Galesburg public hearing on new community center location fails on tie vote

Samuel Lisec
Galesburg Register-Mail

GALESBURG — Galesburg City Council arrived at a tie vote and therefore rejected a resolution Monday night that would have created a public hearing for “citizen feedback” on the location of a new community center. 

Council members Bradley Hix, Wayne Dennis and Larry Cox voted in favor of the resolution to create a public hearing. Council members Kevin Wallace, Dwight White and Jaclyn Smith-Esters voted against the resolution. Council member Sarah Davis was absent. 

Mayor Peter Schwartzman was also absent. Cox facilitated the meeting and voted from Schwartzman’s chair.

If the resolution had passed, the city would have hosted a public hearing likely in January to provide people information the city has gathered on potential locations for a community center, including each location’s approximate cost. City documents state that the forum would have provided an opportunity for people to evaluate the options and share their opinions with the council. 

City reviewed study regarding potential center sites

The city reviewed the results of a study conducted by the Farnsworth Group on four potential community center sites during a Sept. 26 work session.

Paul Mangieri, a Galesburg city attorney present at the meeting Monday night, interpreted that the resolution could have also allowed members of the public to discuss locations outside of the four that were studied such as 820 E. Fifth St., a location First Ward City Council Member Bradley Hix said he wanted added to the resolution. 

Gerald Smith, the new Galesburg city manager, clarified that the hearing would have allowed the council to hear public opinions, but it is still ultimately up to the council what their decision will be on where the new community center will be located. 

Straw poll showed majority favor Churchill

Smith referenced a straw poll the council conducted during last week’s Nov. 14 meeting in which the majority of the council indicated in a 4-3 vote that they supported moving forward with the former Churchill Junior High School building as the site of the new community center. 

Churchill Junior High School, 905 Maple Ave., before Galesburg Education District 205 gave the city of Galesburg the building in May this year.

The city acquired Churchill from Galesburg School District 205 in May but the city council still needs to hold an official vote if they are going to formally establish the now-closed school as the site of the community center.

“At this point, staff is operating on the assumption that we are going to pursue the Churchill site. But for purposes of the community, the council's decision to take a formal action will pretty much seal that direction,” Smith said.

Before the vote on the resolution arrived at a tie Monday evening, the council held a vote to table the resolution. The motion to table the resolution failed with council members Hix, Dennis, Cox voting against tabling it. Council members Wallace and White voted in favor of tabling the resolution and Smith-Esters abstained.

White says public hearing is delay tactic

Fourth Ward City Council Member Dwight White and Fifth Ward City Council Member Jaclyn Smith-Esters both indicated they would have supported the resolution if it had been a public hearing focused on what programming people would like to see inside the community center. 

But given that the city council has been discussing the potential site of a community center for over a year and they have received “a lot” of feedback from constituents either personally or during the public comment section of council meetings, Smith-Esters said she did not want to throw the decision on the community center’s location “down the road again.”

White echoed that he felt the resolution was another opportunity for the decision on a community center to be postponed. He referenced the open house inside Churchill that Galesburg Education District 205 hosted in May and said he believes the council has already looked at the other locations and “hashed out” why Churchill is the best pick.

“If every time that we have a vote —  a straw vote on what the city council is going to do — the losing party decides to figure out a way to bring it to the city so they can change it however they want to change it, then what are we having democracies, what are we having the city council for?” White said. 

“I think this is a sham, I think it's just junk, and we need to quit this crap. Either do what we're going to do here or stop it. It does not make sense to me,” White continued. “It's time to get it done. If some of the council members don't like it, then next time, get more votes. “

Third Ward City Council Member Kevin Wallace said he also did not want to “keep kicking this can down the road” and that the problem with a public hearing is that “historically, I think it can lean too far to one side because the majority of the people that are able to get here and vote may outweigh the people that really want a community center.”

Hix said four in favor haven't heard from citizens

Hix described it as “arrogant” for city council members to decide on a community center location without hearing from the people and repeated that a straw poll from the council does not count as the official vote on the location of the community center.

"We have not made an official decision. What we need to keep talking about is you and three of your colleagues is not the citizens,” Hix said to White. “We have not had a chance to let the citizens weigh in on where they want this.”

Council members Hix, Wallace, Smith-Esters and Cox are all up for re-election in the upcoming April 4, 2023 race for Wards 1, 3, 5 and 7.