10 candidates for Ottawa City Council answer election questions

4 seats will be settled in April 4 election

The city of Ottawa grew by 72 residents, even as the county population tumbled nearly 4% over the past 10 years.

The four commissioners on Ottawa’s City Council are running for reelection, including seven challengers.

Incumbents Wayne Eichelkraut Jr., Marla Pearson, Thomas Ganiere and James Less will be opposed by Clayton Brown, Frank Miller, Matt Skelly, Dylan Conmy, Josh A. Moore, Katie Troccoli and Brent Barron in the April 4 election for four seats.

Here are the responses to questions from The Times newspaper.

What projects and programs aren’t currently on Ottawa’s agenda that you feel need to be?

Less: The city has a number of projects and programs in place, in the feasibility stages and are soon to be under construction. A few items include a study for passenger rail service from Ottawa to Chicago, the development of the Riverfront (Amphitheatre), the elevation of Green Street and the relocation of the BNSF rail switchyard for life safety measures. These are all major projects that have years of investment and will have positive effects on our entire community once completed. An undertaking that has been discussed in its infancy but has went no further that could benefit the entire community would be the possibility of a natural or compost facility for yard waste. Currently, the city offers yard waste drop off and provides leaf pick-up to our residents. There is a substantial amount of resources and staff time that goes into this effort each year. The green product ends up at a transfer facility before being transported to a facility for proper processing. If the city operated a facility that yard waste could be taken to directly, it possibly could be more cost effective, less polluting of the environment and also return yields back to the community in items such as mulch, compost or soil amendments. With our city’s botanical brand I feel this would be a strong initiative provide leadership in sustainability in our region. In respect to recreation, we have several great youth organizations that provide a rich opportunity for athletics for school-aged children. They do a great job at promoting sportsmanship, team building and provide a valuable social element. I commend the volunteers for their dedication and the countless hours they endure. Although these groups provide a great opportunity for our younger generations, there seems to be a gap in programming for our adolescents and our active adult community. We can do better at offering programs for these age groups. I believe it would be of great benefit to form a committee within each of these groups to aid in developing a more comprehensive and cohesive plan for activities.

Troccoli: The Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor Canal Legislation passed in 1983. The recent effort at re watering has been expensive and a potential health problem for Ottawa residence. The I & M Canal National Heritage Corridor begins at the south branch of the Chicago River at Bridgeport and extends 96 miles to the Illinois River at LaSalle. When we developed the Canal as a park (like the legislation called for), it would be an asset for our community while encouraging tourism. We will need to have a committee, hold public hearings, get ideas, and input from constituents, as well as consider the needs of property owners who boarder the canal. Bike paths, picnic areas, a dog park, natural habitat for wildlife, kiosk that provide history and community information could be included. In 2012 I founded a Non-Profit organization called Here and Again Inc. The intent of the organization is to open doors with education to new opportunities in radio, film, photography, music, theatre production, magic, entrepreneurship, finance, dance, fitness, health, and the fine arts. To create new economic and employment opportunities through education in the Arts. To preserve historic theatre and like structures where the arts are performed. Our first project is WRWO 94.5 FM “We Rock With Opportunity” Ottawa Community Radio. If you think Nashville, Branson, Dollywood, then think about Ottawa and the opportunities for our youth in the music, movie, art, and entertainment industries. Ottawa’s location makes it a prime place for artists to perform as they travel from Chicago to other locations. The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), leaders in Illinois’ film industry, and state leaders recently announced Illinois’ soaring film production expenditures with a record-breaking $691 million for 2022 - a $131 million increase from the pre-pandemic record in 2019. Ottawa should be part of the music film and arts industry. As filmmakers bring their crews and talent to the state, Illinois’ economy reaps the benefits of production companies supporting local catering companies and restaurants, hotels, drivers, a diverse union workforce, and more. Ottawa should be part of the arts industries. A gardening program should be developed encouraging production of food. Ensuring a sustainable supply of food for the world’s population is a major challenge. Food production is one of the key areas that requires action, alongside issues of food waste, improved nutrition, and food security. Sustainable food production is a method of production using processes and systems that are non-polluting, conserve non-renewable energy and natural resources, are economically efficient, are safe for workers, communities and consumers, and do not compromise the needs of future generations. These may seem like lofty goals. Projects like this take time and effort to develop. There is no better time to start then now. We also need competitive high-speed internet to compete in the global economy. Lack of high-speed Internet access can negatively impact economic growth, household income, educational performance, healthcare access, and employment searches. Internet access, specifically highspeed broadband Internet access, spurs innovation and collaboration, fosters economic activity and growth, and facilitates access to information and services. It would be in our best interest as a community to expand our healthcare options. Everyone should have access to affordable, accessible, high quality health care.

