Grand Prairie View
by Jeff McSweeney
I grew up in Washington, graduated from Eureka College, then attended graduate school in Savannah, Georgia. I made my way back to Central Illinois in the Summer of 2000, landing in Eureka. Eureka is a distinctive town full of colorful people and quirks similar to that of our wonderful families. I am honored to serve as a City of Eureka Alderman, a role I have had for over 4 years. During this time I have learned to even more fully appreciate the dedication and creativity of my fellow aldermen, mayor, city staff and citizens.
In consideration of my proposed novel, Grand Prairie View, Peoria is not Peoria without the communities within its metropolitan area. It’s easy to see Peoria’s connection with East Peoria, Peoria Heights, and Dunlap, but I contend there is a strong contributing value of the satellite communities that ring the city we refer to as home.
The utter randomness of City Administrator Melissa Brown arriving in her professional position is a story worth sharing, yet another supporting role to the full glory of Grand Prairie View and those that make the fabric of our greater community.
Melissa grew up in East Peoria having proudly graduated from East Peoria High in the mid-1990’s. She continued her education at the University of Illinois Urbana/Champaign earning a Speech Communications degree. The internship she had as a social worker based out of Pekin turned into a job after college. After three years in that role she made a significant professional leap to a territory rep for Brown & Williamson, the tobacco company, a role she had for five years. In another professional leap she then served as a representative for Nielson Television Ratings all over the country.
She returned to Central Illinois in 2010 to help her ill father. Once he stabilized she returned to the working world by submitting her application for City of Eureka Administrator. Melissa commented she had the skill set and management experience to match the job description but not any direct municipal government experience.
“I am so grateful to the folks that hired me, that they took a chance on me,”
Since being hired in August 2011 Melissa is most surprised regarding the contrasts between the corporate world and public administration. “In the corporate world I never got to see the direct results of my efforts. In public administration I have hands-on responsibility for multiple projects,” according to Melissa.
Working with city council, Melissa says, “…it is so fun. Everybody comes from different backgrounds. They all come together to work towards the best interest of the city. As a citizen, I am thrilled that the elected officials are approachable and easy to talk to. They understand that not any one person has all the answers.”
The public brings a distinctive perspective to Melissa’s role, “Working with the public is refreshing. The are heavily invested with the community – keeping it safe, friendly for kids and one another, and helping each other out.” Melissa continues, “There is such an enormous accountability to each other to keep it a desirable place to live. As an example I have an ‘amazing’ go-to person I can call on a moment’s notice and she’ll get the word out about an event or opportunity by visiting each business downtown, handing out flyers or chatting it up.”
Commenting on her day-to-day activities Melissa said, “Here, every day it’s something different. Some projects effect people deeply that you work with every day.
‘There is a lot of responsibility and a lot of reward.’
The staff has a number of different skills they bring to their job which makes city services very efficient with a great return for the tax dollars invested.”
Defining this role, “The Eureka City Administrator is to be completely engaged in everything that goes on in the city from touring the sewer plant with the insurance people, oiling goose eggs or setting up for an event,” according to Melissa. “The greatest challenge is that every request that comes in is handled in a timely manner. Some fires smolder too long, but every request is handled with a very personal touch.”
When Melissa first toured the city, “I was amazed by the staff, how they were just themselves, they were real. It was very refreshing that people can be who they are without putting on airs.” She was also struck by the beauty of the parks, especially the lake, that she recognized as one of the three greatest assets of the city in addition to any communities’ foundation – great schools, hospital, college, infrastructure – and lastly the people, who keep everything so great.
When asked about the future, Melissa shared a reality that many municipalities face, “We need a sustainable plan for infrastructure improvement, setting up a funding structure to avoid bonding. Another opportunity is the preservation and sustainability of the quality of living that keeps the small town feel for anyone that wants to live here – adding development that does not jeopardize all that is Eureka,” according to Melissa. Lastly, we need to respond to the community’s desire they shared in the recent comprehensive plan process, “…residents want a community center and great walk-ability.”
Truly, a Grand Prairie View.