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Thomas Clatterbuck

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Last night’s meeting of Springfield’s committee of the whole might have been a quiet affair. Problems with the audio system downed the city’s livestream, and the mics were still being reset minutes before the meeting started. Combined with a short and uncontroversial set of ordinances, it might have been a quick meeting. Two issues, however, brought sharp comments from concerned citizens.

Downtown homelessness

Alderman Redpath brought up the issue of the homeless around the public library and other areas downtown. Described as a “gauntlet” around the library, there are concerns that during the hight of tourism season this might have a damaging effect on the city’s image. Worse, the accumulation of both trash and feces poses both an image and public health risks.

Homelessness is a perennial issue. The council members discusses the various initiatives that have been deployed in the past, including the HOT (homeless outreach team) officers and providing storage lockers. Proctor noted that the winter warming station was one of the most effective tools the city had used. Not only did it save lives, it made it much easier to put the homeless in contact with support providers. However, despite the many efforts that are started, they have a lack of coordination and endurance, limiting their effectiveness.

Community activist Reginald Weatherspoon put much of the blame on a lack of will by the city. He shared his experiences developing programs to deal with these issues. Plans to add lockers and ports potties were almost accomplished, but the city never followed up with his organization. According to Weatherspoon, the real reason for the lack of progress is a desire for the city to sweep the issue under the rug.

Leaf pickup and lot maintenance

Alderman Theilen brought up the issue of leaf pickup, or the lack thereof. He was quickly joined by other aldermen echoing their constituents’ complaints about branches and leaves not being picked up on time or at all. This problem is even more annoying for residents and council members due to the recent rate increases. An exasperated Turner said, “[the haulers] played us,” in getting that rate increase. Public Works director Mark Mahoney agreed that this was an issue he was trying to address. He suggested that if the council put more teeth into some of the enforcement ordinances, he could hold the haulers accountable more easily.

Public Works was also sharply criticized for failing to deal with the weeds around the railroad tracks. Former Ward 5 Alderman Bob Vose asked why the city allowed the railroad to “run over them.” Vose said the City Council had told him there was a contract with the railroad to get the weeds under control, but doesn’t actually have it. Director Mahoney again agreed that there are issues with the railroad. Because the rail yard is private property, there will be challenges in enforcing mowing ordinances. Vose suggested that Mahoney should resign if he was unwilling to stand up to the railroads. Another woman then spoke, agreeing with Vose about the poor mowing in her part of town.

You can watch most of the meeting in the player above and below. Due to the city’s issues, the sound is quite low.

Senior strategist, statehouse reporter and political correspondent for Springfield Daily. Graduate of District 117 and UIS. Thomas covers stories in both Morgan and Sangamon Counties, as well as statewide politics.

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