The following is a statement release made by Alderperson George Fero of Lebanon:
At last week’s committees meeting the council received an earful from a large contingent of residents of Lebanon. This was the largest group of residents who attended any meeting committee, or council, since I have been a member of this body. Their message was loud and clear, the city leaders really are not business, nor even resident, friendly and responsive. This is no news to me, but finally there was an upswell of public concern. We have individuals who will bend over backwards to help, but are thwarted by others who are intentionally or unintentionally holding the city back.
Businesses, and even residents, new to Lebanon looking for a place to open shop have no way to easily find out what they need to have and do to establish themselves here. The city website is terrible. Yes, payment can be made online, but key forms require downloading, completion by hand, then scanning, mailing or delivering in person. This should all be available online, we are almost a quarter of the way through the 21st century but the city is still pretty much operating in the mid twentieth century.
Lebanon cannot depend on new businesses and other commercial interests who just happen upon the city and start the process only to find out that there are a lot of hoops and hills to climb to start up. The residential population has either declined or remained constant in the 22 years since we moved here. When we moved here, all of the storefronts in the historic shopping district were full, but many were essentially a different iteration of the same business. I often heard, “shop local”, but we could only buy so many antiques, used items, home decorations, etc. There was no place where we could shop for all the necessities we needed. Now retail that model is in the past. Many, if not most individuals, now shop online. This is evident by observing the number of Amazon delivery trucks in town seven days a week. A lot of the blame about why we are in this state can be placed on missed opportunities by past city administrations who wanted Lebanon to stay a small, isolated community. Likely this was to prevent the city from having the crime and other problems of larger cities. However, in doing so past city administrations did just that, kept Lebanon as a small, isolated community. The result is that the city probably is on a long downward trend to extinction. A few missed opportunities include failing to annex along IL4 to 1-64, failing to annex south and west to Reider Rd. and 1-64, failing to market the fact that Lebanon was one of the very first cities to enable all forms of Illinois cannabis operations, a market that could have provided Lebanon with hundreds of thousands of dollars in new revenue at a relatively low cost to the city.
While Lebanon is a good place to live, it is not a great place to live and raise a family. Many of the problems the local school district has with low enrollment are because there is little for youth to do in Lebanon and residential development was not pursued when there were incentives and funds available. For example, the initiative to build an indoor pool in a joint effort by McKendree and the YMCA did not appear to be enthusiastically embraced by the city administration and that effort subsequently failed. Lebanon must be more resident friendly and livable if it is to survive. There have been issues with the appearance of some properties and animals in the city. Some of this can be resolved with better enforcement of current ordinances, but we need that “someone” whose full time responsibility is to cite violators and follow up on a consistent basis to a quicker resolution.
What can we do? First, this is probably the most progressive council we have seen in decades. It is time to start thinking outside of the box and take some risks. If we take a risk and it does not pan out, then we learn from it and on rare occasions need to use the insurance based upon risks that we are already paying for. If we do not take a chance on some issues with a low risk, nothing will happen or change. Risk is not black or white, risk is a continuum from no risk to high risk. We all take a risk when we get out of bed in the morning, and it then depends upon the statistics as to how much risk we take each day. Every time we walk down the street there is a risk, every time we back the car out of the driveway there is a risk, every time we cross the street there is a risk, we just need to consider the degree of risk we are willing to take. Again, past administrations did not take risks and it has hurt the city in the long run. I think we need to listen to what our citizens told us last week; we need to bite the bullet and hire professionals who have the knowledge and skills to help run the city. First, the city web site is the de facto front door to the city. It must be a priority to make that site as inviting and user friendly as is possible for residents and businesses. Few if any doing business with the city should need to leave the web site to accomplish or learn what they need to do. This task should be done as quickly as possible even if it means hiring someone to get the job done rather than have it as a secondary responsibility. Once the site is ready then it needs to be updated and maintained on a daily basis as a secondary responsibility for an existing employee. I had the password at one time and was able to explore the inner workings. What we have is very robust and user friendly. What we are using is a tiny fraction of what we are paying for. Second, as elected officials we are selected by the people to make decisions based solely on being a resident of a particular area of the city and being registered to vote, no other qualification. None of us is an expert in every aspect of city operations so we need to bring in some expertise. I propose that in the coming months we hire an urban planner, even if it is on an hourly contingency, to help the city with a plan for growth. Then, we listen to them and act on their recommendations. Third, we hire a full-time code enforcement officer with all of the appropriate qualifications and certifications so everyone knows we mean business when codes are violated and to make sure inspections are completed in a timely manner. This position could almost pay for itself if fully effective. Finally, we need to make the time to go through our ordinances to update, eliminate or propose enforceable rules for the city to follow. For example, are you aware that the current rules of order for this council require members to stand and be recognized by the mayor to speak at meetings, thus by sitting now I am in violation of this antiquated rule.
This ends my comments for today, but I will be speaking again in the near future and calling out inaction. I do not want another meeting like last week’s when instead of hearing anything we are doing well, it was an affirmation of what we know we are not doing well and problems we have that are an impediment to being the best we can be.