Race for Ward 2 Alderman

Jeff Lonergan (write-in)

Background Information: I was appointed to finish the term of Tony Williams when he moved to Springfield. I am the Production Director at the Journal-Courier. I have been an assistant high school baseball coach along with coaching youth sports for several years. I am a member of Our Saviour Church, the Knights of Columbus and the Elks Lodge 868.

What event/initiative regarding the City of Jacksonville are you most proud to be involved in? I was on the special studies committee that researched and got the deal done on the Jacksonville i3 internet project in 2020. That deal was important for the Jacksonville community as it provides options to our citizens for fast and reliable internet at a fair price. It also allows for competition to provide internet to our citizens, which is very important with so many people working from home now.

Do you think our Main Street/downtown is healthy and successful? If not, what would you do to change that? I think it is progressing, but the Pandemic has slowed the growth we had seen to this point. One thing that had really highlighted the downtown for the last few years had been the summer concert series which drew people to the downtown businesses and provided good entertainment to our citizens. I’d like to see a push to resume the concerts, depending on the pandemic constraints as we get closer to summer.

If you could change one thing in our zoning code, what would it be and why? I think that the City has already put a lot of thought and effort into the zoning codes. A lot depends on how we can help small, local businesses get started and stay successful. I like the idea of the city looking at the properties and making sure it’s a good fit to the area while still considering the benefit as well. The only change I would propose would be for the city to be more flexible and consider changes on a case-by-case process.

If you received a $1 million grant to use for the city any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why? I’d see if we could work out a deal with the state to somehow either purchase or do something to benefit the old Jacksonville Developmental Center in Community Park. It’s a beautiful piece of property that has a lot of possibilities, but the old, dilapidated buildings make it an eyesore and the state has shown little interest in maintaining it or developing a plan for the future.

What is the greatest challenge facing the City of Jacksonville and what would you propose be done to correct that problem? The greatest challenge I see is continuing to budget properly despite the hits and struggles that our local businesses have endured. It has affected City revenue, but it also effects our citizens. Some of our citizens have had limited work or have lost jobs due to the pandemic. My emphasis going forward is to look at how we can maintain revenue while holding the tax line as flat as possible.

What is something the Jacksonville City Council has done that you support? I support the city-wide i3 internet project. A lot of people have had misfortune of trying to work from home while dealing with

inconsistent internet connections during this pandemic. Jacksonville really didn’t have many options to benefit the entire city until i3 came in with a proposal to implement fiber internet options to everyone. I know several people that already had it installed in their homes and they have been very happy with the performance but happier about the lower monthly cost. I also support the Veteran’s Park project. It’s a great old park that I remember playing tennis at when I was a kid. It has been slowly falling apart over the year and renovating it is a good move to benefit and make the park area safer for visitors.

What is the best thing to happen to Jacksonville in the last five years? The best thing I can think of is the construction and opening of the new water plant on Hardin. The City did a great job in coordinating funding between grants and funds available. It was a necessity to avoid the same issues complicated by the flooding of the old plant a few years ago.

What needs to be changed immediately to make Jacksonville a better place to live and work? Right now, it’s getting past the pandemic so that our citizens can resume a more normal lifestyle. With the vaccine starting to ramp up and COVID numbers dropping, I think being optimistic for a good summer is realistic. Our stores, movie theaters, restaurants and bars have really suffered over the last year. As a city we have to do everything we can to help these businesses get back on their feet.

Jacksonville has unfilled jobs due to available workforce. Is there anything you can do to help the community get trained workers into this community? Adding a better internet options is a good start and I hope the i3 proposal will start the ball rolling to make our area more attractive. We need to promote our community a little better including our churches, schools, parks, recreations spots and youth sports programs and facilities.

How do you see the Illinois Governor’s Criminal Justice Reform Bill impacting the City of Jacksonville? I like the idea of accountability, but I think it will hinder our officers to the point where their job will become much more difficult. There have been some terrible injustices that we have seen over the last year that has brought the public awareness to the forefront. For every bad scene that you see from the media, there are a lot of good moments that are not publicized as well. I think there should be articles in place to review and grade police behavior, but this bill is a bit harsh in my opinion.

Personal info you wish to share: I’m a life-long resident of the Jacksonville area. My wife, Laura and I have been married for 36-years. We have two children, Jennifer (husband, Kliff Thaxton) and Nick Lonergan. We have two grandchildren (Koy and Jaylynn Thaxton) and our faithful yellow Labrador, Maizi. I’m an avid golfer, lifelong sports fan and love spending time with my kids and grandkids.