Skelly: I think the downtown river front development project should certainly be continued as well as infrastructure updates and preventative maintenance continued. As for new projects or programs, I would love to see some enhanced programing for seniors and youth through a more robust and funded Rec and Parks board. Engage the community to promote fitness as well as enhance the support for the volunteer beautification of our town. With a south side fire station planned, I would hope to then look at our growing northern boarder and what, if any future fire service would be needed to serve the community.

Conmy: I believe that there should be a bigger focus on teens and Seniors in the area. Teens need activities that will give them autonomy, while still being supervised. I would like to see a permanent teen spot, in addition to events; giving the teens a consistent spot to safely come together and provide options for all interests would be ideal (dancing, board games, arcade, hang-out/movie room, etc). I would love to talk to the teens in the area and see what they would like to see here. Seniors need more options for social activities--a place to gather for shared hobbies and interests such as woodworking, cooking, and dancing classes, to name a few. There are great options for Senior fitness activities at the Ottawa YMCA, and I think creating more options and partnering with the YMCA and Bridges would be remarkable for Ottawa Seniors in providing opportunities overall. I also believe there needs to be more of a focus on ADA accessibility in our parks across the board.

Pearson: We need a new fire station on the Southside and Northside to decrease response times to all residents for safety’s sake. Future Park improvements include; Allen Park upgrades and riverfront development by the new YMCA, Peck Park improvements including upgrading the tennis courts and adding a pickle ball courts and a splash pad, as well as adding an ice-skating rink with a chiller and a dog park.

Ganiere: I would like to see Ottawa assist with building a new skate park and possibly construct a hockey sized ice rink with a chiller so that it can be used for five to six months of the year. We are already in the planning stages of a new fire station on the South side but we need to start the planning of the building and staffing of a new fire station on the North side.

Eichelkraut: There are a lot of projects that need to be completed: Green Street, Allen Park, the combined sewer overflow, the Central School Property and the NCAT bus barn, but we also have to get started on the Peck Park renovation with the help of the Rec Board. Also, we need to keep looking for a good place for soccer fields and a second wastewater treatment plant. We are building a new fire station on the south side as well as searching for the right spot for a station on the north side, and working with the kids for a new skate park. That’s just a few things we need to get done.

Moore: A senior and youth center would be a great project for the city.

Miller: I think we should wash our hands of the canal project.

Barron: First and foremost is the preservation of keeping the riverfront open and accessible to all. Right now, the city is in initial design phase for constructing a performance amphitheater and festival area on the site of the old Central school. As the rest of the site is developed, there are plans for mixed use buildings along the north edge of the park. There are two competing proposals. One is the Daniel Burnam award winning proposal that provides maximum public access to the park and preserves the view of the park and river for everyone. The other proposal pushes the buildings up against the north edge of the park that creates an almost private park for condo and apartment dwellers by walling off the view of the park and river. I fully support keeping the future park open and accessible to all. I would like to see the city reengage in our efforts to get volunteers involved in any number of community efforts to make Ottawa a better place. From maintaining the garden beds downtown and our parks, to encouraging people to work with various youth groups to offer up mentoring and support as they develop into upstanding citizens. We need an aggressive tree planting program to replace the thousands of trees that have been lost due to the tornados, derecho, and the City’s own aggressive tree trimming and removal program. Trees in the urban forest not only add value to the adjacent property, they provide habitat for bees, birds and other beneficial insects for our urban environment; trees also provide life giving shade for homes and cool hard surfaces and reduces the urban heat island effect during our hot summer months; they provide life sustaining oxygen while performing as an excellent natural storage device for removing excess CO2 from our atmosphere and store excess runoff during rain storms reducing flooding in our streets and rivers. Trees are truly the answer for many of our problems. IL Railnet has not used their rail line between Ottawa and Streator in a number of years. If IL Railnet eventually moves to abandon their rail line from Ottawa to Streator. The city should pursue a “rails -to-trails” bike path to connect Ottawa, Grand Ridge and Streator, and further expand our recreational opportunities. I would like to see the lift bridge over the Illinois River preserved as a historic structure. Last, we need to start serious planning for a second bridge across the Illinois River. We have listed it as a goal in our long-term planning, but with the anticipated deck replacement of the Veterans Bridge in 2027, our city will be severely impacted when traffic is reduced to one lane in either direction when that takes place. Where that bridge will be is still up for debate and final approval with IDOT, Army Corps of Engineers and IDNR, but at some point, we have to initiate the discussion and start the process for implementing and constructing it.

What would you, in the position of an elected official, do to promote Ottawa to tourists and prospective businesses?

Troccoli: The evolution of social media has been fueled by the human impulse to communicate and by advances in digital technology. This has changed our society. We must embrace new technologies and hire staff with expertise in technology and social media to communicate with constituents and promote Ottawa.

