State of the City Address - 2009

The Honorable Brad Cole, Mayor
City of Carbondale, Illinois
Seventh Annual State of the City Address

Carbondale Chamber of Commerce Luncheon
December 8, 2009; 12:00 Noon
Carbondale City Hall / Civic Center

Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for coming today and thanks to the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce for helping to organize this annual luncheon event. The Chamber continues to be a strong partner with the City and I appreciate the leadership that is offered by both the board of directors and staff.

It hardly seems like the time of year to be giving this address; the year has gone by so quickly. Regardless, we’re here and I have plenty of things to share with you.

Getting some housekeeping issues out of the way, I want to recognize the Members of the City Council who have joined us today. I also want to recognize City staff, especially City Manager Allen Gill and our (relatively) new Chief of Police, Mr. Jody O’Guinn. The Chief joined us in June of this year and I hope each of you have had an opportunity to meet him and get to know him. He is showing great care and sound judgment in leading our department and he joins an already-professional staff of dedicated public safety employees.

Please join me in welcoming my good friend, Mayor Robert Butler of Marion.

I should also point-out that several administrators are here from both John A. Logan College and Southern Illinois University. I continue to be proud of the positive, cooperative relationship we have with John A. Logan College. That is in no small part due to the integrity of their president, Dr. Robert Mees, who has always been a good and honest friend to Carbondale.

We are excited for what lies ahead with the recent naming of Dr. Rita Cheng as Chancellor of Southern Illinois University. I am sure she will bring a fresh perspective and a renewed commitment to advancing the campus, especially in the all-important areas of student recruitment and retention. Getting back to the high levels of enrollment that we knew just a few years ago, will have a tremendous impact on the Carbondale business community and the region as a whole. The enrollment issue at SIU is, by far, the most important issue facing our region’s economy; get enrollment and retention back to where they should be and a lot of problems are solved. Every employee of that university should be working toward that goal. Two of the campus leaders who have seen success in their own colleges with student recruitment and new program development are here, Dean Dennis Cradit of the College of Business and Dean Gary Minish of the College of Agricultural Sciences.

We should also give congratulations to Saluki Football Head Coach Dale Lennon and his squad. They continue to take care of business, both in the classroom and on the playing field, and they bring positive attention and the national spotlight to our community. It’s a great feeling to expect our football program to continually be in post-season play, considering a few years ago when they struggled to get more than one or two regular season wins. With this season now behind us, we’ll all look forward with a great deal of anticipation to next year and to the new stadium.

This year, as in previous years, each of you has also helped by contributing a portion of your luncheon fee toward a scholarship fund that is awarded to students from Carbondale Community High School who choose to attend Southern Illinois University. Based on last year’s luncheon, two $500 individual scholarships were awarded. I look forward to next spring when we’ll be able to award the 2010 round of scholarships, as I know the financial assistance is both greatly appreciated and put to good use.

This is the point in my opening remarks when I make a clever comment or play on words regarding my assistant, Faith Johnson. I recently read a new book by Mitch Albom, titled “Have a Little Faith.” I would encourage everyone to read it and to take some time to think about what it conveys, both in its written message about relationships and in its subtle suggestion of what “faith” can mean. If ever there was a time when we need faith in our lives, that time is now. I, for one, am lucky to have it both in my heart and mind, and at the office. To Faith Johnson, I say thank you for all you continue to do.

I am pleased to announce that this presentation is being broadcast live on CityVision 16, the City’s cable television channel, and will be replayed later at various times. A text copy of my remarks is also now available on our website, www.explorecarbondale.com.

So, let’s get to it… let’s look at what is ahead for us and let’s review what we’ve been through in 2009.

This year began with the inauguration of an Illinoisan as President of the United States, which was followed soon thereafter by the impeachment of our then “distinguished” Governor. There is plenty to say about both events, but I’ll leave that to each of you and I’ll save my political commentary for the end of this speech.

