Council changes lead to city changes

By Gus Bode

Mayor Joel Fritzler took some time Monday to reflect on his five months as mayor so far and the new City Council.

“It’s probably the most diverse council Carbondale’s ever seen,” he said.

Fritzler succeeded Brad Cole as mayor in May, and Jane Adams and Don Monty were elected to the Council the same month. Lee Fronabarger was appointed to fill Fritzler’s vacant council seat.

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Since the considerable shift in the council’s makeup, the city has seen a number of addressed major issues. Fritzler said the Council’s granting liquor licenses to grocery stores in July was probably the largest one far.

“That was a big victory for the entire community,” he said. “I’m hoping to see a turnaround in some of our sales tax revenues.”

He said the issue of liquor sales at grocery stores has been around for over 40 years.

“Even when I moved here 15 years ago, it was like the big question, ‘Why can’t I get beer in the grocery store like I can in probably 95 percent of the other stores in Illinois, or across the country or around the world?’” he said.

And the issue may not be settled. Fronabarger — who voted with Fritzler, Monty and Adams to approve the measure — said he’d like to see liquor sales expand to convenience stores as well.

The council’s decision says something about Fritzler’s mayoral qualities, said Francis Murphy, general manager of the Neighborhood Co-op Grocery, one of several grocery stores to pursue liquor licenses.

“Joel has shown really strong leadership to overturn a 43-year-old law that benefited a few families in Carbondale,” he said. “Joel is not beholden to certain interest groups the way Brad was.”

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Fritzler seems to have a more inclusive and participatory style than Cole, who strictly ran the previous Council, Murphy said.

However, councilwoman Corene McDaniel said Cole had a vision and the connections to make it work.

McDaniel, who has served on the council for more than 10 years, has found herself in the minority on a few major votes since the new council members took office. She voted against grocery store liquor sales and cutting the city’s funding for District 95’s summer reading and math program.

“Maybe we have new members who may not have been responsive to items that were passed in the past,” she said.

Councilman Chris Wissmann, who’s been on the council for eight years, expressed a similar sentiment.

“I do seem to find myself on the short end of the stick these days,” he said.

He said anyone who has watched the council for the last eight years would have no problem seeing the differences since the last election, but he would not comment on the differences between Fritzler and Cole.

Scott Thorne, owner of Castle Perilous Games and writer of the city government blog Carbondaze Gazette, said Cole and Fritzler are actually similar in at least one way.

“They’re both kind of, ‘I want it done my way,’ but Cole was more in your face,” he said.

One case of Fritzler’s initiative is his emphasis on building-code enforcement, a topic he stressed during the election.

“In the last eight years or so, we’ve been pretty lax on enforcement,” Fritzler said. “One of the first things I did when I took office, I went over to Building and Neighborhood Services, and all I said was, ‘Write tickets, write tickets, write tickets.’”

Since the summer, the city’s efforts to force New York-based landlord Campus Habitat to bring its properties into safety compliance have been well publicized. The city declared two of the company’s buildings to be unfit for habitation in August, and a Jackson County Circuit Court judged levied $30,000 in fines against the landlord in September.

“I was really happy … the judicial system has taken our side on the ruling, the fines. I don’t think we’re ever going to collect any of those fines, but it helps put the word out there that we’re serious about these violations,” Fritzler said.

He said improving housing is one way the city can help the university fight its enrollment problems.

Fritzler said after matters such as raising water rates and finding a new city manager are settled, his next big issue is to improve and clean up downtown. He said one idea he has had is to close Illinois Avenue to vehicles and to divert Highway 51 onto University Avenue.

However, he said ideas are cheap, and  sometimes planning is too, but making it happen would be expensive.

“We’re doing all right,” he said. “Our sales tax revenue projections are right on track … but there’s no frosting.”

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