Alison L. Rubin de Celis

Background Information: My husband, David, and I have lived in Ward 2 for 30 years, and have raised our kids here; when my kids were small, I was a stay-at-home mom. David retired last year as a teacher at JHS. I’m a writer and editor with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master’s from UIS. I have worked as a newspaper copy editor and in marketing/PR, and have taught English to adults and English Language Learners at the junior college level. I currently work in marketing at Perma-Bound Books. My husband and I are so grateful for the opportunities we’ve had in Jacksonville, and especially for the opportunities our kids have had here. It’s been a great place to raise our kids.

What event/initiative regarding the city of Jacksonville are you most proud to be involved in? I’m a member of Grace United Methodist Church, and I would say the initiatives I’m most proud of that have involved the city at large are the New Directions Warming Center/homeless shelter and the Take it to the Streets summer feeding program for local school kids. Take it to the Streets is aimed especially at elementary school kids who may experience food insecurity during the summer, and it delivers thousands of lunches to kids every summer. Both of these ministries are based at Grace, and our entire congregation has supported them over the years, in partnership with other churches and community groups in Jacksonville. I’m proud to be a part of that.

Do you think our Main Street/downtown is healthy and successful? If not, what would you do to change that? I think Main Street/downtown is a great plus for our community, and the Jacksonville Main Street organization has made a huge positive impact. As someone who recalls the days before the square was opened up, I can say it’s still a thrill to be able to walk or drive around the square and see attractive storefronts, buildings in good condition, lots of thriving businesses and low vacancy rates, and the square generally looking very nice—and it’s especially good to see lots of activity, and the square crowded on the weekends and for special events. I do think the downtown area, especially, is healthy and successful, and Main Street itself is much more so than it was. I’m excited to see the continued efforts of the city and Jacksonville Main Street to improve this area.

If you could change one thing in our zoning code, what would it be and why? That’s a great and very specific question about a complicated topic; since I’m not a zoning expert, I’m not sure I can speak to that specifically right now. That said, the issues I see regarding properties in my ward and around town have to do not so much with zoning itself, as with code enforcement and maintenance of properties. I think the city has really been working hard in recent years to deal with issues such as derelict houses, and making sure homeowners and landlords, especially, take better care of their properties. There’s really been an effort to improve the city’s older neighborhoods. I’d like to see those efforts continue and grow, and to find more ways to help tenants, homeowners, and landlords continue to improve their dwellings and their neighborhoods.

If you received a $1 million grant to use for the city any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why? I would spend the money in three main ways: 1) to fund more services for the homeless and for low-income residents who struggle with rent and basic needs; 2) to improve infrastructure; and 3) to improve and upgrade older, neglected neighborhoods and properties. The first item is self-explanatory; we’ve made positive changes with New Directions and, more recently, TEOSA, but homelessness and housing insecurity are ongoing challenges.

Infrastructure funds could be used by the city to improve and replace old water and sewer lines in older neighborhoods, and to make improvements to streets and sidewalks.

Property-improvement funds could be administered in the form of grants to tenants, landlords, and homeowners to repair and improve dwellings and make them more attractive. I envision the money being used to do such things as put on a new roof, fix a porch, paint or side a house, etc., and to add fencing and landscaping — basically, to improve livability and curb appeal. I would direct most of the money to older, less affluent neighborhoods, where it would make the most positive impact.

The reasons I would do these things is because a secure, decent place to live is a basic requirement for a good life for all people, and I don’t want to see anyone in my community go without. I would focus improvement efforts on the older, less affluent neighborhoods that are the original part of town, because they’re the places with the most need. Furthermore, these areas are the heart of Jacksonville and potentially the source of a lot of its charm.

Focusing on these areas would improve the quality of life for the many Jacksonville residents who live in them. I think improving these areas is also smart from the standpoint of image and attracting business and new residents—after all, these older neighborhoods are the first thing most people see when coming into town. In my “million-dollar fantasy,” we would invest a large chunk in improving neglected older neighborhoods, positively impacting residents’ quality of life and the city’s desirability as a place to live and do business. I think that if we want Jacksonville to grow and be a welcoming place, we need to take care of its center as well as its edges.

What is the greatest challenge facing the city of Jacksonville and what would you propose be done to correct that problem? I don’t think the biggest challenge facing Jacksonville is a single problem—I think it’s more a constellation of problems that contribute to a lack of growth and opportunity for many residents. This is a great town with a vibrant history and a lot of positives, but it’s also suffered from institutional loss and the closures over the years of major employers such as factories and the Jacksonville Developmental Center. We also have a high poverty rate and a lack of educational attainment and opportunity. This is reflected in one of your earlier questions, which references a lack of skilled workers to fulfill some of the available jobs.