Skelly: Having been on the board for the Visitors Center for over 8 years, I have seen first hand some of the amazing things that work to promote our community and region. Also in my career I helped to start the Starved Rock Country Brand, in doing so I understand intergovernmental work as well as public private partnerships, which both are key to success. We need to continue to arm the OVC with the tools and resources they need to promote our town and the events in and around the area. As for potential businesses, I would work to create a group of our citizens who can speak to why they moved to Ottawa or stayed in Ottawa, started their business here and how they are successful in our community.

Conmy: Promoting tourism means not only cooperating with the Ottawa Visitors Center to market unique events throughout the year, but to make sure we are creating an atmosphere and an experience in Ottawa that will make visitors want to return in the moments in between events. This means bringing a beauty and cohesiveness to Downtown again, and staying on top of clearing snow and ice from curbs in the winter. It means more local artist installations throughout town, and more greenery reintroduced into the environment. It means considering a small parking structure to alleviate the parking struggles, and draining the Canal until we figure out how to properly maintain it as a Historical welcoming landmark, and not an eyesore. In terms of prospective businesses, I think that there is a lot of focus on large industries coming in, but then smaller business vacancies are being overlooked in the meantime. We need to continue to provide incentives for corporations to choose Ottawa, but then create programs and resources for smaller businesses to fill in all of the empty spots around town. Provide assistance to the existing businesses to help them thrive (in order to prevent any more closures), and then build an incubator village where local prospective small businesses can test the waters for a few months. The City benefits from taxes and temporary rental fees from the pop-ups, and statistically, the majority of these businesses will realize they are ready to take the next step into a permanent brick and mortar. We need to balance large industry without losing sight of our local entrepreneurs. The tourists can find a Wal-Mart, Farm and Fleet, or Target anywhere. The travelers truly love visiting the unique places they cannot find anywhere else--this is where we should be investing our money to help.

Pearson: I’m open to any new businesses in Ottawa as long as we protect our established businesses and our community as a whole.

Ganiere: We already do a pretty good job of promoting Ottawa as tourists destination. For example, just the other night Ottawa was heavily promoted on WGN Radio during the Blackhawks vs Ottawa Senators game. However, there is always more that can be done. I think we need to expand the scope of our promotions to outside the State of Illinois and maybe internationally.

Eichelkraut: We are working with the Ottawa Visitor Center to promote tourism, and we have events like Touch a Truck, Kites in Flight, and the Kids’ Fishing Rodeo. Our restaurants are great, and we advertise to help promote but we still need downtown facilities. We’ve hired a company to help us look into bringing people into town and businesses into town.

Moore: Help Ottawa visitors center to promote festivals and make it easier to open all types of businesses.

Miller: Advertise more businesses and tourism that our fine city has to offer.

Barron: I would work more closely with the Ottawa Visitors Center and the Canal Corridor Association in promoting what we already have to offer. Restore the $50,000 that was taken from the OVC in pillow tax, and use it to promote Ottawa as they previously did. Our community has a rich history, and we need to promote it more. We also have access to many recreational opportunities based on our geographic location in proximity to four state parks, two rivers, the I&M canal, and miles of biking trails. We have ample opportunities for fishing and other outdoor sports. We just need to promote it more. We rewatered the Canal but the city has done nothing to develop a master plan or programming and development around it or the lateral canal. The canal should be a focal point in the community to develop new recreational activities and historical interest for both our residents and outside visitors to connect us with the other canal communities.

Less: The Ottawa Visitors Center provides a richness of support in marketing our community as a destination. I will continue to support and encourage the marketing of our beautiful city as I anticipate the excitement to grow immensely in the coming years. As an elected official, I have always spoke highly of our community, our residents and our staff. I’ve invited individuals that have never experienced Ottawa to stop for a visit. Often times when out touring our picturesque city I’ve introduced myself to strangers and spoke with them a bit about their experience and offered suggestions on places to visit or upcoming events they should consider attending. It is also important to listen to our visitors on their perspective/perceptions. Sometimes they provide valuable insight that has been overlooked by others. Ottawa truly is a great place to Live, Work and Play!

What type of businesses would you like to attract to Ottawa?

Skelly: I would love to see more small business downtown, boutique and specialty shops, that said if we get them our next hurdle is to get our own citizens to shop local. As for larger industry, I would love to see another public/private partnership to build move in ready structures for potential industry. Since that is what business is currently asking for, we have a low inventory of large move in ready space.

