Voters have a choice between Aurora Alderman in Districts 4, 7 and 10 and the seat in the April 6 election. In the 4th division, the incumbent William Donnell faces John Bell. In the 7th division, the reigning Scheketa Hart-Burns is challenged by Saul Fultz. In the 10th division, Shweta Baid and Arjun Nair run to fill a vacancy. And Raymond Hull, Brooke Shanley and Ron Woerman are running around the open space. All have a 4-year term.
Age: 51 years
Occupation: Pastor, Wesley United Methodist Church
Citizen Participation: Interfaith Community Liaison Team, Kane County’s Department of Health Faith / COVID Dialogues
questions and answers
Q: How do you see your role in fighting the pandemic: taking leadership even if it’s unpopular, giving constituents a voice – including those you disagree with, or postponing state and federal authorities?
A: Our primary goal during the pandemic should be the health and wellbeing of our residents. This means wearing a face mask, maintaining social distance, and washing hands. The federal, state and local health authorities have issued guidelines for best practice. As a city council, I have a responsibility to support what the scientists tell us. A city council’s job is also to listen to its voters and business owners and develop good policies that respond to their needs. The pandemic has created several challenges, particularly for the BIPOC. Many of them work on the front lines and suffer disproportionately from disease and death related to COVID-19 (more than their white counterparts). We also need to understand the financial impact of the pandemic on our local businesses and offer creative financial solutions to help them stay afloat during the pandemic while complying with local, state, and federal guidelines.
Q: Did your city continue to adequately serve its constituents during the disruption caused by the pandemic? If so, please provide an example of how it has successfully adjusted to service delivery. If not, please give a specific example of what could have been done better.
A: The city of Aurora offered a number of pop-up pantries, as well as financial support for their pantries and homeless shelters. In addition, the city waived a number of corporate fees and imposed a moratorium on water closures for criminal accounts. When the pandemic started, I worked with the city’s chief innovation officer to set up a monthly online meeting with nonprofit service providers and faith community leaders to fill in service gaps due to the pandemic. More work needs to be done to address the shortage of medical care available to the BIPOC community, which continues to experience higher rates of infection and death due to COVID-19.
Q: Given our experience with COVID-19, what safeguards / guidelines should you put in place to address future public health crises?
A: Cities are at the forefront of dealing with the pandemic. Local governments need forward planning with hospitals, health care providers and the health department to ensure that 1) there is an adequate supply of PPE, 2) tests can be mobilized quickly, 3) contact tracing can be mobilized quickly, and 4) we can identify and quickly Treat the underserved people in our community. We also need to create clearer guidelines on what type of indoor space is safe and what steps local businesses can take to comply with these guidelines.
Q: What cuts can the local government make to ease the taxpayer burden from the pandemic?
A: Salary and benefits make up the bulk of Aurora city spending. A hiring freeze is a way to cut costs while ensuring that critical services are being provided. Capitalized and non-capitalized projects must also be prioritized. Any project that can wait has to be delayed.
Q: What do you think is the most important infrastructure project to deal with? Why and how should it be paid for? Conversely, in these uncertain economic times, which infrastructure project can be pushed into the background?
A: During the pandemic, I would prioritize infrastructure projects that will improve the city’s technology and internet access, not only contributing to economic development but also helping underserved neighborhoods. Distance learning has exposed the inequality in our community as well as the lack of well-paid jobs that a technological infrastructure could offer. I would delay any project that does not address the needs of the underserved people in our community. We have to put people first. Projects that focus on the accessibility and affordability of transportation and utilities not only promote people’s wellbeing but also create jobs.
Q: Are you planning to target companies that are not complying with the governor’s orders to close or restrict business?
A: The City of Aurora is currently providing financial support to local businesses through the CERF (COVID Emergency Relief Funds) program. One of the requirements on the application is that the company must demonstrate that it followed guidelines from the state and local Department of Health during the pandemic. Companies that do not adhere to the guidelines should not be eligible. I agree that only companies that have followed public health guidelines should have access to public funds. Many of the companies that followed the public health guidelines saw their sales decline significantly compared to companies that did not.
Q: Do you agree or disagree with the stance your board / council has taken to allow recreational marijuana sales in the community? What would you change about this attitude if you could?
A: I agree with the decision by the City of Aurora to allow recreational cannabis for sale. Given the impact of the war on drugs in BIPOC, more social justice licenses need to be provided through the city. While some people are concerned about the increased availability of cannabis, cities and states will benefit from the sale. We need to ensure these funds are used to support the underserved in our community through new and innovative community services.
Q: What’s a good idea to improve the community that no one is talking about yet?
A: I would love to see Aurora create a walkable downtown area. This would reduce the traffic in the city center and encourage pedestrian traffic to all local businesses. This would encourage greater community involvement in events like the first Friday and attendance at the venue with a new outdoor area. By partnering with local artists, crosswalks and sidewalks could be designed to provide a safer experience for pedestrians. Inviting local artists to design colorful and instantly recognizable zebra crossings would be an easy way to help people feel safer and encourage them to walk and visit downtown shops.