ELECTION 2019 QUESTIONNAIRES | Danville mayor: Jim McMahon

ELECTION 2019 QUESTIONNAIRES | Danville mayor: Jim McMahon

1. What prompted you to run for mayor?

"Experience, the ability to connect to people in every neighborhood, the desire to serve and make government user-friendly are why I am running for mayor. I enjoy public service.

"I was county board chairman for six years, a county board member before that, and served in the city of Danville as alderman and police and fire commissioner. Danville is my home. I want my home to grow and be a place where my kids and every family can live and enjoy for years to come.

"Danville faces some issues that maybe a fresh approach will help with. As county board chairman, I managed a large budget and many organizational problems for years and was successful in doing so without unnecessarily burdening the taxpayer. With my history, I can partner with other mayors and the county to develop a unified growth program.

"Local business owners sometimes feel they are unnecessarily at odds with the city. I want to change that. Local business will be part of who I rely on to counsel the city. I also am a local business person so I see their issues.

"I am a hands-on person. I want to be part of the solution. I have worked with a variety of people in and out of government. I know that some feel edged out of the mainstream government processes. I want to bring them in. Different communities even feel as if Danville sometimes looks down on them. I want to change that and be sure we serve every neighborhood and partner with every community around us to help Danville grow.

"We are all in this together."

2. What makes you the best candidate in the field?

"Experience and the ability to work with all sorts of people and situations. I have worked on budgets as large as, and sometimes larger, than Danville's budget — both in government and now in my current private sector job.

"I have worked with all facets of finance as it relates to local government. I have managed a county with somewhere near or over 400 employees. I have worked with a variety of managers and elected officials, some very independent because that is how local county government is — elected officials have independent authority — and got along with them all."You cannot tell them what to do, you have to get buy-in and cooperation. We were able to do that. We can and should do that here in the city.

"I also am coming from the outside looking in and can see things in a new light. I will not be tied down by the past. My staff and I re-created how we did budgeting in Vermilion County that streamlined and made it more efficient, enabling more control to provide for essential services but avoid tax increases. We did that shortly after I was elected board chairman because we were willing to think outside the box.

"The county still uses what I would call the executive form of budgeting. So I guess it was a good idea. That kind of thinking out of the box is what we need now."

3. What would be priority No. 1 for you if elected?

"My first goal is to develop a 'can-do' group, for lack of a better word — both with the incredible talent we have within the city government and with the amazing folks in business outside the city. We need to mine the talents of creative, energetic people right here to develop growth and opportunity.

"As I have said before, I am amazed at how many answers and ideas are right here, but overlooked. I will put that energy to use. Inside the city government, that core group will help facilitate getting things done for people and solving problems. The outer group will tell us where to put our energies to use, to grow and to solve problems.

"That priority includes public safety. Safety in each neighborhood is non-negotiable. It must happen. We will go neighborhood by neighborhood to identify problems and potential solutions and we will not stop.

"One key priority I have with public safety is consistency. We will never roll in for a show — we will be there for the long haul to support residents. Those who threaten the safety and peace of a neighborhood will not be able to wait us out. We will always be there. We will use every tool we have.

"Many neighborhoods are made up of older folks who deserve peace in the quiet of their life in the home and neighborhood they made. It is a priority with me that we reward that long-standing commitment to our city and neighborhood to help them. We will be there.

"As part of that commitment, we will have a top-notch police and fire chief to help coordinate these efforts. It will be difficult to replace someone as experienced as our current public safety director. Larry Thomason devoted a life to public safety. The next police chief must be as devoted and be on top of the latest models for addressing gang violence. (More on that below).

"The next fire chief will be on top of best practices to maintain our tradition of great service. I hope people understand how blessed we are with the great police and fire services we have given our size as a community. Part of that comes from our community spirit, Danville and county-wide, that we do more with less and will always find a way to succeed.

"That is our path to growth and success."

4. How worrisome an issue is gun violence in Danville, and what more, if anything, can be done to curtail it?

"Gun violence is a concern nationwide. Danville is not unique. But we face a serious problem.

