THUMBS UP TO… continued stability. Oftentimes in this space we lament the effects state budget uncertainty has on our cherished institutions, but perhaps an unintended consequence of that approach is overlooking those areas where challenges are met and overcome. Certainly a leading example of that is Illinois Valley Community College, where a long-term strategy of reducing operating costs, largely through staff attrition, has overcome trends of drops in both state funding and enrollment to put things on track for in-the-black budgets in both fiscal 2017 and 2018.
Even better, looking ahead to fiscal 2019, the college is optimistic for a balanced budget despite a 3.2 percent bump in expenditures against only a 2.4 percent increase in revenue. Obviously those involved at IVCC would prefer to have always filled every open staff position with the best qualified applicant, and we are in no way cheering enrollment declines. But college leadership has seen and embraced the bigger picture in hopes of steering the ship toward calmer waters, and that deserves to be recognized. IVCC will continue to be a strong regional asset for many years into the future.
THUMBS DOWN TO… the end of the ride. Lots of folks were predictably saddened to hear the somewhat surprising news that this year’s Ottawa Riverfest celebration will not have carnival rides and attractions. Mayor Bob Eschbach announced at last week’s City Council meeting that the only carnival in Ottawa this summer will be the annual Lions Club party. That shindig runs Wednesday, June 13, through Sunday, June 17, so don’t sleep on it, although there are plenty of other carnivals planned throughout the region.
There isn’t a particular source of blame here. Carnival operators wouldn’t take the contract because low attendance has put profitability in doubt. Riverfest has undergone several small and large changes over the last decade or so, and this step was perhaps inevitable. Perhaps things will be different in a year or two, as Marseilles recently announced plans to bring back a carnival for its Fun Days. Still, there are many families for whom the city’s signature celebration won’t be the same without the flashing neon lights and stomach-twisting rides. And for that, there is understandable sadness.
THUMBS UP TO… reaching the top of the ladder. It was perhaps unsurprising but no less praiseworthy to learn the next chief of the Ottawa Fire Department will be Andy Borkowski. Current Chief Steve Haywood is set to retire later this month, and the City Council announced Borkowski’s promotion last week. It marks a fitting final step for someone who has already spent more than half his life on the department, and for whom the position of deputy chief was resurrected as the city looked to provide supervisory leadership for a growing, profitable ambulance and patient transfer service.
“I’ve had five real good chiefs to work under, and I’d like to keep things going on the same path,” the 50-year-old told The Times last week, adding he doesn’t have any changes in mind for the department. We’re glad to hear that, as stability is the ideal for a city agency as reliable as the OFD. We look forward to Borkowski’s tenure and wish Haywood well as he closes this chapter of his professional life.
THUMBS DOWN TO… a lack of choices. With the passing of last week’s deadline, it’s now clear how many unopposed races will fill November ballots in La Salle County. The incumbent sheriff will not have an opponent, the county clerk race will have but one option, and several County Board districts are all but settled. In some cases there at least were contested primaries, in others there seems to be only one person interested in a given job. And yes, independents can file nominating papers between June 18 and June 25, but given the lack of interest to this point it is difficult to envision a serious challenger emerging in any local race.
We understand those who advocate for the prudence of not sinking resources into an unwinnable race. But we also challenge the assumptions of which politicians can’t be beat, as well as promote the value of new candidates with fresh perspectives forcing incumbents and others from the establishment to either make a strong case for the status quo or consider if perhaps there might be new approaches worth debating. Perhaps offices like clerk and sheriff are simply too procedural to be of much interest to political partisans, but ultimately this broad lack of interest in elected office speaks to a flaw in the system that would be worth investigating.