SYCAMORE – A Sycamore resident of more than 40 years, Mayor Curt Lang said it was important for him to keep the small-town feel and open-door policy for city government since he was sworn into office May 1, 2017.
Lang said a lot of things happened in the first few months of his term that weren't in the city's control.
Lidia Juarez was shot to death by her estranged husband at work in June after she filed a restraining order against him.
Former Sycamore Police Chief Glenn Theriault resigned that same month after an Elgin police officer who was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence was released without charges.
An armed robbery happened in July at the 7-Eleven on East State Street.
"For me, it was just a challenge to be a leader enough to keep things going without the distractions causing general interruptions in the things that make Sycamore so great," Lang said.
Aside from those headlines from the past year, Lang said he couldn't think of many substantial complaints the city has heard and addressed in the past year. Whenever any one of about 20,000 Sycamore residents has any concern large or small, he said, he thinks people are comfortable reaching out to elected officials with the city's open-door policy.
"Government can't provide everything, but government can certainly listen," Lang said.
Lang said some residents have brought up concerns about road work in their neighborhoods. He understands people being eager to have nicer streets in their community, he said, but addressing all of those concerns is going to take some time.
"People need to wait their turn, but it can be discouraging," Lang said.
In spite of that, Lang said, he thinks the city has made a lot of progress on necessary road work.
Lang said his overall campaign goal was to keep Sycamore moving forward, including making the community more business-friendly. He said he made a point to visit almost every business owner in the city for their input on the local business climate.
Lang said the most common topics brought up were property taxes being too high in the city and the long process of zoning changes. With proposals such as the special use permit to make the building that used to be Brown's Country Market on Route 64 into an indoor self-storage facility and two other stores being approved by City Council recently, he said, he would like to see the industrial base continue to keep growing in Sycamore and to keep reassessing land use plans in the city.
Virginia Sherrod, a life-long resident of Sycamore, also was sworn into her office as 4th Ward Alderwoman last year. She had never held any city office before as have some of her colleagues, and it has been a learning curve for her, she said, but it has been "really enlightening" to learn about the intricacies of local government.
"I know the character and the the type of people that we are working with," Sherrod said. "They don't take what they do for granted because it's a huge responsibility to make sure that you are taking care of everything from infrastructure to taxes to paying all the bills."
Sherrod said she has lived through many mayors as a resident and never knew of her city being in dire strait under that leadership. She said Lang had some big shoes to fill with previous Mayor Ken Mundy retiring and said she would've enjoyed working with Mundy – but, she said, she thinks Lang has stepped into the role with grace, despite his own learning curve to work with.
"It's been so smooth," Sherrod said. "I can't believe how quickly a year has gone by."
Sherrod said she thinks the year couldn't have gone any better under Lang's leadership. She recounted the story of the power going out during the council's April 16 meeting and how the council carried on business after back-up light sources were brought up by the fire department and the rest of the meeting was recorded with someone's cellphone.
Sherrod said a lot of people would've just called it quits if they lost power during a meeting, but to the Sycamore City Council, she said, it was business as usual.
"That just goes to show the integrity of the people that we work with," Sherrod said.
Lang said city officials, himself included, will continue to keep Sycamore running with a balanced budget and ongoing public safety training for the city's police officers and firefighters.
"I think the outlook for the future is good for carrying out the friendly tradition of the past," Lang said.