By Tony Hooker
You’re a graduate of Villa Grove high school, right?
Yes, from the class of 1987.
You moved away for a while, but then you moved back, and your family has a history of being involved in city government?
Right, my grandfather was on the city council.
Is that where your drive to become involved in city government came from?
My family has always been involved in the community and in events at the school. My brother Jody has always been involved, kind of behind the scenes.
What made you decide to run for mayor?
I felt like the city leadership needed a fresh perspective and a fresh set of eyes to look at things and to revive and revitalize certain things.
Where do you think your love for the city of Villa Grove comes from?
Growing up and going to school here, we had great relationships with the school. We had the “A” team of teachers, as you know. We felt loved and safe here and my brothers and I had a great childhood here, and I think it made me love our community.
Does that compel you to try and give our current residents that same feeling? Does that drive you to make the decisions regarding improving the city that you’ve made?
It absolutely drives what I do. I think the council and past leaders have always wanted Villa Grove to be home to everyone that lives here. We want every age group to have a good experience here so that they’ll want to continue to live here and raise their families and retire here.
What were some of your biggest challenges in 2021?
Perhaps the biggest challenge of the first and now second term has been the pandemic. It has changed everything. The price and availability of needed materials and services has had a major impact on every project. The heartbreaking reality is that COVID is not going away. We have had to adapt to this devastating fact. I pray that there is an end in sight. My heart breaks for those who have lost loved ones and suffered illness.
I would say that dealing with issues concerning our water plant and wastewater treatment facility were among the biggest challenges that the council and I faced. There was a lot of information gathered and al lot of consultations with experts to determine the best approach to the issues that face the city.
Has the pandemic continued to be a challenge for you and the city government?
The pandemic has been a challenge for everyone for the last couple of years. It’s definitely not going away.
It seems like the city administration has assembled a strong team of employees. Would you agree with that?
I would agree. Our entire city team works well together and are working toward the goals that have been set forth by the leadership.
What was your biggest accomplishment in 2021?
I think we worked through some major issues in both infrastructure and investing in the future that the city has faced for years. We’ve gone back to working toward the goals that were set by the city before Covid. People who want to know more can find the information on our website at Villagrove.org, and we will also be sending information out via the postal service in the future. We’re in the process of writing a grant that will help us make improvements in sidewalks and lighting and overall begin to modernize our downtown area. Our business district is stronger than it’s been for a while, with businesses thriving, and we want to improve the sidewalks and lighting to support them and encourage future growth. Our beautification committee has worked hard on cleaning and sprucing things up, and our city has focused on cleaning up old properties, removing abandoned items and generally cleaned them up. Improving our downtown is going to be a priority over the next couple of years. We made two major decisions in 2021. We completed the study of our water/wastewater treatment plants and the overall need of the utility. We began our research after receiving an estimated cost of repair/rebuild of the wastewater plant in 2020. After careful consideration, we unanimously agreed to go forward with the sale.
Our second most pressing issue has been the grant that we received for the construction of a new community building. This discussion began in 2014. We received an extension on the grant and have decided to move forward with the project.
Do you think that the city’s relationship with local businesses remains strong?
I do. The city, the business, the Chamber (of Commerce) and the school all work well together.
What do you see as your biggest challenges for 2022?
Working through these big projects is going to remain our biggest challenge for 2022. We want to build the community building; we want to maintain the integrity of the project and be conservative in our spending. Modernizing downtown will be inconvenient for people as we work our way through it. We’ll be continuing to work through our agreement with Illinois American regarding the sale of our water and sewer utility and we hope to close the transaction in the fall.
Are there any dream goals for the future?
I would like to see the city staff be able to spend more time improving the parks and streets. I would like to improve Richman Park so that it’s more than conducive to tournament play. I want to be able to spend time on things that we’ve not been able to focus on because of our situation regarding the utility. I’m looking forward to adding amenities to our city that will make it a more appealing place to live.
Would you like to talk about your family?
My sons love Villa Grove. My younger son coaches and substitute teaches at the school while he prepares for Law School in the Fall. Our oldest works full time and is furthering his education in counseling. He always says he loves coming back to VG at the end of a long day. Our grandson is the center of our world. He was born in 2020 and has been a very bright spot for all of us. My husband is my strongest supporter. He stands right beside me all of the way. He is considering retirement soon. We are looking forward to that season of our lives.
How much longer are you going to keep this thing going?
In the beginning, I thought I would complete one term. I’m just beginning my second term, and there are still things we want to accomplish. I will have to decide on another term when the time is right. Maybe the city will be ready for me to move on then! <laughs>