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The Possibility of Collaboration

"As Team Decatur, we can do anything." - City of Decatur Mayor Julie Moore-Wolfe

On Wednesday, August 22, City Council members, Decatur Park District Commissioners, and Decatur Public School Board members met in the University Commons at Millikin University. This intergovernmental work session was an opportunity to recognize existing good partnerships between the represented bodies, looking for cost-sharing between each other, and achieving sustainable growth to benefit all.

I was not expecting the east end to feature very prominently in this initial discussion and call to develop working groups between City Council, Park District, and School Board. Yet, it happened.

Chris Riley, Park Commissioner, reminisced that formerly the Park District mowed city boulevards. Of course, the city boulevards Commissioner Riley was referencing are the distinguished boulevards along East Prairie and East Main. When I first moved into our neighborhood, it was an every Monday morning appearance of Park District staff tending not only to Clokey Park proper, but a clean cut of the surrounding green spaces. This intergovernmental courtesy ended when city administration, but not City Council, disagreed and made unnecessary demands to Park District. Park district still mows Clokey Park faithfully on Mondays; the city of Decatur mows the remaining boulevards every 10 to 21 days.

Another turn towards the east end happened with Decatur School Board member Courtney Carson speaking about the redevelopment of Johns Hill. Of course decisions regarding new school construction must pass through state of Illinois agencies and bureaucracy, effectively immobilizing local efforts until permission (and likely additional state requirements without additional state aid to pay for them) is granted. Additional conversation centered around revitalization of the surrounding Johns Hill neighborhood and collaborating between City Council, Park District, and School Board.

All parties agreed that the future of Decatur and its revitalization must be drawn from the collaborative efforts of each and could be strengthened further through effective communication and working partnerships.

Often the concept of "silos" was raised and countered. No governmental body can operate in the 21st century completely isolated from other government bodies. Decatur's population loss over the last 40 years certainly creates strain on government resources and revenues, and thanks to the foresight of previous generations we have park acreage that is double what a typical city our size usually has.

Clokey Park neighborhood cannot operate isolated from its neighbors or partners, nor can it favor few and shun others. Our story is inexplicably tied with Decatur's story, whether its School District, Park District, or City government, or even county and state. We must make the effort to engage with all parties who share some of the responsibilities making our livelihood and our quality of life better. Often public hearings and government meetings proceed without a single public citizen attendee. Sadly, a pronounced public presence is usually rallied to oppose an action made by a governmental body who held several previous meetings without opposition. Often the opposing presence has been called to respond based on inaccurate and fear-mongering rumors about government action. Government action that, even in this time and place, yet appeals to the value of government of, for, and by, the people.