Q&A with candidates for Champaign District 1

Will Kyles is vying for a second term as the District 1 representative for the Champaign City Council. His challenger, Gina Jackson, occupied that office for one term before him. The two answered questions posed by The News-Gazette leading up to the April 9 election.

What do you see as the three issues most important to residents in District 1, and how would you address these if you were elected?

Kyles: Improving employment opportunities, continuing to improve police-community relationships and providing core services despite the budget issues at the state and federal level are the three top issues of importance in District 1. All of these items will take careful collaboration between the community, council, and staff to see progress. I will not only have to partner with members of my district but also members and organizations around the city and state to continue to make progress in District 1.

Jackson: First and foremost all citizens want a safe place to live. Active neighborhood and watch groups engaging more with police and other city departments will enhance crime prevention to insure safer neighborhoods. The second issue, older core neighborhoods having deteriorating or non-existent infrastructure. With continued assistance to the older neighborhoods scheduled services along with budgeting for infrastructure improvements, such as street lights and sidewalks always improve a neighborhoods quality of life. The third issue is neighborhood stability. Many areas have a high owner occupied to rental property ratio. I believe the best way to address this would be to engage the rental property owners and include them in the regular neighborhood group meetings that would have representatives present from police, neighborhood inspectors, and housing authority. This would open up communication and all parties would understand what is expected and needed to help sustain a healthy community.

Both candidates have now served one term on the city council. What were some of your biggest accomplishments, and what did you feel was left undone?

Kyles: My major accomplishments were continuing to deliver core services while keeping a balanced budget, improving police and community relationships by supporting and working with (Police) Chief (Anthony) Cobb and forming the community coalition, advocating and keeping a focus on improving our numbers with the minority- and women-owned businesses, building today's youth with the formation of the summer youth employment program and continuing to keep citizens aware, informed and involved in city government. We need to continue building healthy relationships with the police and community, see the Bristol Park development through, and improve neighborhood wellness in Garden Hills.

Jackson: One of the most significant accomplishments was the design, implementation, and monitoring of our $20M Public Library. The collaboration between community, city staff, the library foundation and local contractors demonstrated how well partnerships work to successfully complete goals. One of my proudest success moments was creating the Douglass Square Development project. The deteriorated public housing area, known as Burch Village, was replaced with mixed income housing that exemplified the importance of Urban Planning. The second phase of the Boneyard, Second Street reach, accomplished economic recovery by eliminating a flood plain while creating a functionally attractive leisure space. Phase 2 not only lowered property owners insurance rates, but provided additional real estate prospects to attract economic growth. Once all planned phases of the Boneyard Creek have been completed, we can continue with infrastructure development.

How has the redistricting of District 1 affected your goals, and how does the new district fit into citywide plans?

Kyles: The incorporation of Garden Hills into District 1 will allow me to directly focus on working with community, staff and council to come up with a plan to improve the housing stock in the area, involve surrounding stakeholders such as community members, Garden Hills Neighborhood Association, Parkland College, Foods, Jericho Missionary Baptist Church, New Hope, Unit 4, Restoration Urban Ministry and others in building this area, and reducing crime through improving job opportunities through communicating job programs, education opportunities, etc. This area needs immediate attention and we will have to be intentional and strategic about building this area.

Jackson: The new District 1 continues to face old challenges, neglected infrastructure, no street lights, sidewalks or curbs. Using the Urban Renewal model, found in my Douglass Square project, we can take blighted properties, institute partnerships between local financial institutions and city programs and re-establish once thriving neighborhood with productive stakeholders that are able to increase a stable tax base.

Both candidates have said city officials need to work to attract more jobs and raise the employment level in District 1. What makes this district unique in that respect, and what can you do to accomplish that goal?

Kyles: I supported and will continue to support the progress of the newly created city minority- and women-owned business initiative and the summer youth employment program. As the Champaign County Black Chamber of Commerce president, I am working with organizations across the state to bring opportunities to Champaign. Because of the strong correlation between high crime and lack of job opportunities, I am networking with re-entry programs, state organizations, as well as local employers to address job access for constituents who find it difficult to find employment due to a felony record. Lastly, I will work to match the skills with our local talent with our local businesses.

Jackson: During my tenure on the Champaign Planning Commission, the Comprehensive Plan was created. The Plan outlines promoting neighborhood commercial zoning options in every neighborhood. What that means is that people can find jobs where they live. To accomplish this goal the City must identify where proper zoning exists within the District followed by establishing economic incentives, promoting solid, compatible employment opportunities.

Where do your goals differ from your opponent's?

Kyles: My opponent seems to focus more on past successes dated some five to seven years ago and has not laid out a clear agenda on how she can better serve District 1. I differ in that I will work to build on yesterday's successes for tomorrow's future. During my time in office, I have focused on communication and involved more people at the grass root level in the process. This has worked not only at the district level, but also citywide, as it is important for both government and citizens to work together for the progress of our community.

Jackson: I know and understand our District's history, and those who shaped it. This knowledge is essential when negotiating future goals and managing its expectations. My work within my District did not begin when I was elected 8 years ago. I, as my family before me, worked tirelessly to help build the community resources found today. City Council, for me, serves as an effective conduit, enabling my ability to continue the struggle for economic equality and sustainable, safe neighborhoods. Unfortunately, four years ago I was faced with a difficult choice, to step down from my political seat and become the caregiver to my aged mother, who has since passed. Sitting on the sidelines, I have been disappointed that the initiatives I set into motion, have been stagnant and no new initiatives have replaced them. In fact, District 1 has made no sustainable growth during the last 4 years. That stagnation is why I seek re-election and look forward to continuing the work I began.

What makes you the better candidate for the District 1 seat?

Kyles: I listen and work harder to serve my constituents. I have a better record when it comes to addressing the issues and delivering the results. I have worked to mediate some of the most contentious relationships between city officials and community members to settle differences and work towards progress in our city. The accomplishments that I have been blessed to see have come from being intentional, persistent, and honest in my dealings with the community and the city. My service has not only improved District 1, but it has made Champaign a "champion of progress" amongst surrounding communities.

Jackson: I have life-long roots in the Twin Cities. Born and raised in Champaign-Urbana, I attended public and parochial schools. While attending the University of Illinois I worked at Kraft Foods before embarking on a 23-year career as an Army Officer. Upon retirement, I returned to Champaign and began my community involvement. Serving on several boards and commissions I have gained an immense amount of experience and knowledge about municipal government. A partial list being City of Champaign Planning Commission, City of Champaign Liquor Commission, City of Champaign Township Trustee, Champaign County Mental Health Board, Champaign County Childrens Advocacy Board, Champaign County Headstart Policy Board, elected delegate 2008 DNC, and elected District 1 Champaign City Council member. As a fourth generation residing in Champaign-Urbana, along with municipal government experience and military leadership training makes me the best candidate for the District 1 seat.

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