Reprinted with permission, a letter to Mayor and Council from CILF VP Margaret Cousin:
Dear Mayor Ardis and City Council Members,
Last summer I was appointed to the Library Board of Trustees. I didn't seek this appointment, but I was proud and pleased to accept it, understanding the privileged opportunity it afforded me to serve Peoria in a capacity where I could put my interest in education and literacy to good use. The past twelve months have given me a chance to see firsthand the way in which a group of dedicated and purposeful citizens from greatly varied backgrounds and life experience can work together successfully to meet defined, legitimate goals that further the community good. Lively but respectful debate has been our constant companion during our meetings and not all issues have been resolved with unanimous votes, but we have been strongly united always with an unwavering sense of purpose and a common cause - to meet our mandate to serve the library system's patrons and employees well. In so doing, we have also served our city well.
This is what lies at the heart of every City-appointed board and commission: the ability to properly carry out its mission statement and accomplish its specific function. The Historic Preservation Commission has its own particular set of objectives, distinctly different from that of the Peoria Public Library's board, yet its potential for optimal operation depends on the presence of exactly the same qualities in its members. Industry, integrity, respect for fellow commissioners' opinions, and a willingness to compromise are just a few, but there is also an overriding fundamental ingredient. Simply put, it is an understanding of and commitment to that board or commission's charter and a genuine desire to carry it out. This is absolutely crucial to creating a true sense of cohesion and motivation within the group. The Library Board of Trustees is lucky. We have this. The HPC deserves it, too.
It is not counterproductive to seat the HPC with commissioners who believe in historic preservation. On the contrary, it maximizes the commission's chances to successfully carry out its prescribed task, which is to make sound decisions based on the historic preservation ordinance as a recognized part of Peoria's governing law. A similar level of adherence among these seven folks to the intrinsic value of this responsibility creates the sort of unity of purpose which makes for measured, reasonable, and appropriate judgments. It does not mean all applications and recommendations are met with automatic, arbitrary, and zealous nods of approval. It does not mean there is never room for disagreement on the degree of applicability of the ordinance's rules. The commissioners are not robots who blindly and swiftly consider and then rubber stamp everything that comes before them with a mantra of "preservation for preservation's sake." They are volunteers who wish to serve Peoria by sharing their time, their knowledge, their focus, and their passion for the merits of our past.
How do I know? Because for two and a half years, I have sat in the audience month in and month out, first as a concerned citizen and then as a member of CILF. I have watched the commissioners work hard to make decisions that were fair, not frivolous, mindful of the needs of the owners before them and mindful, too, of their obligation to fulfill the role they were chosen for - to protect and preserve Peoria's historic resources. I have seen them thrilled to help a house get a facelift, a new roof, or an elegant wrought iron fence . I have also seen them struggle to accept compromise or defeat when a structure has fallen prey to the ravages of time, lack of interest, or just plain bad luck. It has been an honor to witness.
I urge you to respect the nature of the HPC when selecting nominees to fill its vacancies. Do not deliberately hobble it by filling positions with appointees who are not committed to historic preservation in an attempt to temper and perhaps weaken its choices. This is neither efficient nor logical. You would never consider endorsing a candidate for the Library Board of Trustees who flagrantly and publicly burned books just to create a balanced profile and test the resolve of others in the group. Where, then, is the wisdom of considering an individual for the Historic Preservation Commission who chose willingly to live in a historic district, dismissed its regulations, and sought a litigious solution for redress of his grievances when asked to comply with the very things his neighbors value and respect? This is the type of management decision at a council level whose lack of basic common sense we cannot afford. It demoralizes those who truly wish to make a difference through their participation on this particular commission, and it is a real disservice philosophically to all those people whose hours without pay make it possible for much of our city's work to get done. Strategically speaking, it just isn't smart.
Margaret E. Cousin
Vice-President, Central Illinois Landmarks Foundation