Looking For Government That Works? Try Local
I doubt that many people would disagree with me when I say big governments – those in Washington DC and Springfield - have not been working very well in the past few years. Washington and Springfield seem to have a very difficult time doing anything.
As of August, only 16% of the public approve of Congress. In Illinois, Governor Rauner is ranked 44th out of the 50 governors for job approval and our legislature doesn’t fare much better. The people of Illinois will be hurting for years to come because of our government’s failure to act.
But some government does work – little government. As a member of the Macomb City Council for the past 18 months, I have watched and marveled at how well little government works. Let me give some examples of what I’ve seen in those 18 months.
The Train Depot. Amtrak chose the Macomb Train Depot as the pilot project to test a partnership between Amtrak and local government to make the Depot fully ADA compliant. Amtrak would pay all costs and wanted local government to be in charge of hiring and overseeing the work, instead of the work being managed from a distance by DC and Philadelphia.
The City Administrator, City Attorney and Public Works Director jumped into and navigated the labyrinth of two huge organizations – Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad and Amtrak, also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corporation. They coordinated with Amtrak staff to get bids for the work and complete a massive amount of paperwork. The result will be a fully ADA compliant depot done by local workers and engineers at no cost to Macomb, completed in less than one year.
The Square. Revitalizing the Square had been in the plans for years, but Macomb didn’t get the grant money hoped for to do the entire project. City management didn’t give up – the project was scaled back to do the basic construction work. The grant to do the fancy stuff will be applied for a second time. The Square looks great and the project was completely finished with only a few days delay due to weather.
The Hospital decided it would no longer run an ambulance service in McDonough County. The Fire Chief, Mayor and Administrator came up with a plan to work with a private ambulance company and the Hospital to run a county wide ambulance service from the Fire Department.
Bridgeway decided it could no longer provide on-demand transportation for McDonough County Citizens to get to medical services. The Transit Director developed two temporary solutions so that there was no disruption in getting people to kidney dialysis appointments, among other things.
The Park District decided it no longer wanted to manage Glenwood Pool. The Public Works Director and the water department got right on it, fixed the problems and kept the Pool open for the summer season.
We’ve all seen abandoned and neglected houses in town. The Community Development Coordinator and WIRC got a $1 million federal Blight Reduction Program Grant to get rid of the worst of them. You should have seen the gigantic amount of paperwork involved in this project. Community Development and WIRC also got a housing rehabilitation grant that will help up to eight homes in the fourth and fifth wards meet compliance with major code deficiencies.
I’ve mentioned only a few people for each project, but many more contribute to each one. The Mayor, whose schedule of evening and weekend events equals a full time job, is involved from beginning to end in every project. There is a lot of work done by other city employees who, without hesitation, just pitch in wherever and with whatever help is needed. Even when it is not in their job descriptions.
These special projects were all accomplished while city staff was also doing the day to day business of providing safe water, cleaning the streets, responding to emergencies, updating city ordinances, paying bills and collecting revenue, negotiating contracts, creating a budget, reducing spending, responding to citizen concerns and complaints, issuing permits, attending all sorts of meetings, organizing events, recognizing achievements, inspecting buildings, keeping official documents and books, and hundreds of other tasks including answering numerous questions asked by City Council members.
Is Macomb City government perfect? Of course not. I’ve seen problems and I’m sure to hear about more once this airs. And the federal and state governments are not all bad.
But most of what comes out of Washington is hypocrisy and putting politics ahead of compassion. Most of what characterizes Springfield is inaction and putting politics ahead of the common good. And then, our federal and state elected officials have the audacity to refuse to hold real, open-to-the-public events anymore.
Would you like to talk to local elected officials? Go to a restaurant or a coffee shop or a festival; go anywhere in public, you’ll find them. Go to City Hall or the weekly City Council meetings, they are all there, ready and willing to talk. Want to see good government at work? Look around Macomb.
Gayle Carper is a member of the Macomb City Council and she is a retired attorney and retired Professor of Law at Western Illinois University.
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the University or Tri States Public Radio. Diverse viewpoints are welcome and encouraged.