The next major date in 2009’s memory, and hopefully one that we won’t have to experience again anytime soon, was May 8. That Friday, which would have been just another ordinary spring, commencement day, was a day that tested the resiliency of the region and tried the patience of people who found themselves with damaged homes and uprooted trees, without power, and generally wondering what happened. Although it was not, by definition, a tornado, I find it easier to call it a tornado than to spend 15 minutes explaining the concept of an inland hurricane or a derecho. The simple fact is clear, we had a bad storm.

It is often said that people are defined by their actions in difficult times. In this case, I think the people of Carbondale showed that they are both compassionate and capable. The outpouring of help for others and the universal approach to chip-in and support the community was obvious to anyone watching. I think we also did a good job as a city government, steering a course for getting the town up-and-running within a few hours and (for the most part) getting the debris picked-up and hauled away within a very short time frame. I still think back to one of our emergency operations meetings when everyone agreed that it would take three months to get the debris cleared… then I remember the look of disbelief on all of the faces when I said I wanted it done in three weeks, not three months. When it was done in three weeks, by Memorial Day, those same faces showed pride in accomplishment and relief in being able to get (almost) back to normal.

Now, keep in mind that it was a lot more difficult than just saying that we were going to get cleaned-up. It took a lot of work and a lot of effort to organize the various aspects of the job, but it was done. The bad part is that it also came with a hefty price tag. The total cost of the storm clean-up, debris removal, loss of income and overtime wages for all of our public safety and public works crews was $3,593,768.

Of that, about $1,838,175 should be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and about $888,405 was covered by private insurance. That means that about $2,726,580 of the $3,593,768 was covered by outside sources. That leaves about $867,188 to be funded solely by the City of Carbondale. All things considered, with the amount of work that was done and the amount of debris that was removed, we should consider ourselves quite lucky for not having a higher bill.

So, just how much debris was removed? Well, thanks for asking. The total cubic yardage of natural debris (non-construction material) that was collected, removed and burned by the City as a result of the storm was 220,374 cubic yards. To put that in perspective, 220,374 cubic yards would be enough debris to fill this entire civic center 33 times, from top to bottom. Or it would be enough debris to completely fill the SIU Arena four times. We estimated the loss of more than 4,000 trees citywide. That’s a lot of trees.

In addition to the tree debris that seemed to be everywhere, keep in mind that many people sustained damage to their homes and property. Within a week, staff in our Development Services Department had conducted an in-person site inspection of more than 6,000 homes and businesses in Carbondale. Of those, nearly 150 homes were either uninhabitable or totally destroyed. Even with that level of damage, I still think it is amazing that there were so few injuries related to the storm.

Moving past the storm, let’s talk about a few other things that happened this year.

The City of Carbondale was successful in obtaining numerous grants for various programs and services in 2009. Through the Illinois Clean Lakes Program, we will receive approximately $865,000 to help maintain and improve the capacity of Cedar Lake. And we received $774,253 in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which allowed us to resurface parts of Washington Street, Wall Street, Oakland Avenue and construct the Marion Street extension between College and Mill streets. We will receive a total of $563,313 through the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) initiative, which will allow us to continue hiring additional police officers. These grants are all highly competitive and our receipt of them reinforces the good work our staff does all year long.

Speaking of the Police Department, I already mentioned our new Chief but there also have been some other highlights worth noting.

I am proud to have recently sworn-in our first female Lieutenant in the department. Lieutenant Heather Reno has demonstrated her abilities in policy and technical fields and she has been deeply involved with our accreditation efforts. Her promotion is part of our everyday effort to bring diversity to the ranks and to promote qualified officers from within the department.

In an effort to release more information and provide more data to the public about crime and criminal activity, we continue to lead by offering more to our residents than any other community in the southern Illinois. We launched a new website this year, www.carbondalepolice.com, which is also linked to our main City website. We continue to utilize the news media telephone line, which is a voice-recorded notification system updated at the end of each shift. We have instituted an e-mail news release system that allows us to share information with anyone who is interested. An exciting new tool to announce is that we are very close to rolling out an interactive crime mapping component on our police website. Citizens will soon be able to selectively search the program, which uses Google Maps to securely probe the department’s database, and plot crime reports by date, time, location and event type. This will be up and running in the near future and it will be just one more way that Carbondale residents can gather information about the community.

