Smile Politely

Questions for candidates: Kathy Shannon for Champaign City Council

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Kathy Shannon for Champaign City Council on Facebook

For this election cycle, there are three at-large seats up for grabs on the Champaign City Council. At-large council members are elected by the whole of registered voters in Champaign, rather than only those from a specific geographical area. There are four candidates running: current at-large City Council members Matthew Gladney and Will Kyles, former City Council member for District 4 Greg Stock, and Kathy Shannon, who is stepping down from Unit 4 School Board to run for this position.

I sent questions to each of the candidates, and will be publishing them as received. The election is April 4th, but early voting is happening now. Find all of your voting information on the Champaign County Clerk’s website. You can also read more from each candidate at the Champaign County Voter’s Alliance website and in The News-Gazette, or by watching the League of Women Voters candidate forum.

Smile Politely: What is the most important issue facing Champaign right now, and what is your plan to address it?

Kathy Shannon: I’m deeply grateful to the current Council for implementing the Gun Violence Reduction Blueprint, which is beginning to address one of our most important issues and the root causes of it. The most important issue that I think we need to talk about more is the long term environmental and fiscal sustainability of our community. We need to update land use policies to encourage affordable and sustainable development, which will increase the supply of affordable housing and broaden our tax base, lessening the tax burden on all of us. We need to make it easy and safe to walk, bike, use a wheelchair or take transit to get around the city. Development that doesn’t require everyone to use a car can make our city significantly more affordable for lower income people and raise the quality of life for all of us. If we start planning now for a more sustainable, affordable future, we’ll address those root causes of violence and prevent the cycle from starting again. We need to plan for more permanent, systemic change, and I want our council goals to reflect that. Then our staff can bring recommendations to bring about that change.

SP: What motivated you to step down from the school board to pursue this role?

Shannon: I’ve been on the Champaign Unit 4 School Board for the past eight years. My youngest child graduated in 2020, and although I’m still a mentor, I don’t have as direct a line into the schools anymore. During my two terms as Board Member, I built relationships with City Council members and city staff and discussed the effects that each organization’s decisions had on the other. I also serve on Champaign’s Plan Commission, where I’ve heard presentations and helped make decisions about land use in the city. In 2021 I co-founded the group CUrbanism Club to advocate for better urbanism in Champaign-Urbana, and I email a newsletter to that mailing list every week to inform members about urbanism issues in the community, including a summary of both Champaign and Urbana council agendas. These experiences have convinced me that I would provide a key perspective on Council: that of how our land use policies affect our city. I’m excited for the chance to provide that perspective with the City Council.

SP: Is there a decision that the current council has made, that you would have handled differently?

Shannon: Two years ago, the University of Illinois asked for permission to install five sensors around Champaign that would measure atmospheric conditions such as temperature and ozone levels, as well as use images and audio to calculate traffic counts and ambient sound intensity. I disagree with the Council’s vote against allowing those to be installed. I think having the University of Illinois in our community is a huge benefit in so many ways, and we should take advantage of their wanting to do cutting edge research right here. We’d all benefit from having more information about traffic and air quality, and we’d make better decisions if we had that data. I hope we’ll get another chance to allow research like this in the future.

SP: What do you think is working well in the city of Champaign?

Shannon: I’m excited about the work of the Community Gun Violence Reduction Blueprint, which is just beginning. It focuses heavily on the root causes of gun violence, such as poverty, under-resourced public services, and lack of opportunity. So instead of looking to temporary measures in a time of crisis, we’re trying to create systemic change that will reduce violence and create better life outcomes for decades to come. I strongly believe this work is making a difference and will continue to do so.

I believe that working with partners, like the school district with the LIFT program, First Followers, and CU Trauma Resiliency Initiative is crucial and will pay dividends. Another very promising initiative will be the city’s plan to deploy social workers with police on calls that involve a mental health issue. Urbana and the UI police department are having some initial success with this, and I look forward to seeing Champaign’s work in that area.

I’m heartened to see the community come together to work towards real solutions to our gun violence issues. Although we’re at the beginning of that work, it’s a great investment and I believe it will benefit the city for years to come.

SP: How do you, or how will you approach problem solving within a structure such as city council (or school board), which brings together people from all parts of the community, with differing views, who are advocating for those they represent?

Shannon: I’d think back to one of the biggest and most controversial decisions we made during my time on the school board: whether to build a replacement for Central High School or to remodel the existing school. We started with a Tier One committee of district teachers and administrators, to study all the instructional space needs. When that committee work was complete, we convened a Tier Two committee, with stakeholders from local government, businesses, and at-large community members. This committee heard from the district, MTD, architectural firms and a construction management firm, and came to consensus on recommendations for moving forward on a referendum for extensively renovating our aging facilities.

Those referendum projects are all but complete now, and it’s easy to forget how incredibly contentious those decisions were. There was never going to be a decision that made everyone in the community happy. I still meet people who are disappointed that we didn’t make a different choice. But I’m proud of the fact that we were able to bring the community together to move forward, to create safe, vibrant spaces for our students to learn, that we can all be proud of.

We listened to all members of the community. We intentionally sought out stakeholders from communities that aren’t always heard from. We brought in experts so we weren’t making decisions without hard data. And in the end, we made a decision that the community approved by almost 65% to 35%. I still feel like that’s the best way to make hard decisions. The city has different stakeholders and a different culture of decision making, but I believe we could use similar principles.

SP: If you are not elected, how would you continue to advocate for the issues you care about in Champaign?

Shannon: I’ll continue to work for a better Champaign no matter what the outcome of the election is. I care deeply about this community. I’ll keep meeting with community members and elected officials I already have relationships with, and work to get to know others. I’ll keep working with my CUrbanism Club group to support better land use policies, and to show people that advocacy can be innovative and fun. I’ll continue working for candidates I believe in. And I’ll never lose faith that we all have a role in making Champaign a better place for all of us.

Managing Editor

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