has been requesting – a lazy river.

It’s like a fast-food restaurant not serving french fries because they want to be different, even though their customers are expecting and wanting french fries.  That’s silly.  Unless you have something way more spectacular than french fries as a side to a cheeseburger, you better keep fries on the menu.

 

 

 

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Over the past few years Decatur has focused on improving the overall perception of the city.  It’s true that the city has suffered from losses and bad news over many years but in my travels in the state and elsewhere that negative view isn’t what is holding the city back.

Businesses aren’t shying away from Decatur because of some negative perception they’re holding against us.  They’re staying away because they don’t know this city exists.  That has been my experience everywhere I go.  Even when I’m traveling within the state of Illinois, once I get more than 75 miles away from Decatur most people I speak with have no idea where Decatur is.

Nelson Park – Lake Decatur

When I’m on vacation and people ask where I’m from and I tell them Decatur, I almost always get a very blank stare back at me.  The vast majority of people have never even heard of Decatur unless they happened to have had some random family member or friend that once lived here.

Most people have heard of Springfield and quite a few have heard of Champaign so I have to explain to them that Decatur is located in between the two and then a light goes on in their head and they say, “Oh, okay I kinda know where that’s at.”

Coney McKane’s – Downtown Decatur

The good news is that most people do not have a negative view of Decatur at all.  The bad news is that they don’t have any view of Decatur at all.

I think it’s a good thing to have marketing campaigns to improve the overall impression of the city.  I think people in the community are more positive than they used to be but all cities suffer from critical residents.  To be fair, there are things worthy of being criticized.  There are problems but I think our biggest problem is that businesses picture Decatur as most individuals do.  They don’t have a picture of it in their head.

Scovill Zoo

So how do we climb out of the wallpaper in the dance and be noticed?  I think the city has to be very bold and daring.  Innovation, creativity, positive vibes all help.  We need to be known for something unique that is desirable and remarkable.  It can’t be tacky or gimmicky.  It has to be real.  I think many in the city are trying to go in that direction and there are many ways to distinguish ourselves.  I think our lakefront is our best bet as well as investing in green renewable energies and technology.  That’s where the future is.

Anyway, this topic is something I have planned to write about before but after my last trip it hit home even more squarely.  Most of the country doesn’t have a clue who we are or where we are or that we are.  We need to change that if we’re ever going to grow the city.

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Downtown Decatur Clock

The Election Results

I wasn’t terribly surprised by any of the election results for city council, except the large number of votes Chuck Kuhle received.  He seemed like a low-key candidate but I guess he must have made a good impression somehow.  He was the only candidate to visit my neighborhood and that did influence my support of him.  It makes a difference.

I didn’t endorse a mayoral candidate but the one that won was the one I voted for.  It was a close race but I expected it to be.

Congratulations to all the winners and best wishes to those who threw their hat in the ring.  I think we’ll have a good mix on the council.

As for the other races, I wasn’t surprised at all by the school board results.  Lots of new faces.  It was disappointing to see that there were no challengers to the one park board seat up for election.  It would be very difficult to beat a long time incumbent but the park district is doing some of the most  important work in the city right now.  I would have thought more people would be interested but again it’s a tough seat to win.

Forsyth’s TIF District?

Forsyth is pursuing creating a TIF district to attract new commercial and residential development.  Personally, I find it a misuse of what TIF districts were designed for.  I don’t think anyone would look at Forsyth and categorize it as blighted or impoverished.  Basically, it’s just an incentive for developers that will get to pocket a lot of money at taxpayer expense over a couple decades.  Yeah, I’d like more restaurant choices in Forsyth but not at the expense of improving areas that truly need help in Decatur.

The Mall

On the topic of Forsyth, the mall is in the headlines nearly every week for another store closing.  It isn’t the fault of the mall but national spending and shopping habits that have changed.  Online shopping is killing big retail but the bright spot, at least for Decatur, is that downtown areas are beginning to thrive again.  People love to shop online but they’re also returning to the heart of their city for social and cultural reasons.  Every city’s downtown is distinct and unique.  There’s no replicating it and a lot of people have realized that.

