The April 4th ballot in Danville features two candidates for mayor: the current mayor, Rickey Williams Junior, and Jackie Vinson, the executive director of the Vermilion Housing Authority.
Vinson says Mayor Williams’ backing of a controversial sewer fee increase is one example of the city trying to pay for more infrastructure than it can afford.
On March 13th, Vinson stood on a Danville Area Community College stage where she had just taken part in a candidates’ forum, and talked with Illinois Newsroom’s Jim Meadows about her goals.
VINSON: I think the inspiration behind my run for mayor is understanding that the people of Danville were not feeling heard or represented. What I’m running for is being that vision, is being that spokesperson for the pulse of our community, to understand what’s impacting our families, the challenges and barriers that they experience on a daily basis, and how the city can work to help them overcome those barriers.
JM: What is different between you and Mayor Williams as far as how you achieve that goal?
VINSON: We have different ways of going about that. The city has more infrastructure that it can afford to maintain. And so the burden of maintaining that infrastructure has been placed on the people in the terms of taxes. I am against any increases to the cost of living for the people of Danville. What we need to do is say how do we ease their burdens? How do we keep Danville being a place of choice for our families, and choice for our businesses to choose to come to Danville to do business or expand their operations in Danville?
JM: Well, for instance, then the the increase in the sewer fee that I heard talked about is that something you would have approached differently?
VINSON: The sewer fee increase was enacted during a pandemic, first of all. So during a very tumultuous time for our families and our businesses, the city increased the cost of living or doing business here. What we need to do as a city is strategically think about the long term viability of our community, of being a city built for 50,000, with 25,000 being charged to maintain that. And the only way to get ahead of that without putting the burden on our businesses and on our people is to strategically eliminate the infrastructure that we are being charged to maintain.
JM: Now, the city’s already been going through a demolition program, is there a different way? Or is it just not enough?
VINSON: Well, you’re saying housing demolition, I’m saying looking at areas at streets at sewers that are no longer serving the purpose, and working to eliminate that infrastructure, the sidewalks that we’re being charged to maintain, in areas where we no longer have people living because we’ve demolished all of the houses.
JM: So what do you want to do there?
VINSON: Remove the infrastructure. Similarly to how we’ve handled it at the Housing Authority is, the Housing Authority had more infrastructure than it can afford to maintain. And so what we did was we created a plan based on data of what was in the worst physical shape, what would have the least impact to the people, and how we could handle that. The same needs to be done at the city of Danville, is we need to look at areas that we are no longer using or no longer fully using and see how we can repurpose those areas to the benefit of the taxpayers.
JM: In your campaign materials. I’ve seen transparency emphasized. I’m interested in what the city is failing to do now, or what would you want to do differently?
VINSON: I believe in transparent government in more than just following the Open Meetings Act. I believe that our city needs to be representing the people whom we serve, and actively working to encourage their participation in areas that impact our city and impact our neighborhoods. I think what is lacking right now is the ability to have honest dialogue with our city without fear of retaliation or retribution. If you’re saying something that they may not agree with.
JM: You’re saying that the city government right now, or the mayor right now, has has been doing that?
VINSON: I don’t want I don’t want it to get negative. I’ve tried really hard to remain positive.
JM: But you’re talking about a problem in city government.
VINSON: I’m saying as mayor, what I would bring to the table is the ability to sit at a table with a diverse spectrum of people who might believe things differently than me and encourage that different conversation. Because there are perspectives that I am not aware of. There are cultural significance that I am not aware of that are important to our community and that need to be heard by our community.