"Part of it is a culture that has no respect for life and has no qualms about ending a life. Changing that culture may be a solution beyond my lifetime but it needs to happen. But in the short term, there are many models that successfully take on gang and gun violence. What works will vary from each locality. Our next police chief and my staff will study each model, pick the one that fits and go to town implementing it, modifying and improving along the way.

"This is where the consistency part I mentioned before is important. We will not stop. This will not be a short show for effect. We will offer those who want to escape the world of drugs and violence a way out. That helping part is critical. We will strive to help people who want to be helped find a way out with education and job opportunities.

"To end a problem long term, you have to deal with its causes, and hopelessness is one. We have many groups who seek to help and these groups will be a focus. We must extend and solidify their efforts. From the Three Kings of Peace to the other groups that work with our youth, we want to support and expand those efforts. Change comes from the heart and we must help people find that change.

"However, for those who resist change, who want to stay in the hub of violence, we will hound you until we see you in jail. Gang and gun violence is a national emergency and we will respond accordingly. Gangs will not hold our community hostage and we will seek the best policies and plans to deal with it. Our police will have every resource to deal with this emergency.

"I emphasize again the word consistency. We will not go away. The families of our youth tortured by this violence will not accept anything less."

5. How dire is the city's financial picture and what would be unique about your plan to improve it?

"I have said elsewhere that if you are not worried about your budget, you do not live in Illinois. It is sad but true. However, we have time to work on it. As Mark Twain said, the rumors of our demise are greatly exaggerated.

"Still, we have no time to waste. So while 'dire' is not a word I would use, it is exceedingly important that we get our house in order and be prepared for some shakeups when the state inevitably has to deal with their issues, as they must over time. But, as perhaps intended, that gives us some time to plan and we need to use it.

"Some issues, like our pension issues with police and fire, are simply mathematical and require financial planning. They did their part, we should do ours, and should have done it all along, but some have put off payments to future generations and so here we are.

"Rule one: We will not kick the can down the road any longer. We will plan for and fund our responsibilities. That goes across the board.

"Second, we will have a plan for economic growth to draw money into our community. That may be the most unique part of my approach. We must market ourselves aggressively. I want to think out of the box and big. We may not be Wisconsin Dells, but can we grow a vibrant tourism economy to supplement our business economy? If not that, then what? We cannot keep taxing a slightly smaller population.

"We need to create reasons for people to be here for recreation or for living. I want to create a business and marketing plan to discover our highest and best use of resources to draw people here and grow our economy. That includes tourism and business. We need both and our situation can support both. We have great parks and scenic rivers. We will have a supportive government and economy for business. We are on the border to Indiana. We can draw people from there, too, if we develop our plans.

"We cannot wait for things to happen, we must make them happen. Current businesses will be encouraged to let me know how I can help them grow and flourish. I do not want to trade one business for another, I want all to grow and there is a path toward that with planning.

"There is a business program called from 'Good to Great.' Lots of good ideas there from author Jim Collins. I want to transform our 'good' to 'great.' I invite everyone with the same ambition for our city to join me."

6. What's your plan for replacing retiring Public Safety Director Larry Thomason — keep the police/fire roles as one title, split them up or try something altogether different? And where would you find the money to fulfill your plan?

"First, it is hard to replace Larry Thomason. His history and longevity are unique. That is something about Vermilion County that is one of its hidden secrets. The ability of so many of our people to bridge gaps and do more with less is phenomenal. I hope we never lose that initiative to do more because we can, rather than doing only what the job description requires. That attitude of doing 'more' has been our greatest asset on many levels. There are a lot of unsung heroes out there.

"That kind of 'can-do' attitude — along with a professional and knowledgeable approach to police work, specifically gangs and guns — will be a focus in my approach to hiring a new police chief. We must have a real and defined approach with experience, determination and a people-oriented approach. That is what I look for. He or she will have to know the community and work with the community on violence reduction. The ability to connect with all parts of our community — along with me, as I want to be in the thick of it — will be an asset.

"The fire chief will be statutorily qualified given the new law, but will also be a community person who can help educate both homeowners and business people on safety. Education is critical to fire safety. Also, we want to be sure our chief has the best knowledge of techniques and safety for our crews. Sometimes, we forget our fire department until we need them but we want them to be fully trained, well-equipped and ready."

