• GOOD NEWS — I couldn’t help but notice an item in the EDC of Decatur & Macon County’s recent newsletter that Decatur was ranked fourth in the nation as a best place to work in manufacturing in 2020. “SmartAsset ranked the nation’s “Best Places to Work in Manufacturing” by comparing nearly 400 metro areas across the following metrics: manufacturing as a percentage of the workforce, job and income growth between 2015 and 2019, job and income growth between 2017 and 2018, housing costs as a percentage of income, and unemployment.
“From these findings, the financial technology company concluded that Decatur, IL saw income for manufacturing jobs increase by 33.08%, the fourth-highest increase in the study. The ranking also mentioned Decatur’s affordable housing was the fifth-lowest rate for the metric across all 378 metro areas.”
That’s certainly good news to help get the new year started in a positive way!
• I HAD a phone conversation a few days ago with Ed Culp, one of the better known of the 13 candidates running for three city council seats in the Feb. 23 Primary Election. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for candidates for any office to get their message out to the public in a “personal way” with the absence of fundraisers, meetings and community events (like parades), Culp told me that he is picking up support and donations for his campaign. Culp wants to work to bring more business to the community and make Decatur a place where people want to live and raise their children. Former Macon County Sheriff and City Councilman Jerry Dawson is the chairman of Culp’s campaign and certainly his presence in that position is an added boost of support for Culp.
• THE BEST known of the 13 candidates, of course, are the two incumbents running for re-election: David Horn and Chuck Kuhle. That kind of name recognition is a double-edge sword revolving around the kind of job the voters feel the incumbents have done during their first term. If voters generally feel that an incumbent has done a good job as a councilman, the name recognition is a positive. If the voters feel that the councilman has done a poor job during his first term, name recognition, of course, is a negative.
• THIRD time a charm? Decatur City Council Candidate Marty Watkins is running for a council seat for the third time and it is apparent that he learned a lot about running for the office from his previous two attempts. He told me when he declared himself a candidate for the third time, that people should know that he is serious about winning the office. Watkins is showing that determination through keeping his name before the public from the start of his campaign, through explaining his platform, forcusing on community issues and advertising in the media since before Christmas. During a time when it is extremely difficult for any candidate to get much exposure for their campaign, Watkins is serious about keeping his name before the public.
• TWO other candidates for the city council have been unsuccessful candidates before this campaign. Jacob Jenkins was one of the candidates for mayor in 2019 and John Phillips was a candidate for city council. The fact that candidates keep running after being defeated the first or second time they campaigned for public office is not unusual. In fact, a few members of the present city council had run in previous elections before they were finally successful in winning a seat. Their interest in serving on council spanned many years. Councilman Bill Faber ran unsuccessfully for a council seat in 2003, in the same election where I won my first term as mayor. It would be another 12 years before he was successful in winning a seat on council and two years ago he was re-elected to his second term. Councilman Patrick McDaniel was one of my opponents for mayor in the 2003 Primary Election. Although he didn’t win, he stayed interested in the city council and worked for the Tribune covering council meetings for several years. He also didn’t give up on running for council and served a decade after winning a council seat. McDaniel is not running for re-election this year, choosing to retire from council after ten years of service. His seat is the one of three that will definitely see a new councilmember when the April Consolidation Election is over. David Horn and Chuck Kuhle hold the other two seats up for election this time — and they are running for re-election to those positions. Including Horn and Kuhle, five of the 13 candidates have run for council or mayor previous to this election.
• ONE interesting aspect, at least to me, of this city council race with 13 candidates, is that they are all men. I was editor of this newspaper when the first woman, Carol A. Brandt, was elected to council in 1975. I wrote about that part of Decatur’s history when Carol, who was a friend during that campaign and all the years since, passed away last year. Since then, many women have been elected to our city council and present mayor, Julie Moore Wolfe, is the first woman elected to that office.
Unlike years ago, I don’t think anyone judges a city council candidate on gender or race, but on qualifications for the office. “Qualifications” should be the only criteria in voting for a mayor or city council member — or any other office —not gender or race. This community, more than most, has demonstrated a willingness to look objectively at a candidate’s experience, qualifications and agenda in voting him or her into office. That’s very healthy for good candidates and the election process.
• EVEN though the Consolidated Primary Election will be held on Feb. 23rd, early voting starts this week on Thursday and Friday, January 14 and 15, from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm at 141 South Main Street, Room 119, in Decatur. (A full schedule of early voting days and times is on page 13 of this week’s print and online editions of the Tribune.)
The 13 candidates for city council are: incumbent David Horn, incumbent Chuck Kuhle, Marty Watkins, Ed Culp, William (Will) Wetzel, Elijah England, Aldophia D. Cooper, Hardik J. Shah, Jacob Jenkins, John Phillips, Marc Girdler and write-in candidate Eric Summerlott. (We usually print a specimen ballot in the print edition a few weeks before each election so voters are able to see what they will be viewing when they show up at the polls.)
