The Pinckneyville Chamber of Commerce hosted a candidate forum for those running for the City Commissioner in the April 7 municipal election. Pinckneyville Community High School Principal Dustin Foutch served as the moderator and student Jacob Miller was the timer.
Each candidate was given two minutes to introduce themselves to the small crowd in attendance. Those present were Ruben Davis- candidate for Commissioner of Public Property, Joe Holder- candidate for Commissioner of Streets and Public Improvements, Sammy Peradotta- candidate for Commissioner of Streets and Public Improvements, James Shillinger- candidate for Commissioner of Public Health and Safety, Robert Spencer- candidate for Mayor, David Stone- incumbent candidate for Commissioner of Public Property and Fran Thomas- candidate for Mayor.
The candidates are well-known, most having served on the City Council in the past and those that haven"t, have worked for the city. Some moved here with their parents, others were born in Pinckneyville, but all consider it home and have put down long-lasting roots here. They all said they are willing to serve on the council, doing the best they can to help the Friendly Little City move into the future.
Incumbent candidate for Commissioner of Public Health and Safety Kevin Hicks was not present. Also unable to attend was Bill Stotlar, who is running unopposed for Commissioner of Accounts and Finance. Stotlar sent his apologies and a brief statement which was read by Foutch. Stotlar explained that, as a commercial pilot, his schedule was set long before the candidate forum was announced. However, he will adjust his schedule to be able to attend the regular City Council meetings.
Following the introductions, each candidate was given two minutes to answer the following question: What do you consider to be the greatest asset of the City of Pinckneyville and what are your plans to use that asset for the greater good?
Each of the candidates agreed that the city's greatest asset is its citizens. Other assets included the new high school, new hospital, airport and the utility department which generates the largest amount of cash for the City.
Following the general question, a series of questions directed toward a specific office was asked and answered by all candidates in attendance. After a short break, questions for specific candidates were asked. Below is a sampling of those questions and the answers:
Q: You mentioned issues with the city's infrastructure numerous times in articles about the upcoming election. What issue would you address first and what specific steps would you take to fix the issue:
Davis: The sewer treatment plant is the primary need. There isn't any free money out there. I'd look for it. The water plant is in good shape and so is the gas system. Both the sewer plant and the sewer lines are the biggest issues.
Q: Do you have a maintenance plan or an upgrade plan for our current infrastructure, specifically the sewer system?
Stone: Yes. We've done smoke and camera testing on the lines using a CDAP grant. We know where the bad spots are and were able to repair two of the worst spots with grant funds. The next step is to repair a section where sewage collects before moving on to the plant. We applied for a grant to do the work and didn't get it. We're going to reapply in July. I want to get the pipes in place before working on the plant.
Q: You have indicated that you will seek grants in order to redo street signs, fix sidewalks, repair streets and alleys. What specific grants are available to accomplish all of this? What will your plans be if no grant funding is available?
Holder: There's not much grant money from the state available. However, I met with a former consultant who had been in Washington. He said there are four federal grant programs that will focus on infrastructure. I don't know if the street sign grant is still available. If it's not, I'd save and replace the signs a little at a time as funds become available. That's how we used to pave streets in a cycle.
Q: You stated you plan to keep up sidewalks, streets and alleyways in the city while trying to fix draining problems. Do you anticipate the need to employ additional workers to get all of this accomplished or would you plan to out-source the work?
Peradotta: I'd like to hire if there's funding. Currently the Street Department has two people. You can't get much done with two people. If funds are available, I'd like to hire two part-time employees to work from May through October. Motor fuel tax can be used to maintain the streets, but not the sidewalks and alleyways. It's possible the city could lose the motor fuel tax funds which are based on the prison population as residents here. I'll have to look into it.
Q: Do you feel that it will be a challenge to hold office over a department for which you once worked? If so, how do you plan to overcome this challenge? If not, why not?
Shillinger: It will be a challenge because I have friends there. It's important to treat everyone fairly. Having worked there is also an advantage. I know how the department works and what needs improvement. Police work isn't about making people happy. When you make one person happy, you upset another. If someone complains about grass in the street and you tell the person who put it there to move it, the first guy is happy and the other isn't. I learned a lot as a teacher and a police officer. If you treat people with respect you can reach a compromise.
Q: You mentioned your history as City Clerk being a learning experience for you. What is one specific example of a mistake a past council has made and how would you have handled it differently?
Thomas: Everyone makes mistakes. It's important that you learn from them. One mistake a past city council made was to accept the TUMS building when the business left. It was a terrible expense. The city had to pay taxes on the building because it wasn't in use as a municipal building, insurance, security. It was a tremendous relief when it sold.
Q: You mentioned Pinckneyville getting a clothing store. What specific steps would you personally take that would entice a store owner to open in Pinckneyville? What storefront locations that is currently unoccupied would be suitable for this type of business?
Spencer: We need a clothing store. We need to be self sufficient. My first question for a clothing store owner would be what competition do you have? Pinckneyville is the fourth most affordable city in this state. I'd like to market Pinckneyville to small business owners.
Following the Q&A, each candidate gave brief closing remarks. Thanks to the chamber for hosting the forum. It was informative.