Of course, the hope with all of these efforts is to reduce criminal activity by more awareness and understanding. Our goal is also to use information to solve unresolved cases. In February of this year, we were finally able to make an arrest in the homicide case of Falon Taylor (who was shot and killed on January 6, 2007). While that arrest did not fully close this case, it is one step further in the direction of bringing all responsible parties to justice.

Likewise, we are fully committed to closing the remaining unsolved homicides with arrests and convictions. I would remind everyone of our effort to gather information that could lead to arrests in the Pyramid Apartments fire (December 6, 1992), the Connie Cole-Holmes homicide (June 6, 1996) and the Ryan Livingston homicide (July 12, 2006). As an incentive, we have established a $5,000 minimum reward for each unsolved homicide case in the City. The reward money won’t bring back the victim, but it could be enough to get information from an informant or someone who can help us bring closure to a terrible tragedy.

Also along the lines of safety, I was pleased to host an internet safety seminar earlier this year in conjunction with the Illinois Attorney General’s Office. We also hosted a Senior Fair in conjunction with local legislators, and an Arts Summit with areas mayors and the Illinois Arts Council. All of those events were designed to provide information to the public about programs and services that can be beneficial and helpful. It has been a constant theme of mine to offer more of these types of programs to the community, and each time they have proven to be more and more widely received.

In recognition for many of the outstanding programs and services that we offer as a municipal government, Carbondale was the recipient of numerous state and national awards this past year.

First among the awards was our recognition as a Finalist in the All America City competition. This was the first year since 1971, when we were named an All America City, that we received such an honor. We were also named one of the “Most Livable” Cities in America, garnering attention from the U.S. Conference of Mayors through its City Livability Award program. We were a finalist for the National League of Cities Award for Municipal Excellence, recognizing our innovative Home Ownership Program. We were identified by Outdoor Life magazine as one of the “Top 200 Towns for Sportsmen.” We received a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting by the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States, our 17th consecutive year to receive the honor. With the unveiling of our new city website, Carbondale was recognized as the first Illinois city to meet the full transparency criteria requirements established by the Sunshine Review, a project of the Sam Adams Alliance, for on-line openness and access to public information. Despite the storm, we were named a Tree City USA for the 28th year in a row, by the National Arbor Day Foundation. And, most recently, we were extremely proud to be named a First Place winner of the 2009 Governor’s Home Town Award, recognizing the establishment of the Varsity Center for the Arts. That is quite an impressive list of accomplishments for a city in southern Illinois, and a list that I dare say few other communities could match, regardless of their size or state.

On the topic of the Varsity Center for the Arts, we will formally present their board of directors with a recognition plaque tomorrow evening, signifying its designation as a Landmark District on the Carbondale Register of Historic Places. The Varsity joins the Carbondale Park District’s Hickory Lodge as the two structures that were placed on the Register of Historic Places this year.

Entities such as the Varsity Center for the Arts, the African-American Museum of Southern Illinois, and the Science Center are all organizations that are unique to Carbondale and we should take more time to recognize what they bring to our community, through their programs and activities. Thanks, to each of them.

As a signatory on the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, and a member of their Climate Protection Task Force, I have joined with mayors from across the nation to help promote more sensible energy solutions and to find ways to reduce our energy consumption. I am also active with the National League of Cities and, following their Green Cities Summit this past spring, I saw the need to refocus some of our efforts in the areas of energy and the environment. Because of that, I named a new Sustainability Commission that is charged with bringing recommendations to the City and to working with other groups and individuals that are equally committed to our long-term viability.

I would like to take a moment to mention a couple of other achievements in this area.

