"The only reason I'm leaving the
council is because I'm moving out of the ward," Bill Melton says. He
and his family are building their dream house out west of town,
which they'll move into soon, so he didn't run again for his Ward 4
seat. He's lived on Burlington Street ever since he got married, and
before that just around the corner on Sherman Street. Now the family
will be living in the country, but Melton will keep his job as
foreman of the maintenance department at the Logan County Highway
Melton admits he's going to miss being
an alderman, and he hasn't ruled out running for the Logan County
Board one of these days. He comes from a family that has been active
in local politics. His father, Dale, started serving on the city
council in 1955 and was there until he died in 1981. Melton was
appointed to fill his father's unexpired term and has been on the
council ever since. Sometime in the mid-'70s, his older brother
Jerry also served a term.
"The Meltons have been the only
Democrats on the city council since 1955. That's not too bad in a
Republican-dominated city. I kinda hate to break that tradition." he
says. "But it shows me people here vote for the candidate, not the
party, as far as local elections are concerned."
He remembers back when there were seven
wards and 14 aldermen. Three or four years after he came on, the
size of the council was reduced to the present five wards and 10
He's served under six mayors: Ed
Malerich, Bill Wilson, Pete Andrews, John Guzzardo, Joan Ritter and
the current mayor, Beth Davis.
In the early years, during Wilson's
term, the council voted on hiring a city manager, but that vote was
defeated. It hasn't been brought up again.
"I voted against it. I think it takes
away too much of the voice of Mr. Taxpayer. If I have a problem, I
want to talk to my alderman. If he doesn't listen, I can vote him
out of office. Elected officials are more prone to listen to the
taxpayer's wants and needs," he says.
He's always believed his No. 1 job was
serving his constituents, and that's what he's proudest of in his 22
years on the council, though he can point to other achievements.
He's worked many hours on a current project, the upgrading of city's
sewage treatment plant. He's been chair of the sewer committee for
the past six years and gone to a lot of meetings, many of them in
"It had to be done if Lincoln is going
to grow. I always felt we were doing the right thing upgrading the
plant because the Illinois Environmental Protection Association had
to approve everything. If they didn't think we needed it or if the
plans weren't right, they didn't approve it. I also think EMC (the
company that manages the sewer plant) is an honest company. They
went above and beyond the scope of their duties to get this
But serving the people in his ward,
getting them help when they need it, has been his top priority.
"When a person from my ward wanted some
little thing done -- a pothole repaired or a streetlight put in --
and I could help get it done, that gave me a lot of satisfaction. I
think that's what it's all about."
A longtime railroad buff, Melton has
always been an unofficial liaison between the city and Amtrak. He
attended many meetings about the high-speed railroad concept and was
always ready to talk to legislators to be sure Lincoln would be able
to keep its passenger train service.
As presently projected, Lincoln isn't a
stop for the high-speed trains, but Melton wants to be sure the city
at least keeps the service it has: four trains daily, two southbound
and two northbound. However, he's well aware that service isn't
always what it should be.
[to top of second column in
[photo by Joan Crabb]
"One of the problems for Amtrak is they
run on the same lines as freight trains, and freights have the right
of way. Tracks are owned by several different railroads. Each time
Amtrak gets on a different section of track, it has to get
permission from that track owner.
"I think the biggest problem Amtrak has
is running the trains on time. I would think if they could have
regular trains running on time and get the riders' confidence, then
they should go on to the high-speed trains.
"Another problem is you can't buy a
ticket in this town, and you can't just go to the station and get on
the train. You have to make a reservation a month ahead of time for
the Chicago train. Why not just put on another coach? That's no way
to run a railroad."
Another thing he doesn't particularly
approve of is the new trend of "political correctness," or "PC."
"When my dad was on the council, a lot
of things were said that would bring on lawsuits today. I agree that
some of them shouldn't have been said. But today, there are so many
special interest groups, you've got to be so careful about
everything you say or do. The trouble is, you're apt to overlook
what the majority of the people want. Sometimes the interest of the
special groups isn't in the interest of the general public."
The recent economic slump has brought
problems to the city. For two years in a row the council has had to
make drastic cuts in the budget and this year had to lay off six
"Three years ago we thought we were all
set; then the downturn in the economy knocked everything out. If
interest rates hadn't done what they did, we'd probably be all
right," Melton says.
Still, he's optimistic about the future
of the city.
"We've made some tough decisions up
there lately: the layoffs and the support of the industrial park.
The council stuck together and proved we could work together on
these tough decisions, and that's a very good sign."
He hopes to see the much-discussed
north side industrial park, which the council voted unanimously to
support, become a reality.
"The feedback I get from the general
public is that we've got to get our heads out of the sand and do
something to get Lincoln back on its feet," he says.
He has some advice for future council
members. He wants to see them send delegates to Washington, D.C.,
regularly from now on. This year three aldermen, Melton, Steve
Fuhrer and Verl Prather, along with Mayor Beth Davis and sewer plant
manager Grant Eaton went to visit the area's senators and
representatives, hoping for some financial help with the sewer plant
"Durbin's office could not say enough
about how important it was that we came out to see them. A lot of
cities do that [send representatives to D.C.] We've never done it
before. We also ought to do the same thing with the state
legislature: send delegates to Springfield.
"You can write letters all day or sit
on the phone, but it's not the same as sitting there face to face
with a legislator," he said. "We've been waiting for these people to
come to us, but we can't do that. If we don't go and ask for help,
we won't get it."
Since he announced he was stepping
down, he's had a lot of phone calls and cards from people throughout
the ward, thanking him for all the years he worked for them.
particularly cherishes is from his former third-grade teacher. She
complimented him on his common sense and said, "I'm a Republican and
I don't live in your ward, but I'd have voted for you anyway."