Conmy: I would love the Downtown area to focus on being filled with unique small businesses--great examples of what our local artisans and entrepreneurs have to offer. Having a reason to come back to town over and over again shouldn’t just be an appeal for tourism, it should be an appeal for our citizens as well. Shopping local returns $68 out of every $100 right back into the city. Small business also donate 250% more than large businesses to community causes. These small businesses in town represent the community itself, and I think this forms a relationship with the rest of the town. In terms of outside the downtown area, I would love to see more healthy eating options brought to town, both restaurant-wise and grocery-wise (like a Trader Joe’s). I would also like to look into the benefits of a Costco in the area.

Ganiere: I would love to be able to attract more retail business especially a home improvement center. In addition, I would like to attract more good paying industry businesses to our industrial park.

Eichelkraut: Number one, we need a Lowe’s, Menards or Home Depot. That money flows out of town over to La Salle-Peru. Those are the main things we need to do right now, as well as a few more restaurants and some other businesses like Jersey Mike’s, and stuff like that.

Moore: Family friendly businesses that would have activities for the youth to do.

Miller: Large businesses to help expand our City of Ottawa.

Barron: Post pandemic, how we work has changed. Many companies allow employees to work remotely, allowing them to work wherever they want. I firmly believe we should be pursuing this new workforce, to move or continue to live here. These new remote jobs will only further strengthen our local economy. To get those workers, we need to ensure that our 21ST century infrastructure including high speed internet is expanded to all areas in Ottawa. It also means that we continue to improve our own local amenities like our parks, schools and cultural activities and festivals. In addition to attracting remote workers, I would like to enhance our arts community. Working with downtown building owners, I would like to develop new affordable studio, performance and living space for the arts. A thriving artist community will benefit everyone. It would spur tourism and give a boost to our own cultural opportunities. Art should inspire the soul and lead to a more diverse and creative community.

Less: Ottawa would benefit greatly from new corporate and industrial partners. Expanded job opportunities with higher paying wages would benefit our community in a number of ways. First, it would provide more resources for working families, more opportunities for career advancement and an added attraction to our business atmosphere. New development would also involve not only a financial investment but also an investment in their staff and our community as a stakeholder. A large investment by a corporation relocating to Ottawa would be a great economic catalyst as it would increase our Equalized Assessed Values (EAV) which will provide much needed resources in moving our community toward a more stable economy and reduce the burden of taxes to our residents.

Troccoli: I think we need to start with setting up some goals for our community. We need to insure clean air, water, and sustainable land development. Protect against toxic pollutants in our community, workplaces, food, and drinking water. We need to assure education resources are fully available to all. Protect and strengthen the rights of all workers to justice on the job through collective bargaining. Secure prosperity for all by reducing income and wealth inequality. With these goals we can attract businesses that we want in our community. Even if that means we develop businesses ourselves through innovative programs we introduce. We need groundbreaking businesses created here. We need to be the leader.

What is your view, and what can be done, on the parking situation on Ottawa’s downtown?

Conmy: My view, from a merchant point of view, is that there seems to be a lot of mention from customers regarding inability to find parking when they come into town. I have heard from numerous customers that they only stop to shop if they see an available spot right away, because they have spent upwards of 10 minutes circling before. I do think that there needs to be a specific lot for business owners and downtown employees that is reasonably located, well-lit, and camera monitored for safety at night. We should also look into the cost of a small parking structure to alleviate some of the issue. A bigger issue I see is the lack of handicapped spots in lots and in general throughout downtown. The large lot behind Prairie Fox Books, for example, does not have any marked spots. This should be addressed before anything else.

Pearson: The parking dilemma downtown is a good problem to have because it means people want to come to our downtown. We are addressing it as quickly as we can, with a workshop scheduled. We resurfaced 7 lots in my tenure and are planning to reconfigure and add parking in the downtown area. Once we finalize public input, we will quickly act upon it.

Ganiere: We recently had a very good town hall style meeting concerning the parking situation in downtown Ottawa. We need to find a way to discourage employee parking on the street while they are at work and allowing more parking places for the customers. I am in favor of providing permits to the local businesses to park in the various parking lots around town.

Eichelkraut: The Chief of Police is holding public meetings to address this situation. I hope that we’ll get it completed in another six months or so. I think he’ll do a great job. He’s put it on his agenda to get it done.

Moore: Was there a parking issue before the current council eliminated 26 parking spots? Building a parking garage on one of our current parking lots could be a solution.

Miller: I know if we can put our heads together with the City Council and the stake holders, we can come up with a solution on the parking problem in Downtown Ottawa.

Barron: It’s a solution in search of a problem. What is a problem is there isn’t enough convenient parking. If there is a problem with business owners and workers parking in front of their businesses, then maybe address the repeat offenders. The fiasco of tearing out 26 parking spaces with two weeks’ notice to the business owners on Court Street that it was going to be done didn’t help with our parking issues. There were no public meetings regard this project. An increased use of the parking validation program would help with downtown customers who may get a parking violation while downtown and hopefully encourage more people to visit our downtown.

