This last week I had an opportunity to attend a workshop that focused on racism in today’s culture. It’s a tough topic to discuss because the majority of our society recognizes its reality but denies it exists in our personal daily lives. That is, if you are not a person of color. The belief for many is “it’s not me” or “it isn’t a factor in my neighborhood.” The workshop was sponsored by The Anti-Racism Committee of the Sisters of St. Francis. According to the workshop definition of racial prejudice it is “a negative attitude toward a person or group, usually based on stereotypes and without knowledge of a group’s history or experience.” The racial prejudice is often applied to persons of color. A person of color is one who is not white or of European ancestry, according to another definition used in the workshop. Most racial bias is subtle and not even recognized when it happens to someone. Very often it is not even intentional. For example, have you ever assumed an African-American individual is exceptional at sports? Or an Asian- American has an exceptional aptitude in math or science? There is a term for that type of stereo-typing. It’s called microaggression.
Too many trucks on the road are a common refrain in the Will County area and it packs a lot of reality. The County’s road infrastructure is inadequate considering the amount of usage required on a daily basis. Any mention of adding to that truck volume often brings out protests from residents most affected by the additional traffic a new commercial development brings. Thus, the opposition to the proposed Loves Truck Center. Not every proposal involving trucks can be considered unwanted and unnecessary, however. The proposed site for the truck center is located next to a major interstate and opens up the possibility of additional development on the 300 acres of available land. There has never been any other probable use for that stretch of property that would not involve trucks. The zoning for the parcel supports commercial development. It is unrealistic that the land would remain vacant or used for residential.
Labor Day weekend has ended and that marks the official end of summer. Fall is supposed to bring crisp, cooler weather. That’s certainly not the experience of this last week and most likely we can look forward to another few weeks of outdoor weather enjoyment. The kids are back in school and elections are around the corner. It was an unusual last week of summer, though. Two major personalities passed away. The unusual circumstances, however, were not their deaths, but the elaborate celebrations of their lives that took place over the entire week. Most of the media outlets provided extended coverage of all the eulogies and flashbacks detailing their remarkable careers and accomplishments. It was awe inspiring. What struck me most, besides the accomplishments of these two people almost at opposite ends of life’s spectrum, was the look-back at history 50 years ago. Senator John McCain was a prisoner of war at the Hanoi Hilton and Aretha Franklin was an iconic star on the soul music scene. In 1968 the Vietnam war was at its peak. Almost everyone knew someone affected by the conflict. The civil rights movement was in the news on a nightly basis right next to coverage of the Vietnam conflict. I looked up a timeline of the events from that year. It was mind-numbing. Here’s a partial list:
Monday’s meeting of the Joliet City Council hosted another presentation from Holsten Development regarding the former Evergreen Terrace public housing complex, now known as Riverwalk Homes. The discussion that followed the presentation seemed to run in circles at times. In fact, at one point in the conversation, City Attorney Marty Shanahan in response to a question from the Council said “It’s complicated.” Indeed! It was August of 2011 when HUD (Housing and Urban Development) filed a lawsuit against the City of Joliet citing 35 factual allegations against the City’s housing plan. The lawsuit accused Joliet of violating the Fair Housing Amendments Act, which is part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, and the Housing and Community Development Act. The lawsuit was dismissed when the City agreed to a mandate that basically stated that Joliet would maintain the same number of units currently available at Evergreen Terrace’s current location. The reduction of any available units at that location would have to be replaced by units located at other sites within the corporate limits of the City of Joliet. A mandate known by other names is an order, command, directive, decree, dictate, obligation, or most importantly “you must do it.” It has taken the ensuing seven years to arrive at the juncture reached at this week’s City Council meeting. The final decision has not yet been determined and may not be reached for several more months. What seems most certain at this time is the final decision will look much like what was determined seven years ago: Riverwalk Homes will be maintained at its current location with the same 356-unit configuration currently available.
Good planning, we are taught, is essential for an endeavor to succeed. Of course, what is not always considered is whose success we are talking about. Success or failure in the private sector is often overlooked beyond the financial news in the media. Not so in the government arena. Two of those municipal planning endeavors have grabbed our attention of late. One is the re-purposing of the old Joliet Prison on Collins Street. The other is yet another proposed trucking terminal off of Renwick Road next to I-55. One is for fun and the other promises jobs and municipal revenue. Let’s go for the fun one first. The old prison finally closed as a viable penal institution in 2001. As a sustainable incarceration institution, it was over as far back as the 1970’s and maybe before then. It was built as an answer to overcrowding of the privately-run Alton prison located on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. That prison was run like a slave-labor camp for the profit of it’s owner. The Joliet Prison opened in 1857 as a solution to overcrowding. The location of the prison was steered by a three-person committee. One member of the committee was Nelson Elwood, a former Mayor of Joliet with considerable political and economic influence. That’s according to the book “Joliet Prisons, Images in Time” by former area resident Robert E. Sterling.
