DeKalb Mayoral candidate Michael Embrey submitted this questionnaire, answering the Daily Chronicle's questions in the 2017 DeKalb Mayoral race.
Name: Michael Embrey
Town: DeKalb, Illinois
Office sought: Mayor, City of DeKalb
1) Why are you the best candidate?
My experience in the world of business, longevity in DeKalb, and strong desire to continue giving back to my community along with my ability to listen, ability to make decisions and my willingness to incorporate citizen input, will be the foundation of my leadership style.
2) What can the city government do to reduce crime?
Work with other entities in the county and region to explore how all can work together. Encourage continued outreach to citizens and proactive policing strategies. Encourage and support neighborhood watch programs.
Talk to state and federal officials and officials in other college communities which may have similar challenges and tailor what has worked for them to meet our needs.
3) Both of the city’s tax-increment financing districts and the millions of dollars they generate each year will end during the next four years. How should the city prepare for this?
First the City must evaluate how the TIF dollars have been expended over the years so as to get a clear picture of what has worked and what has not worked. Then, the Finance Advisory Committee and Economic Development Commission must be engaged in the vetting process that will serve to advise Council while the Council gets back to holding its strategic planning sessions which have been ignored for months. This process should also include the various entities such as DCEDC, the School District, Park District, Sanitary District, and County so as to obtain and share information for a broader perspective, and to lay the ground work for working together for the good of not only DeKalb, but the entire County.
Knowing where TIF has succeeded and how can that be replicated will help the Council to decide how to invest these valuable tax dollars effectively.
4) How should city and Northern Illinois University officials work together to improve the community?
Of course there should be a relationship between NIU and DeKalb…an open relationship. NIU and the City both face many challenges…enrollment, finances, infrastructure, safety, staffing, housing, etc. Some of these challenges are shared while others belong to the respective parties. NIU serves as the largest employer in the City/County and its health and vitality are critical elements in the economy of the City and County. Strong leadership committed to open and frank discussions is critical in identifying, addressing and ultimately dealing with these challenges.
5) A recent study called for the city to take over operation of the Egyptian Theatre, renovate the venue and contribute to its operating budget. Is this a good idea? Why or why not?
The Egyptian Theatre should be used as effectively as possible as it has been a part of the community for many years and serves as an economic engine for the downtown. This facility was saved years ago through efforts of citizens and with help through funding from various grants as well as local tax dollars with the purpose in mind that the Egyptian would remain a community facility to be used by the people.
To expect this facility to morph into a mega entertainment facility is beyond its intended scope and beyond what DeKalb can attract at this point in time. There are major questions as to the viability of the study for upon closer inspection there appear to be flaws in the financial data and population counts as well as the profound lack of any mention of the historic details which led to the saving of this facility. The $55,000 could have better been spent on needed repairs to the facility rather than to pay a consultant.
6) Under what conditions would you support development of a STEAM learning center in downtown DeKalb? Do you think the city should contribute $4 million in TIF funding toward the project?
Wonderful concept…great idea…many places that could be considered to house such a facility…no doubt about that. The vast majority of any funding should come from the private sector and through fund raisers. NIU already has moved in this direction and has the experience to expand this idea. A positive move from NIU would be to investigate its resources to see if it can establish a STEAM center within the City…possibly in the downtown area. This would be a positive move and show of support to the City and its welfare. The City is in no position to fund this or any other projects at this point in time as there are other places in which to invest the soon to be gone TIF monies or any other existing monies from City sources.
A drastic under use of the citizen Boards, Committees, Commissions and a lack of strategic planning sessions held by the Council on a continual basis have produced a limited understanding of the City’s financial and economic development challenges. Common sense and setting priorities are needed at City Hall.
7) What is one thing the city spends money on now that should be reduced or eliminated?
Top level, high paying staff positions and consultants/studies should be curtailed significantly. Several years ago the City Council made the very difficult decision to scale down its work force. In the last 2-3 years the City has employed additional top level staff. We simply cannot afford this.
8) The city government sometimes is criticized as not being “business friendly.” Is this fair? What changes can be made, if any?
Business friendly doesn’t mean that a municipality eliminates all regulations and allows business to operate in an unsafe environment. A well run City has high standards and having high standards attracts good businesses since a viable business wants to be affiliated with a City that takes pride in how it operates, how it looks, how it enforces codes, and how it interacts with new and existing businesses.
Both Staff and Council/Mayor need to get out of City Hall and reach out to the business community to visit, to observe, to ask questions, to gather input, and to make connections. Taking the time to share this input on a regular basis would elevate everyone’s understanding of the challenges business faces. This would positively impact how the City deals with business when enforcing the various codes and when passing laws.