Sunday, April 01, 2007

Arbor District Debate Recap

I'm on the email alias and this is what came across. It is interesting reading -


The City Council debate sponsored by the Arbor District was exhaustive, careful and revealing. From Joe Moore, a student and youngest candidate (and best dressed) to Stephen Haynes, who brought his three generation Carbondale family to Physician Mary Pohlman, issues from Code Inspections to green space to "sustainability of our city" to budgets to the elementary schools were discussed on our town hall style debate.

Make no mistake that the 30 or so hardy members of the Arbor District are true troopers for turning out on what may well have been the most beautiful day of the year. Blue skies, cherry blossoms, temps in the low 70s, and we were doing politics!

It was clear that one of the most important issues of the Arbor District, code inspections for rental properties, is now embraced by every single candidate. They have varying concerns, but agree that a reasonable fee for inspections and follow up services should be charged. Stephen Haynes is interested in a committe of landlords and renters that can help oversee the program.

It is also clear that careful management of our revenue sources is on everyone's minds. Developing priorities in how to gather that money, whether in increased sales taxes, fees on services or property taxes, was discussed. All of the candidates held open minds on how to solve the revenue concerns, with a number of them saying that property taxes were a last resort - yet also recognizing that sales taxes can be undependable as the most important revenue source. Mary Pohlman cited a figure of $6 million shortfall in our city budget that was challenged by Lance Jack. Luanne Brown suggested more fees on services such as when water bills are transferred.

The plan advanced by Mayor Cole to hire more police officers and shift the patrols from a "quadrant" to a five sector, appeared to be endorsed by all the candidates. However a number of them said that they deferred to the judgement of the police officials involved.

The issue of hiring the new City Manager, which will fall to this City Council, was discussed. Most candidates embraced a national search for a qualified person. One candidate, Lance Jack, emphasized that the new City Manager should have the right qualifications but also the right "personality" for the job in a university town.

The status of the Varsity and Karasotes Theatre's intentions with that property was brought up. Many community organizations have expressed interest, but candidates complained that Kerasotes Theatres were opposed to any "competition" and would rather leave the property empty. Joe Moore suggested that they be charged with a nuisance tax that might motivate them to sell.

Mary Pohlman suggested that condemned housing might be demolished in order to create more green space in our community. Questions about the elementary school District 95 and its effect on our neighborhoods were discussed. The Arbor District has received many complaints about the schools from people thinking about locating in our neighborhood. Elizabeth Lewin, formerly the superintendent of District 95 pointed out that 37% of the children in the District "turn over" every year. She urged more stable neighborhoods and families as one way to improve the District with its low test scores.

Luanne Brown emphasized increasing transparency at City Hall by getting on with the "21st Century" and making everything online, from code violations to any other information that is useful to the public. She also talked about the "curb appeal" of Carbondale as a way of encouraging parents to send their children to SIUC.

We learned that Carbondale Community High School is losing enrollment as is SIUC and the Elementary School District. There is a sense of urgency to all of the candidates that is well justified.

D. Gorton

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