In advance of the election on February 28th, Smile Politely will run a series of interviews with the three contenders for mayor of Urbana: Laurel Prussing, Diane Marlin, and Evelyn Underwood. Check out our interview with Diane Marlin, our next installment in the series.
Smile Politely: What first brought you to Urbana?
Diane Marlin: The short answer is that I came I stayed. I came here as a college freshman in 1971. I was going to spend four years here and then move to California. But I discovered what a great place Champaign-Urbana is. I got involved in Students for Environmental Concerns. I advocated for recycling programs and bikeways, and I was part of the effort to save Allerton Park. I actually met my husband on the picket line at Allerton Park. I’ve lived in Urbana the whole time I’ve been here: my dorm, apartments, and family homes have all been in Urbana.
On council, most of my time has been spent advocating for my neighborhood. I served on the neighborhood safety task force and worked on an aggravated nuisance ordinance. I led the council’s efforts to bring the state basketball tournament back to Champaign County. Outside of my ward, I worked with the Lierman Action Committee on the community garden project.
SP: What would your priorities be if you are elected mayor?
Marlin: First, I believe we must bring back professional administration to the city. Our city code provides for a city administrator, someone with professional training and experience in running and managing cities. That position has been vacant for ten years. I believe we need to restore that professional administration. As mayor, I would form a search committee composed of community members and city employees to fill that position. In our form of government, every elected official comes up for re-election every four years. That means we could have drastic turnover in the city. An administrator would help provide consistency.
I also would advocate for better day-to-day management, better coordination among departments, and more consistency for employees to elevate to the operation of the city to a professional level. One low point for me during my time on council was when an employee resigned in public, citing a poor work environment and intimidation and bullying. Another long-time employee was fired. Cities are very complex. We have 250 employees and a $55 million budget. To operate well, we need to be professional and support our employees.
My other major focus would be addressing the reasons why Urbana has been lagging behind in growth and development. We have more empty buildings and parking lots than we did twelve years ago. Population growth is lagging behind neighboring communities. Our home sale growth has been slow in comparison to neighboring communities. I look at these facts and think, “Why aren’t we growing and thriving?” Urbana has a great location, people, schools, and parks. It’s a beautiful community. Ever since I announced my campaign, I’ve made a point of asking people who invested in Urbana in the past why they stopped. They have told me that the city makes it hard to do business here. They have had strained relationships with city leadership. As mayor, my priority would be building and strengthening relationships. Relationships are essential in a city of this size. I’m not advocating for removing regulations, but I think we can offer flexibility to investors like other communities do. I want to make investing in Urbana easier and more straightforward.
SP: What is your vision for downtown Urbana?
Marlin: I would like to see more people living downtown. There should be more things to do—more retail and restaurants. To have a thriving downtown, you need a 24-hour presence, not just businesses that close at 5 p.m. I would like to see us focus on the Lincoln Square and Landmark Hotel. I would like us to transform that area into something that would serve the city going forward. There is a very large population that could be attracted to our downtown if we can fill in the blanks.
SP: How would you differentiate yourself from your opponents?
Marlin: Voters are going to decide between the status quo or some change. We are facing some terrific financial challenges and the complete failure of government in Springfield. If we’re going to continue providing the same quality of services to the people of Urbana, we need to continue being able to pay for them. We need to focus on long-term sustainable growth. We need to identify and modify some of our practices that have stymied growth in Urbana. My approach to city leadership could help with that. I’m a different personality. I believe in building relationships and working with people.