Less: With ample parking in the downtown area we do have a parking problem in certain areas and at peak times. Often times parking issues are experienced during daytime hours and are often a result of employees utilizing on-street parking in front of businesses and frequently adjacent to their place of employment. There are many FREE public parking lots within a short walk from downtown businesses. Recently Chief Roalson hosted a downtown parking meeting on a new concept and options for parking/parking passes. It was a great discussion and merits further discussion in alleviating the pressures of on-street parking during the work day.

Troccoli: The Court Street Parking situation showed a lack of respect for the downtown business community by the current mayor and council. It would be in our best interest as a community to work together to solve the parking issues. There has been talk of expanding Washington Park and removing parking. I believe we need those parking spaces as many merchants utilize the all-day parking available at that location. Should we continue to be a vehicle-based society we may need to find a location for a parking structure in downtown. An urgent need currently is electric vehicle charging stations. A missed opportunity is encouraging bicycling. I suggest we develop a system of bike paths. Riding a bike is fun, improves your physical and mental wellbeing, is convenient for getting around locally and is environmentally friendly. The cost of buying and maintaining a bike is around 1% of the cost of buying and maintaining a car. Riding a bicycle to work each day will save in transport costs. Bikes do less damage to road surfaces than cars. Bike paths give people ‘freeways’ for the price of footpaths. More bikes and fewer cars on the road can reduce congestion and its associated costs. Bike riding provides affordable and independent travel for those who might otherwise have restricted travel options. Construction of shared bicycle riding and pedestrian facilities also creates benefits for pedestrians and people with disabilities by providing an increased network of paths and improved road crossings. More people riding and walking provides additional opportunity for social interaction on the streets which can greatly enhance a sense of community and connection, improving mental well-being. More bicycle riding in a neighborhood means fewer cars which can lead to a safer road environment. Children can take advantage of slower and less dangerous traffic to ride bicycles as well. When people walk or ride a bike as transport, they are more likely to use local businesses for their shopping.

Skelly: I feel the Police Chief is on the right track with planning. The biggest hurdle is staff using prime parking, and that is simply an educational opportunity to work with those business and staff. Long term it would be great to have a parking structure to help with the overall parking space needs, possibly with some long term “pay to park” options to help cover costs of the structure.

What would you do as an elected official to aid the fire department in achieving its goal of getting a new station and meeting its hiring goals?

Pearson: The plans for a new Southside station should be done soon. With the expansion of the city, we need to look at a Northside station also. I recently had partitions added to the living quarters at the downtown station in hopes to retain female candidates. I am not opposed to retention and sign on bonuses, but I am not sure those are beneficial as we already had a couple candidates leave. We need to have competitive wages which is hard when we are competing with larger cities. We need to figure out how to make it sustainable for the city and the taxpayers.

Ganiere: This issue is not just affecting Ottawa but is a nation wide problem. We have tried a few things to entice new employees to come to Ottawa but will little success. I think we need to meet with Ottawa Fire Fighters Local 523 and the fire administration and try to come up with something different to attract new fire fighters and keep our current fire fighters. As stated above we are already planning a South side fire station and need to start planning one for the North side and staffing for that one.

Eichelkraut: We are in the process of a design for this station on the Southside and hopefully, in the future, it should be done in 2024. We have given firefighters a retention bonus to help stabilize and keep them from leaving. We need to work on their wages under the next contract to get things updated so we’re not losing people.

Moore: Make sure the second station is adequate for the number of calls they receive during the year. Pay our fireman a competitive wage to keep them.

Miller: I would see if its feasible for Ottawa’s budget to build a new fire station and hire more firefighters.

Barron: The city is in the final design stage of a new station on east McKinley Rd, so the Southside should be covered. A new station north or northeast of town is a more difficult issue. It will require additional staffing, which the city is already having issue with staffing the existing stations. The city is or has increased sign-on bonuses, retention bonuses, dropped residency requirements and improved other additional benefits currently being offered. The only other thing left is to make our community the best community we can, so future firefighters, police officers, public works employees or anyone else the city recruits for employment want to work and live here.

