CITY BEAT: SOLUTIONS TO PROBLEMS THAT SEEM SO SIMPLE ARE NOT REALLY THAT SIMPLE
A person who still held out hope that the Decatur Celebration is not over forever — as was announced June 16th in a letter by the Celebration Board — wrote on our website: “Please DONT stop having the Decatur Celebration…. So many people love and look forward to attending this event. Close and far away they come to celebrate with this awesome event. Why don’t you start charging a small fee to get in and that will help everyone out? This event is worth a $5 fee for free entertainment of all kinds. Just a thought so we don’t have to lose the event all together. This is so sad.”
The simple, sincere solution the writer offered was to charge a $5 fee for each person attending in order to keep it going. Simple solution to keep the Celebration going? Not really. The Celebration has been charging admission for several years (remember wristbands?) and tried every possible way in recent years to keep the event going, including the reduction of the size of the footprint in the downtown area. The Celebration Board explained in its letter June 16th that “We have met with local entities with hopes of establishing a mutually beneficial partnership to prolong the longevity of the organization, to no avail. So, it is with a heavy heart, we announce that Decatur Celebration, Inc. has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and thus produced its final street festival, French Fried 5K and Scream Haunted House.”
This year’s Decatur Celebration was scheduled for August 6-8 and as we draw closer to that date, a lot of thoughts about missing the event will continue to come into my mailbox. I know that out-of-state families often planned their vacations the same week as the Celebration and for so many years, the event was the last big blast of summer before thoughts turned towards Labor Day and the beginning of the school years. Believe me, the Decatur Celebration would not have lasted as long as it did without some very dedicated people finding ways to keep it going and they deserve our thanks.
There was no simple solution to saving the Celebration. However, the good news is that we have so many other events and places active that we didn’t have, or had in greatly reduced form, when the Celebration began — like Splash Cove, The Devon Amphitheater, the Children’s Museum, Scovill Zoo, Red Tail Run — and the list goes on. As I’ve mentioned in this column before, I was downtown for every one of the Decatur Celebrations and will miss the excitement and all of the vendors who were there. However, it had a great run — far longer than most festivals of its kind — and made a lot of great memories which remain.
• I THINK all of us would like to see “simple solutions” to the problems that confront us, whether it is a street festival or city government. Facebook is filled with “experts” who know how to handle everything city leaders face with simple solutions. While input on problems facing a community is always a good, people need to remember that there are reasons some “simple solutions” aren’t used by those who represent us — sometimes it is because the “simple solution” offered to a city problem is against the law! Solutions to problems can seem so simple when we look from the outside towards the inside where the elected officials make decisions.
As someone who presided, as mayor, over the city council for years, I can tell you what I learned about city government from being on the “inside” was many times far different than what I knew as a newspaper editor covering the city council — “from the outside looking in”. Obviously, I’ve been on both sides of the table at council meetings and I know from experience the answers to major problems usually do not have simple, obvious solutions. They are much more involved which is why legal counsel is present, not only during council meetings, in closed meetings and planning tactics. One of the first aspects to consider as a mayor, or councilmember is the legal guidelines for resolution. That’s why City of Decatur Corporation Counsel Wendy Morthland had all of my respect when I served as mayor and still has today as she continues to advise city leaders. Decatur is blessed to have her.
• COVID-19 Variant Strains of Concern have been confirmed in Macon County during the past week. The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the Macon County Health Department (MCHD) have identified 237 variant COVID-19 cases in Macon County. Thus far, there have been six variants and the numbers of cases are as follows: • 141 cases of B.1.1.7 (UK variant) • 84 cases of P .1 (Brazil variant) • 6 cases of B.1.429 (California variant) • 4 cases of B.1.351 (South Africa variant) • 1 case of B.1.427 (California variant) • 1 case of B.1.617.2 (Delta variant) Since the MCHD’s last report on July 2, there have been 31 total new COVID-19 cases reported, bringing the total number of COVID-19 cases to 11,069 since the start of the pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, variants of concern are those in “which there is evidence of an increase in transmissibility, more severe disease (increased hospitalizations or deaths), significant reduction in neutralization by antibodies generated during previous infection or vaccination, reduced effectiveness of treatments or vaccines, or diagnostic detection failures.”
“When a person is diagnosed with one of the variants of concern, a 14-day quarantine is the recommended course of action to limit the spread of the illness further into the community. We continue to urge our community to follow the public health measures intended to limit the spread of illness and the negative consequences associated with contraction of COVID-19. Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least twenty seconds. If there is no access to water and soap, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol until soap and water is available. Consider getting one of the three COVID-19 vaccines available.”
