THUMBS UP TO… big dreams. Thursday’s front-page news focused on a fresh idea to build a new Ottawa YMCA facility at the site of the former Central Intermediate School track. The current Y dates to 1956 and is no longer suited to the types of programs Y officials think are best suited for the community’s needs in 2020 and beyond. Further, the current building has flooding issues relative to its location on the Fox River. And yes, the old Central site is vacant because Illinois River flooding essentially destroyed the school about 11 years ago, but the plans involve elevating the building by as much as six feet, making it effectively more protected from the river than the levee that guards nearby Ottawa High School.
We’re not here to say this plan is flawless, or assert the Y and city should proceed without reservation. There are many valid concerns and objections, and hearing those things out could lead to scrapping the concept altogether. But we nonetheless salute Y leaders for putting forth their vision and to the city for continuing to develop a waterfront master plan. Much like when Reddick Library officials considered relocating to the Jordan block, this Y idea starts a discussion that needs to be had if the city is ever going to move forward with developing the vacant space. Even if the plan ends up scuttled, the discussion and research along the way will be of immense value to any future proposals, and that ultimately serves the best needs of the entire city.
THUMBS DOWN TO… a questionable turn of events. It’s a little hard to understand why there seems to be such a problem at the intersection of East Norris Drive and Paul Street in Ottawa, where apparently a rash of drivers exiting the McDonald’s parking lot attempt U-turns from eastbound into westbound lanes of Norris. The issue came up at a recent Plan Commission meeting where proposals for other businesses were on the table. City Councilman Tom Ganiere spoke about the problem, and later Police Chief Brent Roalson confirmed “a lot of near misses” in the area, on top of six accidents since 2016.
We tend to agree with Plan Commission member Debby Reagan, who said the city didn’t do enough due diligence before allowing some significant development in the area and that more work must be done in order to devise a logical approach to the continued intended development. If the road design is sufficient, then the laws need to be enforced such that drivers get the message. If the laws aren’t strong enough to prevent accidents, then there’s room for remedy by ordinance. And if the ultimate answer is physical changes, then the sooner the better before someone gets seriously hurt. Business growth is good, but municipal officials must be up to the task of making things fit into the sensible flow of city life.
THUMBS UP TO… a safe distance. We were satisfied with the outcome of last week’s appellate court hearing that resulted in no change to the plan to have a special prosecutor handle the issue of pursuing charges against former La Salle County State’s Attorney Brian Towne. Officially the panel said it didn’t have jurisdiction to hear the appeal of current State’s Attorney Karen Donnelly, but that has the effect of enforcing a circuit court judge’s opinion that it’s best to avoid any appearance of impropriety in having an elected prosecutor take up charges against the person she defeated in an election.
Our stance here is not a position on Towne’s guilt or innocence. Consider only the facts we know: In 2016, Donnelly beat Towne in an election to become state's attorney. Within a year, a La Salle County grand jury indicted Towne on 17 felony counts of official misconduct and misapplication of funds. We support the grand jury’s findings and feel the issue should be proven at trial, but we also respect the argument that the best way to manage this case is to have Donnelly on the sideline. That way, if Towne is found guilty and convicted, it will be on the merits of the case alone and there won’t be any way for him to claim bias alone brought him down. We hope even those who voted for Donnelly understand the importance of keeping this matter as clean as possible.
THUMBS DOWN TO… a rush to approval. There are a lot of differing opinions about the push to increase the state’s minimum wage, and we’re not quite comfortable with how fast things are progressing in Springfield. Last week the Illinois Senate voted 39-18 on a plan that would move the state’s minimum from $8.25 to $10 in 2020, then add $1 each January until 2025, when it would hit $15. Things still have to go through the Illinois House, but Gov. JB Pritzker has been clear about his desire to have things settled by the time he delivers his budget address Saturday, Feb. 23.
On one hand, we agree with Pritzker that whatever’s to be decided should be locked in before he proposes a budget to lawmakers, as this change would affect plenty of public workers. But still, we’re not confident that even lawmakers who support the change gave enough consideration to suggestions that the increase be tiered with respect to diversity of the state’s economy — because a dollar has considerably more buying power downstate than in Chicago. Ultimately, we agree with the floor remarks of state Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, who said, “This isn’t about whether or not the minimum wage should be increased, it’s about how much, how fast, and what we can do to minimize the loss of jobs, especially downstate.” We hope the House will address those concerns.