Danville mayor touts leadership team in working for public
Mar. 4—DANVILLE — One month from today is Election Day in Illinois and Danville Mayor Rickey Williams Jr. is seeking re-election after serving his first term as mayor.
His opponent, Jackie Vinson, has previously worked for the city and is currently Vermilion Housing Authority executive director.
The Commercial-News sent the mayor candidates election questions for the April 4 election for the public to get to know them a little better and to understand their vision for the city.
Williams, 45, 607 W. Madison St., has served as mayor since November 2018 when he was first appointed acting mayor to fill in after former mayor Scott Eisenhauer left office before his term was completed for a position in Rantoul. Williams then was elected in 2019.
Williams' family includes: Rickey and Laura Williams, parents; a sister and brother-in-law; and three nephews.
Education: Danville High School; Millikin University, BA in Political Science; and Emory University, all but dissertation toward PhD in Public Policy and Urban Development.
Previous political experience/organizations involved with: alderman, 2009-2019; vice-mayor 2015-2017; executive committee, Vermilion Advantage; member of: Danville Area Labor Management Council, Central Illinois Land Bank, Vermilion County Community Development Corp., Vermilion County Mayors Council, Danville Foundation for Industrial Growth, VMEG Policy Board, resolutions Committee with Illinois Municipal League, DATS Policy Council; steering and founding member of Vermilion County CASA; steering, founding member, and past president of Love, Inc; past board member and chairman of the Danville Humane Society. Commercial-News Up and Coming Leaders to Watch-2010; Central Illinois Business Magazine's Forty Under Forty — 2012; and Jim Edgar Fellow-2021.
These are Williams' answers to the C-N's election questions.
1. What do you view as the top three constituent concerns with the city and how do you solve them?
Safety, infrastructure and blight. Strong stewardship is the key to solving these problems. It allows us to provide solutions we could not otherwise afford. We have improved safety by reinstating our POP Unit, creating the CH (community housing) Unit, and hiring 16 additional officers, moving the force from 54 to 70. We have increased officer training above what is lawfully required and built strong relationships with our citizens so that they trust us. We implemented body worn cameras and LPRs, replaced 26/33 police cars, and added six more. We have assessed the city's entire roadway network, 20% of sidewalk network, and completed some level of maintenance on ~40% of city streets. This year alone, we plan to work on another 20%. We have inspected/assessed/cleaned 32 miles of sanitary sewers, 850 manholes, replaced/upgraded seven sanitary sewer pump stations, and lined 6,600 LF of sanitary sewer. We intend to do nearly as much again in 2023. We've also mapped 100% of city's storm sewer system and completed major drainage improvements in four different areas of town. This has enabled us to implement a proactive multi-year capital plan. We have demolished ~300 dilapidated structures and provided 68 homeowners ~$1.4 million in home improvement assistance.
2. What are your thoughts on Danville's decreased population? Why do you like living here? Is the city safe? Are residents' needs being met with services? Explain your answers.
It is primarily a function of industrial loss and state law. However, we are beginning to turn the tide by making Danville the best place possible to live, work, invest and play and people are moving here. I love living here because our citizens' talent, tenacity, friendliness and willingness to serve are incomparable!
There is also always something fun to do, such as attending First Fridays, catching great local theater, listening to beautiful music at the DSO, or attending a semi-pro sports game. Danville and VC (Vermilion County) have a lot of natural beauty, and our hiking, biking, and boating opportunities are phenomenal. For the most part, unless you are involved in illicit activity, Danville is safe. Under Chief Yates' leadership, public safety continues to improve. Our officers have seized over 500 illegal guns, and we've witnessed a major decrease in burglaries, robberies, shots fired, and murders. Residents' needs are well-met overall in the public sector. However, although we have great mental health and recovery providers, we need more, and we have plans to bring them.
We also need to improve our housing stock, and are working behind the scenes on two probable housing developments.
3. What is your definition of a professional mayor and how does social media play a part in that? Are you or how will you be one?
