Daily Egyptian

Carbondale mayoral candidates discuss reorganization, enrollment

By Kallie Cox, Staff Reporter

Carbondale mayoral candidates John “Mike” Henry and Nathan Colombo visited SIU for a forum hosted by Undergraduate Student Government.

Toussaint Mitchell, USG president, asked both candidates student questions about Carbondale, enrollment, the reorganization plan and their platforms.

Incumbent John “Mike” Henry is the current mayor of Carbondale, owner of Henry Printing, and an SIU alum.

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Nathan Colombo, his 29 year-old challenger, is also an SIU alum and owns a small business called Brand Advocacy Group, runs the Facebook page WTF Carbondale and is a board director for the Varsity Center.

In his opening remarks, Colombo said Carbondale is in a time of transition.

“This is about what we can do to capitalize on the opportunities of a community in transition and the ability to write what we want our future to be, for not just the next five years but for the next 50,” Colombo said. “That comes with input from students like yourselves, from community members like Mike and I and from folks who just have interest in our community.”

Henry said in his opening he fell in love with Carbondale because of the town’s diversity, which is why he chose to start a business and raise a family here. He said he originally ran for mayor when the city became dysfunctional.

“At that time, [city officials] made personal attacks on each other during council meetings; we were the laughingstock of southern Illinois,” Henry said. “It was just time to make some changes there, which we [have] done.”

Henry said he had a lot of goals for Carbondale, the biggest of which was completing the downtown revitalization plan.

“We have gotten the first two phases done; the third phase will be done in 2020,” Henry said. “What I want to do is to continue what I have been doing and complete some of these initiatives and keep us going forward.”

The first question Mitchell asked the candidates was what leadership experience they had and what some of their accomplishments were.

Henry said he had the experience of owning commercial real estate, of being a successful business owner for 40 years and of being Carbondale’s mayor for the past four years.

“It is a learning process,” Henry said. “I thought it was really important to establish strong working relationships with SIU and our major employers, I had a good relationship with Southern Illinois Healthcare because I do a lot of business with them, we have very strong relationships with SIU.”

Colombo said he had a varied amount of leadership experience through his professional life, nonprofits and personal activities.

Colombo said he organized the “Carbondale Comedians” group, managed at local restaurants including Quatro’s Pizza, had boardroom experience and experience leading small teams and started various small business from construction to retail.

Mitchell asked the candidates what they would do to assist in retention and increasing of enrollment at SIU.

Colombo said he would network with alumni to seek out marketing opportunities for SIU and he believes Dan Silver’s SI Doing Something plan, which is designed to be complementary to the reorganization plan, has good ideas that should be discussed.

Silver’s plan is made up of 12 points that include reducing tuition and fees, providing tuition waivers for high performing high school seniors, creating a center for cross-cultural student success, returning to a 60 credit requirement for transfers, waiving the application fee, enhancing advertising and facilitating a 2% reduction to all SIUC salaries that exceed $150,000.

Henry said we need to brand Carbondale as a home to SIU and people driving in should see SIU’s colors and know this is the home to a major research university. He said we have to have a brand and get it out there, and SIU is finally doing the right things for enrollment.

“We are doing all the things right for enrollment now. President Randy Dunn didn’t even release the money for mailing two years in a row and it takes a million dollars to do the mailings that we mail to prospective high school students,” Henry said. “That hurt us horribly here, but it is being done now.”

Mitchell then asked Henry and Colombo to explain their views on SIU’s current reorganization plan.

“I will tell you right up front. I am not smart enough to get down in the weeds on this plan. I don’t know enough about university structures and so on and so forth,” Henry said.

Henry said he became good friends with late SIU chancellor Carlo Montemagno, and he knows the plan is based on what was done at Arizona State University and other universities have adopted it, and he said the plan has been incredibly successful.

“The key to it is they are enhancing the student experience and what our young folks need today,” Henry said. “As you go through your discipline, this will give you the opportunity to hone your final last two years here to do exactly what you want to be trained and ready to go into.”

Henry said he knows it is controversial on campus and it is difficult to change a system that is 100 years old but something has to be done differently than what SIU is doing because it is not succeeding.

“I think this will help us with enrollment and I think it is going to be a lot better for you folks,” Henry said.

Colombo said he is concerned about the reorganization because it is meant to downsize the university and SIU has already naturally downsized. He said there has to be something which better aligns the university with those who are actually at the university.

“I can’t necessarily say that this is the right thing to do,” Colombo said “I have watched it be presented multiple times […] and you see that flow chart that has got green lettering and orange lettering and red lettering and you go ‘what does it really mean?’”

Colombo said the difficulty with the reorganization plan comes from a lack of understanding and clarity with how the plan is presented, and he is worried that through the organization plan SIU may be losing some of its value as a research institution to other places in the state of Illinois.

After finishing the pre-written questions, Mitchell opened the floor for community questions and discussion. He kicked this off by asking an unscripted question about what the candidates proposed to do about climate change.

“First and foremost, we have to get people to admit there is climate change,” Henry said. “Humans are causing climate change. I can’t believe people are sitting around saying ‘oh this is a natural phenomenon and there is nothing we can do about it.’ Well there is something we can do about it.”

Henry said making an impact starts with something as little as recycling programs, and City Hall has moved to be smarter about their energy consumption.

“We need to be vigilant, single use plastic is one of the worst things we have on the planet,” Henry said. “It’s killing our whales, it’s killing our fish populations and it is a horrible horrible polluter that never goes away. Plastics— something has to be done with them, we need to legislate them out of use.”

Colombo said as a community we have to find ways to become resilient to climate change.

“It’s more than just participating in energy reduction and transitions to green energy as opposed to fossil fuel,” Colombo said.

Colombo said we need to focus on localizing our food system to be less reliant on the global food system and utilize city resources to do so. He said Carbondale also needs to be actively marketing itself as a refuge to those fleeing from climate change.

“We are going to see people closer and closer to us be permanently displaced by climate change,” Colombo said. “They are going to need a place to go.”

Both candidates said they supported the legalization of cannabis and Carbondale taking part in the new industry.

Henry said marijuana is something which has finally come around. He said he grew up in the “pothead” generation where everyone was smoking “dope,” as they called it.

“I tried it but never inhaled. Well I inhaled and kind of went to sleep,” Henry said. “I was standing in a door jamb and listening to a young woman singing and I just kind of slid down the door jamb, so the party was over for me.”

Henry said Carbondale should be involved in the new industry.

“I think we should be right square in the middle of participating in this,” Henry said. “We have people in the midwest here who are ready to plant 10,000 acres of medicinal or recreational marijuana. This is going to be an exploding industry— it’s the next thing.”

Colombo said marijuana has played a large role in Carbondale’s economy for years whether it has been Illicit or “above board.”

“Whether I win or lose, [one of the things] I am going to lobby like hell for is a city owned cannabis corporation models state and city run liquor stores,” Colombo said.

Colombo said this would provide Carbondale with additional revenue outside of the tax coffers which would allow the city to fund anything from parks to police pensions.

Staff reporter Kallie Cox can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @KallieECox.

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