April 30, 2012
By Nick Crow
Freeport, Ill. — Lt. Governor Sheila Simon visited Freeport on the fifth stop on her six city “Rural Listening Post” tour Monday. The meeting was held at the FHN Burchard Hills Healthcare Center on Fairway Drive in Freeport.
“I appreciate all of you here in this great quantity,” said Simon. “I appreciate the use of the facility and obviously the encouragement of folks to be here. I very much appreciate that. My job here today is to do something that people who are elected to office don’t necessarily get too much credit for and that’s listening. I’m very appreciative of all of you here because I want to listen and learn. We’re engaged in listening posts across the state to make sure that we are listening to everyone across the state whether you are from a big city or a small town.”
Simon was on hand to meet with local leaders, citizens, elected officials and policymakers to discuss a variety of issues that affect people in rural areas of Illinois.
“With different geography in the state it makes it difficult to learn what people in rural areas want,” said Simon. “The differences between one part of the state and the other parts are geographically important.”
The event was hosted by Simon with assistance from the Illinois Institute of Rural Affairs at Western Illinois University.
The session began with a welcome from Dr. Michael Perry of FHN Burchard Hills Family Healthcare Center and opening remarks from Freeport Mayor George Gaulrapp.
“We have a great group of people here,” said Gaulrapp. “I’m sure they’ll have a great outlook and give some great opinions.”
An overview of the meeting agenda was given by Porter McNeil and a brief history of the listening posts were discussed by Dr. Norman Walzer, both of the Governor’s Rural Affairs Council. Walzer posed the questions, “what can you do locally?” and “what kind of support do you need from the state?” to the room of local leaders.
The first part of the session involved prioritizing rural issues using an interactive survey. This was done by giving those in attendance remote controls which allowed them to anonymously vote on questions posed with the results being revealed to the room. The questions were varied and tackled multiple issues facing rural areas. They asked about quality of life, health-care, education, infrastructure, business climate, a competitive workforce, and internet usage.
“I’d say consistently across the state we try to be as connected with people as we can be,” said Simon. “I hope to have a better sense of what’s important to folks in rural Illinois after these listening sessions.”
The second part of the conference was geared towards a more hands-on approach for participants. Each table was given a topic by a moderator and time to have a roundtable discussion on it. They posed their own unique problems and also discussed solutions to the issues at hand. Then the moderators rotated and discussed their topic with a different table so that each group had a chance to have their voices heard. The five topics of discussion were health, education, infrastructure, business climate and work force.
Education was a focal point during the discussions. Simon plans to lobby for reform in the area of math according to a press release. She believes that it is necessary for workers in Illinois to have the proper skills for jobs as they become more and more technologically advanced.
The ultimate goal of the listening tour is to gain feedback and develop a strategic plan for Simon’s agenda “Vision for Rural Illinois.”
“It’s really useful to hear what people have to say and is good for being able to structure and ask the right questions,” said Simon.
Other cities that hosted the listening posts were Peoria, Mattoon, Gibson City, and Carbondale. Quincy will be the last stop on the tour following Freeport’s session.