Friday, November 18, 2011

Taking Back Peoria.....One vote at a time.

Actually, we need 7,050 of them. Votes that is. According to City Attorney Randall Ray speaking in the article appearing on November 18th in the Journal Star, that's what it will take to force the city council to place a referendum on the ballot to decide if cumulative voting should stay in force, or if we citizens have the right to choose to elect the people who represent us directly. One person, one vote.

I personally think some pretty shady politics are in play when the city council wants to maintain the status quo. They are perfectly aware that no change will be the equivalent of allowing voter apathy to grow. In the Journal Star editorial on November 18th, the estimated current voter turnout is about 20% per election. If that continues, then we can be assured that the City Council will continue to operate as it does now: doing what the minority of citizens think is correct rather than responding to the needs of the community.

According to the minutes of the Peoria City Council meeting this Tuesday last, several Peorians spoke in favor of the 10 and 8 district plans. They even spoke as representatives of various Neighborhood associations, saying their neighborhoods felt there was a need to a change. Whether they favored the 8 member council with 2 at-large positions or the 10 member council with no at-large members, they agreed that cumulative voting should be abandoned for what it is, an utter and dismal failure.

Petition to the City Council of Peoria on behalf of the citizens of Peoria

We, the undersigned citizens and voters of Peoria, formally request that the following referendum be placed on the ballot for the upcoming election in March of 2012:

Shall the citizens and voters of the City of Peoria have the option to consider dividing our city council districts into 10 council districts, each with their own councilperson and no at-large councilpersons, thus eliminating cumulative voting as it currently exists while keeping a City Manager form of government?

There you go, the head of a petition to copy to as many signature lines as you need, and as many copies as you need to make. In the heading of each line, you will need to put a place for Printed Name, Address, Phone Number, and Signature. If enough signatures and petitions are presented to the council, they have no choice but to act in favor of the petition.

Here is an opportunity for the citizens of Peoria to act responsibly and let the city council know not only are we dissatisfied with their current decision, but we are dissatisfied as well with their lack of responsibility in managing the city of Peoria.

I want to acknowledge the help and advice of Mr. Don Cummings in preparing the wording of the petition, as well as the indirect consultation of Randall Ray and Chuck Weaver.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Affirmative Action is Alive and Well and Living in Peoria

Affirmative action was the result of the Civil Rights Act, which was passed in 1964, and enacted into law by President Lyndon Johnson. On September 24th, 1965, he enacted Executive Order 11246 which stated that all government contractors would take “affirmative action” toward the consideration of minority employees. In 1967, the order was amended to include discrimination by gender.

Up until 1997, the Affirmative Action policies were considered the “law of the land”. Less qualified candidates gained admission to colleges, were placed in jobs where better suited candidates were available, were promoted over their more senior co workers, and in general caused the nation to recede in its ability to move forward. Since many candidates for both employment and higher education were clearly unqualified, the claim was made that the tests and requirements for those circumstances were themselves “discriminatory”, based on the quality of an individual's education and social status. This resulted in standards being lowered so that minority candidates could participate.

Affirmative action did more to solidify and establish racism than any prior attempt to equalize the opportunities for all Americans. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are 1,002 registered “hate” organizations in the United States, and these are only those organizations who openly admit to their beliefs.

Today, Affirmative Action is alive and well in the City of Peoria. It is called cumulative voting, and it is a front invented to assure people of color that there is some equity provided by allowing voters to cast multiple votes for a single candidate in the “at-large” elections. In fact, according to an article appearing in the Journal Star on November 13th, only one candidate of color has been elected to an “at-large” council seat since the inception of cumulative voting in 1991.

While this councilman, W. Eric Turner, may have been elected based on that system, his subsequent reelection has been the result of his obvious hard work and political abilities, not cumulative voting. The other candidate who benefits from cumulative voting is Gary Sandberg, often described as a thorn in the mayor's side.

Tuesday, the city council heard arguments concerning redistricting. Since I was not able to attend, I am relying here on the minutes of the council meeting, available to anyone at the Peoria City website.

