EFFINGHAM — Three Effingham mayoral candidates responded to questions at an Effingham County Chamber of Commerce forum this week. Topics included housing concerns, pension costs, business incentives and opening dialogue with citizens in the community.
The election is April 2.
Eric Zeller moderated the forum at the Effingham Elks Lodge on Thursday.
Each candidate was given one minute to respond, while they also had a two minute closing statement. In all 10 questions were posed to each candidate.
Mayor Jeff Bloemker wants a second term to office and two others, local attorney Scott Ealy and retired Effingham Chief of Police Mike Schutzbach, both believe they should be the next leader for the next four years in Effingham.
Please outline what you feel are the two most pressing issues facing the city:
Ealy said one area he’s concerned about surrounds employee salary within the city.
“Salary affects pension. Pension affects property taxes," said Ealy. "The second highest segment on your property tax bills is city pension.”
He said that one out of every five employees in the city of Effingham collect more than $100,000 a year in compensation.
“That’s too much. Things have to change. I would be the person who would have the difficult job of saying ‘no’ to some of these requests,” said Ealy.
Bloemker disagreed that one in five employees make that noted income, and added that salary schedules are tied closely to state statutes. THe incumbent mayor said employment housing is needed and the city is already looking at ways to address that issue. Recently the city held a Town Hall meeting to address housing concerns.
“We are going to address that quickly with residential (Tax Increment Financing) TIF in blighted areas, where we can encourage developers and home builders to come in and build new houses, new apartment complexes, new duplexes,” said Bloemker.
Schutzbach said his No. 1 priority would be to keep property taxes in check and create an open dialogue between residents and City Hall.
“I have extensive experience managing budgets and will preserve the priorities of residents while maintaining the city’s financial stability,’ said Schutzbach.
As Mayor, what do you view as your role in leading the city government team and directing strategic initiatives for future growth and success?
Bloemker said he’s the city's chief advocate, the CEO of an $80 million corporation, and represents the people of Effingham 24/7. The job requires leadership skills, knowledge of how to moderate meetings, understanding of building budgets — and his business background has greatly helped him in his first term.
“I’ve been leading people for the past 25-plus years in a variety of business circumstances and it has played over quite well at City Hall,” said Bloemker. “Again, I’d like four more years to carry on with the organizational structure that we have.”
Schutzbach said he believes that the role of mayor means having the ability “to work respectfully with others,” and “listen to the concerns of everyone and help solve problems.”
He said as a leader of the city he would focus on financial stability. He also believes the mayor needs to be easy to get along with and confident in a stressful situation.
Ealy said as mayor “you have to be honest.” He appreciates that the city posts budgets on its website and he’s dug into the salary numbers.
“The difference between prior mayors and our current administration is that folks like Clyde Martin and Jack Thies ran their own businesses and spent their own money. I know what that’s like. I know what it is like to manage your own budget. It’s not easy.”
Do you support providing financial incentives for new and existing businesses seeking to grow and locate in Effingham?
Ealy said while he supports financial incentives for new businesses, he also believes existing businesses need to be supported.
“We have to support the people who are supporting Effingham right now. We can’t step on their toes by giving special favors to folks who don’t want to come here, unless they get an amazing situation that is not available to people who are already here now.”
And he added that this same thinking should apply when hiring city employees.
“I’m not in favor of hiring folks who don’t commit to being residents of the city of Effingham,” said Ealy. “We have persons who are in this high compensation area that have not committed to the City of Effingham nor even the County of Effingham. We have to support the folks who support us and who commit to our area.”
Bloemker said finding a special balance is important when it comes to incentivizing businesses to either locate here or develop organically in Effingham.
“At one time I think we spent too much time trying to attract businesses globally, while we still have to do some and we have to get out there and do some hard selling to get them to consider a move to Illinois,” said Bloemker. “You have use all of the tools we have here in Effingham – Business Districts, TIF Districts, and Enterprise Zones.”
He said at a Rural Economic Development conference recently he learned that some resources being used in global recruiting was suggested to be put into local recruiting, which would provide more organic dividends in the community.
Schutzbach said when businesses succeed in Effingham “everyone succeeds.” For this reason he’s supportive of financial incentives for new and existing businesses in Effingham.
