Mayor challenges opponent’s plan

By Michael Berg

DeKalb Mayor Greg Sparrow has drawn his sword, challenging his opponent to “get specific” in his future plan for DeKalb.

At a press conference Friday, 2nd Ward Alderman Michael Welsh officially announced his candidacy for mayor and outlined his plan for DeKalb which stretches to the year 2000. The plan covered seven areas of government services and planning processes Welsh said should be addressed and improved in the city.

“In his plan I see seven broad areas with no specifics,” Sparrow said. “I don’t know what’s new about it. We have been working on DeKalb 2000 for 12 years. The 2000 plan is a general overgloss of things we’re already doing.”

In describing his DeKalb 2000 plan, Welsh said, “Creating and maintaining a healthy business climate will be priority number one.”

However, Sparrow said Welsh’s top concern has no merit because it has been addressed for the past 12 years. “We began 12 years ago an effort to diversify the revenue and industrial base,” he said. “We obviously started with a strong agricultural and educational base.”

Sparrow said the city needed to do something in business and move toward more “recession-proof industries.”

“In the 1980s, recession-sensitive industries took a hit,” he said. “Agriculture took it on the chin. We went in a direction to move toward printing and food processing, areas that tend to be more stable. 3-M and Nestle are examples.”

Sparrow said the long-term planning Welsh is looking for already is taking place. DeKalb just approved and put in place a comprehensive long-term growth plan, the first time that’s been done since 1956, he said.

“We don’t want to be another Naperville,” Sparrow said. “Not to knock Naperville, but they have learned lessons from the helter-skelter growth they have experienced.” DeKalb can learn from the problems it’s having, he added.

Sparrow said an example is Naperville’s need for major infrastructure repair because of their rapid growth and lack of a sufficient plan to deal with the situation. “We have invested millions in our infrastructure and it’s starting to pay off,” he said. “We will not be in the same situation as Naperville because we are seeing their pitfalls and trying to avoid them.”

In an earlier interview, Welsh said more of an effort needs to be placed on keeping DeKalb industries in the area. New businesses should not be swapped with those leaving, he said. “If you retain what you have and add to it, (DeKalb) will continue to grow,” Welsh said.

“We have one of the most aggressive retention plans of any city,” Sparrow said. “We realize 85 percent of new jobs in the city are created by industry already here.”

Through efforts in coordination with the DeKalb Economic Development Commission, the city already is seeing expansions in industry, Sparrow said.

One facet of the DeKalb 2000 plan dealt with public safety. “We will aggressively pursue the criminal element and we will keep our streets, our schools and our homes safe,” Welsh said.

Sparrow responded, “What is he trying to say, that our police force and fire protection isn’t good?” DeKalb has one of the best response times in the state for fire, as well as one of the best records for rescue efforts, he said.

Welsh’s plan also called for increased volunteerism in the community.

“In DeKalb, we have about 20 committees with 400 to 500 people who already volunteer,” Sparrow said. “Of course, it could be more and certainly we should head in that direction, but we are presently on the right course.”

Sparrow criticized the DeKalb 2000 plan for being too general. “I would hope after 8 years (as an alderman) Welsh can get specific,” he said. “I can get specific.”

Sparrow said many people and organizations have approached him about setting up a debate. “I’d love to debate him (Welsh) any time, any place, as many times as possible before the election,” Sparrow said. “There are major differences between him and me.”