'Hefty, hefty, hefty' or 'Wimpy, wimpy, wimpy'
When Mayor Jim Ardis sat down with the editorial board of the Peoria Times-Observer July 24 he made some bold statements.
Ardis said a “perfect storm” has formed to create the opportunity to trim city government.
Ardis said no spring elections looming, a bad economy and the city manager not being in a position to worry about losing his job if things get worse (because the current city manger, Henry Holling, is an interim choice) are going to move the effort forward.
“The council has to be strong, and I believe it will be,” Ardis said. “It’s hard to make changes. People want more and more services, and not pay anymore in taxes. It’s hard as an elected official to say, ‘no.’”
But, “no” is exactly what Ardis said the council is going to say. Ardis said he views the city’s financial crunch as an opportunity.
Ardis pointed to “radical” changes Caterpillar made, laying off thousands when it became apparent the economy was going south.
The difference is Caterpillar is not a deliberative public body swimming in the pool of politics.
After last week’s city council meeting one might have reason to wonder if it is the same council Ardis spoke of as being strong and ready to make the hard decisions.
Perhaps the council seems strong in one-on-one discussions with the mayor.
But, without Ardis at the helm last week — because he was participating in the St. Jude Memphis-to-Peoria Run — the council was anything but decisive about issues dealing with trimming the $10 million budget deficit.
At-large councilmen George Jacob and Ryan Spain showed no desire to take the bull by the horns.
Fourth District councilman Bill Spears — usually a rock in these kinds of matters — was all over the place when it came to the discussion of offering incentives to city employees to retire early.
The administration asked the council to authorize the administration to offer a voluntary separation package to city employees.
The administration conducted a survey of employees and found from 306 responses that 30 would “definitely take advantage of a reasonable offer.” Another 82 said they would ‘seriously consider the offer.”
That might sound like success.
But, the council was ready, willing and able to snatch this from the jaws of success.
Jacob wanted more information on what it would cost before moving forward.
Spears said they would not know the costs until they put an offer forward and saw how many employees were interested.
But, then moments later Spears turned 180 degrees and supported deferring the idea for two weeks.
Spain, while saying he thought a deferral will hold up the budget process, nevertheless, supported the deferral.
The deferral passed unanimously.
Is this the council that Ardis is depending on to be strong, make tough decisions and say “no?”
Ardis had better be able to pull a Pied Piper routine and lead the council down the path he pictures or this may turn into just another opportunity to disappoint the taxpayers.