by Norm Winick

Bob Sheehan has served as the Mayor of Galesburg for nearly two and a half years now. Some of his supporters have been grumbling that he's not lived up to his promises, that he's sold out to the power elite of the community or that he hasn't yet made his mark on Galesburg.

Sheehan has heard those complaints and he doesn't think they ring true. ''You can't please everybody but to say that I've caved in is inaccurate. They might point to a specific issue and try to make that case but I say look at the big picture. I have been getting more people involved on boards and commissions. I acknowledge that it's gone slower than I had hoped but I don't know any mayor who's ever had as many nominees turned down by the City Council as I did by the last one. Change comes about slowly and I've made some substantive changes: there had never been a woman on the EDC; there is now. There had never been a representative of organized labor; there is now. I feel that we're trying to get many different people involved. Yes, I have made some reappointments but I have put in new people, too. I believe that the EDC needs to be a public-private partnership but I just don't know what its future will be.''

''I feel that I have lived up to my promise that councilmen will be allowed to speak their views. They are not gavelled down at meetings. They can speak their minds-- even when I totally disagree with them.''

''Some people think that you can just wave a magic wand and solve the city's problems but that just isn't true. I didn't have any illusions about snapping my fingers or waving a wand. I know my feelings were different from the majority of the previous council and we're still finding out what this new council is all about. The lack of a willing, cooperative council at first was a great problem. I was constantly in the minority with them and that made it extremely difficult to get the things I wanted done.''

''I don't believe Gene Rude, Roland Paulsgrove and Bill Hayes lost their seats primarily because they supported the burning ban. I think the voters saw what I saw-- that at times it seemed like they were voting to be a block just to try to embarrass me. That doesn't put the city first. There were times, they weren't even sticking to the issues.''

While not seeing it as the major factor in the defeat of three burning-ban supporters, Sheehan thinks the issue will be revisited soon. ''The administration is looking at all sorts of options to enhance leaf and yard waste pickup but I think we may see some sort of limited burning. I personally don't favor leaf burning but I could support some sort of burning of large limbs.''

Since becoming mayor, Sheehan has quit his full-time job at Midwest Photo Service. He's back working parttime but agrees that mayoring takes up a lot of time. ''I felt I was doing too many things at once, what with mayoring and working and coaching. You have to make personal choices for yourself and I chose to forfeit the full-time job.'' Both of his two predecessors had similar problems juggling mayoral duties and full-time employment but Sheehan is not willing to say the mayor's job should be full-time. ''I'd say I average about 20-30 hours a week on mayoral duties,'' added Sheehan. ''The job comes in spurts; there are some quiet times but there are weeks when I seem to get no time to myself. There is a lot of reading and preparation for meetings. I try to read every document in my packets and that's probably over 100 pages each meeting-- not including the bills and other regular items.''

''In addition, people call me at home, stop me when I'm out, talk to me at work. I can't go to a restaurant or the movies in town without talking about some city issue with somebody. Then the press calls a few times a week to talk about various things.''

''I don't want people to think I don't like work; I do. I'm back working part-time and it does help with the cash flow. I'm too much of a perfectionist and I wasn't able to get everything done as well as I liked; I've changed that as I realized that sometimes it's more important to just get things done.''

Being mayor has changed the way Sheehan looks at things in the city, too. ''I can't walk down a street or sidewalk without noticing things I never paid attention to before. I look at the surface, the bricks or the blacktop or the concrete, the width of the street, the drainage and make mental notes.''

While taking credit for some of the openness he's brought to city government, Sheehan still sees a lot of room for improvement.'' It hasn't been an unqualified success getting new people involved with boards and commissions. We still need new people all the time.''

''Overall, it's been challenging but rewarding. I wish we could have done more to downsize signs and more on the Henderson Street utility lines issues but we made some strides.''

He sees some major construction in the city's future: ''There will be several large projects I hope we'll soon undertake: rehabilitating the Lake Storey pavilion; constructing a major well-planned southside park; relocating the Maple Avenue fire station; relocating the public works department and filling in sidewalk gaps. I'm guessing we'll be looking at a $5-6 million bond issue to do those which we can easily afford without raising any taxes.''

''In addition, I think the study we've commissioned will show it's feasible for us to operate a fiber optic network in town and provide access to many services for our residents and businesses. I'd like to see us work with redeveloping the second stories of downtown buildings for residential use. I know there are many code problems but other cities have done this successfully and it's brought new life to their downtowns. I'd like to see expanded biking and hiking trails-- at least a complete loop around Lake Storey and maybe a path around the new southside park. I'd like to see expanded public transportation.''

He also sees other areas that need to be addressed in his term: ''I'd like to see the city be a little more aggressive on housing and demolition. If you could raze a few homes on W. Tompkins St. or W. South St. or Monmouth Blvd., those neighborhoods could be primed for redevelopment.''

Sheehan thinks the administration does a very good job. ''There is more communication and openness than I ever expected. Sometimes the amount of information is overwhelming. Gary [City Manager Goddard] doesn't tell us what to think. He provides information and guidelines rather than making councilmembers feel they have no choice.''When an issue comes up from a councilmember, such as Karen Lafferty's belief that the city should be running tourism, Goddard dealt with it properly. I give Karen a lot of credit for being professional on that issue even though I didn't agree with her; she was willing to compromise so that the welcome center could be opened.''

Despite his frustrations, Sheehan intends to run for a second term. He hopes that working with the current, supportive city council should give him an opportunity to showcase his issues and goals. Councilmember Rick Sundberg and former Councilmember Gene Rude are reportedly considering challenging him in 2001.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online August 13, 1999

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