These responses were submitted by Dave Shields, a candidate for Normal Town Council. The questionnaire was prepared by GLT in partnership with the League of Women Voters of McLean County. See more candidate responses.
What in your personal and professional background has prepared you for this position? Include any experience serving in local government.
I love this community and am proud to call Normal home. I have given back and made an effort to get involved at every opportunity, starting over 20 years ago.
My involvement in local politics began after both Normal and Bloomington voted against adding "sexual orientation" to their non-discrimination ordinances. I recognized that part of our community was not being represented. I worked with LGBTQ friends to form the Advocacy Council for Human Rights, which is now Prairie Pride Coalition. I later founded the Pride employee resource group at State Farm. Whether on the Town Council or not, I will continue to be a part of the effort to make Normal a welcoming and inclusive community.
As a member of the arts community, I’ve performed, accompanied, and produced dozens of local shows, leading to serving on Community Players Board of Directors. My role with community players has allowed me to understand the importance of supporting and protecting the arts in Normal.
I also served on the Normal 2040 Vision Committee, whose work created the current version of the current Town of Normal Comprehensive Plan and I am currently on the Normal Planning Commission. We are working to put the plan into effect, moving important projects and the town forward.
I want to serve on the Normal Town Council because I am prepared for the position, enjoy working alongside others who share common goals and am willing to make the personal investment in this community to see those goals turn into reality.
Since 2000, the town has embarked on a massive redevelopment of Uptown Normal. What do you think of what’s been done so far? What should be done in Uptown in the future?
The development of Uptown Normal began with a group of people who 20 years ago believed in the potential of Uptown. They worked together to create what is now a vibrant, iconic, award-winning staple of Normal.
This project was a result of the work of the community members who participated in the 2020 Vision work. The destination adds definition to the town’s character. The circle in particular is environmentally sensitive and aesthetically attractive. I’m proud that I was a part of thinking about the town’s next 20 years as part of the 2040 Vision Committee.
The Trail East project has the potential to further Normal’s economic progress by bringing in additional jobs and foot traffic to local businesses.
I currently favor the idea of relocating the library to the south side of the train tracks and creating and underpass connection between the Circle area and the 2.0 area. I believe the infusion of new workers in the Trail East building will attract small service/support business and entrepreneurs to the area. The thoughtful consideration of housing options must continue in future projects, and I look forward to being a part of that discussion. All of our residents deserve affordable housing options, which would allow them to capitalize on the opportunities provided by this extremely resourceful community.
When is it appropriate for local government to use incentives to achieve an economic development priority? How would you make those decisions?
Incentives are tools that need to be used with care. I like to think of these incentives similar to businesses that offer discounts to customers or a bank that offers rewards cards. They are strategic programs meant to enable further growth, which benefits our town and local businesses, just like a discount helps a customer receive savings while continuing to support a business they love.
Incentives are not handouts or corporate welfare. The town doesn’t write multi-million dollar checks to developers. Just as individual consumers spend their money and align with businesses which best attract and retain their loyalty, so goes the business-government relationship.
And while each economic incentive opportunity is examined on its own merits, my criteria for decision making are:
1) Does it make financial sense for the town?
2) Will there be lasting and long-term benefit to Normal and its residents?
3) Will the opportunity be lost for good without the incentive?
If faced with a challenging budget situation, what would be your approach to balancing taxes and fees against preserving or expanding programs and services?
We need to make tough decisions in order to guarantee our core services—water, sewer, infrastructure, public safety, and health. These should be given priority in the case of a challenging budget situation.
I would also place priority on debt obligations, including pensions. The town just faced such a situation and responded by making tough cuts and a conservative five-year budget. This move has already yielded positive results.
I do not advocate for spending more than we need to without clear explanations of why no other alternative exists, or the benefits we will receive for doing so.
What new programs or initiatives do you think the town should pursue?
To assist our small businesses in navigating the new state minimum wage, the town should investigate the feasibility of providing tax rebates. This initiative would be aimed at reducing the additional pressure these minimums could place on these businesses, allowing them to continue to grow and serve our community.
We can also do a better job of celebrating and supporting entrepreneurship by providing an incubator or innovation center that will inspire more creativity and future business opportunities. I see this effort complimenting Rivian, Brandt, and other companies that have come and invested in Normal as a pro-business town.
