Memorial Day is the federal holiday in the United States for remembering those people who died while serving in the country's armed forces. It was formerly known as Decoration Day and was traditionally observed on May 30. This year Memorial Day falls on Monday the 27th and is this next weekend. It was officially declared a national holiday in 1967. It is the traditional holiday that starts the summer. It is always a three-day weekend since the Uniform Monday Holiday Act went into effect in 1968. The holiday moved from its traditional observance on May 30 to the last Monday in May. Families and friends gather for picnics and numerous outdoor events in observance of the holiday weekend. There are also the incessant holiday sales hyped by businesses big and small. But that’s not really what Memorial Day weekend is about. The official and traditional purpose of Memorial Day is a commemoration for soldiers who lost their lives while serving their country. The grateful phrase “Thanks for your service” should be reserved that weekend for those service members who paid the ultimate price-- they died fighting in battle for the United States of America.
Joliet has some unique challenges currently facing its future. The rapid residential growth of the early 2000’s has mostly halted and the concentration of the last several years is on economic growth. Seems Joliet can’t build enough warehouse space to accommodate the demand. At least that’s what it looks like. CenterPoint Intermodal Center and the areas surrounding it are the focal point for warehouse development. No one needs to coax the developers. They just keep on coming. That’s not the case for other areas of Joliet. With some exceptions, Joliet has a difficult time attracting private development without significant incentives to lure growth and expansion. In fact, some of our long-term businesses and employers seem to need incentives to stay here. Recently, two auto dealerships, already with a presence here, were each given in excess of $3 million worth of incentives for new dealerships they are building on Joliet’s far west side. Locating a business in Joliet must not be as desirable as we want to believe. The people at City Hall must believe it, though. Indeed, the following statement is printed at the bottom of most of the correspondence sent from city hall: “The City of Joliet is the third largest city in the State of Illinois and home to over 149,000 residents. Joliet sits 35 miles southwest of Chicago and is easily accessible by auto, train and bus; making it the perfect place to live, work and play.” We all want to believe Joliet is the place to work and play because we live here, but the evidence isn’t always working for us. To that end the City of Joliet is currently promoting three separate Tax Increment Financing Districts. For those of you who are less familiar with the TIF concept, it is a method to entice economic development to areas of the city that developers are presently not interested in developing. Tax incentives are made available to promote and incentivize properties that are “blighted or in disrepair.”
The Consolidated election results will not be official until April 23 when all of the ballots not counted on election night are audited and certified. The outcomes for Joliet’s City Council newly-elected members will be recognized at the May 6 council meeting. There will be some pomp and circumstance, no doubt, but there will only be one new addition to the City Council, Sharon “Sherri Reardon. She replaces John Gerl, who did not run for reelection. Mayor O’Dekirk ran unopposed and totaled just under 7500 votes on election night. That’s slightly more votes than four years ago when he captured 52 percent of the vote in a three-person race for mayor. Money spent for the 2019 O’Dekirk campaign was slightly higher than in 2015 ($48,728 v. $45,174) even though he was unopposed. Prior to the 2015 Joliet City Council election, while voting patterns were relatively similar, campaign fund expenditures were typically in the $20,000 or less range for mayoral candidates. Compare those results to the king of mayoral elections in Will County and the State of Illinois outside of Chicago, Bolingbrook Mayor Roger Claar. He barely won his last election in 2017 so he did not need to campaign for mayor this election cycle, but still spent almost $112,000 according to the most recently filed Illinois State Board of Election report. Claar spends about $50,000 or more each reporting quarter whether he has an election or not. He’s quite a campaigner for the six or seven thousand votes he gets every mayoral election.
