ELECTION 2019 QUESTIONNAIRES | Danville mayor: Rickey Williams Jr.

ELECTION 2019 QUESTIONNAIRES | Danville mayor: Rickey Williams Jr.

1. What prompted you to run for mayor?

"In 1996, we held our first-ever Vermilion County Youth Summit, and I was chosen by my peers to be the chairman. It was a bit of a surprise to me as I was somewhat reserved at the time. It was then that God first placed the desire to be mayor one day in my heart.

"I am running today because Danville is at a crossroads: we will either thrive or continue to decline. As mayor, I pledge to carefully and responsibly manage the two most important parts of our community: our people and our resources. This starts by cultivating a culture of respect within our city team and for the people we serve.

"Government cannot do anything without first taking from citizens and businesses; therefore, we owe it to you to do the absolute best with what you provide. I want to bring strong stewardship to our city so that we can thrive and help Danville continue to be a place where people want to live, work, play and visit."

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

"My educational training and practical management experience has given me a proven record of taking entities on the verge of collapse and turning them into prosperous pillars of the community.

"I am an excellent communicator who is honest, hard-working, respectful and a good steward. In 13 years, organizations under my leadership operated in the black all but one year. At the Boys & Girls Club, we nearly doubled our revenue while serving three times as many children and paying off our $300,000-plus mortgage — during the Great Recession.

"At Project Success, we've grown from a budget of only about $700,000 with four sites and less than 30 employees to a nearly $2 million budget with 15 sites and more than 120 employees by securing more than $11 million in new grants. I have shown that I manage money well and am a strong team leader; that is what we need to secure our future."

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

"Providing our Public Safety Department the resources they need to ensure the safety of our citizens. This will be done by managing our resources, particularly our staff and our finances, incredibly well so that public safety can be properly funded.

"We have to ensure that our citizens not only feel safe, but actually are safe. We will take back our neighborhoods."

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

"Take three steps.

"First, change the way we patrol the city from a rotational basis to assigning officers a specific area. This will allow the residents to get to know and trust them, which will help build rapport, and allow the officers to get a better handle on the neighborhood, allowing more crimes to be solved.

"Second, we need to reinstitute our POP (Problem Oriented Policing) Unit to focus on particular crimes — violence, drug and gang activity — in particular areas.

"Third, we need to work to establish programs like the Violence Interrupters used in places around the country. They use individuals who have left a life a crime to work with those who are currently involved and help them transition out of a violent lifestyle. When shootings happen, they meet with the families on both sides to provide supports and interventions to keep the situation from escalating. They also do preventative programming to preclude such instances from occurring in the first place."

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

"Our financial position is dire and stewardship holds the key to improving it. I have not traditionally supported new revenues because we were not doing the best we could with what the public had already given us. In that spirit, every year except one, I have recommended the elimination of a number of positions and reductions in salaries of others.

"Unfortunately, my fellow aldermen, including Alderman (Steve) Nichols, failed to support those recommendations. However, in the short time I have been mayor, we have eliminated four positions, reduced the salary of another, and we will likely eliminate another position or two.

"However, we are close to cutting as much as we can without hindering services and we also have a public safety pension shortfall of over $100 million. Therefore, I reluctantly support additional revenues such as the increased hotel-motel tax as it doesn't directly burden residents.

"I will not ask for more money unless absolutely necessary. Unfortunately, it is necessary, and any candidate who tells you that we can get out of the hole without additional revenues is dishonest."

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?

"The budget I have proposed reinstates separate fire and police chiefs, allowing commanders to lead their departments while focusing on issues important to you and our city. The plan is to hopefully transition one of the assistant chiefs in the fire department into a chief's position; this would mean we are not starting from scratch in terms of funding it.

"In the police department, Director Thomason's salary would roll into that of the chief of police position. Additional funding needed to round out these salaries would come from the new business license and gaming terminal fees I have proposed."

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

First, the latter is less democratic; it eliminates our ability to elect the person who will run/manage the city. If we do not like the way things are being run now, we have an opportunity to vote for a new mayor. We would not have the ability to vote for the city manager.

"Second, it eliminates checks and balances, weakening the executive branch and subjecting the chief decision-maker — city manager — to the whim of eight aldermen. This is somewhat akin to the mayor-commissioner form of government deemed illegal in 1987. Currently, the mayor maintains independence much like the governor or president; if he disagrees with the city council, he may say so and fight for whatever either he feels or we as citizens have told him is best.

"A city manager whose job is dependent upon the pleasure of eight aldermen will not have that same option. He will have to do what he is told or risk losing his job.

"What happens if the interest of eight people do not align with citizens' interests? Do you think he will choose us over them if his job is at stake?

"Finally, it costs substantially more. Therefore, we are better off with our current form of government."

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

"I will not provide a number; however, my predecessor did some things well and others left something to be desired.

"He took a step in the right direction by implementing the automated solid waste collection system, getting our pension payments back on track, and securing grant funding to help support local projects.

"However, he was not a strong manager of people or money. Under his leadership, some department heads and departments were afforded unmerited favor while others were unfairly attacked and degraded. He raised taxes too often without first eliminating waste and doled out ridiculously large raises to certain members of his administration."

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

"I would be most like Scott in a sense that I can easily relate to and communicate with people. I appreciate and respect the connections he made with people.

"I am most unlike him in that I am better steward of people and money. You can count on me to do the best we can to provide the services you need before asking you for any more money. I will also ensure that all city team members — both union and non-union — are held accountable but also treated respectfully and fairly."

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

"I am most proud of our people and our natural resources. Our citizens' sincerity, tenacity, friendliness and willingness to serve are incomparable. We have brilliant people who work hard to make a good life for themselves and to improve the lives of others. They are creative, artistic and ingenious.

"Right here in Danville, we make the machines that power the world while also having some of the best local theater and art. Our city has a lot of natural beauty and I plan to better capitalize on our natural resources by developing the riverfront and improving our parks and recreational opportunities."

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