• ANOTHER VICTIM — Sunday morning, at approximately 1:46, the Decatur Police Department responded to the intersection of Edward and Main, in reference to a person being shot inside a vehicle. When police arrived, they found a 44-year-old Decatur man, who had suffered in-juries from gunfire. Shomari T. Page was pronounced dead at the scene. The investigation is on-going, with the processing of the crime scene and interviewing of witnesses. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Decatur Police Dept. or Crimestoppers. The number for the Police Department is 217-424-2711 and the number for Crimestoppers is 217-423-8477.
It seems that hardly a day passes without someone being shot in Decatur or another Central Illinois community. Quite frankly, more people are telling me they are afraid to leave home either because of lingering COVID-19 concerns or fear of being shot, than I’ve ever heard before. It’s not just a Decatur problem. Champaign, Urbana, Danville and Springfield have also experienced numerous incidents of gun violence in recent months. Police Departments need the public’s help in getting gun violence on our streets under control.
POLICE CHIEF RETIRES — Last week, Decatur Police Chief Jim Getz, issued a statement announcing his retirement. Getz stated: “Effective Friday, July 30, 2021, I will be retiring from the Decatur Police Department. I want to thank all the Officers and Staff that I have worked with throughout my career. Without all of them the Decatur Police Department would not be a great Police Department. I want to thank the Citizens who have supported the Police Department throughout my over 5 years as Chief of Police. I want to thank the City for giving me the opportunity to serve as Chief of Police of the City I grew up in. As a poor kid growing up, I never imagined having such an opportunity. “I am beyond humbled for being able to lead the Decatur Police Department through some of toughest times in law enforcement. I could not have done without the support of my staff, family, and the great citizens of Decatur. Please continue to support this great Police Department and its Officers.”
I certainly wish Chief Getz the very best in his retirement, but I do hate to see him leave. He has done an incredible job during an extremely difficult time in our city’s history. Thank you.
• DECATUR CITY MANAGER Scot Wrighton will be the one who decides on the person who will be the next police chief. Although the mayor and city council are impacted by the choice, that comes under the authority of the city manager. When a police chief was chosen during the years I served as mayor, the city manager met with me to fill me in on the person he had chosen before the announcement was officially made — and gave me the reasons that person was chosen. I would think the same kind of conversation will take place between the present mayor and Wrighton. Also, I would think the promotion to chief would be from within the ranks of the Decatur Police Department instead of searching outside the city. Years ago, then City Manager Jim Bacon, selected a police chief from outside the local ranks and that went over like a lead balloon! We have always been blessed with highly qualified police officers within our local department to fill the position of chief and, knowing that, it is not good for morale in the department to bring someone in from the outside — especially during a period in which law enforcement has not been treated with the respect they deserve.
• SURVEY — The City of Decatur has hired Hotel & Leisure Advisors to perform a highest and best use analysis of the Decatur Civic Center. “The purpose of the analysis is to analyze the Decatur Civic Center facility and make recommendations for possible improvements or new components to add to the facility to improve its viability. As a member of the Decatur community, your feedback is greatly appreciated. This survey should take no more than five minutes and all responses are anonymous.”
You can find the survey at www.decaturil.gov
It seems to me that defining what all of the space in the civic center should be used for has been a chronic problem since the day it opened. Solving that problem has been made more difficult because other places have been built that are more attractive to users. I remember attending some concerts, such as the Statler Brothers, in the civic center arena years ago. Today, such acts would be booked at The Devon. In fact, the Oak Ridge Boys played at The Devon a week ago. Although the main purpose of the civic center was to provide offices for city government, in my opinion, it was built for the needs “back in the day” without an eye towards what it could become in the future. More than anything else, the Decatur Civic Center needs to better define how it fits in with the needs of the community and how it can offer something different than exists in any other part of the city. That’s going to be tough.
• I’VE MENTIONED this before, but I don’t think there’s ever been a time when I’ve seen so many crazy drivers in our city. They blast through intersections after the traffic signal on their route turns red quite-a-while before they get there! On my way to the office the other morning, I saw one driver weaving his car in and out of traffic on South Franklin Street and when he got to the intersection with Decatur Street, and the other cars stopped for the red light, he blasted through the parking lot on the corner and sped on down Decatur Street, instead of waiting a few seconds for the light to turn green! Another driver had his car in front of mine in the left turn lane at Pershing and MLK and when the left turn signal stayed on red, he decided he had waited long enough and took off making the left turn to MLK on red! Maybe people who drive that recklessly have an urgent call to nature and they have to get to a restroom…FAST!
• I JOIN Brian Byers on WSOY’s Byers & Co, every Thursday morning at 7:00. I promise not to drive crazy getting to the studio!