We spoke to new DeKalb 3rd Ward Alderman, Tracy Smith, about his first couple weeks serving in the city council. His biggest concerns right now are getting input from constituents, learning more about TIF, and not discouraging investors by needlessly delaying proposed projects.
How do you feel about being elected to your first term as city alderman?
“I was really humbled that I was elected. I’ve been involved in government since 1980 when I started at the Sheriff’s Office. Even in law enforcement you are involved with government, so you’re aware of how it works. Being elected, to me was just the citizens of my ward showing faith in me to represent them. So I was really humbled about that whole situation.
“I know there are a lot of challenges. And we’re going to continue to have challenges day to day. But my goal is just to make DeKalb what it used to be and a better place for everybody.”
What do you hope to see the City Council accomplish in your first six months?
“The number one thing is the council has to work together. Everybody has a different opinion, and I respect that wholeheartedly. We can not always think of everything. We need the input of the people who live in town. That is critical. I can’t tell you how many people have come forward and expressed their views to me. That’s the number one thing; people need to be not afraid to come forward and express their concerns. So the council can deal with that and move forward. But the key is right now to make everything successful is the council has to work together. Everybody on the council has the same goal in mind and that’s critical.
“DeKalb’s in a different place right now, and I think we need to make it a better place. The only way to get that done the next six months is to make some of these hard decisions, wrap those out, and move forward. DeKalb has no income for projects everybody wants to see done. Some of the projects, for example, moving the city hall to reduce expenses is critical to streamlining government, which seems to be what everybody wants.”
What do you feel like you need to learn more about to better serve as an alderman?
“One thing I started doing a lot of research on is TIF. I think TIF is a good program. I just want to understand it better. How does another city deal with TIF? So I researched TIF. I want to get a better handle on TIF. TIF works, as long as everybody’s involved. I think the Joint Review Board is a great idea. I sat in a few of those meetings. It keeps all of our other political and governing bodies involved in the process. They realize that we can put a TIF district together. They realize it does help them, but you want to make sure they’re not left in the dark. So I’ve learned a lot about TIF.
“I’d say I would research the police department, but they’re the experts. Fire Department, they’re the experts. I have faith in those people. I’m looking more at the financial responsibility and accountability side, with TIF being the number one.”
What are your thoughts on your first two city council meetings?
“They were good. I’m not quiet…I ask the hard questions. I asked on the Pappas project about the environmentals. I was concerned, because I’m from town, about the project he’s proposing. Environmentals on an old building can be expensive. I just asked a very tough question: have the environmentals been vetted out?
“I was a little leery about second readings. We have a lot of people in town who spend a lot of time, a lot of money on projects. They go through all the processes. You guys print something on it. Whatever other news media prints something on these projects over and over again. Social media takes over, and it always comes to the forefront.
“And I’m thinking, ‘Why, when we have a plan commission—a group of individuals who spent their time to vet these projects out and do a darn good job of it and pass a project with a majority—why should council not pass it? Why are we sending it back to to the public, when these projects have been in the public eye for a long time.’ I’d be curious, and shame on me for not asking anyone this question, how many times does someone ask for information between the first and second reading on a project that’s been vetted so well for city government?
“Generally, people hear everything at the first reading, as a project’s moving, that they want to ask. They ask questions. That’s something I’m trying to dig into right now, to find out how many people have asked questions? And I really think you’ll find it’s very minimal. City staff has always been fairly open, as far as I’m concerned, answering these questions.
“And being on the other side of some of this proposed stuff to the city council, those questions are asked prior to the city council meeting when the first reading goes through, so the person has the answers before the second reading. So my thought is, on projects—I think there were several last night—are we putting undue pressure on people who are spending their own time and money and gotten the project this far? Yeah, I think we are.
“I’m concerned about what the delay on some of those have on people who want to vet projects within the city, if they’ve jumped through all the hoops and answered all the questions, and the commission has vetted them quite well. (They do a great job of that; they’re not afraid to ask questions and get the answers. That’s what they’re there for. That’s their expertise.) And then they present to the council, ‘Yeah, I think it should go.’ If they’re mixed, then maybe that’s a different way to look at things. If I were an investor, I’d be wondering, ‘What’s going on? Is there something wrong with my proposal?’
“It’s been interesting, first couple meetings. I think the city is going in the right direction. Like I told everybody, I’ve been here forever. I’ve been here through the good times and now the rough times. But I think DeKalb’s going in the right direction, and I think we’re starting to see positive outcomes.”