Mayoral candidates clash at forum

By Michael Berg

The mayoral candidates clashed for one of the last times before the election, sparring over the hot topics of fire protection, the liquor commission and economic development.

The forum, sponsored by the Student Association, pitted DeKalb Mayor Greg Sparrow against 2nd Ward Alderman Michael Welsh.

A five-member liquor commission, proposed by Welsh, was brought up in the wake of the “hot oil wrestling” at Amnesia, 1000 W. Lincoln Hwy., Monday night.

“Last night at Amnesia, three points of the liquor code of obscenity were violated,” Welsh said. “I would call for the mayor to investigate. He set the stage for these events.”

Sparrow said Welsh was incorrect in his assumptions about the duties of the liquor commissioner, who by law in Illinois is the mayor. “He (Welsh) wants to start a vigilante group,” Sparrow said. “The mayor doesn’t do the investigation, police do.”

Sparrow said he wasn’t aware of any complaints being filed. “If he has information, why doesn’t he share it with the police and file a complaint?” he said.

The future of economic development was discussed by both candidates, with Welsh using Farm and Fleet’s decision to leave DeKalb as ammunition against Sparrow’s economic plans.

Welsh said he spoke with the chief executive officer of Farm and Fleet, 1600 E. Lincoln Hwy., and he told Welsh the whole issue was “very badly handled on the mayor’s part.” Welsh blamed Sparrow for Farm and Fleet’s move. “He’s been the problem with Farm and Fleet leaving DeKalb,” Welsh said.

Sparrow disagreed. “He (Welsh) didn’t sit in on the meetings,” he said. “This was the same CEO that told me they were staying in DeKalb and planning to expand.”

Sparrow said the city did everything it could, and the decision on Farm and Fleet’s part was not because of any city mishandling. “We bent over backwards for that man,” he said. The city kept his entrance open, minimized the loss of parking spaces and gave the store the turning lane they requested, Sparrow said. “They were mad at the state (because of a related problem), and they used DeKalb as a whipping boy.”

Sparrow said the store would be replaced. “We’ll bring another retail outlet there,” he said. “Farm and Fleet isn’t the only game in town.”

A fire station for the west side of DeKalb also was debated.

“I am an advocate of better fire service,” Welsh said. “Currently, the west side of DeKalb is not serviced in three to five minutes. That’s the national standard.”

Sparrow said he had no problem with a fire station in the future, but at present the city just doesn’t have the funds. “What taxes will you raise to do that?” he asked.

There is an alternative, Sparrow said. “I would look at a paramedic station,” he said. “It would relieve the burden on the east side with a station over here, and service would be adequate here.”

Welsh said maybe NIU would have to pay extra for a new station. “NIU may have to contribute a little more,” he said. “I do not want to argue where we’ll find the dollars, but do it. We will find the money under my administration.”

A possible intern position at the mayor’s office for NIU students also was discussed.

Welsh said he would like to start a program in the mayor’s office for two NIU students to intern. “I would let them suggest ways they would like to work (for the city),” he said. “I would use the kind of requirements that you would expect.”

Sparrow said Welsh was bluffing. “I think it’s a facade,” he said. “He’s not even elected, and he’s already expanding the office by two people.”

There is already an intern program between the NIU’s public administration program and the city manager’s office, Sparrow said.