Background Information: After getting a degree in journalism from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, I had a 20-year career as a newspaper photographer and photo editor. I interned in Saginaw and Muskegon, Michigan, and worked in La Salle-Peru, Freeport and Decatur before coming to the Jacksonville Journal-Courier in 1997. My wife Tiffany and I left the paper in 2008 to start our own wedding photography business.
What event/initiative regarding the City of Jacksonville are you most proud to be involved in? Helping to bring i3 Broadband to the city to offer competition for internet service. I worked with Mayor Andy Ezard and the city’s economic development partners to secure the council vote to invest in the project. More importantly, I’m proud to have pushed to change the contract to include all of the city in the project. When first presented to the city council by the JREDC (Jacksonville Regional Economic Development Corporation), the plan was to just have i3 build in select parts of the city, and hope for a future grant to include the north and east sides of town. Now the city can tout the fact that 100 percent of the households and business will have access to a 10 gigabit enabled fiber network – one of the first five communities nationwide with this infrastructure. This is a real economic development success, and has the potential to attract new businesses and residents to town. I ask everyone to invite all their family and friends to move to Jacksonville to take advantage of this infrastructure.
Do you think our Main Street/downtown is healthy and successful? If not, what would you do to change that? Downtown Jacksonville has a lot going for it. It’s a perfect place for small business – and my wife Tiffany and I have our photo studio downtown. However, I think the City of Jacksonville needs to also invest funds and energy in the rest of town.
Downtown has Jacksonville Main Street and other business groups pushing for grants and development. The TIF district has money to leverage federally-funded Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program grants, which only require a 20% local match, to upgrade the streets and infrastructure. We all need to work harder to improve parks, streets and other infrastructure in areas of the city outside of downtown.
If you could change one thing in our zoning code, what would it be and why? Encourage in-fill development. In some cases when a house is torn down, a new house can’t be built because the lot doesn’t meet modern set-back requirements. The best that can happen in that case is neighbors can buy the lot to add to their properties. Otherwise the lot just sits empty, having to be maintained by government workers. Other communities have allowed a new house to be built on the footprint of the previous one. I have brought this up at city council, so hopefully we can localize this idea that has worked in other communities.
I’ve also heard from the public about the need to enforce rules on derelict properties. The council has already passed the zoning rules and funded the enforcement department, and the passage of Home Rule allowed the creation of a municipal court to handle these cases. The administrative process exists, it just needs to work better — especially for rental properties. The public has to keep in mind the city mostly reacts to complaints, so if you see something call the city inspections department and say something to start the 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? First thanks for the million dollars! I look forward to working with other community members to leverage matching grants and more private donations to improve the quality of life in the City of Jacksonville.
If you haven’t checked out the recreational trail at Lake Jacksonville, be sure to get out there this spring! The city has a great recreational spot at the lake. But if you’re not a camper, boater or fisher – there hasn’t been much reason to drive out to the lake. The first two miles of this paved path have been completed, and has already attracted new people to the lake. The final third of the planned trail is by far the prettiest section. See for yourself! Head out to the dam, walk around the gate to go down the old West Lake Road, and you’ll be transformed as you walk through a cathedral of old-growth trees. Putting in a new bridge here will allow people to walk, run and ride around the lake, as well as make more city-owned shoreline accessible for fishers. The bridge would also allow guests at private campgrounds on the south side of the lake access to the concession building and bath house at the boat launch area.
The next thing I’d do is put in a splash pad at Minnie Barr Park. If you’ve visited Southwind Park in Springfield, you’ve seen these play areas with jets of water for kids. Water consumption would be lower than the water park at South Jacksonville’s Godfrey Park. And it would be more convenient for families in the area than traveling to the Village or to the city pool at Nichols Park just to splash around.
I have about half my grant money left, so let’s at least start on the next project. Jacksonville is fortunate to have a lake IN TOWN. We need to build trails, or widen shoulders, so people can walk, run or ride around the Mauvaisterre Lake. Add a trail and bridge over the Mauvaisterre Dam to connect to Superior Avenue. The city is already working on an in-lake dam, which will include a causeway allowing people to go from Country Club Road to the Pony Colt/Jacksonville PetSafe Dog Park area, and from there to Nichols Park. From this point there’s a couple options to build a recreational trail all the way to Lake Jacksonville. Communities like Charleston and Effingham have successfully completed projects like this in the last decade. And best of all, construction would be eligible for an 80 percent grant through the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program.
What is the greatest challenge facing the City of Jacksonville and what would you propose be done to correct that problem? Loss of population. We’ve seen the annual population estimates from the state indicating a decrease in population. And the soon-to-be-released 2020 census data will give an accurate account. And going around town we can see the businesses closed because of a lack of customers.
Because of state-wide issues, Jacksonville has to work harder to attract people – we can’t just pass on the blame. Sangamon County has been growing in population the past couple years, so there’s an opportunity to share in that expansion. But there’s two things the city needs to work on, and it will be a difficult balance.