Had the city council chosen to ask voters to move to a 10 district council in order to both relieve the representative burden now borne by 5 districts, the question would be moot. Mayor Ardis, Riggenbach, Spain, and Gulley voted for the 10 district plan. Akeson, Weaver, Irving, Spears, Turner, and Van Auken voted against the plan. Significantly, Sandberg was once again absent.

Had the city council chosen to ask voters to move to an 8 district council with 2 At-Large members without cumulative voting, the question would be moot. Mayor Ardis, Riggenbach, and Van Auken voted to support such a measure. The remainder of the council did not.

The end result of these two actions? We continue to have 5 districts which will be reapportioned to fit within the requirements of representation, and we will continue electing 5 At-Large representatives with cumulative voting. And cumulative voting is Affirmative Action.

According to the representatives who spoke at the meeting, the cumulative voting does not accomplish what it was intended to accomplish. So are we then saying we will accept the insanity of our current system and hope for different results?

The argument of dividing the city into 10 smaller districts had the most merit in my opinion, since this would allow smaller segments of the population to elect representation from their own districts. And at least 3 of those districts would have been areas where minorities are the predominant residents. Now that may or may not make a difference, since the number of minority voters in Peoria elections continues to be low. But since the candidates from a primarily minority area are likely to be minorities themselves, at least the voters who did participate would have the opportunity of being represented by a member of their community.

Even the 8 district plan would have to include at least 3 areas where minority population was larger. And while this would not solve the problem of participation, the above argument holds true. Since residency in your district is a requirement, 3 out of 8 members would be representatives of minority areas. And 4 out of 10 is twice as good as 2 out of 10. (I am assuming that of the two At-Large representatives, Councilman Turner would keep his job. Hoping, actually.)

But this all so many words and not enough action. Since the purpose of all this discussion is to determine how to better serve the citizens of Peoria, why not throw all this effort into educating people about the importance of participation? Why not let people know that, regardless of your race, religion, ethnicity, or social status, you DO make a difference in our community?

We have spent several generations trying to achieve “Equality” in this nation, and have come up instead with a plan that denigrates the inherent ability of every human being to rise above their circumstance and achieve true independence. We have raised generations of people to believe they cannot survive without government assistance, they have no opportunity beyond their poverty, and there is no real help aside from handouts and empty promises. We have created our own underclass, and we insist on allowing them to flourish and grow.

True equality is when you stop thinking of yourself as a victim and start trying to make your life better. Poverty is not a racial condition, nor is despair. The current economic setbacks have affected everyone in this nation with the exception of the very wealthy, the “1%” the Occupy protestors are complaining about. The rest of us, regardless of color or faith or gender, are in the same boat. We are the 99%, and we are all worried, and rightfully so, about the future of the nation, of this state, and of the City of Peoria.

Continuing to follow the same path like lambs to the slaughter is an unacceptable solution to the problem. The city council needs to choose a proposition that allows for more equity and less pandering to the Powers That Be. The citizens of the city of Peoria need to let their representatives know, by email, letters, and phone calls, that this current decision is unacceptable. We need to change the way we elect our representatives. We need to educate our citizens. We need to change.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Budget Hearing, Plaudits, and Assorted Proclamations

Another regular session of the council tonight and the business agenda seems pretty ordinary. But appearances can be deceiving.

Let me back up a little bit. I left work about 5 til 6 tonight, turned on the radio and caught the beginning of Outside the Horseshoe on WCBU. An interesting discussion on the current system of electing At-Large Council members. Supposedly set up to include more minority candidates and opportunities for African Americans to serve on the council. Not that I disagree with that concept, in principal. But did I miss something, or did the rest of you? Didn't we settle all this around 1965 or so? Personally, I would like to see people elected on the merits of their qualifications, not on the basis of their color. You know this slippery slope everyone likes to point to? Well, here we are attempting to slant the odds in favor of one group or another, at the expense of sound leadership. And we wonder why we have corrupt or incompetent leaders. Oh well, back to the Council.