The vote totals of the Feb. 23 election will result in the six candidates with the highest vote totals moving on to the April 6th Consolidated Election when three of the six candidates will be elected to the three four-year term council seats. The candidates will also be listed on the ballot in the April 6th election in the order they finished in the Feb. 23 primary. Make no mistake, considering the issues involved and what the community is going through right now, this will be one of the most important city council elections in a long time — and will determine how the city moves ahead in the months and years ahead.
• QUESTION on ballot? A petition for an advisory referendum was received in the Office of the Decatur City Clerk on Monday, January 4, 2021. The public question asks, “Should the city of Decatur allow the sale of recreational cannabis and cannabis-infused products to adults 21 and older?”
The question will be placed on the ballot in the Consolidated Election on Tuesday, April 6, 2021.
However, on January 8, 2021, an objection was filed to the Petition for Referendum. The Municipal Officers Electoral Board will hold a hearing on Thursday, January 14, 2021 at 11:00 A.M. in the Decatur Civic Center Theater, #1 Gary K. Anderson Plaza, Decatur, to consider the objection. The hearing is open to the public. More details on that hearing can be found on page 27 of the print and online editions of the Tribune.
• TOUGH TIME — While there is an increasing demand for local bars and restaurants, and other businesses, to have fewer restrictions in being able to remain open, members of the Decatur City Council Monday night tabled a decision regarding whether or not to reopen bars and restaurants until the week of Jan. 18. That came after a study session on the subject. The council wants to wait until Gov. JB Pritzker makes a decision this week on whether or not Region 6, which includes the Decatur area, meets statewide mitigations for moving down from Tier 3 mitigations, which allow indoor restaurant service.
• WHILE the city council is waiting a week before making a decision on relaxing restrictions, the Macon County Board’s Environment, Education, Health and Wellness Committee met Tuesday evening to discuss the Macon County Health Department’s role in enforcing COVID restrictions as they relate to indoor dining at local restaurants.
“We would like to discuss what does not constitute eminent hazards and prohibit the enforcement by County Agencies of State Executive Branch mandates, directives or regulations as it relates to Covid,” stated information from the board about the meeting.
As a result of Tuesday’s committee meeting it was decided that modification of the county health department’s COVID-19 mitigation enforcement authority be implemented and the state’s attorney be asked to draw up the modifications. That, at least, was the committee’s decision.
There is a lot of restlessness regarding the economic impact on local businesses of present COVID restrictions. Any approval by the full board of a proposal to modify the authority of the Macon County Health Department, would take away its authority to enforce COVID-19 mitigations.
That was of definite concern to Macon County Public Health Administrator Brandi Binkley, who spoke at Monday night’s city council meeting and indicated that if action was taken against the health department it would not be able to shut down bars and restaurants for violating COVID-19 mitigation measures. She indicated that if the city council decided to open bars and restaurants, her department would have no enforcement actions available. That would put the health department in the position of not being able to protect the public from the spread of COVID-19 and additional deaths from it.
• IF REGION 6, including Decatur and Macon County, is forced to continue to operate with restrictive measures for local businesses, I would expect action from both the city council and Macon County Board to loosen local restrictions on bars and restaurants in the near future. The decision of any public body that tries to balance the health of its citizens with the economic well-being of the business community is a tough one, but it appears to me that Decatur and Macon County will not continue to operate in the same restrictive mode imposed by the governor.
• THERE IS no question that the top priority of the city council and the Macon County Board should be the health and welfare of the residents of this area. The number two priority should be finding a middle ground to allow the business community to operate in as safe an environment as possible. That may take the wisdom of Solomon to balance those two priorities with the lives of citizens and of the business community hanging in the choices these public bodies make in their respective positions. Serving the overall community’s good has never been more difficult than during this pandemic.
• TOM Emery’s article about Abraham Lincoln‘s Second Inaugural Speech starting on the front page of this week’s print and online editions of the Tribune, is a solid reminder of the words and actions needed to heal a badly divided nation. The Union was winning the Civil War but Lincoln did not gloat over the pending victory, but concentrated on healing the wounds inflicted on both sides of the conflict. That’s what made him a great President of the United States. He understood that a divided nation could not stand.
It’s too bad that so many of our political leaders on both sides of the aisle cannot follow Lincoln’s example as a path of reconcilation for all Americans. Of course, as Emery points out in his article, six weeks after Lincoln delivered his “with malice toward none, with charity for all” speech, he was assassinated.
• I JOIN Brian Byers on WSOY’s Byers & Co. every Thursday morning at 7:00 for the City Hall Insider. I always enjoy discussing the issues impacting our community with Brian and sharing perspectives on making our community better — and safer.