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Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017 12:08 am

Two black eyes

City keeps shooting self in foot

Mayor Jim Langfelder.
PHOTO BY PATRICK YEAGLE

 

October wasn’t a good month for the city of Springfield.

First came a damning report commissioned by Sangamon County, whose hired consultant, tasked with figuring out ways to improve the local economy, put in writing what pretty much everyone knows but won’t say in public: The metropolitan area, and Springfield in particular, is a tired place run by retreads who are more talk than action.

“It was…brought to the attention of interviewers on numerous occasions that people who disagree with the status quo or want to push for dramatic change aren’t taken seriously or, worse yet, are encouraged to remain silent, thereby stifling progress and innovation,” the consultant wrote in a report that should have been titled City Needs To Get Its Act Together. “Another topic which was raised somewhat frequently was the presence of perceived and real racism in the region. This concern wasn’t raised only by the minority community members we interviewed, but by numerous business and organizational leaders as well.”

In a report chock full of criticism – our economy is spiraling south, the chamber of commerce can’t get anything done, electric bills are too high, permitting processes are dysfunctional, it’s who you know that matters, not what – these words stung the most. But the city isn’t ready to accept unvarnished truths, as Mayor Jim Langfelder sits on the sideline while the county, business leaders and educational institutions create an economic development corporation, funded by government and the private sector, to lure new businesses.

“The report wasn’t as detailed as it could have been, and we need to have those discussions,” Langfelder told the State Journal-Register. The city, the mayor pointed out, already gives $100,000 per year to the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce. The chamber, the consultant pointed out, hasn’t been bringing in many, if any, new businesses, and civic leaders have a tendency to study things but never do anything. Does the mayor really want to bring such criticisms into sharper focus?

After the consultant reported that business owners are worried about racism, the city council last week tabled a resolution to declare Springfield a welcoming city. The resolution, intended to support immigrants, is fairly milquetoast. After a bunch of whereas’s that say, among other things, that Springfield should strive “to live up to our highest American values of inclusion and equality,” the measure tiptoes onto a branch that should be solid:

“(W)e, the members of the Springfield City Council, a body of elected officials who represent people from a multitude of ethnicities and religions, reaffirm our commitment to remain a place of support for the immigrants and refugees who have in past years, and continue to, make Springfield their home.”

Not a penny of public money was involved. Not a single law would have changed. But seven aldermen voted to table the resolution, which had all the power of a New Year’s resolution, with excuses ranging from the ridiculous to the profoundly ridiculous.

Ward 10 Ald. Ralph “Fake News” Hanauer said that the feds might yank federal funds if the city council acknowledged, even symbolically, that immigrants, justice and equality are important. “We’ve done the research,” the alderman said, without showing his homework. After learning the difference between an ordinance and a resolution, the alderman should check with cities in California, Massachusetts and Vermont that have passed resolutions calling for impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump, who remains in the White House even as towns that have said he’s unfit for office keep getting checks from Washington.

Hanauer also said the measure was redundant, given that the city, in the wake of Charlottesville, passed a resolution opposing hate just a couple months ago. Is saying the Pledge of Allegiance before every council meeting redundant? When the alderman’s wife asks if he loves her, does Hanauer say “Honey, I’ve already said that?”

Then there’s Ward 3 Doris “Hamlet” Turner, who said that she supported the resolution’s goal but nonetheless voted to table it. She knows about this stuff – just ask her. “I think that I can speak to this better or moreso than anybody else around this horseshoe, because this is my life, and I’ve lived it for 63 years,” she said. At last check, Turner was born in the United States. Who is she to lecture anyone who holds a green card or visa? Compounding the silliness, Turner, who sponsored the August resolution against hate that passed the council unanimously, said that resolutions are useless. “We have to change the way people think and feel,” Turner said. “And I don’t know what you do about that. I know that a piece of paper can’t change it, unfortunately.”

And so the council turned a non-issue into an issue. Smart money says that the council, never a body that’s shied from pettiness, was telling Ward 6 Ald. Kristin DiCenso, who sponsored the resolution, to remember who calls the shots in city hall. It was DiCenso who helped delay a vote on EmberClear, the proposed Pawnee power plant, by voting in August to allow more public discussion of the proposal when her colleagues wanted to rush it through.

The EmberClear project ended up sailing through the council after union members, waving signs, packed council chambers. Supporters of DiCenso’s resolution also packed council chambers last week, but they brought few signs and no campaign contributions. And sometimes, that can make all the difference.

Staff writer Bruce Rushton holds a green card. He pays taxes, has never collected welfare and paid off his student loans years ago. He can be reached at brushton@illinoistimes.com
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