I arrived about 6:20, the council is already reciting the pledge of allegiance. Standing room only in the chambers, due to the large number of proclamation recipients. I'm standing in the hall outside the rear door to the chamber having walked the four flights of stairs due to an inoperative elevator [Reminder to self to get back in shape]. The Salvation Army is the first group to be recognized on their 125th Anniversary. They clear the room, and I manage to get in to grab a chair. Next Proclamation, November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Jim Magee speaks briefly and passionately about the devastation of lung cancer in Peoria county. Seems we lead the state in cases, even greater in number than Cook County. The disease has no respect for race, religion, or age, apparently, but Mr. Magee does leave us with a message of hope, saying the treatments and prevention measures are working.

John Sharp is at the Press Table. No sign of Billy or C.J.

Next is the proclamation for Community Foundation Week, and Mayor Ardis introduces Mark Roberts, the founder, CEO, President, and apparently chief cook and bottle washer of the Peoria Community Fund, a not-for-profit foundation that supplies support for other not-for-profit organizations. He speaks to the $8,000,000 in local funds provided to various organizations in 2011, praises contributors for their help, and asks they keep giving to help others.

Last Proclamation is the 2011 Citizens Academy Graduation. 37 people are recognized, about 32 of them in attendance in blue polo shirts with the Citizens Academy logo on the chest. Steve Fairbanks and Jenny Fulton preside, and the Mayor gets a photo op.

The room clears as the council prepares to get down to business. Now an interesting side note, apparently these last folks attended the Citizens Leadership Academy to be more involved in their community, yet when the opportunity to participate as citizens and offer comments about the actions the council are about to take, they leave. Hmmmmm. In the words of the King of Siam, "'Tis a Puzzlement."

Minutes for the previous two meetings are approved, and on to the first item of business - the Public Hearing regarding the 2012 City of Peoria Budget. Mayor Ardis invites members of the community to address the council regarding the proposed budget.

Speaker #1 is Lorraine Bryson, a member of the Tri-County Urban League speaking on behalf of Social Service Agencies. There are many people in the chambers wearing a cut out of a child on their chests, apparently supporters there to represent their agencies. Bryson is concerned that the proposed budget will reallocate CDGB funds to Public Safety efforts instead of these agencies. She speaks passionately as to the services being provided by these agencies, services that include aide for low income families and abused children, elderly, and homeless people. Basically she is arguing, convincingly, that their actions are preventative in nature, and help to reduce the need for enforcement. She believes that the reduction in funds will have long terms effects on the community. She also notes that a reduction in funds from the City will also affect the various agencies ability to receive grants, particularly those who require matching funds. Lorraine concludes by stating the 2010 funds have been used to support more than 1,500 children, provide after school programs for children at risk, provided for at least 1,000 special needs children, and have even been used to help first offenders to rejoin the community and leave the criminal lifestyle.

Speaker #2 is Roberta Parks, a representative of the Peoria Chamber of Commerce, who praises the City Council on making the tough cuts that need to be made in order to keep the city strong. Now, if I give a less than accurate account, you have to know that this woman talks at the speed of a locomotive and apparently loves to hear the sound of her own voice. She provides a list of reasons they like the budget, which include the reorganizing of staff structure, the consolidation of departments [the word synergy is used], staff layoffs, reduction of services due to a floundering economy [not her words, but essentially what she said], early retirement of 200 or so employees, shared services [county and city], outsourcing of some services, reinvestment in infrastructure, no significant tax increases, and pension reforms.

Last, but certainly not least, is Savino Sierra, our often ignored and somewhat maligned citizen observer. He objects to the cuts in the budget, saying that not only will it result in a loss of leadership and services, but also in morale in the city. He says he has more to say, and will continue to attend meetings to speak to his concerns. God bless Savino Sierra.

The room clears again as the consent agenda is read aloud. Items A, B, C, E, F, H, I, K, and N are approved without comment unanimously. Item G is pulled from the agenda by Beth Akeson, Items D, L, and M are pulled by Sandberg.

