Candidates present campaign promises for the upcoming Carbondale City Council Elections

By Oreoluwa Ojewuyi, Staff Reporter

This article was edited for accuracy on March 9 at 12:10 p.m.

On March 2, 2021 Carbondale organized a City Council Candidate forum. The official election day is April 6, 2021. 7 out of 9 candidates spoke at the forum. 

 Brennan Knop and Ginger Golz read the candidates selected questions, submitted by the public during registration for the forum. The forum began with candidate introductions.

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Speaking at the forum was Jessica Bradshaw who served on the Carbondale City council for two terms. Jeff Doherty spoke and is running for reelection. Doherty has had a 32 year career with the city in community development. Carolin Harvey is running for reelection after serving two terms on the city council. Harvey is a volunteer at several local organizations including the Women’s Center, Hospice of Southern Illinois and Southern Illinois Honor flight. 

The other candidates who spoke in the forum are: Melvin “Pepper” Holder, who was born and raised in Carbondale. Ginger Rye Sanders, a CCHS and John A Logan College alum and founder of Women for Change Carbondale. Nick Smaligo, the founder of Carbondale Spring. Nathan Colombo is a lifelong and generational resident of Carbondale running for city council. 

Along with these candidates who spoke at the forum there are also two other candidates running for city council. They are Tyrone Taliq Montgomery and Joshua Liechty.

Candidates were asked two general questions. Each candidate had 60 seconds to respond to each question asked.

Brennan Knop– Community members have expressed a concern about a lack of accountability and city council member engagement. If you are elected how do you plan to stay engaged within the community and contribute to an increased level of accountability. 

“I am very interested in citizen engagement. When I was first elected 8 years ago I was kind of disappointed by the lack of interaction I got. I put stuff out on Facebook. I wanted more engagement and I would get one or two comments. Not very many people would come to council meetings until it was something that people didn’t really like,” Bradshaw said. 

Bradshaw said she hopes the internet forums will help them figure out how to have bot in person and virtual meetings to get more feedback through online methods. 

“One thing that has really bothered me over the past year is the city council meeting virtually has really hampered citizen participation in our city council meetings. When we meet in person citizens have the opportunity to give input. I’m from the community so people have the opportunity to discuss their thoughts and opinions with me. They can call me. I don’t get a lot of people reaching out and getting their thoughts on a one on one basis,” Doherty said. 

Harvey said virtual meetings impede the lines of communication from the city council to the public.

 “My one word would be accessible, I always try to make myself available to the citizens of Carbondale. The email is on the website. My phone number is 618-303-1973. I always ask please feel free to contact me at any time. I am more than willing to listen to everybody’s opinion. I think everybody is entitled to their opinion,”  Harvey said.

Holder said the community leaders should have done a better job to make themselves available to the public especially during the pandemic. He said with the space in the city hall conference room they could’ve held in person socially distanced meetings. 

“We have problems that are far greater than just the virus and that is voting in Carbondale. Voting at large has harmed the Black population since its creation. There has not been a person from the north east sitting on the council in Carbondale. Until there is a voting change that addresses people’s concerns, the council and the government start addressing, truly, the problems of affirmative action, the problems of unemployment and the problems of housing. These are things that matter to people in these communities then people will feel no hope or no grounds for participation with those people on the council,” Holder said.

Colombo said he would utilise his background in media and digital platforms to make city council members more accessible by bridging the gap between digital spaces and physical spaces. 

“The WTF Carbondale social media platforms including facebook group are some of the ways I would […] to not just engage from a single sided perspective. Bringing myself to individuals but  asking for the feedback directly from those individuals as well. I platform activity of our local citizens to the tune of somewhere in the neighborhood of about 60,000 views in a given month based [on] the Facebook group alone,” Colombo said. “[…] The podcast that I recently launched in the past several months […] is something that I would use to actively engage folks in long form conversations about policy issues […] following city council meetings.” 

Sanders said if you are on the city council you should be held accountable by the people you are serving.

“You should be in a position where you are approachable.  If I were on the city council I would be approachable. I am a builder of relationships. Even working for Women for Change. We’re grassroots girls. We believe in relationships and building relationships and keeping relationships. We believe in going door to door and one person at a time changing things,” Sanders said. 

Smaligo agreed with Holder’s sentiment that people are dissuaded from participating in local politics for the lack of action in local government. 

“People’s disengagement from local government is a learned behavior when people encounter dismissiveness and public gaslighting. People learn that there is no point in talking to the city council. People on city council need to take accountability for their beliefs and why they believe the way that they do,” Smaligo said. 

Ginger Golz: What is your idea of creating positive contributions to Carbondale during your term if elected? How do you plan on doing so? Please be specific.

Smaligo said he wants to use the platform of Carbondale Spring if elected for a food autonomy project. 

“Over the last year we managed to secure a grant to pay people to work in three different gardens run by different organizations as well as build three chicken coops for people. Our ultimate goal is for us to secure funding for people to be able to grow food in a sustainable safety net,” Smaligo said. “I want to pursue a deep reexamination of our concept of public safety in this town. I have argued and will continue to argue that we are over-policed. I want to see police funds directly going into supporting the Eurma Hayes center for violence reduction and rapid mental health care.” 

Ginger said she wants to see more diversity, inclusion, equality and equity in the city of Carbondale. 

“Carbondale is a diverse city with many different nationalities. We need programs put in place where all individuals would be represented and have a voice. We need to hold the city accountable to have our labor force reflect the diversity and the demographics in Carbondale, Illinois. It makes no sense to have 42% minorities and only 7% are represented in the police department,” Sanders said.

Holder said he wants to see more of Carbondale history taught in elementary school through higher education. 

“I think one of the main things that’s missing in the school curriculum is the history of the community, the history of Black people and the history of the United States. We have a major university right here. The history of the labor here is really terrible,” Holder said. 

Harvey said she wants to pursue several of the issues raised by other candidates. 

“Homelessness, all of these are issues that we need to address. I don’t have solutions to all the problems. I am willing to listen to anyone who has a problem and we can work together to create a solution,” Harvey said.

Doherty said he wants to see the city council work on creating jobs for Carbondale residents. 

“Good paying jobs that they can support themselves and their families and make investments in the community. The other part is to invest in our neighborhoods and encourage home ownership. Looking at sustainability, the city has initiated solar power on several of our larger facilities including city hall and the police station,” Doherty said.

Colombo said the priority as a city needs to be on redeveloping the Carbondale population. Nathan said Carbondale has the infrastructure, housing stock and community programs to support and welcome new Carbondale residents. 

“[…] We have problems to solve like the issues surrounding diversity and a lack of inclusion, not just in the city but in our economy overall. I think right now as we see people fleeing and  being displaced by climate change … we stand as a place of refuge to welcome people to help us redevelop our community while we help them stabilize and find what is next in their lives,” Colombo said.

Bradshaw said the other candidates raised good ideas for the city council to address. 

“Let’s work on sustainable food sources,violence reduction, police, diversity, supporting local, better jobs, housing, everything. Everyone has a point and I think that we can do it. One great thing the city does do is support local organizations,” Bradshaw said.

The forum ended with closing remarks and thanks to the community for the space to discuss their platforms from all of the candidates.

 

Reporter Oreoluwa Ojewuyi can be reached at [email protected] or on twitter @odojewuyi

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