The City of Joliet faces some major challenges over the next few years. For instance, needed infrastructure improvements to accommodate the increased truck traffic from the largest inland port in the country, re-inventing downtown Joliet, developing the old Collins street prison into an entertainment venue, and finding additional uses for the baseball stadium. These are but a few of the challenges that will occupy our attention for a few years, maybe longer. Some challenges take much longer. The city took decades to face the mandated combined sewer separation project. When the project was originally mandated the city council at the time used the now well-worn “kick-the-can down the road” option to let future councils deal with it. When the current council committed to the project last year the cost had more than doubled and the city had to borrow money for the project. The City faces other, more daunting undertakings. One of the most important challenges facing the city, and surrounding communities as well, is where will we get our water supply for the future? Joliet Councils have been debating this issue longer than any issues mentioned above. When Walt Kelly of the Illinois Water Survey made a presentation to the Will County Board 18 months ago, Joliet decided it was time to get serious. Kelly said the well may run dry in as little as 15 years from now.
After 165 years the Joliet Fire Department has hired its first female Firefighter. If you believe a new wave of diversity is occurring don’t hold your breath. According to the website DATAUSA female firefighters account for less than five percent of the 1.1 million firefighters in the country. Diversity in firefighting is a long way from reality. It’s one of the last bastions of white male employment. Approximately 85.5 percent of firefighters are white males. It’s also one of the best paying jobs in municipal government. Average pay for a Joliet firefighter, including overtime, exceeds $100,000 annually. The new firefighter, Carissa Smith, can look forward to substantial pay and excellent benefits. At age 59 she can retire with a generous pension and free lifetime health insurance. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another 165 years to recruit more female firefighters. While we’re on the subject of benefits, a couple of weeks ago the City of Joliet settled a lawsuit originally brought by a retired Joliet firefighter that will cost the Joliet city coffers in excess of $700,000. The city must reimburse employees who retired prior to 2010 for an increase in premiums for their guaranteed lifetime health insurance. The premiums, according to the settlement cannot increase until 2030. It’s possible they won’t increase then either. The final cost of the settlement will be determined by the addition of the legal expense for the lawsuit.
The City of Joliet baseball stadium is now in it’s 16th season and has been continuously occupied since opening day in 2002. The first occupants were the Joliet Jackhammers. The initial season saw over 180,000 fans attend the games played. The fans came to see the team play, have a couple of hot dogs, maybe a beverage and they were kept amused with between inning entertainment. Success seemed assured. The city used casino revenue to pay cash for the construction of then named Silver Cross Field. The original cost was somewhere around $27- $29 million. There never was a plan submitted by the city, or anyone else, that projected how much revenue would be necessary to maintain the structure and the grounds. There was never any consideration made for paying back to city coffers the revenue used to build the stadium. Quite the contrary, it was said to be a “quality of life project” that would enhance the downtown and its environs. It was also said that no taxpayer money was used in its construction. In those days casino revenue was free money, not taxpayer dollars, according to city officials at the time.
The last day to fill a vacancy in nomination for the November 6, 2018 General Election was June 4. If no candidate for an established party runs in the General Primary, the established party managing committee can appoint a candidate to be placed on the ballot for the November 6 General Election. This candidate must file the correct documentation along with collecting the same amount of signatures required for candidates running in the General Primary. The candidate list for the upcoming November 6, 2018 General Election is available with the appointed candidates listed at thewillcountyclerk.com. To find the candidate list on the website, use the link under the What’s New section on the homepage.
The summer of 2018 officially began with the Memorial Day weekend and is on the books. Proper complaints against the weather can now begin with “it’s too hot” in place of “it’s too cold.” Just as the summer is beginning the Illinois Spring legislative session ends this week on Thursday. Expanding gambling is again up for discussion in the legislature. Opposition to any new gaming positions is quite strong among those who believe any expansion of gaming only diminishes existing gambling operations. Senator Terry Link, a Democrat from Waukegan, disagrees. He was quoted as saying: “They build new casinos next door to one another in Vegas, and none of them are going out of business.” He may have a point regarding Las Vegas but it hasn’t panned out in Illinois over the last 10 years. In 2011, before video gaming spots were legalized for locations outside the state’s 10 casino sites, the State of Illinois’ share of gaming receipts for the year was $400.8 million. The revenue had peaked in 2007 at $718.2 million. Then in 2012 video gaming was introduced in September. Only $3.1 million was produced in the four remaining months of 2012. The next year the State’s share of revenue jumped to over $75 million from video gaming and more than doubled that to $164.9 million by 2014.