First, we greatly expanded our curbside recycling programs this year, with the addition of collecting mixed paper and cardboard. Our new green bins are specifically for clean and dry paper products. New materials that can be collected include junk mail (including window envelopes), office paper, magazines, catalogs, books, newspaper, cardboard, paperboard boxes and shredded paper. We also continue to utilize our blue bins for recyclable household items, specifically collecting aluminum and steel food and beverage cans, glass bottles and jars, and plastic bottles. We have one of the most comprehensive recycling programs of any community in the region, if not the most comprehensive, and I remind everyone that recycling is a simple, yet effective, way to reduce waste, save energy and lessen the demand on natural resources.

Second, in response to my directive to staff for an energy audit of our facilities and services, I am pleased to report that great strides were made in our Public Works Department. By systematically reviewing all of our usage areas and their associated costs, by reconfiguring some systems and by making common sense savings, the Department has been able to project approximately $150,000 in annual energy reductions and cost savings. This comes from identifying creative ways to reduce energy usage by 27% at our Southeast Wastewater Treatment Plant, saving nearly $50,000 a year. It comes from synchronizing air temperatures in this building, saving more than $13,000 a year. It comes from upgrading HVAC units at the Eurma Hayes Center, estimated to save more than $5,000 a year. It comes from reducing the pumping needs and increasing efficiencies at the Northwest Wastewater Treatment Plant, saving nearly $20,000 a year. It comes from now recycling 100% of the waste oils, hydraulic fluids, scrap metals, tires, appliances and other items in our Maintenance and Environmental Services division. It comes from turning off lights and using more natural lighting at our Central Laboratory, and emailing lab reports to clients instead of mailing them, which saves more than $500 a year in that function alone, and also cuts down on the use of so much paper.

These steps show our seriousness in addressing the issues of sustainability and they show our on-going concern for environmental awareness, saving money and creating better ways to provide services to our customers.

Another way that we are looking to the future is through our Comprehensive Plan and the review committee that has been appointed to walk us through this important undertaking. Work is near completion on drafting a new Comprehensive Plan that will serve as a blueprint for the future growth and development of Carbondale. I would like to thank Dr. Robert Harper, emeritus professor from the SIU Department of Geography, for his leadership as chairman of the review committee.

The current Plan was completed and adopted in 1997. Over the past 12 years, there have been many changes to the Carbondale landscape. Staff is working closely with our consultants, who were competitively hired to provide assistance in drafting the long-range plan for our community. A community-wide symposium was held this spring, with nearly 200 people in attendance, when we gathered input on some of the important issues facing the community. This continues to be an on-going initiative that we will work through and hopefully complete early next year. The result will be a fluid document that will assist the City Council and others in our future plans for balanced growth and strategic development.

In conjunction with the Housing Study Committee that I appointed to consider issues that were then sent to the Comprehensive Plan Review Committee, just a few months ago, the City Council adopted new commercial parking regulations that are meant to be more business friendly and easier to understand and implement. Measured development is critical to both the developer and the community, and this is one area where we took a fresh look at what we were doing and we decided that it could be improved upon.

Since I mentioned development, I might as well share some information about some of the new businesses that have moved into Carbondale or expanded in the past year. Despite the slowdown of the national economy, several local businesses have grown and appear to be doing quite well.

This year we welcomed many new businesses to Carbondale, including (to name only a few): Stadium Grille, Alliance Investment Group, a soon-to-be relocated Jimmy John’s downtown, Tequila’s Restaurant and Larry’s House of Cakes on the west side, Comfort Inn and Suites, and new professional and medical services at Office Place, both on Reed Station Road. Construction also began on a new 53,000 square foot National Guard Armory that will serve as a joint-use facility for Guard units from Cairo, Marion and Carbondale. And much-awaited construction will finally, soon begin on the second Walgreen’s location, also on the west side.

I have already mentioned the new stadium construction that is taking place on the SIU campus, and with that as a center piece to the current construction projects in Carbondale, our current fiscal year has seen nearly $52 million ($51,918,913) in new construction. That’s a significant amount of work being done in the community and it is going a long way to keeping our local workers employed and to circulating money through the regional economy. Our current unemployment figures show a rate of 6.6% in Carbondale as of last month, which is more than a full percentage point lower than the rest of Jackson County (7.8%) and more than three points lower than Williamson County (9.9%). Our average Carbondale unemployment rate for this entire calendar year is 5.6%, compared to 5.1% last year (average in 2008). This tells us that our economy is managing about as well as anyone could imagine or hope for, given the national downturn that is being experienced around us.