“We need to recruit from outside the area, looking at larger employers,” said Schutzbach. “I’m very supportive of the business districts, enterprise zones, and economic development in order to help move it forward in the city.”
How would building relationships and staying connected with surrounding local units of government benefit the City?
Schutzbach responded that positive relationships between governing bodies is a must.
“The city must get along with the county, as they are two government bodies that must work together for the taxpayers,” said Schutzbach. “Currently, there are some difficulties running at large with the two bodies and as it sits today, I believe there is minimal cooperation. That’s something that needs to change for the betterment of our community.”
Ealy said the city and county don’t get along and the people only see the results, but not why problems exist.
“When I worked in county government for the state’s attorney’s office, we didn’t have that problem, but we do now,” said Ealy. “Everybody who works for the city government and county government knows it and it’s a real shame. It hurts our people.”
Bloemker said when he began office four years ago, he was committed to building a good relationship with the county. He said he still has friends on the county board. He described the earlier relationship at that time as “tenuous.”
“We made some progress,” said Bloemker. He cited examples where the two sides came together involving not forming a city ambulance service and helping the county sheriff’s office out by funding the city police to keep a school resource officer in the school district.
“As the chief advocate of the city of Effingham, sometimes you have to make hard decisions that might be counter-intuitive with other government offices,” said Bloemker.
How do you plan to keep in touch with residents to know what is needed from City Hall?
Bloemker said he makes himself available 24/7. He responds to phone calls in about 4 hours, responds to text messages almost immediately and to emails within 12 hours.
“With technology in our mobile society now, you are constantly on the move,” said Bloemker. “ City staff makes me aware of any calls and we try to be as responsive as quickly as we can.”
At City Council meetings people may fill out a speaker’s card and address the council when it meets.
Schutzbach said he plans to be at City Hall to take phone calls when they come in, if he’s the next mayor. He also would like to have a recorded phone line that would allow citizens to voice small or large concerns at anytime of the day or night.
Ealy said he would establish regular mayor’s office hours at City Hall.
“People need to know that their mayor will be present when they want to see their mayor,” said Ealy. “The folks at City Hall shouldn’t have to be communicating with the mayor who is not present to let him know what is happening in his absence.”
“I talk with people about city government issues. I’m not afraid to talk with citizens one-on-one anytime they want to do that.”
Dawn Schabbing can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-347-7151, ext. 138
Bloemker said in his bio that he is a third generation resident of Effingham. He graduated from Effingham High School and Eastern Illinois University. He comes with 30 years of senior management experience with positions at: Agracel, Inc., Mid-America Motorworks, Heartland Human Services, and the Illinois Department of Corrections. He’s has or is engaged in community boards such as Effingham Plan Commission, city Zoning Board of Appeals, EIU Business School Advisory Board, Effingham County health board, Effingham County Chamber Board of Directors, Noon Rotary Club and Unit 40 Education Foundation. He and his wife, Nancy, are the parents of three children. He’s been mayor for four years.
Ealy said in his bio that he is a private attorney in Effingham and has served the area since 1993. He served two years as an assistant state’s attorney under State’s Attorney Bryan Kibler and is a former adjunct professor at Lake Land College where he taught State and Local Government. His community involvement includes chairman of the Effingham County Mental Health Board; serves annually as master of ceremonies for the Effingham County Human Society fundraiser; Make A Wish Foundation wish grantors; Relay for Life; Vision 2020 Alliance of Effingham County; and St. Anthony Catholic Church. He and his wife, Susan, have five children.
Schutzbach said in his bio that he served the Effingham Police Department for more than 30 years, where he was Chief of Police upon his retirement. He is a graduate of St. Anthony High School, Lake Land College, Western Illinois University with degrees in law enforcement administration. He also graduated from University of Illinois Police Training Institute, Northwestern University Executive Management and Public Safety School and FBI National Academy. He has taught law enforcement at Lake Land College. He is a member of St. Anthony Church, Effingham Elks Lodge, and several professional organizations such as Illinois and International Associations of Chiefs of Police. He has served on the Effingham County 911 Board, Effingham County Youth Commission, and many others. He and his wife, Crystal, have two sons.