Smile Politely

Upcoming Elections in Urbana Pose More Than a Few Interesting Twists

Urbana’s municipal elections packet includes, of all things, a loyalty oath.

It’s optional. Nevertheless, a disavowal of violent communist overthrow is the last thing I’d expect to find among materials generated by The People’s Republic of Urbana. A paperback copy of The Communist Manifesto wouldn’t surprise me. I mean, it’s Urbana for Petrograd’s sake.

I collected a packet recently from City Clerk Phyllis Clark’s office in City Hall. The election is April 7, with a primary on February 24.

I asked Deputy City Clerk Debbi Roberts (possibly the friendliest civil servant you’ll ever encounter) whether anyone actually submits the loyalty oath. She said some do.

I made immediate assumptions. Then, I made secondary assumptions. My immediate assumption is that only Democrats sign the loyalty oath, because they feel they must prove to everyone that they’re really patriotic after all. But that’s pre-Obama thinking on my part. Furthermore, the Republican party has been overtaken by weirdos who never miss an opportunity for false patriotism. Republicans get only one seat in Urbana government, so it doesn’t really matter.

The issues confronting the world don’t confront Urbana so much. Until the citizens of the United States and the State of Illinois stop sending us all their lovely tax dollars, we’ll be insulated from the frigid economy.

So what’s on our municipal plate? Well, there’s Charlie Smyth’s bike path revolution. There’s a Downtown Denny’s project. There’s the transformation of the Boneyard from irrigation ditch into San Antonio Riverwalk.

You can watch all these issues discussed without even going to City Hall. Just brew yourself a hot toddy, put on your PJs and cozy up to your computer. All city council activity is watchable online. (Unfortunately, I can’t give you a direct link, but go to and click “City Council” on the left side of the page, then click “Council Videos” on the right side.)

The current big skirmish concerns Carle Hospital’s plan to double the size of its physical plant, and the city’s insistence … or strong encouragement … no, let’s go back to insistence … that Carle find houses (green ones) for all the people displaced by the doubling. I find the contentiousness more enthralling than anything on Fox.

When Urbana and Carle come to consensus, and the Riverwalk is finalized, the city will get back to the two basic issues of municipal government — how the people get along with each other, and how the people get along with the city. These are the main issues with the two candidates who’ve announced for the April election.

Diane Marlin, a U of I research coordinator, intends to run for Lynne Barnes’ seat in Ward 7 (southeast Urbana). Barnes, a Carle Hospital administrator, is retiring.


Marlin’s platform: Improving neighborhood safety, encouraging economic development in southeast Urbana, monitoring the potential redevelopment of the UI’s Orchard Downs and making sure that rental properties, including apartments, are well maintained.

“Neighborhood safety” can mean a lot of things. Throw in “well maintained” and you’ve got a better picture of what Marlin’s getting at: property values. The ghetto-ization of South Philo road is on a lot of minds.

While jogging this summer, I saw a 10-year-old trying to break into cars. There’s a lot of that. There’s a lot of drug dealing, too. And a murder. It was heroin-junkie on heroin-junkie crime, but that doesn’t make the citizens of southeast Urbana feel any better. When heroin-junkies are out of heroin, they tend to seek any source of revenue for obtaining more heroin. The fact that it’s in your car, garage or house is no obstacle.

Marlin is a founder of the Southeast Urbana Neighborhood Association. You can read their statement on neighborhood safety here. The part that stands out to me is “neighborhood watch.”

Another potential municipal candidate is that guy with all the Ron Paul signs at the corner of Colorado & Vine. He is E. Wayne Johnson, a swine veterinarian no longer affiliated with the U. He has ideas, apart from Ron Paul signs, for his yard. The city has other ideas about his yard. That bugs him.


I emailed him at two different addresses to ask just what the conflict is. It’s a pretty cool looking house, so I’m curious. What is this yardwork? What’s the objection? Both addresses failed. (Wayne, drop me a line.)

You see an immediate difference between these two candidates. One is interested in the city monitoring its residents, or more specifically, residents monitoring each other. Call it “community” if you will, or perhaps “social compact.” Unless you want to bash it, of course. Then you’d call it “Big Brother.”

The other candidate wants the city to leave its residents alone. Call it “libertarian philosophy” if you like it, and “anarchy” if you want to make it sound crazy.

I have my own ideas about the social compact. I, myself, visited with the Mayor a couple times this year to discuss improved/streamlined ordinance enforcement. Unfortunately, the city currently expects the residents to do the dirty work of confronting neighbors who can’t obey the law, hence the neighborhood watch. And it’s here that the libertarian philosophy gets misused.

Yes, of course you can play your music as loud as you want. It’s your house. And as long as I can’t hear it at my house, you’re fine. But what you can’t do is make me listen to your music at my house. This goes for your Harley, too. And that goddamned Jack Russell that you never walk.

Right now, if you are a little old lady, or perhaps an Asian biotech researcher with limited English skills, or perhaps a mother of small children, then you are the person who’s going to have to go tell that Hell’s Angel to replace that after-market muffler on his chopper. You are the person who’ll testify against that neighborhood punk with the hydraulic suspension on his souped-up hot rod.

Yes, the city will tell Wayne what to do with his yard. But if he’s having a kegger at 3 a.m., it’s up to you to quiet things down so you can get your three hours sleep before work.

At my first meeting with the mayor, she asked me to come up with some examples of other cities approaches to ordinance enforcement. So I collected a bunch of materials and presented them at our follow-up. I even drafted an ordinance to improve the way the city maintains the social compact. She didn’t read it, but I’m sure she’ll give it a look once the Riverwalk is finished.

You see, it’s actually not that hard to get people to behave while also respecting their property rights, autonomy and sense of individuality. If you disagree with me about that — if you think either Wayne or Ron Paul is nuts; if you want to keep city inspectors out of your tenement — then you can pick up your own election packet, disavow Communist Front Organizations and get involved.

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