Less: Leading up to and following the COVID pandemic there have been challenges nationwide on attracting and retaining staff in the medial field and first responders (Paramedics, Police and Fire). As this question specifies the Fire Department we are under a number of challenges regarding staffing. First, there is a shortage of paramedics, second there are departments in other communities that are recruiting staff that are able to provide more resources (Higher Wages) and better/newer facilities and lastly we seem to have minimal interest from local young men and women wishing to pursue a rewarding career in the fire department. As a council, we collectively evaluated our minimum requirements and determined what changes could be made to attract a larger pool of candidates. With support from IAFF Local 523 we successfully removed our residency and EMT (Paramedic) requirements in an effort to be more inclusive to candidates and to retain existing staff. It worked to an extent, we did have more individuals apply and subsequently hired on by the department. Many of those individuals are now enrolled in either the fire academy or attending classes for their EMT certifications. Unfortunately we still have individuals, even new hires that do resign and pursue employment opportunities at other agencies. This fall, the Council and IAFF 523 again reached an agreement, this time in regards to a recruitment and retention package. As we will be preparing in the near future to administer our Fire Dept. examination, the Fire and Police Board of Commissioners have been evaluating the current minimum requirements. Administration of the Fire Dept. are looking to conduct an open house in the near future to speak about the department with interested individuals and be available for questions. Our aim is to attract local young men and women interested in a rewarding career in the Fire Dept. Currently we have engaged an architect to provide conceptual studies/designs for a replacement fire station on the south side. The existing station designed for a short term need was not designed for longevity and is in deplorable condition. A new station will provide for better accommodations for staff and equipment while providing extra space for future growth. There is also a need for a new fire station on the north side of town as our corporate boundaries have grown. This will allow our emergency personnel to provide a quicker response time when every second counts to areas in our northern region. Unfortunately due to staffing challenges a new station on the north side may not even be staffed for years to come. Increase in staffing will also have a major impact on overall city finances as our resources are limited. Our first responders (Fire, Police and Telecommunicators) are our first line of defense and they do an outstanding job of providing emergency services to our residents. It has been an honor working with these brave men and women.

Troccoli: When elected I would begin a discussion with our local first responder to determine the needs and wants of our department. It would be my intent to give our first responders the manpower necessary to serve the ever-increasing needs of the community. Develop a plan for a North Ottawa Fire Station and look for funding opportunities that will not strap the taxpayer.

Skelly: I think the biggest asset we have in our Fire Department is the staff we have. We need to work on insuring we keep them, and work with them to insure they stay. As for new department staff, being innovative in our offerings to these new recruits should be looked at, sometimes it is not all about pay, but how we look at benefits and work to support all who work for our Fire Department.

Conmy: First, hiring goals need to be addressed overall. We need to help figure out we can not only hire more, but retain them once they complete training. We need to find out if there is a reason candidates are not applying, or why they are not staying, and work to resolve those specific issues. Our departments need 2 FULLY staffed stations. As for the South side station, whether it be finding grants to help finish the building, or finding other resources to get the station up and running, that should be a top priority. The citizens on the South need closer assistance, and the Fire Department needs to not be stretched so thin.

What will you do to protect Ottawa’s murals? Do you believe they play an important part in Ottawa’s tourism? How will you promote the art community?

Ganiere: I am not sure what power the City has to protect murals that are on private buildings other than encouraging a building owner that allows a mural on there building to put some type of deed restriction on the deed when they sell the building that would preserve the mural. Do you believe they play an important part in Ottawa’s tourism? I do think that the murals play a very important part in the City’s tourism. We receive compliments all the time on how good the murals look. How will you promote the art community? I am not an artist by any means, however, I would be open to a discussion with the local artist community on how we can promote the arts.

Eichelkraut: Looking at the murals, we have some protection for the newer ones but the first ones that got put in did not have any. They made a deal with the store owners for letting them stay on forever or as long as we need. Some of them at the beginning, nobody really thought about that. When they made the contract, they didn’t put in language to ensure the mural could stay if the building was sold.

Moore: The murals are a great representation of our history and is a wonderful tourist attraction. We need to make it easier for the art community to thrive with more events and less fees.

Miller: I would try to negotiate some kind of contract or gentleman’s agreement to protect the existing murals. I believe murals don’t really bring in tourism to our town. I would see if businesses would promote our art community by hanging paintings in their businesses.

Barron: The murals have a limited duration. Most of the murals if not all are on private buildings and we need to work with the building owners to preserve them as long as possible. I understand that the building owners have certain rights under the mural agreement but the murals are part of our public art and reflect our communities’ culture. We need to do a better job in recording the murals for future prosperity. The city should look into creating low-cost studio space through a temporary rent subsidy in vacant retail buildings and second story space downtown for artists, musicians and performance artists, to develop a stronger arts community. This new art community would only draw more visitors.

Less: The city is limited on what we may do to protect murals on private property due to agreements. We may possibly offer incentives to property owners to continue displaying the murals as a substantial financial investment has been made and they are great depictions of our rich history. Visitors that do explore Ottawa often comment on the beauty of the murals and leave with an understanding of our rich history and heritage. The most knowledgeable individuals for promoting the art community of our local artists are our local artists. As leaders we should support the art community and allow their creativity and ideas to develop unique venues and opportunities. We should also provide available resources when available to assist in the success of their aspirations.

