EVEN though the Consolidated Primary Election will be held in less than three weeks on Feb. 23rd, early voting has been underway since Jan. 14 and continues until Feb. 22. There are 13 candidates for three seats on the Decatur City Council and seven of them will be eliminated in the Primary Election with the other six who received the most votes, moving on to the April 6th Consolidated Election when three of those six will win election, or re-election, to the open council seats for four-year terms.
The 13 candidates for city council are: incumbent David Horn, incumbent Chuck Kuhle, Marty Watkins, Ed Culp, William Wetzel, Elijah England, Aldophia D. Cooper, Anthony Chappel, Hardik J. Shah, Jacob Jenkins, John Phillips, Marc Girdler and write-in candidate Eric Summerlott. (Update after this article was written: Anthony Chappel has withdrawn his candidacy. See announcement elsewhere on this website.)
With so many council candidates from which to choose, what should a voter look for in selecting three out of a field of 13? That’s up to each voter, but I can give you some personal insight on what I look for, based on my 52 years of covering council races and also my years of serving as mayor and working with city councils.
First of all, it is good to see so many citizens willing to step forward and run for city council during an extremely difficult time in our community. There’s a wide variety of views that have been expressed and it is unfortunate that COVID-19 has limited the amount of candidate exposure to the public. Over the decades that I’ve covered local and regional races I’ve usually known candidates before they declared themselves candidates, because of their involvement in other ways in helping the community and learning about them through the articles I’ve written about their efforts that were published in the Decatur Tribune newspaper.
I’ve also had the opportunity to sit down in private and talk with most of them one-on-one in my office and get to know them as personally. That really has not happened this time because of limited opportunities due to COVID-19. There are several first-time candidates in the council race that I do not know. That doesn’t make them bad candidates. I just have not had any contact with them in the past. They face a tough road in getting their message out and allowing the whole community to get a clearer picture of what they are about.
WHEN I look at a candidate I look at what he or she has done in the community leading up to running for public office. Has there been involvement with other organizations and how did they handle those responsibilities and how well did they work with other people to achieve a common goal? Is he or she a “one issue” candidate who is running for council, or other public office, because of wanting to push “one issue” through council? Does the candidate have a good grasp on what can or cannot be done as a member of the council?
Some of the candidate statements I’ve heard and read show a complete lack of understanding of what a councilman has the power to do. Some of the statements I’ve heard relate to “I’m going to save Decatur”, or “When elected I’m going to change this…”, or “I will eliminate (insert chronic problem here)…if I am elected.” I’m beginning to wonder if future candidate promises will include “If you elect me, I will heal the sick, raise the dead and make sure the sun shines every day!”
ANYONE elected to the city council may go in with the best of intentions, but he or she still needs three other votes to accomplish anything. You have no authority to order any city employee, including police and fire, to do anything. You are a part of a legislative body that requires at least 4 votes to get anything passed. YOU have no authority to act on your own — or tell any city employee what you want done. It is also well to remember that some of what has been promised in the past is not going to happen if that person is elected, because it is illegal, but they didn’t know that when they made the promise. They will find out soon enough.
A member of council is there to work with the other council members, the mayor and city manager to accomplish goals that make our community a better place to live and work. There will usually be disagreements on how to accomplish goals and that is healthy, but, the thrust to respect each other’s opinion and chart, as a council, the best way to reach the goal, should be the outcome. A member of council is one of seven (including the mayor) and instead of wanting to grab attention by opposing everything, should realize serving on council is not about “personal publicity” but about moving the community in a positive direction.
There have been times in past elections when I haven’t endorsed a candidate because of our one-on-one conversation and what he or she said about others that I found disturbing. I have never believed that demeaning other people, whether in office or running for office, was an asset to any candidate. I want a candidate to tell me why I should vote for him or her, not why I shouldn’t vote for an opponent. Tearing down opponents or present officeholders has become a popular tactic in a lot of races for public office and we’ve seen it too much in campaigns including the very top ones in our nation. A candidate for city council should not lower himself to demean an opponent. Disagree with opponents, or officeholders, on policies or platform planks and explain why I should vote for you based on who and what you are — not what you say your opponent isn’t.
