Joliet Mayor O’Dekirk reflects on first year in office

Brock A. Stein | 5/6/2016, 10:26 a.m.
One year in to his tenure as mayor of Joliet, Bob O'Dekirk this week reflected on what's been accomplished and ...
Joliet Mayor Bob O'Dekirk. Photo by Brock A. Stein

Just a couple days shy of his first anniversary of taking office, Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk this week reflected on some of the successes and challenges during his first year on the job.

Perhaps the biggest success has been the turnaround in the city’s financial fortunes as it steered the budget from a projected the $8.6 million deficit in 2015 in to the black.

“I’m proud to report that we ended the year with a $1.7 million windfall,” said O’Dekirk.

The city also looks to be getting back in to the construction business with a 205% increase in its commercial permits, a 554% increase for industrial permits and over 7,000 building permits issued—a 24% increase from the previous year.

That growth could help the city best another projected budget shortfall which could be as big as $6.7 for 2016 said O’Dekirk.

“We have to work hard to realize what we did at the end of 2015,” he said, striking a positive note.

“I believe going forward that we can do it,” he said.

The city has worked in the past year to rein in costs associated with its workforce he said noting new 4-year contracts with its labor unions that “did it without labor strafing the city.” The new contracts will also bring back the residency requirement for employees.

The city has also begun to root out financial waste by deploying its inspector general—a new position created under O’Dekirk’s watch—that discovered $660,000 in overbilling by the city’s law firm in the Evergreen Terrace case and has helped save $260,000 in overtime in the police and fire departments.

The city also put in place an economic development director—assistant city manager Steve Jones—during the mayor’s first year which he said has helped direct new projects in the city and in its developing downtown where “we’ve all see the early returns.”

He pointed to new businesses that include a micro-brewery that plans to open in the former Union Station as well development in the older parts of the city near the riverfront and north of McDonough.

O’Dekirk said that there are more projects in the works that have yet to be announced.

“I’m excited about it,” said O’Dekirk.

The added economic development has also brought good paying jobs from recently announced or opened projects by large employers that include Ikea, Amazon, Mars, Saddle Creek and Cadence Logistics.

“These new jobs coming in are living wage jobs, full-time jobs with benefits,” he said.

O’Dekirk suggested that during his second year in office the city could finally see an end to the litigation involving the Evergreen Terrace housing complex and the start of the planning phase for its eventual redevelopment.

“Moving forward the city council needs to propose a plan on what we’re going to do on that property,” he said.

Other projects for 2016 include the preparations for the new Will County Courthouse, which the mayor said was something that languished for years before the board “rolled up their sleeves” to craft a deal to keep the new location in the downtown.

He said that the city would also continue to work on creating a healthy environment for business to grow downtown with the planned re-opening of Chicago Street.

Council member Larry Hug complemented O’Dekirk for his “sorely needed” leadership during his first year and the hours that he’s put in to the job.

O’Dekirk share the praise with the council and city staff saying, “I think it’s a group effort.”