Friday, July 12, 2013
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Mayor Keith Snyder: Looking back, looking forward

Part 3: What lies ahead?

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[July 12, 2013]  Mayor Keith Snyder said he believes the city has made some great strides in moving forward in the last four years. In a recent meeting, he told the city council that in the first six months of 2013, they "have moved some big rocks," but he added that there were still more rocks left to move.

One such move was the addition of a city administrator. Sue McLaughlin was hired in January through a temporary placement service that specializes in placing staff in governmental positions.

"We wanted to do this, obviously, for several years, have looked, but couldn't find a good fit," Snyder explained.

McLaughlin came to the city as a result of a Municipal League Conference workshop where Snyder served as a moderator. There he met the person in charge of GovTemps. After the presentation, Snyder spoke with that person one-on-one. It led to the city hiring McLaughlin through the temporary service.

Looking at it now, Snyder said it was a good move. "In lots of different ways, it has been great."

He commented that the process of building the budget for the new calendar year was a big improvement with a city administrator.

He said an important role she plays is being the one person who knows what is going on in every department of the city.

Snyder added that having McLaughlin as the "new kid on the block" has also taken some interesting twists. As things have changed in the last few months, McLaughlin has taken heat from naysayers as being the instigator of change, when at times, she was only the implementer.

"There have been a couple of instances where we've done something that was my idea. But after it was done, word would get back to me: ‘The city administrator did this or did that.' Well, no, she didn't. I did."

Snyder also commented that having the administrator in place, albeit possibly temporary, has opened the eyes of the council and himself that if the city is to continue moving forward, this is a position that must continue to exist. Snyder said that in the future there will be discussions with McLaughlin to determine if she is the one who can fill the long-term position. From Snyder's point of view, she is. But he said it also has to be workable for McLaughlin, who will have to consider not only her career, but also her family, who currently remain in the Mattoon area.

Another "big rock" has been the implementation of a Historic Preservation Committee. Work began last winter on establishing such a committee as fulfillment of one of the terms of the downtown revitalization grant the city received.

Snyder commented that having a historic preservation program was a great opportunity to enhance the community, not just in the downtown area but citywide.

"They are not going to be draconian about things, telling people what color they can paint their houses, but I think they can add lots of value for property owners and also to the aesthetics of our community once they get up and running."

Another change on the horizon is the move from a city engineer position to a public works director. Snyder said this change in local government is not only necessary for the growth of the city but also crucial to developing a 21st-century municipal government.

Recently the council has begun talking about having a strategic planning workshop. The goal is to create a plan that the city can follow and also use as a tool to measure and monitor progress as they move forward with specific projects.

Snyder said the planning process is important because the city needs to be looking down the road at the next 10 to 15 years.

He said bringing aldermen and department heads together and hashing out what is important, setting priorities, and developing a plan for implementing change is going to be a vital part of the future stability of the city.

When asked if he once again made a list of goals for the future when he started his new term this year, Snyder said that indeed he did.

There are several items on the list, including working toward the completion of the Fifth Street Road project.

Snyder said he still has a strong desire to see Fifth Street Road completed. He said the project is important to the development of the west side and vital for the city's continued growth.

"We have not neglected the west side. I've gotten that from some people that all our focus is on the downtown and we don't care about the west side. Nothing could be further from the truth.

"We worked well with Aldi's to get them out there," Snyder said, "and there are other things going to happen that are very exciting."

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Snyder offered some insight into one of the projects Brian Bergen of the Lincoln & Logan County Development Partnership is working on.

"Brian is working very hard with the federal Economic Development Agency," Snyder said. "He's going to be getting together an application for some federal funding for Fifth Street, and we are hopeful that, that might be the missing piece."

He continued: "We have some local dollars that have been squirreled away over the years, but we still need a little bit of assistance, and state dollars haven't come through, but we are very hopeful that these federal dollars will."

Downtown revitalization is another big project Snyder wants to see completed. He talked about this as a driving force to keep people in our community and said it was more than "just making things pretty."

"That is the heart of our community and it is the driver for our future. We can't continue to lose young people where that we educate them for 13 years, then they move away because opportunities are elsewhere," Snyder said. "We've got to make this community attractive, not only for the people who are here now but for people who want to move here or stay here."

He concluded: "It is not just to make it look pretty. It is to make it feel vibrant for young people who might want to move into the downtown community. To have food and music options that are plentiful would add energy and attract some of those young people."

Moving on, Snyder said, "I'd like to get more work done in the neighborhoods. Neighborhood initiatives are something that are key for us feeling good about ourselves as a community. We need a better sense of neighborhoods; it would be nice to have a greater sense of neighbors."

In addition, the subject of LDC is not dead. Snyder still holds hope that the day will come when that campus can become a productive part of the city, and he isn't alone in that. The development partnership is still working toward that end. Snyder said they are hoping to soon go back to the state with a plan.

Snyder recalled that when Mike Maniscalco was with the partnership, Snyder had worked with him on creating a project where the state would work with the city and give portions of the campus to the city on a phased-in basis. Snyder said Bergen was going to polish that proposal and try again.

"We are going to gear up and take another go at it," Snyder said. "The state for a while was very proactive and trying to work with us. For example, the correctional industry had taken over the warehouse. That was going to be the start of doing something like that for the whole campus. But, what happened is the guy in charge there got promoted to another position, and the whole thing just stopped.

"But Illinois has to do something. They've got not only this campus, but now the Jacksonville campus as well, and there are going to be others," Snyder said. "They have to be redeveloped, and the state has to be a cooperative partner in trying to make that happen."

As the time with Snyder began to run down, he was asked to offer a summary sentence about what has happened in the last four years.

The mayor was asked to fill in the blanks: The city of Lincoln has gone from ____ to ____.

Snyder responded: "Lincoln has gone from a good community to a better community. We've been laying a good foundation, and hopefully we can start building on that foundation and make this a great community.

"In the last four years, a lot of what we have done is get the foundation in place," Snyder said. "There is a flywheel analogy here. It is hard to get it rolling, but if you start pushing, it starts slow; but hopefully, with momentum, it gets rolling and continues on its own. Things haven't happened as fast as I wanted them to happen, but I think we've made a lot of good changes."

And there are going to be more changes in the future. So, as the old-time TV announcers used to say, "Stay tuned, folks ..."


Mayor Keith Snyder: Looking back, looking forward

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