City Beat: Some Public Officials Prepare Diligently For Meetings, Others Do Not
THE city councilman was irritated that one of his pet projects had not been on the agenda. He turned to the mayor and sternly said: “Mr. Mayor. I have asked repeatedly that what I’ve been working so hard on be on the agenda for a vote. When is that going to be on the agenda?”
Although that happened years ago when I was in my first term as Decatur’s mayor the memory came to mind as I was writing this column. I had a really good answer for the councilman. I told him that if he would read his packet, the item was on the agenda for that meeting!
It was apparent that he had come to the council meeting without even looking at what was on the agenda, or the information about each agenda item that was also in the council packet!
Back then, the mayor and city council members received the information for the Monday evening city council meeting on the previous Thursday. The agenda items and accompanying information, came in a sealed manila envelope. That gave everyone serving on council several days (including a weekend) to look over the agenda and get more information, if needed, before attending Monday’s meeting.
Over the years some members of council were very conscientious in doing their homework in getting prepared for council meetings. Others, not so much.
ONE OF the tell-tale signs that a member of council had not done his or her homework was when, before the council meeting started, they had to tear open the manila envelope to get the information inside — meaning the chances were great that they had not seen what was inside until just before the meeting started.
I GUESS what prompted me to think of public servants doing their homework through information provided to them by staff, was the recent approval in Congress of the $1.5 trillion Federal Spending Bill. Even a PBS story indicated the price tag was “a lot of money”.
Considering the bill was 2,741 pages long, it is highly unlikely most members of the Senate and House read it or knew everything that was in the bill.
Adam Andrzejewski, Founder and CEO of OpenTheBooks.com, says that “The bill is over 2,700 pages – the length of ten books. “Congress had less than one day to read the bill before they voted. President Biden has already signed off — a $1.5 trillion omnibus spending bill. Magic! “Do we really have a representative republic if our representatives don’t even know what they are voting on?”
HOW MUCH of what our representatives in Congress pass on to the taxpayers is actually read by them — or even their staff? Remember Nancy Pelosi’s famous quote regarding Obamacare? She said: “We need to pass it so we can find out what’s in it.” I realize that technology has made it possible for elected officials to garner a lot more information in the digital age. However, whether a person is serving on the city council or in Congress, or any other public office, it is important to do homework before casting votes that impact our lives and hit our wallets. Passing legislation or city ordinances without being fully informed hurts all of us. Maybe the most important question a candidate for public office should be asked is: “Are you going to do your homework before voting to spend my hard-earned tax money?”
GOOD MOVE — Last week, the Illinois House of Representatives approved a resolution (HJR 51) sponsored by State Representative Dan Caulkins (R-Decatur) to honor the life of Decatur native, Officer Chris Oberheim who was killed on the morning of May 19, 2021 while responding to a domestic disturbance in Champaign.
Caulkins said, “Officer Oberheim served and protected central Illinois for over twenty years, he made the ultimate sacrifice for our safety. Dedicating a portion of Route 51 in Decatur will honor the sacrifice he made for the people of Illinois and let us not forget his bravery and commitment to central Illinois.” Upon adoption by the Illinois General Assembly, a portion of South Side Drive in Decatur from Route 51 to Route 48 will be designated as the “Officer Chris Oberheim Memorial Highway”.
That’s a great move, Dan! As someone who drives Route 48 and Route 51 to and from my office, I’m pleased that a portion of South Side Drive honors a genuine hero. I also hope that Route 51 and 48 will receive needed road improvements in the near future so, as we drive that stretch of road we can remember Officer Chris Oberheim instead of how rough the highway is to drive.
I know I write a lot about the condition of the roads leading in and out of Decatur, but apparently a lot of you feel the same way about the terrible shape of those state routes. Terry Howley, my predecessor in the mayor’s office, sent me an email following last week’s column: “I have inquired about when this highway is scheduled for re-paving … having gone to IDOT and our elected state officials. I get the same response year after year: ‘it is included in our 5 year plan’. “Or, ‘it is included in our 10 year plan.’
“This has been on-going for well over a decade. Rt 51 South from Forsyth to Eldorado is a complete embarrassment. Rt 51 North from Elwin to Pershing Rd is almost as bad.”
Terry also got a response from State Representative Sue Scherer of Decatur about the delay in the Route 51 improvement: “The year that roadwork was to be done, about 3 years ago, the city decided they wanted a whole new plan with green space and narrow the lanes. Now they have to do all new engineering. I was not in favor. But the city took an open vote last May. I attended the council meeting. No one disagreed, so my job is to do as the voters decide.”
I JOIN Brian Byers on WSOY’s Byers & Co. every Thursday morning at 7:00.