ELECTION 2019 QUESTIONNAIRES | Danville mayor: Steve Nichols

ELECTION 2019 QUESTIONNAIRES | Danville mayor: Steve Nichols

1. What prompted you to run for mayor?

"I believe that with the departure of Mayor (Scott) Eisenhauer, it was the right time for me to run for mayor and make the changes that are necessary to change the direction of the city.

"Mayor Eisenhauer was a great ambassador for our city. He was instrumental in the creation of the many neighborhood groups that exist in our town. I have supported these efforts in the past and will build on the foundation that has been laid in the future.

"My differences arise in two areas, which are connected. I believe that the former mayor was not as hands-on a leader as I believe he should have been. The department heads exercised too much power and that led to my second concern, which is finance.

"We have taxed people out of our city with continual property tax increases. The focus was on the rate, which ignored the reality of a large percentage of the tax burden falling on a constantly shrinking number of home owners. We must have a fair system, which encourages investment in home ownership and brings folks back into the city and grows the tax base."

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

"I bring a unique blend of experiences in the private and public sectors. As a district manager with Steak 'n Shake, I supervised 10 units scattered all over central Illinois and western Indiana with over 400 employees, 30 managers and over $20 million in sales annually. I was responsible for all facets of the operation: personnel, marketing, vendors, profit and loss, and maintenance 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

"In the public sector, I am one of 14 aldermen and chairman of the Public Services Committee. This committee has oversight of police, fire, human relations, human resources and finance. I have a solid understanding of how government works and how to improve it.

"I have been active in many community organizations and am currently vice president of the Vermilion Heritage Foundation/the Fischer Theatre.

"I intend to bring a high level of customer service, hands-on leadership and better follow-through and accountability to the mayor's office."

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

"We must re-establish the faith that our city government is working for the people and not the other way around. The last few years, we have focused on city personnel, city pensions and other peripheral issues that have taken us away from our mission, which is to deliver the best and most cost-effective services possible to our customers — the citizens of Danville.

"We must build a bridge to the large number of people who wanted to change the form of government. We must acknowledge their frustrations and take steps to address their warranted concerns about the financial health of Danville.

"I will establish a citizen group to make suggestions that address these concerns."

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

"The gun violence epidemic in our city must be contained. I have been attending meetings of the Moms Demand Action group that focuses on gun sense. While I do not support all of their positions, I have deep respect for their commitment and courage to stand up against violence in our city.

"The answer to this question is not simple or easy. We can start by hiring three more officers, as proposed by Acting Mayor (Rickey) Williams, and re-establish a Problem Orientated Police unit, which can target specific areas.

"We should establish a city satellite base and community center in the east Danville neighborhoods experiencing high levels of crime. This will serve not only as a police sub-station, but as a staging area for city inspectors and other personnel working in that area and bring them together with neighborhood citizens. We must involve all city employees in this solution.

"I will conduct four city council meetings a year in various neighborhoods, beginning in the eastern section. This will encourage more people to attend and make them more comfortable in addressing their concerns to the city council. It will also introduce all city staff and other aldermen to residents in all sections of town. I am serious about taking the government out to the people.

"We must select a police chief that not only can build morale but has the knowledge and experience in training our many new officers in the reality of our situation. The people in neighborhoods must have faith and confidence in law enforcement.

"The mayor must establish a better relationship with the county sheriff and state's attorney. This must be a team effort with everyone at the table."

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

"Dire is a pretty strong word. We certainly have challenges and face the same obstacles that most cities in Illinois are confronting. We currently have $3 million in reserves in the sewer enterprise fund and $1.1 million in reserves in the solid waste enterprise funds. Those balances are evidence that we are not in dire straits.

"We do need a one-year freeze on higher taxes and fee increases. We must go back to the drawing board and approach the city budget like we are starting a city from scratch. What do we need and want, and what's the best way to fund these activities? We should look at outsourcing where feasible to reduce long-term pension costs. We should look for ways to partner with the various townships and the county to eliminate areas of duplication and redundancy.

"The public safety pension question is always top of mind. In the 2019 levy, we will collect $6.8 million in property taxes and contribute $8.1 million for public safety pensions alone. We have always paid the pensions earned by our city employees and always will. Changes in federal government accounting rules and additional benefits mandated by the state have negatively affected our actual fund balances and how they are reported.

"The easy answer is that we will find areas to cut and increase the funding. The reality is that unless we are willing to forego all current obligations around streets and infrastructure, we must work with other municipalities and the state government to find ways to deal with this issue. Anyone that tells you they can reduce spending or raise taxes to reach the state requirement is misleading you. We must combine with other communities downstate and force real reform at the state level."

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?

"We need a dedicated police chief to focus on the serious issues that we face, improve morale and provide the necessary training to deal with the reality of our situation. We need a search group, representing all facets of our community to assure that not only we hire the best person, but that we have the buy-in of the entire community.

"We must find the funding to hire the right person through a thorough analysis of all department spending. The amount in Acting Mayor Williams' budget is not adequate.

"The fire situation is more difficult as a result of recent state legislation. I believe that to create a fire chief position, we will need some give and take with the firefighters' union. I am confident with the additional firefighters hired as a result of the Safer grant, we will be able to find common ground and get a fire chief in place."

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

"The citizens are the boss and a majority expect and deserve a full-time elected leader of the city.

"The state has an elected governor in charge of operations, the county has a full-time chairman, and the federal government has as its leader — the elected President. The city should be no different.

"I also believe that we need to put in place some permanent structural changes to address the concerns of the proponents of the city manager form of government."

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

"7.5. Nobody loves Danville any more than Scott Eisenhauer. He has a huge passion for the community and was an outstanding ambassador to the outside world for Danville. He was the driving force behind the establishment of neighborhood groups.

"His lack of prior experience in the private sector and his never having managed a large enterprise resulted in an over-reliance on department heads and staff and led to a 'tail wagging the dog' situation where he was being led instead of being the leader.

"I also believe that he should have been more hands-on in running the departments. This especially was evident in the fire department, where the situation became hostile between the parties and in engineering, where costs and accountability are lacking. Frankly, that is the concern that I have about Rickey Williams. We need someone with experience in the private sector and who's not afraid to say no."

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

"I will build on the successes in our neighborhood organizations and work with them in more ways to actively deal with the societal issues that we are facing. I will be positive about Danville's present and future and will be active in all community activities.

"I will be different in that I will spend most of my time in the field. My experience has been that the best ideas come from the people who are actually doing the work.

"I will spend time with the fire department and work diligently to repair that relationship. I will spend time in the field with the new police chief and be active in assuring that we form real partnerships with those in troubled neighborhoods.

"We will institute zero-based budgeting and go through the budget line by line in committee. That was promised this year, but what we got was more of the same overview. "We will have council meetings in the neighborhoods. I am serious about taking the government to the people.

"We will make sure that all plans are made public and not sprung on people at the last minute.

"I will sit down with the group that worked to change the government and take real actions to address their concerns."

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

"I love the fact that we have unlimited numbers of people willing to give their money and, more importantly, their time to put together great events and to address the challenges facing our community.

"The NJCAA basketball tournament held at DACC is a prime example, along with the Step-Up group made up of community members, business owners, educators, social service providers and elected officials. There are too many examples to mention.

"Another positive is our ongoing legacy of talented performers. We talk a lot about the stars from Danville, but no other community that I know of, of our size, has a symphony orchestra, a municipal band and numerous performing arts groups. Our past stars have laid the foundation for our continued success in the arts.

"In closing, win or lose, I love Danville and there is no place in the world I would rather live. I have the experience, the vision and the temperament to be mayor of this great city."

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