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.
Will Kyles is an incumbent running for another term.
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?
Will Kyles: I want to thank the voters for the blessing and privilege to serve over these last 10 years. The voters of Champaign have invested in me through their vote of confidence and I greatly appreciate them. This investment has given me time to grow, gain experience and understand what the real issues are. This investment has also afforded me the opportunity to learn exactly how to deal with issues — whether through relationship building, funding, policy changes or all three. That is a skill that has developed over time and one that I do not take for granted. It has helped me in very difficult times — (along with prayer) particularly when the answers to tough circumstances are not clear.
Under my leadership, I have advocated and worked with community members, staff and council members to improve police-community relationships, economic development, drainage, and neighborhood development. Some of these initiatives that I had a direct impact on were the Garden Hill drainage plan, the SLEEP program, the Citizen Police Review Board (that has both police and community looking at these issues), CDAP (a policy enhancement that will lead to more minority inclusion in city procurement), and many more initiatives.
I want to continue to work on engaging and involving citizens in our processes. I believe Champaign wins when all citizens are engaged and feel that they are an active part of our community. Also, I want to continue to work through our budget process to maintain core services such as police, fire, and public works. Funding core services while dealing with challenges in our community is what I am prepared and equipped to do over the next four years.
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?
Kyles: The issues around gun violence are often deep rooted. We will, at some point, have to fund our initiatives — whether it is through grants or out of the general fund. Over the last years, we have been blessed to form some amazing partnerships with large and small non-profits. A lot of these relationships have come from meetings at the Community Coalition. What I have noticed is that some of these non-profits have relationships in the community that can dramatically help reduce gun violence. However, one of the major setbacks of non-profits is funding. As a council, we will have to allocate a portion of funding and metrics to addressing gun violence. Our staff, while amazing, simply cannot do it alone.
Lastly, we need to encourage positive and healthy relationship building across neighborhoods. Hosting neighborhood meetings in different locations across the city, where people from one side of town have an opportunity to interact with neighbors across the town would have a great impact on our community as a whole. When people began to talk to one another and learn from another, certain biases and perspectives begin to change.
SP: What sort of developments should be prioritized for Downtown Champaign?
Kyles: I really want to put a priority on the small businesses that have already invested in Downtown. As a member of the Champaign Center Partnership, I get a first hand understanding of their needs and challenges in our downtown area. I believe that if we demonstrate that we can support small business in a downtown area, then this will attract more businesses to invest in our area.
We will have to look at creating and incentivizing affordable housing in the Downtown area. This will help increase foot traffic Downtown. It will also keep people Downtown, even after events. Having quality affordable housing attracts other commercial investment such as retail, which most likely will not happen if we can’t increase foot traffic.
I want to continue to have discussions on the Neil Street Plaza as well as other new developments Downtown. Citizens have continued to ask for a diversity of options Downtown for families, businesses and tourists. We will have to prioritize open parking, as we consider these projects (specific feedback from our local businesses and residents).
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?
Kyles: Along with a community center, that builds community, we need economic development. I am in favor in working with small commercial development/enhancements in places like Garden Hills, North Fourth Street, along Bradley and Bristol place. When people have affordable places to eat, live and work — it enhances the neighborhood dramatically. We can do this by helping businesses and citizens in the community get a better understanding of how they can take utilize already existing programs in neighborhood services and enterprise zones. Working and completing the drainage projects throughout North Champaign, will also attract economic and recreational opportunities in our community.
What we have to be careful and sensitive of as we build in North Champaign is preserving the history of the neighborhood. Citizens should be able to enjoy the neighborhood that they grew up in. Over my time on council, I have noticed that there is a fine line between neighborhood improvements and gentrification.
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?
Kyles: Art is a very important part of our community. The sculptures that we have Downtown, the art work displayed in our council, and our partnership agreements with 40 North and Visit Champaign County are all ways that we fund art in our community. Art is important in our community and necessary to fund. The arts not only drive tourism and economic development into our community, they are career choices that sustain people's lives. These very dollars finance the roads that we drive on and provide us with the ability to fund new construction. The arts make our community unique and why I would continue to support them, if I were to be re-elected.