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I have worked at the Record Newspapers/KendallCountyNow.com for about a month, and though I've reported from a lot of different places in the world, I'm a product of Midwest counties like this one. My hometown, Muncie, Indiana, is in a county of comparable size to Kendall County. It's easy to assume all Midwest counties are largely the same, but my last month here has shown me this couldn't be farther from the truth.
So I'd like to share some observations about the differences between Kendall County and where I grew up - the small towns and cities of Indiana:
1) I'm not surrounded by decay and hopelessness.
Don't get me wrong - I love Indiana, and the people in it. I'd trust the instinct of 100 random Hoosiers before any politician. But our cities were pummeled by the economic trends of the last thirty years. If you don't live in a subdivision, the grim sight of deindustrialization, drug addiction and neglected downtowns is all around you. In Muncie, the big state university in town is the only thing keeping the local economy together. Other cities aren't so lucky. Sure, Kendall County has its problems and marginalized people. But this is a growing area, not a shrinking one. I see this growth in little and big things: the massive school districts, the quality of the roads, the luxurious neighborhoods and plentiful small businesses.
I was not expecting a suburban area so far from Chicago to have such racial diversity. People of color in Kendall County account for about 30 percent of the residents. For comparison, my hometown county is nearly 90 percent white. With this in mind, I do sense that Kendall County has a ways to go when it comes to racial equality. Many of the local government bodies here - county board, city councils and school boards - remain overwhelmingly white. I also sense that people of color here are over-policied when compared to the white population. As we know, these are issues throughout the United States, and one of my goals in this position is to bring more coverage of the county's diverse population.
3) The FBI isn't arresting local politicians
While this might be a low bar, it's the bare minimum in Muncie, Indiana. The feds have been investigating and arresting our local officials for years. Pretty small time stuff - a corruption scheme between the mayor, narcostics cops, the sanitation district and government real estate. But it was brazen enough to catch the FBI's attention. Though I'm new to Kendall County (and would love to be proven wrong), none of the local officials here strike me as outwardly corrupt or incompetent. While politicians may disagree and inact controversial policies, I noticed and was impressed early on by the general professionalism of your elected officials.
3) All these big projects!
I'm simply not used to a local government having so many ambitious projects. Eldamain Road, Yorkville City Hall, the Reserve at Hudson Crossing in Oswego to name a few - and look at these police stations! The biggest project Muncie officials tried to pull off in recent memory was (I kid you not) a steel-dust plant that residents organized against because of pollution concerns. These projects in Kendall County are just more proof that this community isn't sliding into dysfunction any time soon.
While I could compare and contrast Indiana and Illinois for days, I have wanted to work as a reporter in this state for some time. There is a dynamism and sense of consequence here that is, for better or worse, lost in the struggling cities of this country. Though I have plenty of good things to say about Kendall County, I will not hesitate to hold people accountable or expose unpleasant truths. Regardless, I would like to thank the community and our readership for giving an outsider such a pleasant welcome.