DECATUR — The four candidates for three seats on the Decatur City Council offer different perspectives about the city’s role in economic development and improving the inner city.
The candidates are incumbents Jerry Dawson, Pat McDaniel and Julie Moore-Wolfe, and challenger Derrick L. Thaxton. Another challenger, Craig Wilson, will appear on the ballot but has said he is no longer seeking the position.
During a meeting with the Herald & Review editorial board, the candidates were asked what the city’s role should be in developing the economy and creating and retaining jobs.
Dawson, 57, said the city shouldn’t be in the business of job training, but should offer support to entities, such as Workforce Investment Solutions and Richland Community College, that provide training.
He said that because Illinois offers fewer incentives than neighboring states, the city should focus on encouraging existing businesses to expand instead of trying to attract new ones.
“We’ve got an airport that can land 747s; we’ve got premium rail lines that come through here; we’re on an interstate highway so we are ripe, and we’ve got the workers ready to go to work,” he said.
McDaniel, 64, said the community must provide infrastructure that existing businesses need and new businesses might find attractive. He said it is also important to offer an educated work force, saying it must support Richland and Millikin University as much as possible.
“We’ve all sat through meetings where industry leaders have said, ‘We’re importing people into Decatur because we cannot find the workers, the educated workers to run the machines.’ ... Maybe we need to have a big summit, bringing together industries, the government and our educators to make sure that we’re all in the same boat,” he said.
Moore-Wolfe, 52, said the work force is an issue for the community, but the city council should not have a role in addressing it other than being supportive of other efforts. She said the city should be as business-friendly as possible.
“It needs to be seamless for (businesses). If it’s a developer that wants to put in a new neighborhood or a major development project, it needs to be easy,” she said. “There shouldn’t be hurdles.”
Thaxton, 44, said the city must ensure it can offer skilled laborers to business that want to locate here. He said he was not sure what the council’s plans were currently, but “what I would like to see is some teaching, training and developing.”
“If they’re looking for welders, if they’re looking for pipefitters, if they’re looking for laborers, we must have those available and with that as we teach, train and develop those individuals, I believe economic development will increase,” Thaxton said. “Businesses will come.”
The candidates also offered different perspectives about the inner city. Thaxton was asked about the issue at a recent candidates’ forum, and the incumbents offered their opinions after the event.
Thaxton said he grew up in the inner city and his parents still live in the same home.
“I see the downfall in that neighborhood,” he said. “There’s more liquor stores there. There’s more illegal sales there, and there’s less jobs there.”
To address the problem, Thaxton said he would like to see a trade school or other development to benefit that area.
McDaniel said several current initiatives would benefit the inner city, including a potential tax increment finance district and a program allowing people to buy vacant lots next to their homes.
“There are some things being done. This didn’t happen overnight, and it’s going to take time to develop it,” he said.
Moore-Wolfe said the city’s administrative court has “growing pains” to go through, but it is designed to improve city code enforcement and clean up property issues throughout the city. She said city government does not have the money to improve all parts of the city at once, but it is possible to target one area and then go on to another.
Dawson said the inner city actually receives a lot of the city’s resources, as many calls for service for police and fire come from the middle of town. He said he would like the city to work with and support inner-city homeowners who are trying to take care of their property.
“The (inner-city areas) are not neglected. Yeah, they need a lot of work, but it’s more of a social problem than an economic problem,” he said. “You’ve got people who are renters, they don’t like the landlord, they really don’t care about the house — you’ve got a lot of problems on your hands.”