First, we need to invest in attractions that will draw families and businesses to the city. The i3 Broadband project is a great example. Downtown enhancement, encouraging entrepreneurship and supporting small businesses are others. We also need to invest in parks and recreation and focus on family friendly entertainment. Take a look at what Rushville and Beardstown have done with their new aquatic centers. The city can do something similar, with a private-public partnership of a new outdoor pool in conjunction with the YMCA (something I’ve pushed for, and haven’t given up on).
Second, we need to plan for smart reductions to the size of city government. When I first got on city council, every year the starting point for the annual property tax increase was an automatic 5 percent increase – the maximum allowable under Home Rule. If you look at the bottom line, the city budget continues to grow, while our population is decreasing and our tax base is stagnant. The size of the city needs to be kept in line with our tax base. Otherwise, overtaxation will drive away residents and businesses, and kill the hope to attract new.
What is something the Jacksonville City Council has done that you support?
The city council approved $7,500 annual grants for The Jacksonville Promise. The scholarship program’s ambition is to eventually offer a college scholarship to every local graduate. Program leader Dr. Charles Sheaff has presented studies indicating students who attend college locally are more likely to stay and grow our economy. Currently the Promise is giving a limited number of partial scholarships for those who attend Illinois College or Lincoln Land Community College.
Can you imagine enticing parents to move to Jacksonville, so when their children graduate they would have help paying for college? The Jacksonville Promise can be a great selling point that we’re a family friendly community.
What is the best thing to happen to Jacksonville in the last five years? Community wide, the school construction and improvements that were made possible by the one percent for education initiative. In order to attract families to town, we need a strong school system. Jacksonville as well as other schools in the county were able to pay for spaces to enhance education and heating/cooling and other efficiency upgrades to reduce operating costs. Jacksonville needs to keep up with or outdo competing Springfield regional school systems in order to attract and retain residents.
What needs to be changed immediately to make Jacksonville a better place to live and work? The city’s annual property tax increases need to be put in check. I’ve talked to many residents in Jacksonville’s Fifth Ward who are fed up with high taxes. If you look at the city government’s bottom line, it’s growing every year while the tax base is stagnant and the population is slowly dwindling. Hopefully we can all work together to right-size local government.
Jacksonville has unfilled jobs due to available workforce. Is there anything you can do to help the community get trained workers into this community? As was made clear last year, broadband internet access is essential for work – for working remotely, for running a home-based business and for education. I was a supporter of the proposal for the city to build its own broadband fiber network in 2015. That proposal died due to uncertainty of payback on cost. I’m glad the City was able to partner with i3 Broadband to develop the digital infrastructure needed by the community.
The City and the JREDC are working on workforce development with help from Lincoln Land Community College, local schools, the Chamber of Commerce and businesses. We also need to work on quality of life to be able to attract new residents to town. Nationwide there’s a movement towards “de-urbanization,” where people want to get out of cities and live in smaller communities. We need to reach out – as individuals as well as local government and business leaders – and entice these people to consider relocating to Jacksonville.
How do you see the Illinois Governor’s Criminal Justice Reform Bill impacting the City of Jacksonville? This hasn’t been talked about much, but one of the provisions of the Criminal Justice Law is a census change. Right now prisoners at the Jacksonville Correctional Center count towards the population of the city. The new law will make those prisoners count towards the population of their home community. This could mean a loss of about a thousand people to the population count in Jacksonville.
This provision doesn’t take effect immediately, so there’s a chance of working with Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer and Sen. Steve McClure to change back the counting method. Otherwise the city risks losing federal and state payments given to communities based on population.
As for other provisions of the bill, Jacksonville Police Chief Adam Mefford has made great strides, and many of the new requirements have already been implemented locally. And the Chief has expressed confidence the city will be able to obtain grants to pay for body cameras, and the even more expensive computers and services required to manage all the video.
Personal info you wish to share: My wife Tiffany and I have a son, Nicholas, who is now 7 and in first grade. Tiffany and I met when she was a student at MacMurray College, and we ended up working together at the Jacksonville Journal-Courier. We attend Centenary United Methodist Church. I am a member of Kiwanis, and Tiffany is a member of Rotary. I am a founding board member of the Jacksonville Park Foundation, which among other things won a $100,000 grant to create the bark park. We support, donate or are members of local groups including the Jacksonville Area Food Center, Spirt of Faith Soup Kitchen, the homeless shelter, Prairieland United Way, Morgan County Garden Club, Prairieland Heritage Cultural Association, Morgan County Audubon, Illinois College and Lincoln Land Community College scholarship funds, the Jacksonville Promise, The Art Association of Jacksonville, Jacksonville Public Schools Foundation.
Background Information: A former parent educator for Jacksonville School District 117’s Early Years program, I served hundreds of families in our community as a case manager for more than a decade. In that role, I visited the homes of Early Years families to provide developmental screenings and coordinate community service programs. I also served as cheerleading coach for the JHS Crimson cheer team for a number of years.