If you Google the definition of politics it states “Politics is the way that people living in groups make decisions.... In everyday life, the term "politics" refers to the way that countries are governed, and to the ways that governments make rules and laws.” Governments are political creatures. Politics has and probably always will be a game of “gotcha.” There are several varieties of political action. Some actions tend to be divisive and some are mildly harmless. For instance, campaigns tend to operate on the idea of “I’m right and you’re wrong on the issues.” Any given candidate may be correct in the statement, but it’s hard to know because there are seldom facts to back up a given claim. Then there is the “I can do anything you can do, only better.” Actually, that is probably the most normal way politics is conducted during a campaign for election. It’s oftentimes the most normal because the candidates themselves are not schooled on what the issues are. Another method is the “one-upmanship.” That’s when a candidate or officeholder puts forth an idea and the opponent will attempt to go one better. It can be a real positive but this method usually suffers from a lack of how the idea will be funded or accomplished. The most divisive and destructive type of politics is “revenge politics.” I don’t suggest it is “to the victor belongs the spoils.” That’s fair game in politics. Revenge politics sometimes occurs during an election campaign but more often it occurs after the election is over. It is more subtle. Most of the time it’s barely noticed. Oftentimes it’s disguised as legislation or job replacement. Recent legislation being proposed by State Representative Natalie Manley looks somewhat like revenge politics. Maybe not, but last Fall, Representative Manley supported the recently elected Will County Clerk, Lauren Staley-Ferry, in the Democrat primary election. Lockport Township Clerk, Denise Mushro-Rumchak, ran against Staley-Ferry for the position. The legislation being proposed eliminates the Will County Township clerks in Manley’s Illinois Legislative District. The responsibilities would be done by the Will County Clerk. The premise of the legislation, she calls it a pilot program, is to save taxpayers the cost for what Manley describes as “duplicative services.”
The City of Joliet Environmental Commission (the water commission) continues to trudge on towards a decision regarding the future source of drinking water for Joliet residents and perhaps other residents beyond its borders. In fact, that is one of the major issues being reviewed, studied and deliberated: Will Joliet be a purchaser of water from a third party or will Joliet be a regional supplier of water to surrounding communities? Actually, the process of finding a new source of water supply has been talked about for at least the last two decades. The last serious attempt to find a new source began back in the year 2000. At that time the impetus was not so much about finding a new source of water supply but finding a source that did not contain the high levels of radium found in the deep wells Joliet is still using. The City decided to go the route of removing the radium from the existing wells by building filtration plants for the removal purpose. The idea for a new water source was shelved until this last year. At that time in 2000, Joliet had gone so far as to set aside $55 million for the project. The timeline was set for a switch to the Kankakee River as a water source by the year 2004. By 2003 the idea of using the Kankakee River for a water source was abandoned. Then City Manager John Mezera said the idea of using a filtration method to remove the radium would be less costly than the projected $150 million it would cost to pump water from the Kankakee River.
The Consolidated Election is almost upon us. On April 2 voters in Will County will choose people to represent them on school boards, park districts and municipal boards, in most cases, for the next four years. It seems as if we are in a constant state of election campaigns. On the national level campaigns have become perpetual events. Local elections, however, are just as important. You wouldn’t know that judging by voter turnout. Joliet’s last mayoral election was in 2015. There were three candidates running for mayor. Incumbent Mayor Tom Giarrante and candidate Andy Mihelich lost to current Mayor Robert O’Dekirk. There were several hotbed issues including the public housing complex on Broadway Street, the City of Joliet subsidizing the Rialto Theatre and other budget problems. With all that going on, voter turnout in was just over 15 percent. Apathy ruled. The ballot for Joliet on April 2 has one name on the ballot for mayor, incumbent Mayor Robert O’Dekirk. All successful political campaigns require resources, usually money, to get the message out to the voters. O’Dekirk was certainly ready to campaign hard for reelection. The Mayor has over $196,000 in his campaign fund according to his last quarterly campaign fund disclosure filed in January of this year. One of the major issues for the City Council revolves around the truck traffic clogging the area Interstates and roads surrounding Joliet. Another big issue is where Joliet will get its water supply from for the next 50-100 years. After many years of delaying a resolution of the water supply sustainability the City Council finally decided to do something about it. Since there is no resolution of cost or sourcing to date, the issue is still on the backburner. Although the uproar with the public housing complex issue mentioned above has subsided there is insufficient revenue to do any redevelopment of the property as originally promised. The Rialto Theatre still faces a funding crisis, but the turmoil surrounding the place has also abated.