Troccoli: The “A Brush with History” murals absolutely plays an important role in tourism. While Starved Rock remains the major tourism draw for the area. The “A Brush with History” murals created another attraction for tourists to visit. The murals, prompt visitors to get out of their vehicle to walk around downtown. This promotes foot traffic for downtown merchants. I would like to make Art, Entertainment, and film the focus of Ottawa. These are clean jobs that can pay well. Look to organizations like NCI Art Works to engage in the Silo Mural project. Encourage other art projects big and small. Concerts, festivals, and art shows would be encouraged. Work with the State of Illinois Film office to bring film production to Ottawa and surrounding areas. Illinois is a world class destination for film, television, and advertising production. Ottawa offers breathtaking natural locations, rivers, prairies, picturesque farmland, and small-town atmosphere. We should be employing people in the film industries in Ottawa.

Skelly: As an OVC board member I have voted on multiple occasions to support the Brush with History groups efforts in creating new murals as well preserving the ones we have. I even made the motion to do permanent archivable high resolution imaging of the current murals and all new ones so in the case of natural disaster we have them for future generations. I also believe have a long range plan for mural upkeep, funding, as well as new murals should be explored. We have a great asset that people enjoy seeing and should work to preserve them. As for promoting art we should explore ways to utilize events we already have and see how can we incorporate art into them, rather than always create new events, work to add to existing events through art, be it painting, music or theatre.

Conmy: Ottawa’s murals are definitely an important part of Ottawa history--all public art is a testament to capturing a moment in time and we should be encouraging more permanent installations. The Ottawa murals that currently exist need more funding to be maintained and preserved, especially in order to avoid another loss like we had with the “Ottawa is a Canal Town” mural. This mural, which was painted over, is still pictured online on the list for the mural tour, and was an important depiction of Ottawa’s story. There are other walls in town that would be perfect for more murals, and we have a thriving art community--we are in need of some new murals to add on. There is plenty more history to tell. In addition to murals, local artists should be encouraged to display art publicly, and we should do what we can to provide space for this. We should also think about putting calls out for artists to apply to create large public installations for parks and other outdoor areas. Art walks have proven to be a big draw for all ages, in both rural and urban areas.

Pearson: The murals are a great asset to our community and the history of the city. I enjoy them as much as tourists. I was approached by a local artist that wants to do creative collaborations with the community, especially the youth. I feel the murals should be protected.

How would you describe the city of Ottawa’s working relationship with its downtown merchants?

Eichelkraut: Working with the downtown merchants needs to be a priority. We need to help them as much as we can, and meet with them more often than we have been. It’d be a great start. We should set up meetings with them yearly or quarterly and see where they’re at. We need to actually find out their concerns besides parking and work from there. We used to spend more time going down and talking to them and we haven’t done that lately. I think it’s a priority and we should get to that.

Moore: City hall needs to have better communication with all merchants to make sure their opinions and concerns are being heard.

Miller: I think they do a pretty good job with the merchants, but there is always room for improvement.

Barron: From an outsider’s perspective, tenuous at best. The city needs to do a better job in coordinating efforts to market the downtown, instead of fighting groups that want to put on special events. The “Third Friday” event has developed into a rather nice event, that was all but thwarted by the city when it refused to close Madison Street last summer for one night per month siting safety issues. The city did relent very reluctantly, and allowed the street to be closed and the organizer put on three very well attended nights.

Less: The working relationship between the City and the Downtown Merchants needs considerable improvement. There needs to be more and open communication between City Hall and ALL of our merchants not just a select few. There needs to be more discussion and input from our downtown stakeholders on decisions that affect them.

Troccoli: It appears the current administration favors certain people and businesses. This is unacceptable behavior. I believe in being fair to all. Equal treatment means healthy competition. We must try to better communicate and consider the needs of our community and businesses.

Skelly: I feel it is strained, there is always more we can do, a conversational relationship should be sought. Likewise, I would hope businesses seek out organizations like the Downtown merchants and Chamber to work on collaborative efforts as well as speak with one voice.

Conmy: I think the City of Ottawa communicates with the merchants no more and no less than they do with anyone else. Merchants in general do not get advanced notice of happenings in town with construction or projects--we have the same notice as everyone else, which leaves much to be desired. Large scale projects on sidewalks and streets in town are made without much regard to how it will effect merchant business with such short notice. Most of the City communication seems to be very specific and biased, geared specifically to one or two merchants, rather than the C-4 district as the functioning unit it should be. Downtown should be treated as a collective unit that can thrive as a whole--if the City can regularly meet with the merchants to touch base and see what they might need, or what ideas they have, then perhaps downtown can grow together. A disjointed and disconnected Downtown is not good for tourism, and it isn’t good for community morale overall.