Item D pertains to amending the budget for 2011 to authorize the payment of $109,986.00 to the Springdale Cemetery Management Authority. Gary begins to speak and loudly announces the people he wanted to hear what he had to say were leaving the chamber (Lorraine Bryson and her constituents) and asked them to stay to hear this motion. Gary begins by reviewing the history, well known to most of us, of the Springdale Cemetery fiasco that has led to an increasing budget deficit to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Since the City of Peoria entered into an agreement with the County and the Peoria Park District to maintain and manage the facility, the deficit grows annually. The 2010 deficit was $359,000.00. Sandberg is making the case that because of this obligation, the money to support other programs is not there. Councilman Spears points out that while we own the cemetery, we apparently have little or no control over the budget. He wonders if the council can put a cap on the spending. City Manager Urich we may submit a request to the managing board to request a reduction in budget. Spears answers and says that means NO, we cannot control their spending. Urich admits that the managing board has an open checkbook to administrate the cemetery. Spears points out it will never pay for itself. Urich says, Valid point. I could continue to give you a blow by blow, but the end result is Ardis jumps in and establishes that cemeteries are by their nature a losing proposition, that many volunteers are participating in the maintenance and restoration of Springdale, and there are a lot of issues that are not being considered. Motion is called and passed unanimously.

Item G is an ordinance to vacate Iowa Street from Grant Street in order to further the use of that area to the expansion of the Komatsu company (not stated that way, but the proposal is to further the commercial goals of Komatsu, which is in keeping with the Peoria mandate to provide jobs). Beth Akeson asks that Mr. Ordaz is allowed to speak. He is representing both the Detweiller Marina Association and the Averyville Township Association. His main objection is not to the action itself, but that this was proposed and about to be passed without so much as a by your leave to either of these groups, both of which will be affected by the ordinance and subsequent development. He feels the management of Komatsu and the City should meet with these groups and other affected groups to gather impact on activities or provisions for Quid Pro Quo concessions to the community in the form of bike paths, parks, etc. There is a long discussion concerning the motion, Beth and her supporters are asking for a deferral of four weeks to give all parties a chance to determine the impact. Weaver and others are concerned that the delay might have a negative effect on the business. Mayor Ardis assures him it will not. Gulley does not see the reason for delay and does not think the delay will alter the outcome. He asks the council to vote against the delay. Akeson again asks for support for the delay. Ardis calls the question, the delay is granted with Gulley being the only NO vote.

Items L & M are pertaining to the Police and Firemen's Pension Board Reports. Sandberg has pulled these two items because he believes we are not getting enough return on the investments being made with these funds, and feels we should reevaluate our strategy there. After a lot of meaningless discussion, the decision is made not to change anything, despite Sandberg's concerns. Both motions pass unanimously.

Okay, so here is where I get to make a few comments about the proceedings. As to the budget, I believe Ms. Bryson made some valid points about supporting programs that are preventative in nature. I am certain that the police would agree if they were to give it some thought. If these agencies can care for abuse victims and keep them from perpetuating the chain of abuse, they are worth their weight in gold. I think the city needs to weigh their options carefully. God knows we do need some additional public safety presence in the area, but how about we explore the funds being used by other agencies to see if they can be trimmed. Regardless of what the Chamber of Commerce thinks. Frankly, I am not sure why Ms. Parks even spoke. She had no input other that to tell the council what a great job they did in eliminating jobs, reducing pensions, and reducing public services while allowing other non-essential projects to move forward. And Savino Sierra is absolutely correct. A large reduction in services, the elimination of jobs, and the cutting back of pensions will have a negative effect on morale in this city. Such a reduction will lead to more problems, not fewer problems, and cause additional problems for an already over tasked police force.

As to the other events, I'll let you figure them out.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Occupy notes

Sort of strange that some people are willing to argue the opportunities are still there. Occupy is challenging the way people think, but so many people are so afraid of the alternative. Talked to a fellow salesman who thinks the Occupy movement is just a fad, that they are a bunch of malcontents looking for a hand out.

Maybe they are. Maybe they have been taught to expect one. After all, the welfare system is a hand out, not an incentive to grow personally or professionally. We have generations (generations?) of people raised in the welfare system, so many generations there are some who cannot envision life without welfare. They have lived in government supplied housing, eaten government supplied food, have their lights and gas and water and trash paid with government monies. And when they attempt to get away from the Welfare system, they are immediately taxed or fined or placed in a position where their attempt is chastized or punished.

Strange, isn't it? We scream and yell and object to welfare, and yet we perpetuate it.

