Harry “Andy” Ezard
Background information: I have served as Jacksonville’s Mayor since April 28, 2009 and am currently serving in my third four-year term in office. I was City Clerk of Jacksonville from 2005 to 2009.
Prior to my service with the City of Jacksonville, I worked in State Government from 1991 to 2005 – working in the Office of Governor Jim Edgar and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. I am a member of the Jacksonville Kiwanis Club, ISVI Advisory Council, Jacksonville Chapter N.A.A.C.P., Morgan County Republican Women’s Club, Passavant Hospital Auxiliary, I-Fund, Eastern Illinois University Alumni Association, and am an honorary member of the Jacksonville Rotary Club. I am also a member of the Central Christian Church.
I serve on the Jacksonville Area Chamber of Commerce Board, Jacksonville Convention & Visitors Bureau Board, Jacksonville Main Street Board of Directors, Jacksonville Regional Economic Development Corporation Board, Jacksonville Public Schools Foundation Board and am a Vice President on the Illinois Municipal League Board of Directors.
What event/initiative regarding the City of Jacksonville are you most proud to be involved in? There are so many daily twists and turns in this position. There are big initiatives that I have played a small role and worked well with others to see things come to fruition and there are small items that on the surface may be miniscule in some peoples view but they are not small to the person(s) who I have tried to help. Being Mayor of this community has been tough at times but it has also brought much joy to me in helping people. The community is so close knit and there really isn’t just one thing it’s a culmination of many. This is a fantastic city to live in.
Do you think our Main Street/Downtown is healthy and successful? If not, what would you do to change that? Yes, Main Street has contributed much to our downtown and the city with assistance and business support throughout the Downtown Turnaround and the recent pandemic. They have completed beautification projects that have saved the city money and hosted events that have brought tens of thousands of people downtown, which boosts business and get more attention for Jacksonville. I feel Main Street will continue
to be successful and healthy and provide more needed services to the community with continued support from everyone in the city. A great, passionate group to work with.
If you could change one thing in our zoning code, what would it be and why? We need to continue to collaboratively seek ways to streamline our current codes which help cut through the red tape. Our coordination with Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) and formation of a Land Bank to assist us with the rehab and/or demolition of vacant/neglected buildings must continue. Also further promotion of our enterprise zone, opportunity zone and TIF additions and renewal must move forward.
If you received a $1 million grant to use for the city any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why? Unfortunately $1 million doesn’t go too far these days but I would propose to spend it on new roads and sidewalks, however, I would like to listen to the city council and our resident’s thoughts on what they would like to do. I really wish this would happen. Fingers crossed.
What is the greatest challenge facing the City of Jacksonville and what would you propose be done to correct that problem? I believe the unfunded mandates that the state keeps imposing on municipalities is a huge challenge. I think we need to keep working together on a local level to help navigate state government and keep the pedal down on obtaining grant funding through the state and federal government. Good relationships are key and we currently have those.
The Jacksonville Developmental Center property is an ongoing challenge that we will continue to try and remediate. There have been interesting proposals discussed but we need to expand our discussion to get something done.
What is something the Jacksonville City Council has done that you support? I support the vast majority of items the City Council passes. They are a dedicated group who has the best interests for our city. We might not always agree but I respect their positions and views. It has always been important to me as Mayor to get unanimous consensus and for the most part we have. Some examples are community wide broadband and the new water treatment plant.
What is the best thing to happen to Jacksonville in the last five years? It’s hard to pick one so I will group all these together: New Water Treatment Plant, renovations of Jacksonville Middle School and Lincoln School, increased tourism dollars, keeping the Downtown as the central hub of the City, combined dispatch for our first responders, Tri-County Industrial Site acquisition, and new trails at Jacksonville Lake.
What needs to be changed immediately to make Jacksonville a better place to live and work? We have seen how the MacMurray closure has impacted our community and how the group of citizens stepped up to turn this into a positive. I see this happening to the property at JDC as well if given a clean slate to work from. Reliance on one type of industry is in the past. We must be able to adapt to the diversification of many types of businesses and services.
Jacksonville has unfilled jobs due to available workforce. Is there anything you can do to help the community get trained workers into this community? We are working on this daily. We need to continue our good working relationships with JREDC and the Chamber of Commerce and help them succeed on their mission and scope of work plan. The pandemic has certainly not helped things this past year but moving forward we need to stay engaged with their Talent Pipeline Management initiatives they have with Lincoln Land Community College and leading manufacturers to imagine a program that engages high school upperclassmen in manufacturing coursework and certification that could lead directly to local employment. We are currently working with IHDA on a revitalization program which includes workforce housing and a 10-20 year comprehensive plan. Also we need to continue our discussion with area business leaders and seek help from them to establish a business incubator that we have been working on.
The city needs to continue their quality of life efforts in improving our major infrastructure such as community wide broadband, water treatment plant and future sewer plant upgrades and continue to add improvements to our parks & lakes and recreational opportunities.
And as always help to retain jobs we have and help our small businesses in the capacity they are currently in and be supportive if they want to grow.
