A group of Southeast High School students participated in Illnois Public Media’s Civics Youth Engagement Summit in March. They came up with ten questions to ask.
Illinois Public Media emailed questionnaires to the candidates for city council. Below are the submitted responses from Ward 7 Ald. Joe McMenamin. Candidate Brad Carlson did not respond.
This post may be updated.
McMenamin: As a member of the City Council, I supported the East side TIF districts which dedicate funds from property taxes to encourage investment within a district. I supported the recent allocation of TIF funds for Poplar Place. I am dedicated to reviving and improving all the older neighborhoods in Springfield, and I value the wishes of the people in their neighborhoods. I have successfully enacted cost share plumbing improvement plans for homes in older neighborhoods.
McMenamin: Affordable housing is a key problem in our older neighborhoods. To keep the housing stock we already have in good repair, home owners need financial incentives such as the 2014 cost-share program I co-sponsored to upgrade basement plumbing to prevent sewer backups. In my third term I plan to propose a cost-share program to repair residential fresh water pipe laterals from the house to the street. City support like this helps maintain the quality of life in older neighborhoods.
I strongly support investing in infrastructure and beautification of all the City’s gateways, including Clearlake, South Grand, Peoria Road, MacArthur, and Jefferson. These improvements create a positive environment that encourages pride and care in the surrounding neighborhoods. I support the TIFs we have to encourage businesses and development. I oppose urban sprawl that costs the city too much and takes funds away from our older neighborhoods that are the heart and soul of the city. I am a member and supporter of the Inner City Older Neighborhoods Association.
I support groups that empower and develop our youth by personally contributing funds to the YMCA, The Outlet, The Boys and Girls Club, Compass, the Northside Children’s Library, the African American Museum, The Springfield Area Arts Council, and the Springfield Art Association. I have encouraged the Mayor to allocate funds for summer youth employment.
McMenamin: There is an expression that says, “If you want to solve a problem, you have to get close to the problem.” Working as an alderman, you have the opportunity to learn about needs throughout the city, even though you are absorbed with the needs of your own ward. The first step to understanding others is to listen and learn. My wife and I are involved in church outreach at Westminster Presbyterian Church, The Faith Coalition for the Common Good, the Boys and Girls Club, Compass, Inner City Older Neighborhood Association,and various Art groups. Personal learning and communication through groups like these helps to unite people. As a city official, I support diversity in employment and on voluntary boards.
McMenamin: I am a longtime member of Downtown Springfield, Inc. Beatification of downtown was one of their first priorities. I supported extension of the downtown TIF and seek to use those funds to redevelop older buildings for businesses, educational institutions, and housing. There is a need for affordable housing downtown to attract younger people and those with limited means
McMenamin: Having a UIS presence downtown would be ideal. In particular, their Public Affairs program is closely connected to the legislature. The Incubator is also located downtown. College students would revitalize shopping, restaurants, and housing. The University could help redevelop older buildings. There is plenty of space.
McMenamin: Springfield is an affordable and historic town with many opportunities in the arts, beautiful parks, expanding bike paths, and progressive public schools. Citizens should be more positive when they talk about Springfield. Our schools will be getting some much needed upgrades due to the recently passed sales tax increase. District 186 could also do small, cost effective improvements to their grounds to make the sites more appealing, such as repairing their signs, and adding more landscaping and outside art. Students could be involved in all aspects, from gardening to sculpture. Diversity in the student population is one of our strengths. Our great students are often honored at City Council meetings for their achievements, and the District could do more to make themselves known.
McMenamin: Good question! In people’s busy lives, they often do not know what ward they live in or who serves as their Alderman. Mayor Langfelder initiated the Ward meetings and there are many Neighborhood Association meetings. Elected officials have the obligation to attend gatherings of all kinds and get to know the citizens. Outreach through social media and email are also helpful. I use emails to over 800 constituents to share important information.
McMenamin: Yes. I voted against allowing video gambling in Springfield. It takes advantage of people who often cannot afford to gamble. Most of the profit goes out of the community to the people who own the machines and parlors. The city benefits much less than was promised. I have voted for measures that limit its expansion. As long as it exists, I will sponsor an ordinance next term to raise the fee for video gambling licenses that the city would use to support a cost-share program for lateral line plumbing replacement in older neighborhoods.
I have supported ordinances that limit the number of gambling licenses and I will vote against efforts to bring a casino to Springfield. I am open to suggestions as to how I could discourage gambling further.
McMenamin: Student Interns are a great way to educate young people about the workings of government. I have employed 4 interns who have helped me with everything from leafletting in campaigns, tracking and posting news stories on my website, setting up social media, attending meetings. Perhaps our teachers have some good ideas about how their students could become involved in raising awareness about important issues, such as gun safety, the environment, bullying, social justice.
Thank you for the opportunity to reflect on these questions and to learn about your concerns. I commend you for your interest in local government. We need an informed and caring citizenry. You are the future.