That fairly summarizes some of the issues and activities we have been involved with during 2009. It was an interesting year, to say the least. Now let me now share some thoughts about the coming new year.

Keeping with the new business theme, I am pleased to report that DLC Management, the firm that owns University Place Shopping Center, has been actively recruiting several new companies to fill vacancies on their property. All of the details are not yet public, but new tenants have been signed to occupy the former University Teletrack location and also to fill approximately 30,000 square feet of space adjacent to Dick’s Sporting Goods. A new tenant, NovaCare Rehabilitation, will soon fill space next to PetCo, and will provide outpatient health rehabilitation services in that center.

Also at University Place Shopping Center, I am glad to finally put to rest one of the longest-running rumors about a potential new business coming to Carbondale. It seems that every six months or so, for the past ten years, I have heard about a new restaurant that people think is going to be built in front of the former K-Mart building (now Dick’s Sporting Goods). It has been to the point that people tell me, as a matter of fact, that they know the inside details, even though those details were total speculation. Well, no more speculating… Chili’s will begin construction early this spring and they’ll be open by August 2010.

An important tool for us in attracting new businesses and in supporting the expansion of existing businesses is the enterprise zone. I am thankful to the surrounding taxing bodies in Jackson County that have assisted us in approving resolutions that extend the life of the Carbondale-Murphysboro-Jackson County Enterprise Zone for another decade, which will now expire in 2020. This will help all of the communities within the county and it will particularly serve us as we work to bring in these and other new businesses.

Getting into some heavier lifting, I should probably talk about some of our financial concerns for the coming year.

Many of you have heard bits or pieces of some of the issues we are considering for upcoming budgets. The reality is that income is down, like it is for many of your private businesses, and expenses are up. Income for us is in the form of declining sales tax receipts. Increased expenses for us are mostly in form of actuarially-required and state-mandated payments to retirement and pension funds. This is a common occurrence with cities throughout Illinois, and even across the nation. Carbondale is no different and no more special than any of the other communities that have some tough decisions to make. For us, last month I put forth six options… differing ways that we could address budget concerns for the immediate- and long-terms. Those options included sales tax increases, reinstituting the municipal portion of the property tax, privatizing certain city services, and eliminating positions within the city government.

Most of the public attention on the issue has come in response to the option of privatizing our water and sewer services. And that’s fine; it was just one of the six options. But there has been an equally-significant lack of discussion on the other options, and I’m afraid that we will simply look to the easiest of those options presented, which means the City Council likely will raise taxes of some kind.

I think the time has come for our government – at all levels – to begin to take a step back from all of the things we do, and identify the things that we must do. I have said time and again that we can no longer do more, or do more with less, that instead we must just start doing less. That means we must tackle the tough decisions of deciding what services we have to make sure are provided, versus those services that we have to be the ones providing.

I think the ideas of privatizing selected services need greater study. I had no expectation that such a drastically new concept would be embraced in Carbondale, but I did hope for some lengthier discussions about the merits of such an option. When we simply say we can’t do something, we are left without much room to find things we can do. And Carbondale has always been a community where ideas and suggestions have had a place to grow, rather than be stifled.

So, when people say that government should act more like a business, it should be expected to make adjustments just like a business would. Or when people say that they are facing cuts in personnel and not receiving cost of living pay increases, government should heed that same call. Doing a better job of representing people means doing a better job in good times and in bad times. These are not necessarily good times. They also are not the worst of times. I hope we will come out of this with an improved sense of what a local government should do, how we should pay for it, and what people expect in both circumstances. I encourage you to review the budget planning report that I submitted to the City Council, see for yourself what the options entail, and contact your elected representatives to express your thoughts and ideas.

Along those lines, we are going to continue to come up with new ways to better address old issues. One of those issues involves the Eurma C. Hayes Center on Carbondale’s northeast side.

