Steve Stockton is wrapping up his second term as Bloomington mayor. (Photo by Laura Ewan/WJBC)
By Eric Stock
BLOOMINGTON - One of the most controversial projects in Bloomington in recent years helped frame Steve Stockton's two terms as mayor.
Today is Stockton's last full day as mayor. Tari Renner is sworn in as mayor at 5 p.m. Wednesday. Stockton, 65, did not seek a third term.
Stockton became mayor in 2005 shortly after the city council approved funding to build U.S. Cellular Coliseum which he said led to plenty of public cynicism.
"People were upset because their had been a 2-1 (public advisory) vote not to build it and the council went ahead and did vote for it anyway. So, there was this feeling that the council didn't listen," Stockton said.
Stockton said he made open government a priority, holding citizens voice meetings, video broadcasting council meetings and allowing for more public comments at those meetings.
Stockton said the Coliseum has been good for the city in a lot of ways, even though it's been a net financial loss for the city.
"Is it worth that to bring these concerts in, to have the professional sports, to have people come from other communities? Very much so. Does the money generated from that pay for all of the costs of the Coliseum? No," Stockton said.
He said the coliseum and other major projects limited the city's ability to spend on other services.
Stockton said the city's biggest challenge during his two terms as mayor was its financial struggles during his first term.
"Probably the biggest accomplishment was overcoming that, because now we are one of the healthier cities if not the healthiest in downstate Illinois financially," Stockton said.
Stockton credited City Manager David Hales for providing the financial expertise in guiding the city through its touch financial times, but added the council also deserves credit. The city used budget trimming, early retirement and furloughs to balance its budget and grow reserves to $17 million.
Advice for Renner
Stockton offered some advice to Renner who takes the mayor's gavel from him on Wednesday. He said you have to be willing to work with a lot of people to get things done.
"People will listen to you because you are mayor, there's no doubt about that. You have the bully pulpit. On the other hand, you have very little authority,so you have to persuade people. You have to show them why this is in the best interest of Bloomington," Stockton said.
Eric Stock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.