A History of Slavery
once they used chains
and distance
or occupation
troops assigned to guard the enslaved
or isolation
reservations to keep them in line
but over the years
they learned
to use pockets
and possessions
and hid the slavery
in a miasma
of obligation
and patriotism
and freedom
Slavery is alive and well
and practiced openly
within the guise of freedom

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A few random thoughts about Occupy

So the people of the nation are finally sick and tired of the lack of government action for the people. Hmmmm. Nothing new, really, if you think about it. In the 60's we had sit-ins to protest all sorts of things on college campuses and other places. The anti-abortion folks have staged sit-ins at various clinics over the years. Usually, after the first day or so, the police get involved and the people causing the disruption of businesses or services are usually hauled away in paddy wagons and booked on misdemeanor charges. Sometimes it gets out of hand and the police overreact, and the people overreact, and someone gets hurt.

But here is where it gets interesting. These people are not going away. Why? Because most of them have no where to go! These are the huddled masses, but now they are huddled on the streets and in the public parks and in your face for the world to see. Many of them cannot get work, cannot get help, cannot get adequate medical treatment or health care. Most of them are like most of us. Scared.

And that is the long and the short of it. We are all scared. What will happen next? Our President, hell, our entire legislative and executive branch, is doing nothing to remedy the problem. All that HOPE was an empty promise that has failed to bring us any closer to a solution. I'm not blaming the Dems or the Reps for the current problems. The Dems just happen to be in charge at the moment, and we are an election away from changing that. But one thing is certain. The Status Quo must go.

We are the 99%, the disenfranchised, the abandoned, the citizens who were promised the American Dream. We are the voters, the taxpayers, the parents, the children, the soldiers and sailors and marines and guardians who were told we were fighting to preserve a way of life that is no longer accessible to us. We are the 99% who have no hope of ever achieving the prosperity our parents achieved. We have grown up in a world promising justice and prosperity and hope, and have only apathy and poverty and despair.

We are the 99%. We are the reason the 1% have the wealth and power. Our blood and sweat and labors have created it. And our anger and discontent can take it away. Look around you. Your police and firefighters and emergency personnel are the 99%. Your soldiers and sailors and marines and guardsmen are the 99%. Your average citizens are the 99%. Your factory workers, your government employees, your teachers, your administrators are the 99%. If we choose to stop what we are doing, the 1 % will have NOTHING!

Just a few random thoughts. Take them as you will. But if you take them seriously and are one of the 99%, I can tell you how to get the attention of the world. For a single day, STOP! Bring the money machine to an immediate and screeching halt.

Like I said, just a few random thoughts.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Back to the Council Chambers

Live blogging is not my thing, so I apologize to the readers who have to wait for me to compose my thoughts. I like to take notes and think about what was actually said before writing about it, which is why I blog instead of report.

I got in to the chambers tonight just as they were finishing the Pledge of Allegiance, then took a seat toward the rear of the chamber. All the old faces were there, including John Sharp and Billy Dennis, and surprisingly no Gary Sandberg. Hmmm. At first I thought he might be slouched back in his chair, but when I realized we had gone at least 15 minutes and he hadn't voiced an opinion, I knew he was absent.

So this session was devoted to the budget decisions surrounding the new and improved Marriott project. Mayor Ardis opened the meeting by letting the City Manager Urich present a summary of the current financials. On it's face, the plan looks sound, and it looks like Urich did a great job of carefully planning the finances to allow the city to get a square deal. According to one of his statements, the developer, Matthews, has deferred his fee until the property starts to see a profit. He has also, according to Urich, promised to guarantee the city's investment personally. So does this mean the developer will create an escrow account for $29 million dollars? Hmmm. Would love to see it, wouldn't you?

Anyway, there were a few interesting points made. Part of the plan involves using funds from the Southtown TIF transferred to the Downtown TIF at some point in the project, which Barbara Van Auken was quick to question until the City Manager assured her it was legal. At the end of the summary, Mayor Ardis opened the floor for public comment.

