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DeWayne's World: The drunk lady speaks my sentiments

DeWayne Bartels

The drunk lady stood in front of Big Al’s, balled up her fists, thrust her arms downward violently and screamed “This is dog****.”

She was looking at a man across the street at Hoop’s kneeling on the ground next to a Peoria police squad car.

She watched for a moment and then walked up Main Street mumbling.

In fact, there were three squad cars and three officers watching the man on the ground. They barely took notice of the drunk woman.

It was a perfect metaphor for the evening — a citizen yelling “This is dog****,”  another citizen in trouble, city employees trying to figure out what to do about the situation —  and me watching it unfold.

I encountered this scene while walking back to my car after the Sept. 8 city council meeting.

“Yep,” I thought, “this scene pretty much mirrors tonight’s effort by the council at budget cutting.”

I spent several hours Sept. 8 listening to the council talk about the budget.

I’ve been watching this exercise for several weeks now, waiting, waiting, waiting for something to happen.

I’m still waiting. So are you. 

I enter every city council meeting expecting some bold action.

Mayor Jim Ardis instilled that anticipation in me when he met with the Peoria Times-Observer editorial board July 24.

“The council has to be strong, and I believe it will be,” Ardis said, speaking of the budget deficit that has now ballooned to about $12 million.

Ardis said this year is pivotal for re-structuring city government.

“We have been whittling away at the deficit every year,” he said. “We are at a point where we have to right size or add a significant amount of revenue. It’s hard to make changes. People want more and more services, and not pay anymore in taxes.”

But, “no” is exactly what Ardis said the council is going to have to say.

“It’s D-Day,” Ardis said.

Ardis said while many might view the budget situation as a fiscal disaster, he views it as an opportunity.

Ardis pointed to the “radical” changes Caterpillar made, laying off thousands when it became apparent the economy was going south.

“With the changes Cat implemented they will be back very fast when the economy comes back,” Ardis said. “It didn’t take them a week to react when they saw what was coming. We now have a perfect storm of circumstances to make these same kind of decisions.”

It sounded like Ardis was telling us radical change was coming, and quickly.

But, quickly and radical, it seems, are relative terms.

As the Sept. 8 meeting wore on there were requests for more info.

There was debate about pulling some cuts suggested by city staff off the table.

At one point, 4th District councilman Bill Spears getting frustrated during the

discussion about whether the city should consider furloughs, said, “We’re not doing layoffs. We’re not doing furloughs. We’re doing an exercise in saying, ‘We’re going to do something.’”

Amen.

Except furloughs are still on the table.

Ardis offered, “Sometimes this seems like an exercise in frustration. But, we’re moving forward. We’re going to get it done,” he said.

In the end, the council approved $8 million in cuts.

But, in reality, it was only a step toward making those cuts.

The cuts aren’t real, yet.

The council has simply agreed to leave them on the table for now.

As Ardis left the council chambers I asked if he still felt this council could get the job done as he expressed in July.

“You’ve been around this body as long as I have,” he said.

“Do you recall a council that looked at $8.5 million in cuts and only pulled $60,000 worth of them off the table?”

I had to reply, “No.”

But, as this point those cuts aren’t real.

As I left city hall I spoke to some other observers. We all felt the same way — little progress seems to be being made.

Maybe we’re too impatient. Maybe we expect too much, too fast.

But, maybe, our analysis is on track.

I was pondering that as I made my way to my car and ran into the scene on Main Street.

I watched the events on Main Street for about 20 minutes and then walked away never knowing the outcome of what was unfolding with the man kneeling there.

I got bored.

I went home and made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

A sense of accomplishment swept over me, something I hadn’t felt since entering city hall that night.