Alderman Joe McMenamin responds

Much progress in 40 years, but challenges remain

Last week Larry Golden wrote a GUESTWORK column concerning discrimination in the composition of Springfield boards and commissions and concluded that not much has changed with "power and decision making" since the 1986 Voting Rights lawsuit of which he was a significant participant. See "Boards and commissions matter," July 16, at illinoistimes.com.

But consider:

-In 1986 the commission form of government produced five white men living on the west side. Today the city council consists of 10 alderpersons geographically representing every area of Springfield, including two African Americans and three women, and for several months in 2019 included four women.

-The west side of Springfield is increasingly diverse and, according to the 2010 census, west side wards 6, 7 and 8 have 20% nonwhite residents.

-In 1986, African Americans were severely underrepresented on boards and commissions. Today, 25% of board and commission members are African American.

-As recently as 2013, only 8% of municipal city jobs were filled by African Americans. Today African Americans hold 14% of city jobs and affirmative recruitment continues to improve racial balance.

-This year, Mayor Jim Langfelder successfully created the Housing Policy Council with goals to increase home ownership among lower income Springfield residents and redevelop hundreds of empty east side lots. He appointed four African Americans to this eight-member body, and five members from the eastern half of Springfield.

One of the nominees to the Housing Policy Council was west sider Dean Graven, a Republican and a 2019 Ward 8 alderman candidate. He is a respected leader in the home building field who is committed to affordable housing.

When our mayor nominated Graven in April, there was no city rule prohibiting a resident serving on two boards and commissions simultaneously. So, I thought it was unfair for the council to then block the mayor's nomination retroactively this month by passing an ordinance in midstream that did so. The SJ-R reported that double membership on boards and commissions is a rare problem and found only two instances of the 173 volunteers now serving. A geographic diversity argument for blocking his nomination to the Housing Policy Council also seemed inapplicable, since Mayor Langfelder met that goal.

On the night of July 7 at council, I attempted to say that Graven's outstanding qualifications overrode concerns regarding double membership and his west side residency. In doing so, I was interrupted, and my words were rephrased in ways I never intended. Even so, I accept that my words offended some and I apologized that night and again a week later.

My wife and I love Springfield and have lived in six different wards filled with diverse and generous neighbors. We support economic opportunities for African Americans, social justice and strengthening underserved neighborhoods. I led the campaign for the 2012 Residency Referendum that increases African American job opportunities with city government, and would require police officers to live in the city they patrol. East side neighborhoods strongly support residency. I served with diverse members of the National Guard for 30 years, deploying to Afghanistan in 2004 with one of the most integrated Chicago units. I have supported the Springfield Public Schools, coached diverse teams in recreational basketball and financially contributed to many groups that promote opportunity.

With all this in mind, it is particularly upsetting recently to be called ugly names in social media and face false accusations by some prominent politically affiliated Springfieldians. This is not the Springfield we know and love.

During my nine years serving on the city council, I have done my best to diligently represent Ward 7 constituents and advance policies that best serve all citizens in the long run. Springfield is making progress, but there is more work to be done. Central Illinois is not immune from broad national trends concentrating wealth and income among narrowing strata of the population. That heightens concerns over those left behind. Now we face a worldwide pandemic that will worsen these trends. Hard times may be coming.

We need unity and cooperation and I pledge to do my part.

Joe McMenamin is a Springfield alderman representing Ward 7.

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