7. Finish this sentence: Danville is better off with a mayor/aldermen form of government than a city administrator/aldermen form because ...

"It is the psychology of size. Danville is and always has been between what would be classified as an urban area — eligible for some useful transportation grants, among other things — but also small enough that people expect they can talk directly with the mayor and get something done. So the idea of a mayor and administrator never took hold.

"I can see both sides. But I am running to be a hands-on mayor, to be the type of person who will administrate directly and effectively. That has always been my approach. I want my staff to do the same. Evaluate problems and solve them. Once the election is over, and I obviously hope I win, it won't matter who you voted for. We want the entire Danville community to be the winner here and we will work hard to accomplish that."

8. On a 1-10 scale, with 10 being best, how would you rate Scott Eisenhauer's tenure as mayor?

"Scott Eisenhauer repeatedly won election as mayor. That tells you something. The electorate gave him a 10. So I think a 10 is in order.

"The downtown area in particular bears his imprint. There is much work to do, but Scott, who I worked with as board chairman directly, did a lot.

"I also worked with former Mayor Bob Jones. Both, to me, are valuable resources to consult with and I hope I have the opportunity to consult with both and many other veterans of city government that are here but moved on from the city."

9. How would you be most like — and most unlike — Eisenhauer as the city's leader?

"Like Scott, I want the city to look good and have that welcoming feeling when you see it for the first time. As I said before, I want to make Danville a destination point and draw people here to visit, maybe to stay. There is nothing wrong with thinking big and I am glad the city will seek a grant to develop the riverfront.

"Some people smile and say: Heck, who would come to Danville? Well, no one if that is your approach. But if you imagine the possibilities and try to get there, you can make Danville a better place for your kids and everyone. We may not achieve everything, but look at our possibilities. It will take a real and professional marketing study and business plan, but I have done that in my business. There is absolutely no reason why Danville cannot succeed and grow if we work together and, like Scott, think big.

"So far as 'unlike' Scott, that is hard to say. I really don't have a negative thing to offer, but we are two different personalities. I am and always have been a small business owner that has had to make ends meet. I have to balance my books knowing that the public will pay only so much to come to my business.

"When economic conditions changed, I had to adapt and modify my approach. It has worked so far and I hope it continues. But there is something to be said for being a small business owner that has to make ends meet, make the business survive another month or year and grow at the same time. I employ people who rely on my ability to make a payroll and do that every week. I work with them on dealing with the public in a positive manner because that is my bread and butter. That is one of my strengths. I respect the public and try to get along with everyone.

"When I was board chairman, I used to personally take a copy of the proposed budget to each board member and discuss it with them, even if briefly. We had just made the change to an executive format and I wanted to be sure each board member knew their opinion was needed and valued. It worked. People respect you when you show that kind of personal approach. I did the same with our elected office holders.

"I understand that even though this is a non-partisan race, politics is in the background and some want to avoid too much change. But I was able to navigate that divide when I first became county board chairman and I can do it again. We need a new approach because sometimes change is good. It opens doors and ideas. I can bring good government management experience and a small business owner's approach both. We all must pull together, row in the same direction.

"If we do, we cannot fail and will succeed."

10. What's the thing or two you're proudest of about living in Danville?

"First and foremost, my family. They are why I get up in the morning. We live here and love it. It is large enough to offer many opportunities, but small enough that you can actually know and meet with your government officials. We have the best of rural and urban in many ways. We are a principled community made up of a diverse population but we get along and succeed.

"Traditionally, Danville has always done more with less than most communities. We never give up. But I want to take that 'can-do' attitude to the next level. Given the state of the state, the next four years will be critical. I do not want Danville to be a causality of a budget crunch. I want us to rise above that and grow.

"The other thing I am proud of is our community. We have had a lot of famous people come from Danville. We also have a lot of unsung heroes and good people who do not make movies or headlines. But there is a reason we produce such people, famous and ordinary people who do good things.

"We are a small hometown piece of America. Our values and customs come from a rich blend or rural and urban America. Our histories, from farms to coal mines, have brought us a valuable tradition and history to look back on. With that always 'can do' tradition, I want to make the next four years another great chapter in our history and growth."

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