Obviously, this challenge is too big for city government alone to fix, but I think city government can help, working together with such major stakeholders — including local businesses; K-12 educators; mental health advocates and advocates for those facing poverty and homelessness; Illinois College; Lincoln Land and the Capital Area Career Center; and other organizations involved in vocational training and retraining — to come up with solutions. For instance, we could provide more support to Jacksonville Promise and other initiatives that promote higher education and training for residents who otherwise couldn’t afford it. We could do more to provide safe dwellings for those who lack them—educators will tell you that it’s hard to focus on education and self-improvement without a stable place to live. We could also promote beautification of neglected areas of the city to make it more attractive to potential new residents.

Incidentally, I think the decision to approve the I3 Broadband Project was a big step in the right direction in this regard, because it will ultimately help expand access to education and critical services.

What is something the Jacksonville City Council has done that you support? Some recent things the council has done that I support include upgrading to LED street lights and, as I mentioned, approving the i3 Broadband Project. The street-light upgrade is a cost-saver, and I think the brighter lights are a positive for public safety. I think the broadband upgrade is going to do a lot to improve the lives of local residents and increase educational access, especially in a world where a lot of education, and a lot of work, is now conducted remotely.

What is the best thing to happen in Jacksonville in the last five years? That’s a tough question, because there are several answers. I guess I’d say the things that stand out for me are: the ongoing efforts of Jacksonville Main Street, especially the upgrades to streets leading into the square; the move toward community policing in recent years, which I think has been very positive and created a lot of goodwill; and the decision to approve the i3 Broadband Project, which I think will improve the lives of many residents by expanding broadband access. I could also add to that, the efforts to help the homeless through New Directions and, most recently, TEOSA, and the effort of the city to improve neighborhoods and clean up properties in older areas, which is making a visible positive impact.

What needs to be changed immediately to make Jacksonville a better place to live and work? Declare a moratorium on property tax increases while we identify and explore alternative sources of funding and ways to resolve shortfalls. Bring together community stakeholders in business, education, government, healthcare, etc., to determine ways to make Jacksonville even more livable and attractive to current and potential new residents.

Jacksonville has unfilled jobs due to available work force. Is there anything you can do to help the community get trained workers into the community? See the answer to “What is the greatest challenge, etc.,” above. I think we need to work to provide training opportunities and improve educational access for current residents. This includes coordinating more directly between city government and the local educational system to see how they can work in partnership to improve educational access and attract a more educated workforce. Of course, as mentioned above, we would need to involve stakeholders such as businesses, higher education and vocational training representatives, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Jacksonville Regional Economic Development Corp., etc., in this discussion.

Also as mentioned above, I think we need to make the town more physically attractive, such as by improving and beautifying neighborhoods in the older areas of town. We need to do the kinds of things that tend to attract skilled workers who want an attractive, stable environment in which to live, work, and raise a family.

How do you see the Illinois Governor’s Criminal Justice Reform Bill impacting the city of Jacksonville? I think it’s a big experiment in changing the system whose results won’t be seen for a while.

Some parts of the law, such as ending cash bail for nonviolent offenders—a practice the law’s proponents have said basically “criminalizes poverty”—are meant to make the criminal justice system fairer, which I think is important. It’s no secret that our criminal justice system is often experienced as one set of rules for the wealthy and influential, and another for everyone else, with low-income people bearing a disproportionate burden—and I think anything that makes the system fairer is a good thing. I hope the reforms to the bail system will help do this.

On the other hand, I’m mindful that many in law enforcement opposed the law because they believed it would tie their hands in dealing with certain types of criminals, and that’s a legitimate concern.

The bottom line is, I don’t know for sure—and I don’t think anyone else really knows for sure—exactly how the changes under this brand-new law will affect Jacksonville or other communities long-term. Like most laws, it’s an attempt to balance competing agendas and constituencies, and it remains to be seen how that will play out. I think this is another situation in which bringing together community stakeholders for discussion and study might help us figure out how the new law will work in our community and how to deal with its impacts, as well as to identify new approaches where that’s warranted.

Personal info you wish to share: The best thing in my life is my wonderful family: David, my husband, who is a retired teacher (until last year, he taught business and English as a Second Language at Jacksonville High School), and my children, Maria and Carlos, who both are graduates of JHS. I’m a member of Grace United Methodist Church and an avid reader. I love rehabbing old houses and currently live in one. I sing and play the violin, and I’m an animal lover; our household currently includes a Great Pyrenees-Anatolian mix dog and a spoiled Manx cat.

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