Since it was built, the Hayes Center has often been at the center of community issues. It has been a place to rally around and a place to rally from. It has been a community center, with a specific neighborhood mission, that has seen ups and downs of its own. One of the things that I have observed over time, though, is that there is a constant degree, albeit usually only a slight degree, of angst that surrounds the facility. That anxiety comes when groups are seeking space in the building or when individuals feel that the City isn’t doing everything it should for the neighborhood. I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about those sentiments and the feelings that get expressed on occasion.

I wonder if the concerns stem from a desired sense of ownership in the building. We all know that when someone owns something, they generally keep it in higher regard. We know that ownership creates a feeling of pride and possession. Ownership also creates a barrier, between those who do own and those who do not own. So, I asked myself if ownership in the building might be at the root of the issue with the Hayes Center. Is it demeaning to force a community organization to come and request funding or request a space allocation in that building, when the building is perceived as a neighborhood facility? Does it seem like the City is always holding something over the heads of those who utilize the building? Could something be done to remove that missing sense of ownership and create a truer atmosphere of community ownership at the Hayes Center?

To address those questions, I propose that the City release the building into the ownership of northeast community.

I’m suggesting that the organizations and individuals that actually make up the fabric of the Hayes Center be entrusted with its ownership and operation. The City would continue to provide some financial assistance for programs and services in the building, such as the Abundant Health Resource Clinic, but we would otherwise turn-over the building to a local not-for-profit organization and let them begin to build that sense of ownership.

This is not a plan for the City to step away from its past or aside from its obligations. Rather, this is a plan to empower community organizations (and community organizers) to determine their own destiny and to control their own surroundings in a structure that was originally meant for that purpose anyway. I wasn’t around then, but maybe that’s what the real intent was of the Model Cities Program, the program that built that facility. Maybe the intent was to create lasting ownership and a meaningful identity, not to create a lifetime of constantly seeking permission from others and always wondering what is going to happen next in your own backyard.

I have asked the City Manager to immediately begin discussions with the Carbondale Branch of the NAACP, and with Attucks Community Services Board and others, to determine if this is either desired or possible. I hope it’s something that people would want to see happen and I know it’s possible; it only depends on breaking down the walls of the past, having an open mind, and working together to see what can be accomplished in the future.

As an update for you, talking about other City facilities, plans are still in the works for our new police and fire stations. The architects and engineers are busy designing both structures and trying to keep costs within budget. The police station will hopefully break ground by mid-year and the fire station will be on schedule after that, awaiting access to its new location once the Walgreen’s development is completed on adjacent property.

Just across the railroad tracks from here, many of you will remember the old buildings that were demolished over the past few years. That area, along Washington Street between Main Street and College Street, is an area that is ready for investment and new development. We have been encouraging private parties to take an interest in that area, and several local entrepreneurs have started to think through plans to create a mixed-use development project as a new anchor for downtown. This is exactly the type of progressive activity that we need. I have indicated to the group that the City is willing to partner with them, but it should be a private development and the City should be approached with final plans and asked to support it or provide incentives toward it, instead of everyone looking for the City to actually develop or design it on the front end.

I would like to ask the same of people who talk about our aging housing stock. We recently approved measures to remove eyesore mobile homes and to streamline parking regulations, and we’re working through our Comprehensive Plan for future growth ideas. But those steps are only good to a certain level, if they’re not met with private investment and private development to meet market needs. In the past, I proposed housing development incentives that proved to be quite successful. We were able to see hundreds of homes built in a very short period of time, when there hadn’t been much single-family home growth at all in the prior years.

Today, I am putting out a call to developers to bring us competitive ideas, to bring us plans for new single-family home construction projects that might include tax increment financing or other creative mechanisms that will allow us to see the type of housing growth we need and still allows the developer to see the return on investment that would make it worthwhile. We probably won’t be able to subsidize the projects with cash incentives, but we need developers to stop saying what all the problems are and start telling us what all of the opportunities are. Bring us plans to redevelop several square blocks. Bring us plans to demolish dilapidated, vacant homes. Bring us plans to create new neighborhoods. If you do, we will respond and we will become active partners with you. These issues can not be driven only by the city government; it must be the other way around. Local developers should put on their thinking caps and find ways to partner and see success. Bring us plans for new single-family home construction and we’ll help make it happen for everyone’s benefit.