An increase in the minimum wage paid to workers always sparks debate among those who see it as the demise of small business and the loss of profit for big corporations. Generally, the debate centers on those who depend on entry level jobs and the hastening of automation that will eliminate the very jobs that command minimum wages. Most of the arguments regarding the newly increased minimum wage in Illinois, are the same ones raised the last time it was increased from $6.50 in 2007 to the current $8.25 in 2010. The increase is incrementally set to increase over five years starting in 2020 at $9.25. That’s not really the big deal some have made of it when you consider that, based on the Consumer Price Index, a wage of $8.25 per hour in January of 2010 has the same buying power of $9.58 today. Put another way, if the minimum wage were indexed for inflation, today’s minimum wage would be $9.58. That’s higher than it will be a year from now. The minimum wage in 1978 was $2.65 per hour. That equates to $10.67 today, according to the CPI.
President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday coincided with the Chinese New Year known in many Asian countries, including China, as Tet. In Vietnam the new year is officially named Tet Nguyen Dan. Tet is considered one of the most important holidays in Asian culture with families gathering in their hometowns to celebrate, much in the same way families gather in the USA for Christmas or Thanksgiving. Before the Tet holiday begins Vietnamese try to get rid of any "bad fortune" by cleaning their homes, buying new clothes, resolving disputes, and paying their debts. The Vietnamese spend much of the holiday paying respect to family and friends. They also court lady luck because they believe that events occurring during Tet can determine what happens during the rest of the year. It seems almost ironic that the State of the Union address was held on the first day of the Tet holiday. Especially the idea of “resolving disputes” and “paying their debts.” Good advice. The Tet holiday also holds an indelible memory for the United States, particularly for those who served in the military during the Tet offensive in 1968 Vietnam. The occasion that year was supposed to begin a cease-fire in the shooting war that would last several days. Instead, the government of North Vietnam used the event to begin an offensive that turned out to be a turning point in the war that eventually ended Americans popular support of the war.
Now that the year’s first snowstorm has past and we’re in the first real cold snap of the winter, it’s time to start thinking summer. One of the best preoccupations of summer is baseball. Joliet is a baseball city but it’s not the only locale in the region with a minor league team. The “Bigs”, otherwise known as Major League Baseball, have two Chicago teams, the Cubs and the White Sox, but there are five other professional baseball teams in the region. One, The Kane County Cougars, lays claim to being the only affiliated Class-A Major League Baseball team in the Chicago area. Since 1991 the Cougars have welcomed over 11 million fans to their home games. They have been affiliated with the Arizona Diamondbacks since 2015. They will play 69 home games this year starting on April 6.
The City of Joliet has embarked on the mission of finding a sustainable water source that will last 50 years or more and capable of remaining free of contamination for the duration of sustainability. Oh, and it must be affordable. Affordable means different things to a diverse demographic. The City of Joliet’s Phase 2 water study will focus on cost. That focus will determine whether Joliet will be a regional supplier of water in partnership with other suppliers or the owner of the system that controls water purchases by other municipalities. Phase 1 of the Alternative Water Source Study is contained in a 264-page draft report. The report’s recommendations identify three major sources of water that meet criteria studied and discussed by the Environmental Commission. The three are the Kankakee River, Illinois River and Lake Michigan. The Kankakee River offers four variations of source and Lake Michigan has three variations. The report is available on the City of Joliet website. By way of full disclosure, I am a member of the Environmental Commission.