A professional mayor is someone who is honest, fair and who has an incredible amount of integrity. Every day, s/he uses his skills, influence, and connections to improve the community. S/he works through differences for the greater good and celebrates when others succeed. S/he works hard yet smart, and for the best interest of everyone, not select groups or special interests. S/he protects his/her people from the self-serving and is an impeccable steward of public resources. S/he uses social media to inform and educate citizens about important issues facing the city and to celebrate whenever anyone who lives in or who is from Danville does something good. I embody these values. I tell the truth even when it is unpopular and hold myself and my team to a high standard of accountability. I am a great steward of people and finances who provides equitable access to resources. Every day, I wake up and go to sleep thinking of ways to make Danville better for all of us, and spend my time, talent and influence trying to bring those things to fruition. I use social media to educate, celebrate and improve the image of Danville and our people.
4. How can the mayor be transparent with the public on city issues?
There are two primary ways the mayor can be transparent and build public trust. First, s/he must share as much information with citizens as lawfully and morally prudent. This includes not only good news, but items that may be problematic, troublesome, or controversial, especially if they have an adverse impact on the community. Second, s/he must provide accurate information in a timely and easily accessible manner. This should be done in various formats, such as traditional and social media, as well as in public forums/meeting, as not all people have access to or an understanding of various medium.
5. Is the city developer-friendly? Explain your answer.
Absolutely! We have changed our reputation from being business-adverse to being business friendly. This is evidenced by more than $250 million in new investments and expansions that have occurred over the last four years. We have everything from mom-and-pop shops and micro-businesses to Fortune 500 companies coming to town. We not only had several businesses open during the pandemic, but they actually thrived due to our support. Downtown is booming again thanks to a combination of business owners who were willing to take a risk and the city investing in them through the TIF District. In fact, we've invested over $2.5 million in TIF funds to support business throughout town in recent years, and it's paying off. We had a nearly 75% vacancy rate downtown four years ago whereas we only have about a 25% rate now. We have a host of new boutique shops that have opened and will soon more than double our dining options with the opening of four new restaurants.
6. Is the city spending taxpayer money and funding from other sources, such as ARPA, wisely? Why or why not?
We are incredible financial stewards. We went from having only $300,000 in reserves in November 2018 to being on track to reinvest over $20 million of reserves into the pension fund, road construction, blight elimination and other important projects. Funding police and fire pensions at 100% versus the 90% state requirement and using all cannabis funding to make additional payments has resulted in them being 4.4% and 7.4% better funded respectively. We improved our bond rating from Baa3 to BBB and refunded our bonds, resulting in savings of over $190,000. We paid off the city's outstanding ERI (early retirement incentive) liability and four bank notes early, resulting in ~$80,000 in savings. In 2022, we paid off the city's portion of the PBC (public building commission) bond early by fronting ~$1.2 million. This saved the taxpayers over $400,000 (~33%). We also renewed our municipal electric service agreement, resulting in savings of ~$100,000/year. Additionally, we rolled out a multi-year budget and capital improvement plan. We have received millions of dollars in additional grant funds and loan forgiveness, which allows us to use local money on other necessities. This doesn't include ARPA funds, which will be used for infrastructure and quality of life improvements.
7. What is your vision for the city for the future?
Danville will be one of the best places in the Midwest to live, work, invest and play! Quality of life will be so good that those who live here will stay and opportunity will be so great that our young people will return home after training/college/military service to build their lives. Our quality housing, beautiful parks, multimodal transportation network, vibrant cultural outlets, recycling opportunities and hospitality will draw visitors from across the country, and many of them will choose to make Danville home. Our business-friendly approach and reputation for progress will become nationally known, and that, combined with our great location and high-caliber workforce will make us city of choice for new companies. In our city, everyone will work for the greater good, and because of that, everyone will thrive!
8. Any other comments?
Choosing the right people for the right roles has a huge impact on the success of any endeavor. I couldn't be prouder of the leadership team I have assembled here at the city. They not only have impeccable character, but they are incredibly talented. They work themselves to the bone every day because they want nothing more than to make life better for all of us. A vote for me is a vote for them and the proven progress we have made by working together for the greater good.