The whole idea behind seeking more single-family homes is to offer the opportunity for people to buy their own house and to make it their own home. This is among the most basic parts of the American dream. In Carbondale, we estimate that only 27% of the housing stock is owner-occupied. Another aspect of the problem is that a large segment of the population is below the federally-designated poverty level for income, and many individuals and families don’t have a good sense about managing their money and resources. Bad decisions lead to bad credit and people are then left trying to figure out important family planning steps without much guidance or support.

Today, I’m asking financial services leaders (primarily the banking institutions) to get behind an exciting new program that has already seen success elsewhere. The newly created Bank on Illinois program is patterned after a similar program in Indiana. It is a local program, supported by the Illinois State Treasurer’s office, that brings together banks and businesses that want to see people get back on track with a second chance. Specifically designed to assist low- to moderate-income families and minorities, the Bank on Illinois program focuses on reducing barriers that many families encounter with banking.

This “second chance” opportunity allows consumers to re-establish themselves with banks, by accessing free or low-cost checking accounts and receiving financial literacy training that can stop the cycle of making those bad decisions. By creating a partnership of trust between the consumers and the banks, people learn how to better manage their money and they move away from the predatory practices of check cashing and title-loan businesses that cost the consumer many times more than they realize. By setting up direct deposit accounts, by learning how to smartly use an ATM or debit card, by not having to meet minimum balance requirements, and getting the extra pointers that they need, this program delivers a package of personal development that helps everyone. The individual benefits from better banking services and less money spent in fees, the banks benefit from building better customer relations, and businesses in the community benefit from fewer bad checks and better consumers.

To help get this up and running, I’m committed to providing support through City Hall to coordinate the planning and organizational aspects of the program. We’ll offer financial support to help market the “Bank on Carbondale” initiative and reach out to those individuals and families who would benefit most. We’ll bring together all of the players and ask them to open their doors to these efforts; understanding that many of the area banks are already doing some of these things anyway, but without the realization that those efforts can be better coordinated and streamlined so everyone is operating in the same direction. We’ll make the investment in the program; the banks will make an investment in their customers; and families will be invested in their future.

I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks that I would save my political commentary for the end of this address. We’re getting close, so now is as good a time as any.

I’m sure most of you know that I am a candidate for statewide office in the upcoming Republican primary election. I am not the first Mayor of Carbondale to seek the position of Lieutenant Governor (then-Mayor Neal Eckert ran as a Democrat in the 1972 primary election and lost to Neil Hartigan), but I am hoping to be the first one to actually win.

Elections are a lot like athletic events. Each team or candidate can prepare and can execute their plans and strategies, but anything can happen and the only guarantee is that someone will win and someone will lose. The odds are stacked against my candidacy, as a way-downstater and as a candidate that doesn’t bring considerable personal wealth into the process. But, we have a good message and we have hundreds of volunteers all across the state. I’m confident that the primary voters will select the best candidate and from there we’ll all move on, hopefully onward and upward.

The real issue for us, as a community and as a state, is that we must do something different. I strongly believe that great days fill our history, but even greater days await our future. And in order to achieve that future, we have to create wholesale change in the way our state government is running. The simple reality is that it isn’t actually running at all, it’s just kind of limping along. We have to start making tough decisions. We have to balance our budget and reduce our state’s spending. We have to create priorities and make good on the promises that were made to previous generations. We have to create an environment that attracts and sustains business and jobs. We have to end the cycle of Cook County control over the other 101 counties in this state. We have to get serious about getting the job done.

