Community urges emphasis on public services

Far from its usual gathering place in the downtown city building, the Champaign City Council met at Research Park on Tuesday for the first of a two-night goal-setting session addressing the council’s top priorities for the future.

The first night of the goal-setting session left the council members with a better picture of what they believe are top priorities. Champaign mayor Don Gerard and all but one of the council members, Kyle Harrison, District 3, were in attendance to discuss possible council goals for 2011 to 2013.

One of the topics addressed was the release of public input from an online survey the city released in September. The various comments were gathered and distributed among the council.

Public input showed strong support for the police and fire departments. Public works and amenities such as the Champaign library system also made the cut as the residents’ most valuable services offered by the city.

The survey results came out exactly as expected, said facilitator Stig Lanesskog. He said what the residents suggested, such as fixing the roads and making the new Champaign Central High School location more central to the community, was not a surprise.

“These are key points they always listen to continuously,” Lanesskog said.

The survey addressed three questions: what the most valuable city services are, what the most important issue to focus on during the next two years is and what new initiatives the city should pursue.

Most of the attention was focused on issues regarding economic development, infrastructure and improving the quality of life in Champaign.

City manager Steve Carter said he was surprised local government spending was not a big issue. With the Tea Party movement becoming more mainstream, he said backlash to some program spending was a possibility.

The council members looked over the public comments, addressed their own primary concerns and attempted to form a consensus on what were the top priorities.

They later participated in a teamwork activity sorting out and eliminating suggested goals, then presented their findings to the group.

Police and community relations was a main priority. Councilman Michael LaDue, District 2, said regaining trust was necessary for the police department, and hiring a police chief is obviously a top priority for next year.

“That’s been on everyone’s mind, whether they hold office or not,” LaDue said.

Looking into balancing the budget is an important priority because, as LaDue added, it could be “perceived as shortchanging the community.” Projects such as the Boneyard Creek gradual development could suffer for lack of investment.

Splitting into smaller groups helped facilitate the decision making process, said councilwoman at-large Deborah Feinen.

“It’s always hard to have writing projects with nine or ten people,” Feinen said. “It is more manageable to grab the details in smaller groups.”

The session also included a brief tour of the Enterprise Works Building at Research Park, site of the goal-setting sessions.

The council will continue deliberating on Wednesday starting at 6 p.m. at Enterprise Works, 60 Hazelwood Drive, in Champaign.