Triumphant trio: Three newcomers who will change the face of the Galesburg City Council

 

by Mike Kroll

 

Three challengers soundly defeated incumbent Galesburg City Council members in the recent election. Ken Goad and Mike Lummis, of Wards 1 and 7 respectively, prevailed by three-to-one while Russell Fleming received received double the votes of his principal opponent in Ward 3. The new aldermen ran on platforms of changing how the Galesburg City Council operates and feel that they bring a strong voter mandate to this cause.

While on the one hand these are three very different men from divergent backgrounds and experience they share many of the same concerns about how the Galesburg City Council operates. Perhaps most importantly, they seem very comfortable with themselves and one another and eager to work together toward implementing changes. Although no one said as much they appeared to genuinely like one another and were at ease in both agreement and disagreement. While all three exude a quiet self-confidence none seemed full of himself nor prone to the self-aggrandizement that has all too often characterized some aldermen. All bring a strong sense of skepticism, an unwillingness to accept tradition as a justification for city policy, and impatience for change.

 “This prevailing notion that pointing out flaws and looking for ways to fix things is negative thinking has got to stop,” said Fleming. “We can't afford to keep doing things that don't work just because that's always been the way we do such things in Galesburg,” added Lummis. All three see a more active role for the city council than has generally been the case in Galesburg. “The city council has depended way too much on guidance from the city manager and staff rather than discussing policy and priorities among themselves,” noted Goad. “The voters elected the city council to make policy and we hire city staff to implement it. The staff should bring the necessary information to the city council but it must be the council itself that determines what we do.”

The three feel a strong sense of accountability to the citizens. While all view new city manager Dane Bragg as a major improvement over Gary Goddard they reject the easy explanation of blaming Goddard for every problem. The view seems to be that if a city manager runs amok it must be with either the acquiescence or tacit approval of the city council. There is uniformity of opinion that city government must be more open and transparent to the citizens.

“Too many important issues are not fully and completely discussed in open meetings,” noted Goad. “Some things really do need to remain confidential but nowhere near as mush as is today. Just because it might be embarrassing to discuss a problem publicly doesn't mean such discussion shouldn't be done. The citizens have a right to know what the city is doing and why and city council members shouldn't be made to feel that they must go along with something they don't agree with just because it looks best to publicly appear united.”

Lummis added, “There seem to be far too many 7-0 votes on significant issues where there has been little or no substantial public discussion by the city council. I believe that with the three of us this will happen less often. We also need to treat our constituents with greater respect when they seek to address the city council. There should always be time and opportunity for public input both before and during meetings. Better use of first and second readings of agenda items would improve this as well.”

“And too many items are rushed through the agenda,” commented Fleming. “I want to see a big decrease in the suspending of rules to vote on items with only one reading. This isn't fair to the citizens who often are blindsided by such maneuvers. Furthermore, the city council agenda should be prepared and made public earlier than the Friday before a Monday night meeting. I would like to see this agenda put on the city website at least a week prior to a city council meeting. This gives aldermen and the public alike an opportunity to ponder and discuss items before the meeting. Just because someone is incapable of planning well enough ahead to have the material ready soon enough doesn't mean we should rush the process. Rushing to vote on items is a recipe for decision we will later regret.”

“Agendas need to be more balanced from meeting to meeting,” said Goad. “No more than two or three controversial or critical items should be put on a single agenda so the city council can devote the time necessary to discussing these items. And the various reports and proclamations need to be limited on each agenda as well. In the last city council meeting well over an hour had passed before the city council began work on the actual agenda. We should also reorder agenda items so that related items are discussed together rather than being sprinkled throughout the agenda. And when the city is paying experts to speak on an agenda item we should move this item to the front of the agenda and minimize the amount of time the citizens pay an attorney or consultant to sit in the audience on the clock waiting for their item to come up.”

They were unanimous in identifying the water system and economic development as the city's top priorities. With respect to the water system they are appalled that the city would fail to properly maintain the water system to the extent that it is in such crisis today. While none believe it will be popular all three feel that substantial increases to Galesburg's water rates are unavoidable this summer.

“We will be looking at increases well beyond the five percent cap in place on the outside municipal contracts and it would be unfair not to extend the same increase to ALL water customers,” said Fleming. Added Lummis. “The residents of Abingdon, East Galesburg and Knoxville have just as much reason to want us to maintain and improve the water system as our own citizens and they should accept a proportional burden of the cost.”

“Why is it that during all these discussions of the water system and its problems the city council has never been afforded the opportunity to ask the water superintendent directly about the condition of the system?” noted Goad. “When there are important issues before the city council the city manager should make the most relevant city employee available to answer city council questions-- not just his boss or his boss's boss who are frequently less familiar with the issue.”

The three welcome creation of a new city director of economic development but given the record of non-performance by the Galesburg Regional Economic Development Association they question the value of continuing to fund GREDA. “With the turning over of responsibility of the Logistics Park and hiring a dedicated city employee why should the city continue funding GREDA?” ask all three. They also wonder just how much more money should be spend to court the Chinese.

All three would like to see the city take the lead in formation of an electricity buying group that could serve both business and residential electric customers. And this needn't be limited just to Galesburg noted Lummis who feels a regional group just might be an answer to skyrocketing utility rates from AmerenIP. Lummis would also like to see more encouragement to the construction of wind mills and other environmentally friendly forms of local electricity generation perhaps in concert with School District 205 or Carl Sandburg College.

For incoming first-time city council members these three have clearly put more thought and commitment into some of their goals than has been the case with even longtime Galesburg City Council members. All eschewed any intent to grandstand as aldermen but they also promise not to be cowed or cooped by defenders of the status quo. We have heard that before only to be disappointed soon thereafter. Perhaps this time things will be different.

 

3 May 07