CHAMPAIGN -- Incoming mayor Don Gerard has assembled a "transition team" of local business leaders, politicians and social experts as he prepares to take office on May 3, an approach somewhat different than the city manager has seen in the past.
Gerard did not return several cell phone messages this week, but the team will be assisting the mayor-elect "by asking questions and making suggestions to the overall structure and efficiency of city government," according to a press release.
City Manager Steve Carter, who has overseen two mayoral changes in his 25 years as Champaign's top city administrator, said the transition team is "a little bit different." Past council members or mayors-elect may have informally used campaign advisers in such a manner as they get ready to take their post, but this seems to be a larger, more formal group.
"The impression I got (in a discussion with Gerard) is that this will be a relatively short-range effort geared toward helping him get up to speed quickly," Carter said.
Some of the team members on Tuesday said they were unsure of what exactly their roles will be the team has an initial meeting on Thursday but each member likely will be focusing on a certain area of the City Building.
The team members include:
Laurie Bonnett, chief of staff to Democratic state Sen. Michael Frerichs.
Paul Faraci, an economic development specialist for the state who was recently elected to the city council's District 5 seat. Faraci also served as a Democratic county board member from 2000 to 2002.
Peter Fox, a Champaign developer and a political fundraiser for both Republicans and Democrats.
Rochelle Funderburg, a Champaign Public Library board member and an attorney who specializes in labor and employment issues. Funderburg is a former assistant city attorney in Champaign.
Jeff Kibler, community manager for Infobright.
Doug Larson, president of the campus bar Joe's Brewery. The bar contributed $12,000 of the nearly $24,000 that Gerard received from campaign donors.
Donte Lotts, a behavior specialist for Champaign's READY school.
Jim McGuire, a stores and receiving manager at the University of Illinois who recently lost a bid for a Champaign City Council seat. McGuire and Gerard work for different departments under the Facilities and Services division at the UI.
William Patterson, an associate director at the African-American Cultural Center at the UI.
Jim Turner, president of O'Brien Auto Park in Urbana and a Champaign resident. Turner donated $500 to Gerard's campaign, according to the state board of elections.
Scott Whitsitt, founder and CEO of Champaign-based One-to-One Service.com.
Lotts said he will not know until Thursday's team meeting what exactly he will be asked to do, but "it'll be good to just try to help build any type of relationship with the community."
Lotts said he has been working with area youth in different capacities since 1997: at the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club, Urbana High School, the Urban League and most recently with the READY program, which accepts students with behavior problems from school districts in Champaign and Ford counties.
"I know that I have some insight," Lotts said. "But most importantly, I know that people are very comfortable in approaching me with different issues."
Lotts said he has observed that city reactions to community youth issues tends to be reactive, not proactive.
"It seems as though when there's something tragic or not so good happening, that's when the gathering tends to take place," Lotts said. "I think we need to think outside the box."
Fox said he brings a business development-leaning mind to the transition table. If Champaign-Urbana is going to be an effective competitor in the national marketplace, he said, the city needs to attract and retain businesses that can offer good wages. He cited Abbott Laboratories, saying it took seven years to attract the firm to the UI's Research Park, of which he is co-developer with Clint Atkins.
"We had to make a business case for them to want to be in Champaign," Fox said. "In this case, the business case was a professor that had research based on what was interesting to them."
Fox said the city operates "reasonably well," but he will be happy to offer any insight.
"I think it'll take a lot of persistence and a lot of singular focus," Fox said.
Whitsitt said Gerard has asked him to evaluate the city's information technologies infrastructure and make sure the incoming mayor is up to speed as he takes office.
"I think basically he just wants to get an understanding of what's in place, what are some of the IT issues they're having right now," Whitsitt said.
The city employs a "pretty extensive" orientation program to familiarize newly elected officials with city operations, Carter said.
"Obviously, each mayor and city council is a little bit different, so whenever you have one new person ... it kind of changes the dynamics of the team," Carter said. "So it's something we try to be sensitive to."
Carter said there is always some anxiety among city staff when leadership transfers hands, and this transfer is no different. That is particularly the case with Gerard's entry, he said, because the incoming mayor articulated a need for change in city operations throughout the campaign.
"'What kind of change?' is a reasonable question for some city staff to be worrying about," Carter said. "But I think that's normal in these types of situations."