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Our view: Challenges await election winners

Published: Friday, April 12, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Congratulations to the winners in Tuesday’s local elections.

When their terms begin in May, so too will the real work. These are challenging times for many units of our local governments.

Local school districts must confront the prospect of further reductions in state aid, a property tax base that has seen repeated declines in value, and in some cases, negotiations with teachers’ unions. Not to mention the continuing demand for our schools to keep up with advances in technology as they seek to provide young people with a quality education.

Local park districts must balance their patrons’ desire for upgraded or new facilities – which in some cases are badly needed – against with what taxpayers are willing to pay to create and maintain them.

In the City of DeKalb, which featured a high-profile four-way race for mayor, there are big changes ahead. Not only will the city have a new mayor in John Rey, it also will have a pair of new City Council members in 2nd Ward Alderman William Finucane and 4th Ward Alderman Robert Snow.

Just as important as the new council members elected Tuesday will be the person selected to replace City Manager Mark Biernacki, who will retire in June. The council may be the body that enacts laws and approves city spending, but it is the city manager who serves as CEO. The city manager is the administrative and executive head of city hall, and can appoint and remove all city officers who are not elected officials.

In other words, the person chosen to take Biernacki’s place will have as much if not more ability to make changes in how the government operates as Rey, Finucane, Snow or the other council members. The city’s police and fire chiefs, public works and other staff members are accountable first to the city manager.

As was noted by many candidates during the election, there also is change coming at Northern Illinois University, where Douglas Baker will take over as president in July. The fate of the city, and in some ways the broader area, is intertwined with that of the university.

If DeKalb does not continue to upgrade its housing stock and commercial areas, fewer students will be interested in coming to learn here, and NIU will not thrive.

If the university does not thrive, employment and economic activity in DeKalb – as well as Sycamore and other areas – will be diminished, and the area at large will suffer.

The City of DeKalb is not the only community in the area with new leadership, of course. Genoa has a new mayor in Mark Vicary, Cortland a new Town President in Russ Stokes, Hinckley in James Roderick and for the first time in more than 20 years, Sandwich has new mayor in Richard Olson.

The list of new leaders in our local communities is long, and each will be charged with helping confront new challenges as they seek to move our communities forward.

Good luck to all the recently elected. We thank you for your willingness to serve and are counting on your good judgment.

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