The City that really does work

I swear I get more out of those Left, Right and You interviews than the listeners do. The truth is, I can’t tell you how much fun it is to have a gig where you get to ask – out loud – all those philosophical questions that are generally relegated to most folks’ minds.

And as far as fascinating radio round table discussions go, yesterday’s chat with Elgin Police Chief Jeff Swoboda was certainly no exception. Once again, I took far more away from that dialogue than just the answers to the issues at hand.

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So while immersed in my consistently more fertile early morning thoughts, it struck me that, considering your average middle-sized American city, none of them work quite as well as Elgin does.

I can hear the “cheerleader” accusations flying about right now, but rest assured, that’s not the case. Not only does the City in the Suburbs have it’s fair share of flaws, but my previous positive pronouncement comes from covering the city for the better part of the last five years.

And it always starts at the top. Whether it’s Dave Kaptain, or Ed Shock before him, Elgin seems to elect mayors who are willing to engage their constituents in a constructive and forthright manner.

Dave Kaptain’s popular Walk With the Mayor program is the best example of what we speak. Having participated in one such sojourn, I can personally attest that they provide a wonderful opportunity to, not only discuss the issues of the day, but to point out specific neighborhood hot spots.

How many other mayors are willing regularly step into that kind of face-to-face situation? Most of ’em do their damndest to avoid any uncontrolled constituent environment whatsoever.

Getting back to the Chief, our primary radio topic was community policing and how that kind of proactive posture can prevent so many on-the-tipping-point situations from going over the edge. Clearly Chief Swoboda believes that simply waiting for the citizens to call you won’t get the job done.

As he indicated yesterday, if the police engage the citizenry in non-law enforcement situations, not only will they respond positively to those interactions, but they’ll become your eyes and ears. And that’s critical to any department’s success because your officers certainly can’t be everywhere at the same time.

Even the City Council, with those sometimes interesting spats, generally puts more energy into making Elgin a better place than they allocate to petty feuds and squabbles. Why, I’d be willing to go as far as saying that, on those semi-rate occasions where he gets past his massive ego, even Terry Gavin wants what’s best for the City.

There’s a City Manager who works his butt off on behalf of the people, the staff generally goes about getting the job done, the ESO is great, community involvement as manifested by those aldermanic applications is amazing, the downtown is sneaking back into play, I’m looking forward to seeing Marshal Tucker and the Outlaws at Festival Park, and even the wackier Elgin elements seem to have somewhat relented.

In a sense, I think it would be safe to say that Elgin is hitting its stride. That doesn’t mean there won’t be some bumps, detours and pitfalls to contend with. But as the great existential novelist Albert Camus warned us, vigilance is always required.

But it’s certainly better to be gazing down from that higher vantage point than it is to be looking up out of a deep dark hole.

What’s frequently lacking at all levels of government today is the capacity to set aside the vast differences and work for the betterment of your community as a whole. At least for now, Elgin certainly seems to have gotten the hang of it.

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