Basically, we have a lot to do and not a lot of time to accomplish it. But we can get it done and we can get our state back on the right track. All it takes is a little effort and I’m hoping to be a part of that effort. No matter what role I will play, I have committed myself to working toward the real change we need in our state government. Much like I did when I came into this office, I have dedicated myself to seeing this process through to the end and to fighting hard for the values and beliefs that I have and that I share with so many of you.

That doesn’t mean that I’m leaving anything undone here. It just means that I have to work harder to be a good Mayor and at the same time carry this message to as many others around Illinois as is possible. But that brings me to my real point.

People have asked me what I will do if I win. I think the answer to that question is rather obvious. Other people have asked me what I will do if I lose either the primary or the general election (if I win the primary on February 2, 2010). Well, like I just said, I will continue to advocate for the needs and concerns of this community and I will fulfill my obligation and the oath I took as Mayor to the best of my ability. The next question usually seeks a hint as to whether or not I will run for re-election as Mayor in 2011. And while the filing period for the mayoral race is still (but exactly) one year away from now, I feel a need to get out in front of that issue today.

When I first announced my candidacy for Mayor on November 13, 2002, I outlined a plan for achieving a certain level of success and for moving the community forward. We made a terrific impact and accomplished all of the goals we set forth. I announced my bid for re-election on November 14, 2006 and everybody remembers that election, which is why I am still here today.

During that announcement, I stated, “I’m going to finish what I started four years ago.” That was also the theme to my campaign position paper, “finishing what we started.” So, while I guess I haven’t directly come out and said it before, it has always been my intention to do just that… to spend this second term finishing what we started in the first.

When I came to Carbondale in 1989, it was never my intention to run for any public office, or even to stay in Carbondale past graduation (mostly because my plan included going into medicine and not politics). But I did stay and I am forever grateful for that and the opportunities that have come with being a member of this community.

However, I shall not be seeking a third term as Mayor, regardless of what happens with the statewide elections in 2010. I believe in self-imposed term limits, which is a large part of the reason why I decided to run for Mayor to begin with. I think people should know when to step aside and allow for new ideas and new goals. That’s what I wanted to create in 2002 and that’s what I think should happen in the next election cycle.

So, to the business community and others, I say now is the time to begin finding quality leaders who you can get behind and support. Now is the time for people to come forward with real, worthwhile ideas and with ambitions to keep making Carbondale a better place to live and work. Don’t get carried away, though, when I say now, I don’t actually mean right now. I realize that by saying this, some people will put me in the lame duck category, but I still have more than a year left on my term and I fully expect to exercise the office during that time. I just want everyone to understand that my decision has been made and now others need to start making their own decisions.

I also wouldn’t start arm chair quarterbacking the reasons why I’m not running again. There are no grand conspiracies and no hidden agendas. The fact is that I have been in public, elected office in Carbondale for a third of my life. I have no regrets and there is no second-guessing on any issue. If there was a time to step aside for political reasons, it would have been prior to the last election, not now. The reason is simply as I stated it; leaders need to make way for other leaders and now is the time for me to do that in Carbondale.

To close out that topic, I want to touch on one other aspect of my run for Lieutenant Governor. Several people have made the comment that I am obviously seeking higher office. The reality is, and many people have said this before me, that there is no higher office than local office. There is no place where an elected official has more contact with his constituents or has more understanding of the issues, and there is no office that has greater rewards than that which affects your friends and neighbors. Ask any Mayor from any community across the nation and you will hear that same sentiment. So, while I am seeking office at the statewide level and not the local level, keep in mind that it is merely a “different” office and not a “higher” office.

Wrapping it up, as I said before, this has been an interesting year. We have had great accomplishments and we have had a natural disaster and some set-backs. We are facing difficult decisions but we will continue to move forward and make progress.

We are well; the state of our city is good and it continues to get better, even in difficult times.

Next year will be a time for us to grow as a community, to highlight our strengths and improve upon our weaknesses, to refine and redefine the role of government in people’s lives, to make decisions that will look forward for several years, and next year will be a time for change… all of these things are good.

We have much to be proud of and much to be thankful for… best wishes to each of you and your families for the holidays and beyond. Thank you and good afternoon.

 

 

 

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