Champions of public art have surfaced to defend the mural in Uptown. This is a great sign that our community values and can benefit from art. Our town covers 18 square miles and has 19 parks, we can build on these opportunities for creative minds and artists. I believe Normal can become recognized for its commitment to creating a sense of place through art, a destination and example for others to come see how it’s done.
Take the Water Treatment Plant, for example. Unlike the mural, it’s probably not going anywhere. Engaged people and the town should surely be able to work together and conceive it as an iconic photo opportunity, perhaps in partnership with Illinois Arts Station. Welders, woodworkers, and students could design and install fencing which is both functional and an attraction. It’s a gateway to Uptown, and in my opinion, it should be made into something inviting.
Another initiative we should pursue is facilitating collaboration between students at Illinois State University and our great local small businesses. There are thousands of capable and enthusiastic students who can assist businesses and starting and growing while learning lessons that they can apply in their future careers.
I would also like to see more working groups of engaged citizens be formed to direct their energy to immediate, or chronic, issues and opportunities, along the lines of the Vision 2040 committee.
What should be the town’s role in expanding affordable housing opportunities?
Providing affordable housing options for all residents is an important and complicated issue, and one we need to all work together on to solve. This was a focus of the 2040 Vision Committee that I served on, and a key component of the comprehensive plan.
We need more information to analyze and tackle this matter. I would like to see an in-depth analysis of household incomes, and compare it to an analysis of the prices of our current housing stock and rental spaces. Where there’s disparity, there’s opportunity. I believe off-campus student rental housing would need to be integrated into this study in order to get a full picture of how housing is affecting our college-aged community members.
I support the three strategies on housing outlined in the 2040 Comprehensive Plan:
1. Ensure that new housing development and redevelopment contribute to a complete, compact, and connected community;
2. Preserve and improve the existing housing stock;
3. Guarantee access to high-quality supportive and affordable housing options.
Do you think the town needs a full-time communications manager and/or economic development coordinator? Why or why not?
From what’s going on behind the scenes of local small businesses to our rich history, Normal has a great story to tell, and that story needs to be told. Communicating where our town is, where it’s headed, and the truth about what is going on behind the scenes will help current and potential residents and businesses connect on a greater level with the town and see the promise that Normal offers.
I believe that with the truth of what is going on, the state of our town, and our future prospects, nearly every citizen would be able to see that we are indeed headed in the right direction. A full-time communications manager should lead the education of people on the facts and particulars, and help us avoid ongoing conflicts and misinformation being spread.
Normal absolutely needs someone advocating on its behalf. Someone who is selling the specific benefits of the community and ensuring a place at the table of any discussion with potential businesses and industry. However, I’m less certain at the moment about the need for a full-time economic development coordinator. There are several local and regional entities which focus on economic development, and there needs to be more clarity as to what pieces of the puzzle each own, and therefore what is still needed.
Assuming that the town did have both positions, they would need to work together. By concentrating on getting higher percentages of ISU and Heartland graduates to stay in Normal and apply their experience, education, and talents here, these positions could have a significant positive impact in a short amount of time.
Do you support either physical expansion of the Normal Public Library at its current site or construction of a new, larger building? Why or why not?
I support the construction of a new building. The library is a phenomenal modern resource with a staff that does extraordinary work in an environment that is outgrown. Libraries today are so much more than book warehouses and we need a facility that reflects that. I believe that the construction of a new building can serve as the anchor of Uptown 2.0.
What the Normal Library staff does currently is beyond impressive in providing the most extensive array of resources and services possible. If they had a facility that was built with current demands and future expansion in mind, they would strengthen and further their function as a vital component of the town’s infrastructure.
Do you think the town should offer up money, land, or other incentives to support development of a multisport complex in McLean County? Why or not?
The current proposal is not a favorable one for Normal. My understanding is that it would not currently generate enough revenue to sustain itself. Towns would need to provide ongoing financial support.
Although the Grossinger Motors Arena, once the Coliseum, is useful, it has fallen short of financial expectations. I do not want the community to find itself in another similar situation, and I do not support Normal undertaking the multisport complex development on its own.
I am, however, in support of exploring future developments through a short-term volunteer group that would conduct analysis and offer recommendations. This committee could determine if there is a model that would benefit the community and be financially viable for the region.