The issues in Joliet’s older neighborhoods were raised at a candidates forum Tuesday.
The forum at the Joliet Area Historical Museum was organized by neighborhood groups in the Joliet’s East and near West sides for the City Council candidates running in the April 2 election to represent the districts in those areas.
Candidates were from Districts 2, 4 and 5. One candidate, Roger Powell in District 2, did not show up. Candidates in far West Side Districts 1 and 3 were not part of the forum.
Garland Mays, president of the Forest Park Neighborhood Council, set the tone for the evening in introductory comments when he said, “Every city has its issues and its problems, but this is a great city.”
A lot of support was expressed for expanding the Joliet Police Department to improve community policing and build better relationships with the city’s youth.
“I want to put a police substation in our area,” said James Foster, who is running in District 4. “The police need to have a one-on-one relationship with the people in the community.”
District 5 council member Terry Morris said the city should put more police in the schools.
“I think if the young kids could have a relationship with the police at an early age, they would be more comfortable talking with them.” he said.
Suzanna Ibarra, who is running against Morris in District 5, said she favored expansion of the Neighborhood Oriented Policing Team and added, “We really need some more youth programs. We need to reach them at a very young age.”
The panel asked what the candidates would do to improve the major entryways that lead into Joliet’s older neighborhoods.
“Our corridors are awful,” said Damon Zdunich, candidate in District 4. “Everybody talks about that, and it’s about first impression.”
Zdunich said the city needs to take some lessons from Crest Hill, which seems to clean up its side of Theodore Street better than Joliet does on its side of the street.”
Vincent Alessio, a candidate in District 2, said the city should work with the state to improve the appearances of interstate exits into Joliet, pointing to the Interstate 80 interchange at Center Street that he uses regularly.
“I love Joliet,” Alessio said. “But if you get off at that interchange, it’s not a very attractive place.”
The panel wanted to know how candidates would improve the city’s inspection program for rental housing.
District 4 council member Bettye Gavin said the city needs more inspectors.
“Our rental inspection program is not quite up to par,” She said. “We could do a little better in staffing to get those rental inspections done.”
District 2 council member Pat Mudron said had faith in an effort underway between city staff and neighborhood groups to create a new rental ordinance but was wary of too much government regulation.
“Increased government tends to eliminate the competition out there,” he said.
Warehouses and trucks
The questions were spread around with not everyone getting the same ones.
Asked directly if he favored a moratorium on warehouses, Morris said he did so that the city could “step back and look at the traffic issues we are having with trucks, the infrastructure on [Interstate] 80 and even with workers.”
The candidates in one round were able to pick questions to answer, and Gavin used the opportunity to say she too favored a warehouse moratorium because the city has too many unoccupied warehouses.
Candidates also were asked questions submitted from the audience.
Alessio promoted the idea of a
$25 tax on every cargo container that comes through Joliet in response to a submitted question about available money for city projects.
“I think it would be important to fix the areas of the city that are lacking,” he said. “I don’t think our reserve funds are enough.”
Ibarra said the city should develop “community benefit agreements” with some of the big companies moving into Joliet to help fund infrastructure improvements.
The panel also wanted to know how the city could bring what it called “destination businesses” to older commercial streets, a question that did not generate a specific answer.
Another stumper, which came from the audience, was a call for a plan to improve the average income levels of people in Joliet.