These responses were submitted by Julie Emig, a candidate for Bloomington City Council in Ward 4. 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.
For the past 25 years, I have worked in public education. I am currently an Instructional Assistant Professor for the School of Teaching and Learning at Illinois State University. Throughout my career, my primary role has been to build bridges across diverse groups of people, including schools, universities, districts, boards, funders, and parents. I bring a wealth of experience in developing coalitions to achieve results. For example, as Director of Literacy in Evanston/Skokie D65, I created a literacy framework for K-3 education. I was challenged to develop policy that was responsive to all constituents while remaining within budget. I am a certified K-12 principal, directed a federally funded grant of $20 million, graduated from the Multicultural Leadership Program, and have been deeply engaged in local community service. I serve as the Youth Exchange Officer for the Sunrise Rotary Club, and I am on the Board of Directors for the Ecology Action Center and BCAI School of Arts. I have previously served on the YMCA Strategic Planning Committee and the YWCA Young Wonders Parent Committee. Finally, my four-year-old daughter inspires me to build a better community for us all.
What would be your approach to building effective working relationships with other aldermen, the mayor, and city staff?
We need to work together to achieve results; therefore, it is incumbent on city leaders to find common ground, respectfully voice their differences, and make informed decisions. Our diversity is our greatest strength. I am currently in the process of meeting with city and community leaders to learn, from their expertise and experience, what needs to be prioritized going forward. My professional experience has prepared me well for building effective relationships. I listen. I learn. I make informed decisions. I act with transparency. In past evaluations of my work, I have been lauded for achieving buy-in and implementing change.
What new programs or initiatives do you think the city should pursue?
Strong neighborhoods: Our unique neighborhoods are at the core of our communities. Preserving and further developing strong and historic neighborhoods is a priority because it raises the value of property, attracts multi-purpose development, provides opportunities for tourism, and invests in our shared public spaces.
Strong economy: As our local economy continues to shift, the City Council needs to take a leadership role in providing direction towards supporting diverse and new economies. We should prioritize downtown and preservation areas, help to develop and sustain small business, seek out opportunities for incubators in untapped areas such as agribusiness and information/communication technology, and look for potential avenues of revenue through grants, state/federal initiatives, and public/private partnerships.
Strong infrastructure: We need to begin incremental implementation of the Comprehensive Streets Plan and Brick Streets Master Plan. As we get better at assessing the condition of our sewers, for example, we will be able to prioritize what needs to be targeted. Furthermore, our more historic communities require greater maintenance merely due to the realities of aging infrastructure.
When is it appropriate for local government to use incentives to achieve an economic development priority? How would you make those decisions?
The intent behind TIF districts is to revitalize and/or restore impoverished or blighted areas of the community. If we are to use tax incentives to develop such areas, city leaders must determine what qualifies, how the development will take place, how the community will ultimately be served via increased revenue, and how we can ensure ongoing checks to determine that the project is meeting our demands. There was a Resolution put into place by the City Council in June of 2018 regarding TIF Districts, and I support this kind of oversight. Furthermore, we can seek out other sources of revenue, such as New Market Tax Credits, Low Income Housing Tax Credit, and Business Improvement Districts. TIF is not the only option.
What specifically would you support to make Downtown Bloomington a more attractive destination for residents, tourists, and business owners?
Downtown Bloomington has enormous potential that is starting to be realized. In the spirit of incremental development, City Council can continue to improve the outdoor space in downtown through public art, crosswalks of stamped concrete, a pavilion, more lighting for downtown shops, and better parking. These are immediate aspects of the Downtown Task Force that can be realized. Beyond that, I would work to prioritize aspects of the Bloomington Comprehensive Plan, such as leveraging downtown assets such as the Route 66 Visitors Center, exploring the development of a downtown business incubator, and finding ways to revitalize the warehouse district such as establishing pop-up businesses.
What should be the city’s role in expanding affordable housing opportunities?
The Bloomington Comprehensive Plan identifies mechanisms for developing mixed-income neighborhoods in our community, both through preservation and regeneration, that include working with partners like Habitat for Humanity, MCCA, and the Bloomington Housing Authority. Specifically, city leaders should leverage their relationship with the Bloomington Housing Authority to expand affordable housing in our community, particularly for lower middle class families, as evidence suggests that there is not enough housing in Bloomington for this population. Recently, the BHA has proposed a public/private partnership with a nonprofit real estate developer that will result in affordable housing for working families with children as well as veterans. We need to expand these kinds of initiatives, seek out Low Income Housing Tax Credits, and support the development of mixed-use structures.
City staff say O’Neil Pool needs to be replaced and the public library needs to expand. Should the city pursue those projects? If so, how should they be funded?
Yes, the city should pursue the replacement of O’Neill Pool and the expansion of the Public Library. The revitalization of O’Neill Pool and adjoining park will result in creating a stronger neighborhood, provide healthy options for youth and family, and be an economic driver. I also support the library’s proposal to expand their facility given the data of increased patronage in a space that can no longer accommodate the community’s needs. We should begin with an information campaign that effectively communicates the economic and social impact of these projects. Funding should be sought through diverse means, including grants, private donations, partnerships with business, and as a last resort, tax revenue. Over 60% of our property taxes fund our public schools, which is significantly important. I am cautiously optimistic about Illinois’s implementation of a Property Tax Relief Fund that should help to shift the state’s reliance on property taxes for public education; such a move will allow for lower taxes as well as opportunities for reasonable investments in capital projects.
A recent Governing magazine investigation found a big disparity in median incomes between white and black households in Bloomington. What can the city do to address this and other inequalities that exist within the community?
I would be interested in working in partnership with the Department of Community Development to construct a strategic response to address the recent report that describes the income disparities in our community. Based on input from local organizations (such as MCLP, YMCA, YWCA, Rotary, Promise Council) and conversations with community members, my current priorities to address this disparity include high-quality, affordable housing; educational initiatives, such as those via Heartland Headstart, Section 3 Job/Life Skills Training, job training in fields that are looking to hire more skilled labor; and accessible transportation.
What additional steps should the city take, if any, to better protect and serve local immigrants, especially those who are undocumented?
When I taught in the public schools, many of my students were immigrants. I understand how difficult it is for this population to navigate the legal, institutional, and cultural realities of our society. Therefore, I believe that establishing a Welcoming City Ordinance is a necessary step for Bloomington to take; the symbolic import of such a resolution alone is a powerful statement in support of local immigrants.
However, while a Welcoming City Ordinance is a necessary step, it is ultimately insufficient. A helpful model for how such ordinances can be used as a lever for economic growth, for example, is in Dayton, Ohio. Furthermore, working in partnership with our local Immigration Project, a nonprofit agency which provides legal services to the 100,000 immigrants who live in Central and Southern Illinois, would help to mitigate the legal challenges faced by our undocumented immigrant population. We can do better.
Editor's note: This questionnaire has been updated to include the final response. The candidate inadvertantly omitted it from her original submission.