As most of you know by now, the city council held a special public session in the Civic Center Theatre on Sept. 30 to allow citizens to speak about how they felt on whether Decatur should “opt in” or “opt out” of allowing a recreational marijuana dispensary within our city limits. After a couple of hours of listening, discussing and some booing from the “more enlightened” members of the audience, the council voted 6-1 to “opt out” and also voted to not allow growing. cultivation etc. of pot in our community.
Councilman David Horn, who definitely walks to the beat of a different drummer, was the lone vote against opting out, which is certainly his right as a member of the council. Still to be decided is what restrictions should be put on using pot in Decatur — and a lot of other decisions down the road as the state’s legalization of recreational marijuana moves on.
Although some of the comments made by the public were well thought out, others in the audience who chose to disrespect the speakers with an opposite view, including booing Macon County Sheriff Tony Brown, didn’t help their pro-pot position. If you have to defend a position by disrespecting and demeaning the words of someone who has a different view, especially someone who has real life experiences on which to base his or her opinon, then your actions do speak louder than words — and not in a good way.
• CONVINCING? As I mentioned in last week’s column, for several weeks before the vote was taken last week, I had the council, from observations and personal conversations with several people, voting 5-2 to opt out. Obviously, the impact of the pro-pot statements (and the misbehavior of some, not all, members of the audience) didn’t convince even one member of the council to change his or her vote — as I viewed their vote in the weeks leading up to the session. In fact, the pro-pot group lost ground as the end vote was 6-1 to opt out.
• I BELIEVE any citizen-elected body needs to listen to the public’s views and listening is part of being a public servant. I certainly have no problem with that and would, in fact, have a problem if the citizens were ignored. However, we have representative government and we choose our mayor and city council members by vote to represent us in what they feel is best for the city. Although the argument is made that only 18% of the eligible voters chose some of the council members and mayor in the last election, that’s not my fault — or the fault of anyone else who voted. If we don’t like the decisions made by city council members and the mayor, there is an election every two years, which elects half of the council members and the other half, and the mayor, two years beyond that.
Whether or not I always agree with their decisions, they were elected to represent the citizens of this community, not to start counting noses and listening to noise in reaction to another point of view.
• I THINK what I find disturbing, and it was true during the years I served as mayor, is the downright hateful actions and rhetoric that seems to flow out of the sewer from some in most public sessions when an emotional issue is being discussed. Calling a councilmember(s) a racist, and other choice names that I can’t print, is almost a reflection of a general trend of political hate speech that’s happening in our nation today. We’re better people than that — and so is our mayor and council members to be subjected to personal attacks — even about their physical appearance.
• BASIC FACTS: I think what disturbs me the most is the amount of misinformation that is spread via Facebook accounts these days. WAND had a camera at the special session and I checked out some of the many responses to what was going on in the theatre that night. The camera was pretty far away from the stage where the council members were sitting, and I couldn’t help but shake my head at some of the comments — especially about “the ten councilmembers” and that was repeated — along with a statement indicating they were all alcoholics and had been bought off by Howard Buffett. By the way, there are only 6 council members and 1 mayor. The other three people on the stage were the corporation counsel, the city clerk and city manager.
I also liked the comment that, at the next election, “all the council members will be voted out of office” which is a little hard to do because only 3 council seats will be up for election. Facebook is great for keeping track of what family members and friends are doing, but most of the comments regarding the city council have to be considered from where they came. There are honest people with credible opinions on both sides of this particular issue, and my comments are not about them. Some people, who don’t even know the number of councilmembers, probably don’t have much credibility on council issues.
My grandpa Bolin, who lived and died long before the mass communication age, would sometimes comment that a man who would shoot off his mouth about something he didn’t know anything about, was “too silly to be noticed.” Grandpa Bolin had it pegged right — and that comment seems to be even more accurate today than when he uttered those words when I was a child.
• A BIG ‘WELL DONE’ to Brian Byers, Kevin Breheny and everyone connected to the 18th Annual WSOY Community Food Drive that met its goal and much more Friday, raising 1.69 Million pounds of food in 12 hours. The goal of 1.5 million pounds was reached in large part due to a campaign to educate the public that “cash weighs more”. It is hard to fathom that much being collected and all the people, including students, involved in the effort. Numerous times over the years, various leaders from other communities in Illinois have told me that it was hard to imagine their community being as successful in any similar effort.
There is no doubt the people of our area know the meaning of helping others and, every year, they demonstrate in a spirit of unity why what we have in our community is “special”. Agencies that benefit from the Food Drive will be able to purchase food from the Central Illinois Food Bank for 19 cents a pound. Last year, 17 agencies benefited from the food drive. Some of those agencies include the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, Northeast Community Fund, Reasonable Services and Good Samaritan Inn. This year, the top 5 schools were as follows: 1st Place – $2,500 – Eisenhower High School 2nd Place – $1,500 – St Teresa High School 3rd Place – $1,000 – Our Lady of Lourdes 4th Place – $750 – St. Pats 5th Place – $500 – Mt Zion Intermediate The WSOY Community Food Drive gets more exciting every year and has become a solid, beneficial community event that helps so many people — both those who give and those who receive.
• GRAND OPENING — I wasn’t able to attend yesterday’s grand opening of the first two of five healthcare buildings on the “Community Care Campus” because we were going to press about the same time the ribbon was being cut. The project is funded by a $60 million gift from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. I did go the campus Saturday morning and shot the photo to go with the story on page 14 of this edition. Anyone who sees that complex, inside or outside, has to be impressed and inspired. One of the workers getting the area cleaned for the dedication told me that, when he remembers how the area once looked, he is amazed at what has happened there in such a short time. Howard G. Buffett, Chairman and CEO of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, joined Decatur Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe and the team at Crossing Healthcare as they opened the doors of the Crossing Recovery Center at 495 East Central Avenue to serve Decatur and the greater Macon County area.
Anyone who doesn’t appreciate all that Howard G. Buffett and his Foundation have done for this community, probably wouldn’t appreciate anything. Decatur and Macon County certainly owe Howard a debt of gratitude. All you have to do is look around and see what wouldn’t be in Decatur today if he had not invested funds from his foundation to make this community a better place. He also invested himself. Thank you, Howard, for helping to transform the community so many of us love. You are appreciated so much.
• NO SUNSET HERE —The Decatur City Council decided 6-0 Monday evening (Councilman David Horn abstained) to end a sunset on a 4.25% utility tax on natural gas and electricity consumption. The sunset provision would have lowered the rate next year. The sunset language was included when council voted to increase the tax rate in 2015. As is usually the case when sunset language is included with good intentions by most public bodies on tax questions — the sun seldom sets. The reason? The city council and other public bodies need the money and can’t afford to reduce or eliminate a tax. “Sunset” language usually takes some of the heat off of a tax increase, because elected officials will contend that, the increase, or even the whole tax, will have a date to end or “sunset”, so it won’t be permanent. Of course, as is true in most cases, the sun never sets on a tax increase.