Mary Carlson, City of Sterling mayoral election questionnaire

Election 2024
Sterling mayoral candidate Mary Carlson speaks during the Sauk Valley Area Chamber of Commerce hosted candidate forum Tuesday, March 21, 2023 for Sterling elections.

Full Name: Mary Carlson

What office are you seeking? Sterling Mayor

What is your political party? This is a non partisan election.

What is your current age? 63

Occupation and Employer: I am retired.

What offices, if any, have you previously held? I have not held an elected office.

City: I grew up in Rochelle Illinois and have lived in Sterling for 26 years.

Campaign Website: Carlson for Mayor on Facebook

Education: I have a B.A. from Columbia College in Chicago Illinois

Community involvement: I currently serve as the President of the Board of Directors for the Northwestern Illinois Center for Independent Living. My prior volunteer work includes Feed Our Children Summer Lunch Program, Salvation Army Advisory Board, Relay for Life Celebrity Pie Auction, Whiteside County Healthier Communities Partnership, National Night Out, 2010 Sterling Census Committee and St. Mary’s School in Sterling.

Marital status/Immediate family: I’m married with one grown child.

Why are you running for office?

I am running for Sterling mayor to build on the many successes the city has and to continue that. I want to help guide the council in ways to benefit the entire community.

What makes you qualified for the office you’re seeking?

I spent over two decades as a news reporter at WSDR Radio in Sterling covering local and county governments including Sterling council. In that time I have learned the ins and outs of local governments including taxing, budgeting and the grant process. I feel I have a good working knowledge of Sterling government and the many state agencies the city works with.

What is your position on the Illinois weapons ban that took effect in January 2023?

If a state law is passed it is up to the city, police chief and officers to enforce it. If it is not and something happens the city could end up being held liable. It is the job, I feel, of all city officials to protect all residents and itself.

Is crime a problem in your community and, if so, what would you do to curb it?

I don’t feel that serious crimes are a problem. I think community policing and Neighborhood Watch are both excellent initiatives and I would like to see more residents involved. I would like to see the city’s grant writer focus on getting more funding to expand programs into the community especially for young people. In the past, the bike rodeo and National Night Out were huge events. Keeping our officers safe on patrol is also a top priority and I am glad to see the city is investing in new radio equipment.

What is your assessment of how the COVID-19 pandemic was handled locally?

The medical community and schools did an outstanding job in keeping our students and residents safe. CGH workers really put their lives on the line, daily, during that time. Teachers had to adjust to remote learning, in a very short period of time, with no guidance and rose to the occasion. I know it was taxing on everyone’s mental health and those issues are ongoing. The front line workers, in all professions, took a lot of risks during the pandemic and all should be commended.

What did you learn from the pandemic?

Along with a lot of caring people, there were a minority that were not. That is all I will comment on that.

How would you spur economic development in your community?

The city needs to continue to work with its many development partners in providing new and current businesses with incentive tools including Tax Increment Financing Districts and other abatement programs. These are especially important in smaller areas to bring jobs. The city is currently working with the owner of Northland Mall to help bring more stores and Hobby Lobby should provide another good anchor along with Dunham’s Sports There has also been positive things going on at the old Kmart and Lee Wayne plazas. A developer has been selected by the city for the riverfront redevelopment, so hopefully things will be picking up more speed in the downtown. Greater Sterling Development continues to foster its business incubator and new this year will be The Shoppes at Grandon developed through Sterling Main Street.

Would/can/should local governments do anything to help reduce the tax burden on residents?

I feel Sterling has been very fiscally responsible and in my dealings with the city manager I know he does have a good handle on the budget. Some of the budget issues have state involvement and until those are changed at that level some costs may continue to rise. I also think, at times, a taxpayer may not always understand how their tax bill is divided up and will comment that our city tax money is going for this when it is another taxing entity. The city’s levy is not out of line.

Do you support recreational marijuana being sold in your community to help lower residents’ tax burden?

My only concern would be safety. When the vape shops opened, there seemed to be a rash of break-ins and I would not want to see that with a dispensary. Otherwise I don’t have an issue.

What projects or infrastructure would you look to address in your community and how would you do it?

One of the biggest projects is LeFevre Road and from what I have learned it is in the works but IDOT is involved so it may take some time. The city will need a new sewer plant and hopefully grant funding will be available to help with that cost. I don’t know if hooking on to Rock Falls would ever be an option because their plant was built to handle future growth. Housing needs to be a serious focus and that will require partnerships. I know local groups are working on this challenge. Obviously the Sterling riverfront is the biggest project and the city and its developer will be looking for any funding opportunities that are available.

Will you accept the voters’ decision in your race on Election Day?


What is your position on open, transparent government?

I used to work in media. Government should be transparent. As mayor, ( I will take this from one of my opponents), more information needs to be reported at the council meetings from the different department heads. It really wouldn’t take that much longer and help residents feel they are involved. As mayor I will have an open door policy.

Do you support the Freedom of Information Act and citizens’ ability to freely access government records?

Absolutely. Never had trouble with the city in getting information that I needed.

Would you sign a nondisclosure agreement with a prospective company that would limit your ability to communicate with your community?

Some large companies, in their selection processes for locations, have required communities to do this. It would be up to the council to decide this question. In most instances you would be able to say that the city has been contacted by a prospective business and we will release more details as they become available. In my mind there is nothing sinister behind it.