You might imagine closing down one end of a Joliet alley would be a simple thing.
You stick a few posts in the ground so cars can’t drive through and that’s all there is to it. Or so you might think. And that’s why — by the grace of God — you’re not managing the city of Joliet.
The man who is managing the city of Joliet, and has been for a month and a half now even though he never managed a city or town of any size at all before in his life, knows there’s much more to it, that the issue is complex and nuanced. And he knows this because “there’s been a lot of feedback.”
The new city manager, retired Army Col. Jim Capparelli, pointed to this abundance of feedback after Councilwoman Bettye Gavin asked why there was no alley policy to vote on at the council meeting a few days ago, but he never mentioned who provided all that feedback. Just like Mayor Bob O’Dekirk failed to identify any among the “handful” he claimed complained about an alley running along North Center Street having been closed off at one end more than eight years ago.
One end of the alley was blocked to discourage thieves and rascals by eliminating an escape route. But O’Dekirk’s mystery handful didn’t like it, supposedly, and he had the alley opened back up. It was definitely due to either the will of this unidentified handful or because one of O’Dekirk’s frequent and vocal critics, Cunningham Neighborhood Association President John Sheridan, lives there. But it was probably the handful.
Five months and two city managers later, Joliet’s leaders are still grappling with what to do about Sheridan’s alley. Earlier this month, it looked like a solution might be in the offing, as Joliet’s Land Use & Legislative Committee engaged in a spirited debate about the alley issue.
Committee member Herb Lande pointed out that residents might ask the city to shut down an alley for no other reason than to throw a block party, which makes you wonder if Lande has spent much time, if any at all, in Joliet’s alleys, or has even seen one before.
In the end, the committee hammered out a policy to close an alley and approved it to go before the city council. But then it didn’t, because of all that feedback. And also concern.
“So I am concerned with citizens necessarily being able to, more or less, just close off alleys at their discretion and basically take some of that property which rightfully belongs to the citizens of Joliet,” Capparelli explained. Except that’s not true at all, as the alley would still belong to the city.
Capparelli, who not long ago courageously agreed to receive a potentially life-saving vaccine in order to inspire others, or as he put it, “A lot of the employees were afraid to get the vaccine, and I wanted to lead from the front,” had even more to say about the danger of closing off alleys.
“Do we have people now able to close off cul-de-sacs?” Capparelli asked, and the answer is, no, we do not. “Do we have people able to close streets that are their own?” he pressed. And again, we don’t have those people either.
Or do we? Who’s to say those cul-de-sac and street closers don’t actually exist? They might be right there with O’Dekirk’s handful of complainers and Capparelli’s feedbackers, maybe lurking in an alley with two open ends, just waiting to make a run for it.
• Joe Hosey is the editor of The Herald-News. You can reach him at 815-280-4094, at email@example.com or on Twitter @JoeHosey.