I’ll have some pre-election analysis about the city council race in this column the week before the election. The Feb. 23 Primary and the April 6th General Election are both very important to the future of our community. Do some research and make up your own mind as to the candidates that best represent your views and the ones you have confidence in as the city moves forward. Make sure you vote — either through early voting or at the polls on election day. Macon County Clerk Josh Tanner told me that, at the end of Monday, 107 voters had early-voted. He expects a total turnout including early voting and election day results of approximately 3,000 votes. That’s really not a lot considering the size of Decatur. Back in 2011, when the last Primary was held involving council, it drew about 2800 votes.
• WE SHOULD know during the upcoming weekend if our mayor, Julie Moore Wolfe, was selected to fill the 48th Legislative District state senate seat formerly held by Andy Manar. Interviews were conducted by the 48th Legislative District Committee the Moore Wolfe and the other seven finalists on Satur-day (Jan. 30) and the Committee is scheduled to meet again on Saturday, Feb. 6 to discuss and vote on the appointment. So we should know before long. Two other local finalists are retired Illinois State Police Officer Shad Edwards and Ruth Waller of the Macon County State’s Attorney’s office. Edwards was a member of the Decatur City Council during the years I served as mayor. Also a member of the council during some of those years was State Rep. Dan Caulkins. Dan and Shad kept things “lively” during the years they served with me!
Although a person wanting to replace Manar must be a Democrat, some people still forget that the office of mayor or city council member is nonpartisan and no one serves as a Democrat or Republican. However, in the case of most council members, their personal party preference is usually known. One of the qualifications to be appointed to Manar’s senate seat is to be a “Democrat in good standing”.
• I RECEIVED a lot of complaints about the Macon County Health Department’s handling of appointments for COVID-19 vaccinations on Tuesday and Friday of this week. Those wanting to schedule appointments were told they could either call or go online at noon and beyond on Monday. The window of opportunity closed in a hurry: Dan Custin sent me an email Monday stating: “The Macon County Health Department stated early this morning that at 12 noon they would take appointments for Covid-19 vaccine shots to be given 2-2 and 2-5-2021. Appointments would not be taken until 12 noon. At 12:01, they announced that they were booked up. Talk about breaking the speed of light!!!”
Others who contacted me had similar complaints.
Actually, I went online at the Macon County Health Department’s web address to schedule an appointment. Although I was on the site immediately after 12:00, I was put in a “virtual waiting room” and encouraged to be patient because many others were ahead of me. When I finally got out of the virtual waiting room between 12:15 and 12:20, I was instructed that all appointment times had been filled! My wife call the MCHD number immediately after 12:00 noon and was told that all appointments had been filled. She tried again a few minutes later and was told some technical problems had developed. She kept calling until 1:30 and the technical problems continued.
Based on my own experience and that of my wife and several Tribune readers, trying to set up an appointment to get vaccinated is not easy. When the MCHD was called later by this newspaper about the scheduling problems, they were very apologetic about the technical problems. From my own experience, I can see why people who really want to get vaccinated in the worst way, are so frustrated! There has to be a better way and not all of the blame should go on MCHD. It is being asked to shoulder a responsibility that should be shared by many more groups. If the vaccine is going to help greatly in beating COVID-19, we need to have the vaccine and get people vaccinated as soon as possible.
WATCH THE ICE! I took my annual fall on the ice on Friday while crossing a parking lot! I actually saw the sheet of ice before me and tried to carefully walk across it instead of around it. In a split second I was down, making a 3-point landing on one hand and two knees! Of course, the first thing I did before even getting up, was to look around and see if anyone saw me go down. Since it happened with downtown office windows all around, I’m sure there was some commentary about what a few people saw me do. There really isn’t a graceful way to fall on the ice, is there? Anyhoo, I got up and picked up my drive-through bag (my lunch) of Chili 5 Ways from Steak ‘n Shake and walked on to my office — without any injuries, except my pride. When I opened the bag with the Chili 5 Ways in it…I discovered I had made it a serving of Chili 6 Ways! Part of it was hanging out the side of the bowl like it was trying to escape! Beware of icy spots. You can go down before you even know you’re going down!
Not long after I wrote the above, I was walking down the ramp at the parking garage that I thought was just wet, not icy, and I went down again! With that ramp form I may try out for the Winter Olympics!
I JOIN Brian Byers on WSOY’s “Byers & Co,” every Thursday morning at 7:00 to discuss the issues impacting Decatur. I’ll try to remain upright and not fall on the ice while talking with Brian which I think I can handle — since we’re still talking via phone from my office to his studio because of COVID-19 restrictions. It’s been nearly 11 months since I was in the studio to do the show and I look forward doing the City Hall Insider in person again. Stay safe everyone.
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