Municipal elections are happening April 2nd, and there are a variety of local positions up for grabs. We came up with some questions for candidates in several of these races, and will be publishing their answers over the course of the next couple of weeks as they respond. Smile Politely doesn’t generally endorse local candidates, and these interviews are not endorsements. Hopefully, they will provide you readers with some insight into the importance of local races, and help you develop a sense of which candidates share your values. We’ve reached out to those running for Champaign and Urbana school boards and park districts, Champaign City Council, Mayor of Champaign, and Parkland Board of Trustees.
Champaign residents will be electing three city council members for at-large seats. That means you do not have to vote for someone representing your particular district, rather you will have all names to choose from on your ballot. There are eight candidates vying for these three spots, including three incumbents.
Matthew Gladney has been a city council member since 2015, and is running for re-election.
Smile Politely: Why should voters opt to keep you on the city council? What successes can you point to, and what do you hope to improve upon?
Matthew Gladney: I pride myself on being available, for responding to folks who contact me via phone, e-mail, or social media. I have held several "office hours" at locations across Champaign, being accessible to anyone who wanted to come talk about their thoughts or concerns about the city. I have had many one-on-one meetings with constituents about the issues that are on their mind, and make it a point to attend various neighborhood and community events. I am always willing to listen to people, even if we may not agree on a particular topic. One of the things I am proud about is working with the police department and the city's Office of Equity, Community and Human Rights so that we can have an official LGBTQ Police Liaison, someone (Deputy Chief Troy Daniels) who can work with the local LGBTQ community, through the UP Center, to address the concerns of the local LGBTQ community and the interactions they might have with the police. That was something I took the initiative on, after receiving community input, and am proud that we have.
SP: The Community Coalition has been a good first step in beginning to discuss community violence. Now, beyond conversations and collecting data, what specific actions can be taken to address the issue of gun violence in the community?
Gladney: Gun violence is a symptom of greater issues that need to be addressed. We should continue to partner with Unit 4, boosting the Youth Employment Services program, and working with them to ensure our youth have access to education, opportunities, and work experience that will provide them with the tools they need to steer them away from some of the hopelessness and desperation that can lead to situations that lead to gun violence. We can work with First Followers, to help with societal reintegration for those leaving the correctional system. We can also make sure there is adequate funding for the C-U Fresh Start initiative.
SP: What sort of developments should be prioritized for Downtown Champaign?
Gladney: I would like us to have a grocery store downtown. It wouldn't have to be a supermarket, per se, but something that would provide quality groceries to folks living and working downtown. I was disappointed that the proposed Common Ground location in downtown Champaign did not come to fruition. It would also be nice if a new development could be more affordable. Instead of a luxury dwelling, some place where the people who work downtown can afford to live. I have hopes that the plaza will be an inviting space where all will feel welcome, and people can interact together and enjoy the center of our community in a nice, leisurely manner. Also, I would like to see more retail downtown.
SP: An area of Champaign that is sorely lacking in a healthy economic and recreational infrastructure is North Champaign. What ideas do you have for stimulating that region?
Gladney: I would like to have amenities such as quality grocery stores, investments in infrastructure such as more street lights and sidewalks. And, of course, priority work on drainage improvement. We can also work to promote incentives for home repair and improvement, especially the SLEEP program, which is for the Garden Hills neighborhood, and the area directly to the south of Garden Hills. SLEEP is for both homeowners and renters, to make energy efficient and safety lighting improvements to their homes.
SP: The City of Champaign currently does not have any funding mechanisms for the arts in the community. What responsibility does the city have to the arts community? Do you see it as an essential service in the same way as new construction and infrastructure improvements? Why or why not?
Gladney: The city currently helps fund 40 North, Champaign County's Arts Council, both directly and with in-kind services related to Friday Night Live. We have also provided notable funding toward the Pygmalion Festival for the last several years. And, we feature public art on city land for all to enjoy. Obviously, we could do more, but the city certainly does help fund the arts locally. Art helps nourish our souls, and so I think it is definitely important to promote and support the arts whenever we can.