Tuesday, April 27, 2004

The Downside of Public Service-- I am a city council member for a small town in Illinois that is located squarely in the path of development. Faced with the onslaught of more homes, more homes, and more homes, our city council has undertaken to revise the UDO (unified development ordinance), so that future growth can be shaped as our community sees fit.

One of the more mundane issues is the parking of RV's, boats, trailers, etc. While some communities "to the east" ban them from residential areas (and even pick up trucks, too), we were just trying to clean up language which could be construed as allowing a resident to pave their front yard and use it as a campground or storage facility. You'd think we were doing everyone a favor, but....

A recently defeated city council member sent out an anonymous letter to RV owners claiming that the council was trying to deprive them of their right to own an RV. This led to a well attended city council meeting where the council members were vilified as being "from the east" and looking to make our town "like one of those suburbs" Which was certainly far from the truth.

i certainly appreciated their input and suggestions, though, and city staff worked to create provisions which respected the older sections of town as well as the new subdivisions. The new proposed wording was less stringent than the current ordinance, in fact. So the city hosted another meeting so residents could respond to this new proposed language.

The meeting went well, and I think most people had their concerns addressed. But it amazes me how paranoid some people are about government. When citizens address the council, they are asked to provide their names and addresses (or wards) as a courtesy (after all, they know where I live). One man was incensed at this notion, telling us in no uncertain terms that he was "offended" that he should have to give his name just to speak to us. He was very angry about the entire concept. After the meeting, a long time resident approached me and expressed that we were wasting time with the unified development ordinance; that people should just mind their own business. He said our town isn't a good place to live anymore (despite the new high school, despite the new businesses and improved services that are being provided) I asked him about a scenario in which some "neighbors for hell" might move next door, and he said he would just get in their faces and tell them to stop doing whatever it was that bothered him. I them asked about new residents to town, what rights should they have? He responded that they should wait until they lived in town for "30 years" before they could have an opinion.

At which point I just walked away from him.

I enjoy representing the folks in my Ward. I understand that they have many different ideas about how are town should grow (or not grow). I share many of their concerns. I have seen the results of poor planning in nearby communities. If anything, it is best to overplan than not plan. To our little town's credit, the city council is taking controlled growth seriously. What I don't enjoy is the elitism that exists in some of the "old timers", who just bad-mouth change and have no appreciation for dealing with growth in this century. Growth is coming, I can't stop it. Nor do I want to stop it. If it passes us by, our town will become isolated and die. You don't have to drive too far from our town to see how that happens.

I ran for office using the slogan "Building Bridges Across Neighborhoods". It is corny, but I meant it.

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