As for Hobby Lobby and TJ Maxx moving to Forsyth.  I hope they realize the mall is essentially the kiss of death for retail in this area.  Both stores should have stayed in Decatur.  I don’t know who is in charge of their business decisions but they sure don’t know Decatur well.  We want stores closer to home.  That’s another shopping habit that has changed and I think it’s a very good change.

 

 

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Well, I think I have made up my mind for who I will be voting for for council.  I had already stated that I’ll be voting for Chris Riley and David Horn and I’ll explain why.  The third vote was a little difficult but I have decided to go with Chuck Kuhle and I will explain why I chose him too.

I have found Chris Riley, who has been a park board commissioner for several years, to be very accessible and willing to listen to anyone.  I can’t tell you how rare that is.  He is undoubtedly a very busy professional in his day job but still makes time for any resident to speak with him.  That’s the number one thing I ask of any candidate.  We don’t have to agree all the time but there needs to be mutual respect and a conversation.  So, I feel very confident in my decision to vote for Riley.

I voted for David Horn the last time he ran and I believe he only lost by a small margin.  He’s very enthusiastic about the community and I think we share many of the same interests.  He’s a biology professor and I’ll be graduating with a B.S. in natural resources in a few months.  We share an interest in the environment, which I think is something that Decatur needs to focus on more.  I also think he’ll bring a new perspective and new ideas without a personal vendetta against any one issue or personality.

My choice for Chuck Kuhle was difficult because I also think highly of Marty Watkins.  He has also impressed me, so I wouldn’t be upset if either won.  I wish I could vote for both but I chose Kuhle over Watkins because I think we probably have a similar vision for creating a more healthy place to live, not that Watkins doesn’t believe in that too.  See why it was a difficult decision?

In one of my classes I just finished I learned about values mapping and essentially in values mapping you ask a person to point out 5 places on a map that have meaning to them.  Those meanings can be economic, spiritual, recreational, educational, etc.  For my map I had to select 5 places from Macon County that matter the most to me.  Two things I chose were Garman Park and the Stevens Creek Bikeway.  Both are within walking distance of my house and both are major reasons why I choose to continue living in Decatur.  I’m lucky that I live near them but other parts of the community don’t have the same things within walking distance and they’re far less attractive to residents because of it. Kuhle has called for more investments in bike paths and similar projects.  The park district has done a lot in this area but the city needs to step it up too.  I can’t speak for any of the candidates I’m supporting but I think they all would be receptive to a more walkable and healthy community.

I also like Kuhle’s idea of encouraging efforts without using tax dollars to help pay for college tuition for recent high school graduates in Decatur.  A big reason why families leave Decatur is because of our public schools.  We need to keep  involved families here to help schools and teachers.  We also need to expand the tax base.  It is absolutely essential and such a program would help encourage people to stay and produce a trained workforce that would attract new employers.  It’s a win-win across the board.

Of course, a biggie with me is neighborhood revitalization.  We have to improve our neighborhoods and especially our main corridors.  US 51 heading south into downtown Decatur should be priority number 1 in my opinion.  It looks awful.  Heading north from downtown on 51 doesn’t look much better.  Of course, it would help if the state would repave the hideous road.

I also absolutely agree in a targeted approach to improving specific areas of the city rather than doing a little here, there, and wherever.  We need specific plans for redevelopment for specific areas.  I hope the candidates I’m voting for agree.

I’m still going to keep my decision for mayor to myself because I don’t want any ideas I might have to be shot down by a mayor that thinks I don’t like him or her.  It has nothing to do with who I like or don’t like.  I think the council candidates I have chosen are already supportive, or at least receptive of many things that I care about and I think all three (and my fourth choice) have a very good chance of winning. However, I’m not that sure about the two mayoral candidates and that’s why I’m keeping that vote to myself.

 

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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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