8 Marseilles commissioner candidates address issues before April 4 election

Candidates talk transparency, finances, and new businesses

Candidates for Marseilles City Council answer questions Tuesday, March 28, 2023, during a forum at the Marseilles Lions Club organized by the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce.

The eight candidates running for the four commissioner seats on the Marseilles City Council on the April 4 ballot addressed issues, such as transparency, fiscal responsibility and new businesses along the Interstate 80 water extension during a forum Tuesday at the Marseilles Lions Club.

Three commissioners Jim “Buck” Buckingham, Gary Lewey and Bobby Kaminski are running for reelection, while Nathan Schaefer opted not to run. Melissa Small, James Hanlon, Michael Sheib, Brad Miller and Ed Cavanaugh Jr. also are running for a seat on the council.

Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce Director Jeff Hettrick chose 11 questions from an Easter basket that were submitted by residents before inviting each candidate to answer them in 2 minute intervals.

Need for services, events and activities for senior citizens, teenagers and youth

Multiple questions asked Tuesday involved what the city can do to better engage its senior citizens.

Small, who is a member of the Marseilles Recreation Board and other committees, said the city should start with engaging with the people to get more input, since the city already does many activities.

“We do try to be as inclusive as possible,” Small said. “However, there is a huge disconnect between the younger ages and that middle age. I think talking to them to see what opportunities they would like to see moving forward, and maybe develop strategies and plans.”

Small said communication with citizens to find out what they want will be important, and Miller, who serves on the Plan Commission and regularly attends City Council meetings, agreed.

Miller said the city needs to engage its youth, and he believes it’s on the right track with partnerships with Ottawa and the YMCA.

“We need to get the ball rolling quicker, but I think starting to engage them at an early age at the grade school and get parents involved,” Miller said. “That’s a big thing. I think we don’t have enough involvement with the parents.”

Hanlon, another member of the Plan Commission who attends most City Council meetings, said Marseilles is making a move in the right direction with the new pickleball and basketball courts at Broadway Park. He also believes transportation for senior citizens would make it easier for them to get where they need to go. He suggested the city needs specific housing for senior citizens in town.

Kaminski said Marseilles has great events for senior citizens, but it’s not set up great for senior citizens, agreeing with Hanlon that most other cities have a retirement community or a little subdivision.

“For the kids, I’m a big Rec Board guy,” Kaminski said. “We have our flag football teams, and we do a great job with the Marseilles Athletic Commission, but it’s hard to get people involved.”

Business development

Buckingham said the Interstate 80 sewer extension is something that should’ve been done a long time ago, and the city now is looking to attract businesses. However, he wants to keep the downtown business owners in mind.

“We have to keep in mind the little people downtown,” Buckingham said. “It reminds me of Walmart, K-Mart and Target. The old places are suffering a loss for the new places. I want to support the places downtown.”

Cavanaugh, Jr., a Recreation Board member running for commissioner who said he might be more well-known as the Ice Cream Guy, said the city needs to come up with a plan of what it wants out at Interstate 80.

“We probably want businesses out that way, more tech business, but we need to come up with a plan of how to get there,” Kavanaugh said. “We probably need to come up with a plan of incentives for attracting businesses.”

Lewey said the city already has a web marketing representatives, grand administrators and a lobbyist to attract businesses and people into the city. He said Marseilles has Illini State Park, the river and the railroad, which should make a prime destination to turn it into a town, such as Utica.

Scheib disagreed with the other candidates, though. He doesn’t want to see a hotel or truck stop on Interstate 80 because he doesn’t see it being helpful for the quality of life for Marseilles residents, and involve an investment that’s too costly.

“Instead, realize that exit 97 is kind of our front door, and we definitely want to encourage money coming in,” Scheib said. “But it has to be smart growth, not unlimited growth. Perhaps a fast food and gas station combination, perhaps some light industry, but again with environmental concerns with disruptions to neighbors, and how our water and sewer can handle it.”

Transparency and fiscal responsibility

Candidates each expressed the need for Marseilles to stay within its budgets, with Scheib asking for complete and total transparency with citizens regarding the city’s money.

“Say that this is the money we have, this is where we got it, this is what we’re spending it on, this is what a project will cost and this is what it’s actually costing,” Scheib said. “These are the uncontrollables that we’ve had to face. These are the environmental concerns that have changed.”

Scheib said there shouldn’t be any secrets at all in regard to the budget.

Kavanaugh said as a member of the Recreation Board, its meetings sometimes last more than an hour trying to discuss every possibility of every penny and how it could be used.

“As elected officials, we should be that way, too,” Kavanaugh said.

Buckingham said he understands as times have gotten tighter, the city still needs to stick to the budget and that budget needs to be able to shift.

Lewey agreed with Buckingham and then Scheib, believing transparency is the right move in regard to the budget.

Keeping young adults in the area

Miller said the main thing that will keep young people in the area is industry and business with high paying jobs, preferably union jobs. He said getting industries to come in and do business now that there’s water stretched to Interstate 80 has to be a priority.

“I think we get the first anchor up there, whether it’s a truck stop or fast food, the rest of it will come as far as warehouse and trucking,” Miller said.

Kaminski said it’s a countywide issue, and he looks at what La Salle County is doing to have high-skill, high-paying jobs. He said the county is in need of new industry to support those who attend Illinois Valley Community College and Southern and Northern Illinois universities, and then return home and find out there aren’t any opportunities for them.

Hanlon said it gets tough because, on top of the jobs, younger adults want adventure and don’t want to live in the same places they always have.

“They want to go to different places and live in Texas or Florida,” Hanlon said. “So, in a way, it’s kind of hard to keep them here. It would be nice if they did stay.”

Small said she thinks Marseilles would benefit from engaging children from a younger age by implementing partnership programs with different businesses in the area and provide more opportunity.

“They might pick a trade they enjoy and we can get them involved in that aspect of things,” Small said. “While we’re building, the building isn’t going to happen overnight. However, these kids have years in order to grow into something they might be passionate about.”

Small said she also would like to see children engaged in local politics, even at a small scale, so the city can instill pride in their community while they’re growing up. If that happens, kids may want to return and invest back into their community.