Smile Politely

Meet Matt Gladney, a candidate for Champaign City Council

Democrat Matt Gladney, a former Champaign County Board member who currently sits on McKinley Foundation Board, has recently announced he will be running for an at-large seat on Champaign’s City Council. We chatted with him to learn more about his reasons for running and what he’d like to see change in the city of Champaign.

Smile Politely: What is your professional background?

Matt Gladney: I have worked for the University of Illinois since May of 2007. Currently I am a Benefits Counselor in the university’s Payroll & Benefits department. I help new-hire and current employees navigate their benefit choices, optional retirement plans, etc. Before the university I did temporary work at State Farm Insurance in Bloomington-Normal for four years. That involved three years of working in a unit that was responsible for technology roll-outs for insurance agents’ offices, and one year working in the group medical department for State Farm employees. Before that I worked retail at Circuit City in Champaign. In my teens, I worked as a server and dishwasher at Garcia’s Pizza, and bagged groceries at Schnucks.

SP: Why are you running for Champaign city council?

Gladney: It sounds corny, but I love this town. I was was born at Burnham Hospital, and raised here in Champaign. I attended Unit 4 schools (Westview, Jefferson and Centennial), and went to Parkland College for a time. Having previously served on the Champaign County Board, I do have some background in how local government functions, and was able to work well with folks of various political stripes. It would be refreshing to work on — and implement — constructive goals for the city of Champaign, in a non-partisan environment.

We have so much to be thankful for here in Champaign: good people, good schools, nice old architecture, a lively downtown, a vibrant music scene, and an awesome multi-cultural, artistic environment. All of this is packed — somehow — into a relatively small town feel. In short, Champaign has been good to me, and I want to give back. It would be an honor to help guide its course over the next few years.

SP: What political or leadership experiences have you had?

Gladney: Currently, I serve on the board of directors for McKinley Foundation, and have done so since 2013. We review the finances of the foundation, set goals, and work with the community to help spread the foundation’s message of justice, diversity, sustainability and interfaith dialogue. I am also the Information Director for the Champaign County Young Democrats.

Previously, I was elected to, and served a four-year-term on, the Champaign County Board (2006-2010). During that time, I worked with both Republicans and Democrats on approving county budgets, giving final approval on personnel decisions, planning maintenance for county facilities and working through a strategic plan for the future of the county. I also chaired the county’s Justice & Social Services committee, part of which included serving on a committee made-up of citizens and courthouse officials, where we worked together on creating a new method for jury summons in Champaign County. I also served as the county’s liaison for the local Head Start Policy Council.

SP: What challenges do you think Champaign is currently facing?

Gladney: There are a few.

In no particular order, I’m going to first mention the issue of gun violence that has seen an uptick in recent years in our fair city. I applaud the Champaign Police for being as on top of it as much as they can, and also agree with Chief Cobb that it’s not a situation that we can arrest our way out of. Gun violence is a symptom, not a disease. Prevention is key, and some of that falls on the city, but some of it falls on the community as a whole. Whether it be programs such as the Summer Youth Employment Program, or church involvement/activities, parental guidance, or a more integrated police-community relationship, there are many things that can and should be done to help prevent gun violence, instead of simply reacting to it.

Downtown is a vibrant and happening place, and I’m extremely proud of all the hard work and effort put in by business owners and the city over the years, but I also worry that it could – if we’re not careful – slide backwards a bit. It’s not gone unnoticed that a number of local shops have closed, or are going to close (or move further away from the core of downtown). The city has worked with Volition — a company who has been vital to the downtown renaissance — to help it stay centrally located for at least the next 10 years. That’s good, but I want to ensure that we keep a variety of strong, local businesses downtown.

Finally (and this is by no means the end of our challenges), we have the common issue of revenue vs. expense. I fully support funding our first responders (Fire, Police, etc.) as a matter of public safety, but am also well aware of the tax fatigue that we all feel. We need to have a well-functioning city, providing the basics that folks expect from a first-class city, but we need to manage our expenses in such a way as to not over-burden taxpayers. It’s  definitely something I’m concerned about, going forward.

SP: What would you most like to see change about the city of Champaign?

Gladney: I would like to see improved police/community relations. Chief Cobb has done a great job on that so far, and I’d like to see it get even better.

Upkeep and bolstering of our infrastructure would also be good. We’ve had the John St. Watershed Project and the Washington St. Detention Basin so far, and those have helped (to an extent) the flooding problems notorious to those sections of the city. If there are other sections of the community that need such improvements, I’d like to work on those.

A positive focus on the city’s north end would be good. We’re already moving in that direction, working on helping minority and women-owned businesses get off the ground. I am in favor of improving the appearance and vitality of the north end, but not via the leveling of homes and the displacement of families. If the city is going to spend funds on improvement endeavors, I’d rather see it done in cooperation with helping existing homeowners/residents update their properties. That way, folks get to stay where they are, and the fabric of the neighborhoods remain intact.

Overall, I feel like Champaign is moving in the right direction. I’d like to be a part of keeping that momentum going.

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