Pearson: The city is supportive of local merchants and should continue to do so. We have a thriving downtown that brings tourism to our city with many shops and choices for dining. We should protect our merchants and help them to continue to grow.

Ganiere: The downtown merchant association recently disbanded. I think that the City has a decent relationship with the downtown merchants but there is room for improvement.

Where do you see Ottawa in the next 10 years?

Moore: Ottawa is moving in the right direction. The downtown will have no empty store fronts and the riverfront will be fully developed for big events on the weekend with availability to the public. Be the #1 tourist destination in Starved Rock Country.

Miller: A thriving community.

Barron: Short answer, growing. With the advent of remote work that took place following the pandemic, I see more and more remote workers choosing to live in communities like Ottawa that are vibrant and dynamic. In order to attract those workers, we need a good mix of restaurants, a variety of recreational opportunities in our state parks and rivers, healthcare options, schools, and cultural activities. Ottawa has a rich history, and is geographically located to take advantage of being close enough to urban areas like Chicago, to enjoy all the things that a bigger city has to offer, but still live here. With the real potential of commuter rail between Peoria and Chicago, getting on a train will only add to the ability to travel to Chicago and take in all that a world class city has to offer both culturally and employment wise.Our opportunities in Ottawa are only limited by our dreams. As our former Mayor Eschbach was frequently heard to say a quote from urban planner Daniel Burnham: Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably will not themselves be realized. Make big plans, aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever growing insistency. I believe that Ottawa will continue to grow, and be the best community we want it to be. It will take everyone working towards that goal. As your new Commissioner, I will do my part to make that happen. Please vote Brent Barron on April 4.

Less: I envision Ottawa as the premier destination in all of Northern Illinois. A community experiencing new industry, expanded commerce and a growing residential market. With careful and thoughtful development of the Riverfront Park, Ottawa will advance its opportunities in becoming a premier destination for entertainment (Entertainment District) as we will have a facility large enough to accommodate a range of venues and potential national acts. These are truly exciting times for Ottawa and I hope we share the same passion about our community.

Troccoli: I think if we set better expectations for Ottawa, we can make it a superior place to live, work and play. We need to raise our standards. I see Ottawa becoming an entertainment destination for music, arts, and sports. My vision includes developing bike paths and trails to foster outdoor activity. Sustainable food production, gardening and restaurants will flourish. Our waterfront will be developed in a way to meet the needs of our citizens and visitors. I see Ottawa having employment, recreational activities for all with an amazing quality of life. If we raise our standards, we can raise our quality of life. The goals I have set forth are achievable. We all do better when we all do better.

Skelly: I see Ottawa with a bustling downtown filled on weekends with local and tourist shoppers shopping at our small shops. I can see a riverfront park and concert venue that is second to none, hosting a community concert or large scale event throughout the warmer months. I see that we are a community that feels secure and confident in their police and fire departments because of the past efforts to built and maintain public safety. And I feel all residents in 10 years will continue to be proud citizens of our towns rich and vibrant past as we write new history from the new innovative businesses that have come to our city.

Conmy: I see Ottawa growing in the next 10 years, not just Downtown, but in every residential area as well. I see the South side being developed down by the mall to provide more retail and dining opportunities; I see our playgrounds being developed with grants into durable STEM-based activity centers that are entirely ADA accessible (not just the ground material); I would like to see Ottawa forming a good relationship with the Morton Arboretum so we can get up to date education on how to tend to our trees as they should be and continue to work hand in hand with our Parks department to intensify the greenery and flowers in our City. I would like to see a second Community Garden more centrally located to benefit those who might need it, and those who can learn from it. Within 10 years, Ottawa’s skate park will be comprehensive, well-constructed for all skill levels, and decorated by local artists, surrounded by benches and greenery. We will have a strong Meals on Wheels program, more resources for PADS, and we will have addressed the condition of our side streets and sidewalks.

Pearson: I see continued improvement to our infrastructure. With the improvement to Allen Park and the development of the waterfront, which I call Central Park, will bring more tourism. I would like to see a permanent ice-skating rink incorporated in that area. Reconstruction to Peck Park, Rigden Park and the Skate Park. I envision no more unsafe waiting times at our railroads for our first responders. I see growth for our city and look forward to watching it grow.

Ganiere: I see Ottawa in the next ten years being an even more vibrant community than it is today. With a fully developed river front, and functioning amphitheater with events attracting visitors from all over, more retail, development at the Rt 71 and Rt 80 interchange and an expanding population.

Eichelkraut: I say another Lake Geneva with a bustling downtown and still a small-town atmosphere.