As an Illinois College graduate I earned a business administration degree with a concentration in finance and a minor in economics — training which was integral to my role in assisting the Trinity Episcopal Church Vestry in creating an annual budget, overseeing their endowment fund and serving as auditor of the parish. I currently volunteer my time as a member of the Commission on Disabilities and Human Relations for the City of Jacksonville. Working in the private sector on the Ware Brands corporate staff, I am committed to serving Jacksonville in a larger capacity as a member of the Jacksonville City Council representing the residents of Ward 5.
What event/initiative regarding the City of Jacksonville are you most proud to be involved in? I am very proud of my experience volunteering for the City of Jacksonville’s Commission on Disabilities and Human Relations. The work I have engaged in on that committee has helped me understand the role the city plays in advocating for an important population that resides in this community. That experience served as an inspiration leading me to think on a grander scale how I might be able to give back to this community.
Do you think our Main Street/downtown is healthy and successful? If not, what would you do to change that? It only takes a quick visit to Jacksonville Main Street’s website to understand the tremendous amount of work that has been done since the organization began more than 20 years ago. The 300 properties making up Jacksonville Main Street has a 94% occupancy presently, compared to 27% being empty in 1999. The phased downtown renovations have transformed what used to be a desolate area to a vibrant scene for shopping, eating and nightlife. I think we should continue to support the efforts of Jacksonville Main Street to bring best practices to downtown Jacksonville, which will help support the small businesses that form the backbone of our community’s economy. When friends and relatives come to visit, it is always my pleasure to show off our downtown area.
If you could change one thing in our zoning code, what would it be and why? Following Community Development Director Brian Nyberg’s efforts to reduce blighted housing. I think giving the City of Jacksonville more tools to help contribute to enhancing the overall look and feel of our community is important. A combination of researching grant opportunities and enforcing the current residential codes will help produce a city we can all be proud of.
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 first want to talk with the directors of various city departments to understand areas in which we are deficient to learn what our infrastructure needs are. After tackling the projects most needed to ensure that our city is ready for the future, I would want to research ways in which to make Jacksonville a destination, not just for tourists, but also those interested in moving to a safe community with a low cost of living.
What is the greatest challenge facing the City of Jacksonville and what would you propose be done to correct that problem? I think it is important to combat a declining population, which is happening all over our state, not just Jacksonville. I think adequately communicating our strengths to a large population now able to work from home might help. Also, working collaboratively with entrepreneurs and small business owners interested in doing business in Jacksonville will help grow our economy.
What is something the Jacksonville City Council has done that you support? I think the vote by the Jacksonville City Council to approve city-wide broadband was a very progressive step for our community. That decision signaled to our current residents and future business owners that Jacksonville is prepared for future growth.
What is the best thing to happen to Jacksonville in the last five years? As a former MacMurray College student, I was very worried when the historic college announced it would close its doors. However, the fact that the property was successfully purchased by a number of investors makes me confident that others see the many opportunities for growth Jacksonville has to offer.
What needs to be changed immediately to make Jacksonville a better place to live and work? I think Jacksonville has been well served for many years by a core group of people dedicated to its success. I think it is a great time to join that effort and bring my own ideas to the table. Greater collaboration with a new generation of leaders will bring more creative ideas to fruition to benefit all of Jacksonville.
Jacksonville has unfilled jobs due to available workforce. Is there anything you can do to help the community get trained workers into this community? I think there needs to be more education for our young people to understand that jobs in the skilled trades and manufacturing are important to the success of this community. In addition, these jobs are very much in demand and provide a viable pathway to a successful career.
How do you see the Illinois Governor’s Criminal Justice Reform Bill impacting the City of Jacksonville? I have the utmost respect for the men and women currently protecting our community. In fact, my son just completed his undergraduate degree in Criminal Justice at the University of Georgia, as well as an internship with the U.S. Marshals. This controversial legislation is overwhelmingly opposed by police organizations throughout the state. While I understand Governor Pritzker is intent on reforming pieces of the criminal justice system that are broken, I sincerely hope this new law does not push our policemen and policewomen to move out of the state, or detour those younger men and women who have aspirations to serve and protect the Jacksonville community. The idea of additional training and support for those in law enforcement is great. My hope is that there is funding to go along with the mandates.
Personal info you wish to share: Residents of Ward 5 since 2006, My husband, Brian, and our son, Owen, currently reside on Terry Court. Owen is a graduate of Jacksonville High School and a Troop 107 Eagle Scout. He recently graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in criminal justice and is currently employed by DOT Foods. Brian has worked for our local Budweiser distributor, Golden Eagle, Illinois — formerly A. Gaudio and Sons — for more than 15 years, currently serving as Sales Execution Coordinator and Shelf Space Manager. My mother and step-father, Gayle and Bill Clark; my sister, Sarah Van Aken, her husband, Ryan, and their three daughters; and my brother, Hank Pollock, are all proud Jacksonville residents.