Leave It to Peever

by Bruce Weik

Galesburg: This century's ten biggest blunders

1. It was established early in Galesburg's history that the ''insiders'' would run the show. If you were homebred, White, Protestant, Republican and male, you had a shot at it. Of course, this is not terribly unusual for small rural Midwestern towns. The hometown boys take charge and generally don't want to give it up. It doesn't take a genius to see this. In Galesburg, the names Custer and Pritchard became synonymous with influence. Inside rule is generally helpful to a community in the beginning but it relatively quickly becomes incestuous and begins feeding off itself, with isolationism, obstructionism and ''special deals'' taking over and sold as progress. Eventually things begin to decline, what with the lack of diversity, open discussion, creativity and ''outsiders'' questioning the stagnation and status quo. This is where Galesburg has been, and to some extent, continues to be. We will enter the new millennium still not totally recovered from Galesburg's rule by insiders. ''Home rule'' takes on a whole new meaning here.

2. Galesburg had a beautiful library that was destroyed by fire in 1959. ln its place they built a factory-like building that from the very beginning was inadequate, both functionally and psychologically. A library should be a magnificent structure. It should call people to it to partake of its goods, to sit around and read and discuss what they think. lt, in many respects, should be the center of town. Today, in a somewhat perverse and trivial manner, malls have taken over this function. It was a poor lack of insight. Hindsight has it as a cheap move, which is not uncommon.

3. In a sign of the times, Galesburg moved to a mayor-council-manager form of government. While hoping a city manager might take politics out of the decision making process and produce a more professional approach, the experiment has been a dismal failure. Now, instead of an elected mayor running the show, you have an appointed manager and various department heads in charge, none of whom are elected, and all of whom stay in their positions way too long. This makes for a bottom up political system where the citizens cannot remove by vote individuals who are no longer making useful contributions for the public good. It was something of a slight of hand.

4. Galesburg's zoning ordinances are a hindrance to progress and a death sentence for the downtown. There was no one here who was brave enough, smart enough, or stubborn enough to take a different path than every other town in the country was taking. Zoning is currently designed to destroy downtown areas and create urban sprawl. The zoning and building ordinances and codes that prevail support a type of development that moves away from creating diverse, inclusive, closely knit communities to allowing for White, upper-class suburbs. The sprawl covers up valuable farmland which miraculously becomes expendable the minute a large corporation shows interest. And on top of it, we give these multi-million dollar corporations tax incentives that they don't need, which would be much better used to restore downtown areas. What we do get are beautiful Henderson and East Main streets, which God only knows we deserve.

5. Galesburg had a magnificent downtown. There were no better. It went to hell in a handbasket. We've been blundering around ever since. The biggest reason for such a decline has been the zoning ordinances. We have zoned away the usefulness of downtown America. Now we think that by prettying it up with fancy gimmicks we can restore it to its former glory. It will take much more than green paint and some fancy arches. It will take a major change of heart, which I'm not so sure we possess.

6. Building a prison in a community is a losing proposition offered as hope to downward spiraling cities in a desperate effort to not bottom out. Prisons are born out of negativity and generally produce little else They provide no rehabilitation to inmates, produce little deterrence, hold overwhelmingly minority persons, house mainly minor drug violators, use up tremendous amounts of tax dollars, and do nothing to help the soul retrieve itself from despair. It was a lousy idea Galesburg's leaders drooled over and wanted more of. It was more political than practical.

7. Inviting Carmen Viana to town is one of those blunders the boys would like to forget about. The savior of Galesburg show up with a skirt up to her thighs and eyes like a panther. ''I will give you good paying jobs and lots of them.'' She neglected to mention what she would take, which was for the most part our money and dignity. It did certainly teach us a lesson: Never do business with your crotch. Or anyone else's.

8. Getting a ''free'' visitors center that ends up costing us somewhere in the neighborhood of $285,000 is one of our most recent blunders. This is obviously extreme overkill that has nothing to do with helping the image or attractability of Galesburg as a place where people may want to move to, but has everything to do with poor planning and lack of vision. The EDC and Chamber take great pride in such feats. This continuing craziness is nothing to be proud of.

9. That the City Council is even vaguely considering operating its own cable system is a potential blunder of immeasurable proportions. That they believe they can run anything is scary, but to try and compete in a multi-billion dollar industry is ludicrous. It would be a slaughter. The Council needs to get over their anger with TCI after having been made fools of and forget it. They say a fool is born every second. I can't figure out how we manage to elect them all.

10. Here's to the blunders yet to be made in the new century -- the new millennium. Alas, we are but mere humans attempting to do our best in spite of it all. Like they say: If it weren't for blunders, there'd be no fun at all.

P.S. An emergency future blunder has come up. Joe Patterson has prophesied that Norm will buy the Register-Mail in October of next year. It is said he will pay $12 million. This would clearly qualify as a colossal blunder to the tune of about $11.50 million. However, Mr. Patterson does see Norm closing the paper in November, which more than makes up for the price blunder.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online December 15, 1999

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