Mr. Matthews, the developer, came up the podium and praised the board for their wisdom and fortitude and support of the project, and pledged his devotion to creating a perfect addition to the city. Next, a Mr. J. Baumgartner from Caterpillar came up to praise the council for their decision to Build the Block and to create a hotel where their international guests would feel they could have a 4 star experience. [guess they are tired of sending their global visitors across the river as well]. I had to throw my two cents in and reminded them that, even if they build the hotel, they need to make sure there are reasons for people to stay in it. I urged them to hold SMG accountable for the lack of events being staged in our Civic Center, for the loss of events that used to bring the revenue and the visitors to Peoria. Finally, Bob Marx of the Peoria Convention and Visitor Bureau got up and gave more praise to the council concerning their pursuit of this project.

On to Item #1 of the agenda, the "Approval of the Design Concepts for the Amended and Restated Redevelopment Agreement by and among the City of Peoria and EM Properties, Ltd. and Pere Marquette Hotel, LLC, and Pere Marquette TIF, Inc." Ryan Spain opened the discussion by questioning the choice of materials being used by the contractors especially on the first floor, the floor adjacent to pedestrian traffic. Now, he was using phrases like how pedestrians would interact with the materials, but the gist of it was his concern about damage and graffiti, and frankly, that is a legitimate concern. Many of the Man Made materials used in cheap construction today are unattractive, to say the least, but some other concerns exist as well. Beth Akeson also voiced her concerns with a show and tell of Brick versus artificial brick, or limestone versus Styrofoam coated with a sprayed on dry concrete material. Her legitimate concern was that the materials used would not stand up to the weather and wear of time. Councilman Gully remarked that while he would prefer Brick and Limestone over lesser materials, the cost of such a project would well exceed the budgeted amounts. Mayor Ardis asked for further comments, and hearing none, called for a vote. The motion passed with Weaver and Akeson voting no.

Item #2 was the ordinance approving the overall project. This means the rehabilitation of the Pere Marquette to a full service Marriott hotel, the construction of a Marriott Courtyard, the construction of a parking deck, and the construction of an elevated connector to the Peoria Civic Center. Councilperson Akeson voiced her concerns that the proposed cost of the projects did not seem sufficient to cover all these items, particularly since the cost of the 466 space parking deck and the cost of the elevated (all weather) connector to the Civic Center would exceed the $6.34 million dollars allotted for them. She cited an unnamed source who advised her the elevated connector would cost between $8,000.00 and $10,000.00 a foot to build. She also restated her concern about the city's ability to govern the way in which the construction was done, and that there was no real scrutiny of the plans, the methods, or even the qualifications of the contractors doing the work. There were some additional comments, Gulley going off topic about the $7 million dollar portion of the loan, Riggenbach praising Urich for getting a higher rate of return on the reinvestment of the city's Post Employment Benefits Obligation Funds (currently drawing 0.6%, under the reinvestment of these funds in the project, they would draw 7%....hey, you don't have to be a banker to see that one, Tim), and Irving taking Urich to task to cover all the bases for the council and the chamber in detail. I have to commend Dan Irving for doing that, although it was certainly a dog and pony show for the constituency, he let all of us know that Urich has his ducks in a row. Mayor Ardis once again called for the vote, and once again it passed with Weaver and Akeson voting no.

Items 3, 4, and 5 (a&b) passed in the same way with very little comment.

So now we come to the blog portion of this little post. I have to say that I am still a bit leery of the whole idea. Yes, it would be nice to have a 4 star facility in Peoria to accommodate Caterpillar's "Global Visitors", and yes, such a facility could be an asset to drawing convention business to the area. But what is going to attract them to Peoria in the first place? The Civic Center has been a losing proposition for many years, and the recent additions to the facility aren't helping to pay for it. We have this great venue for sports events, theater events, and exceptional facilities for expos and lifestyle shows, but we lack the events to fill it. Year after year, we lose business to the cities who acted to get their business rolling, and may I remind you there is no Marriott in Bloomington. Granted there are scores of loyal Bradley Basketball fans, Riverman Fans, and some die hard Peoria Opera and Symphony fans who will attend events in the theater and the arena, but they just aren't enough to justify the expense. Spectacor Management Corporation was hired by the city to fill that facility with events to create revenue and they aren't doing their job, Worse still, we are losing events and sports to Bloomington that ought to be here. Perhaps the city should be in the business of creating revenue, instead of building empires.