How do you see the Illinois Governor’s Criminal Justice Reform Bill impacting the City of Jacksonville? First of all, I have spoken to Jacksonville Police Chief Adam Mefford at length about HB 3653 and we support reform concepts such as advanced training, body worn cameras, police accountability, and the ability to terminate and decertify bad police officers. But the bill has some language that without trailer bills to clear up makes it difficult to fully support. Again I support reform and accountability but some of the measures have gone too far. As far as the effects on Jacksonville; I am confident in Chief Mefford and his staff to interpret the bill and implement the changes locally. Chief Mefford and his administration have worked diligently to train, educate and modernize our police force. With that said a lot of the training mandates, policy mandates, use of force changes and officer accountability have already been put in place locally. Our concerns are the effects on our citizens because portions of the bill have limited the officer’s ability to act in certain incidents, which could lead to the escalation of some situations. I am also concerned about the increased expenditures required to come into compliance that will ultimately be passed onto to the tax payer. And lastly I am concerned that the bill will lead to the elimination of some of the liability safeguards for our officers who protect our city.
Personal info you wish to share: My wife Jenissa and I are proud parents of one daughter, Kaylee (21), and one son, Drew (18). My parents are Sally Ezard and the late Roger Ezard, both retiring as long-time teachers in the area. My parent in-laws are David and Joyce Thompson.
Background Information: I grew up in and around Jacksonville, and after moving away for ten years, I returned to raise my children here closer to family. I started my first business at 29, and seven years later that business continues to grow and thrive. I’ve since started two other businesses, and would love to continue developing great spaces for the community. For that reason, I’ve chosen to run for mayor to be and create the changes I wish to see in Jacksonville to make it a place I’m enthusiastic about investing my money into.
What event/initiative regarding the City of Jacksonville are you most proud to be involved in? In 2017 I began imagining the Jacksonville Community Garden. After finding a suitable location and recruiting cofounders, the Jacksonville Community Gardening Initiative began to take root on Church and Chambers and has since grown to offer space for local school and community organizations as well as private citizens who need space to plant, grow and volunteer.
Do you think our Main Street/downtown is healthy and successful? If not, what would you do to change that? Our downtown has come a long way since I was younger, and it continues to progress thanks to the hard work of organizers, business owners, and the support of our community. As a downtown business owner, the greatest challenge I’ve noticed is that so much of our community became accustomed to shopping on Morton before the downtown renovations, that it can be a challenge to bring them back and return the downtown to the shopping destination it was years ago. I think a campaign to bring more awareness to our downtown businesses and activities, such as billboards on Morton, could be helpful in changing that. Using the platform of social media as mayor will also be a great way to spread the word about the great shopping, dining and activities we have downtown.
If you could change one thing in our zoning code, what would it be and why? Size and setback requirements. The setback requirement recently prevented me from building a new home on one of my properties. Alderman Adams has been pushing for a tiny house initiative to house the homeless and local veterans in a tiny house community, but minimum size requirements have all but halted that idea. He and code enforcement are working to change this requirement, and watching with hope that their efforts will be successful.
If you received a $1 million grant to use for the city any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why? Upgrades and maintenance in our parks would be a great place to spend a million dollars, but with nearly double the suggested reserve amount from the surplus in our budget, I believe we could make these improvements without waiting for a grant. We have the money, let’s put it to work for our community! I’d love to see a water feature in Minnie Barr park on Walnut, where children may not have transportation to South Jacksonville or the park pool in the summer. Currently that park, as well as others on the northeast end, aren’t even listed on the city website under the Parks and Outdoor page. Families on the northeast end deserve to have access to parks and amenities we can be proud of including in our suggested destinations on the city website.
What is the greatest challenge facing the City of Jacksonville and what would you propose be done to correct that problem? Ever increasing property taxes! The city council votes annually to increase the property tax levy, with the exception of just a few members, even when the finance committee hasn’t met to discuss the budget, deficits, or alternatives for bringing in new revenue. The attitude from the majority of our current leadership that this annual increase is the only way to fund the city is dangerous and leads to further population loss, which in turn means a smaller pool of taxpayers funding our ever increasing property tax bills. Our community also struggles with low voter turnout, leaving much of the population underrepresented.
What is something the Jacksonville City Council has done that you support? In November’s tax levy meeting, Alderman Adams made a motion to review the budget before voting to approve the levy increase. Until then, the tax levy vote always happened the month before discussing the budget, which I always thought was backward and didn’t allow for a real understanding of our budget by council members before their vote. I was happy to see Adams’ push to discuss the budget first, and the council vote to approve his motion, though I would like to see better budget discussions in the future.
What is the best thing to happen to Jacksonville in the last five years? In recent years we’ve seen a handful of new small businesses downtown, and now we’re seeing the start of the next phase of downtown renovations begin on State Street. We’ve also seen an increase in candidates running for local office, and increased attendance in council meetings, suggesting a more involved community is taking shape.
What needs to be changed immediately to make Jacksonville a better place to live and work? Our property tax levy and the annual increase as well as the misinformation spread about the process from some council members. Higher property tax rates impact our personal budgets, economic growth and development, curb appeal due to lack of maintenance from fear of increased taxes, and more in our community. These higher rates can also cause difficulty in lending approvals, meaning families who may have moved here can’t afford to buy a home that suits their needs.
Jacksonville has unfilled jobs due to available workforce. Is there anything you can do to help the community get trained workers into this community? Attracting new residents and keeping our trained workers means we need to start making meaningful improvements in helping Jacksonville to become a destination for new families, and work to keep those families when we have them.
How do you see the Illinois Governor’s Criminal Justice Reform Bill impacting the City of Jacksonville? This controversial bill has positives and negatives like many others, but Chief Mefford has established a great reputation in our community and I’m confident he will adapt successfully and continue to do great things with our local police department.