Urbana City Council: The next generation

Urbana City Council: The next generation

URBANA — An undercut is a rare sight around Urbana's graying city council chamber.

The trending hairstyle belongs to newly elected Alderman Jared Miller, who at 32 is the youngest member of Urbana's current city council iteration. The other members range in age from mid-40s to late-70s. It's the same story in Champaign, with only Clarissa Nickerson Fourman in her early 30s.

Although it's a stereotype, Miller said he used to underestimate the impact he could have at a local level because he's a millennial.

"I don't think people realize there's a lot of opportunity to make change," Miller said, noting how he gives talks to student political organizations and criticizes social media activism. "I'm constantly telling people to go to city council, talk to your representatives and make your voice heard. It's tough to get them to care, but that's why I'm here."

When he's serving on the council, Miller comfortably discusses policies while baring his arm tattoos. But if you met him 13 years ago, he says, you'd see a completely different person.

"At one point, I was a street kid and an anarchist," he said. "I was totally against government authority and thought every person was corrupt and evil."

After coming to the University of Illinois to finish his degree in environmental science, Miller moved to Urbana after a stint in Champaign.

"I hadn't voted in an election or done anything to try to effect some sort of change," Miller said of his younger years. "I was just on the outside being mad."

Miller's ideological transformation started when he helped run the local Bernie Sanders presidential campaign effort.

"I met (Alderman) Eric Jakobsson, (State Rep.) Carol Ammons, (Alderman) Aaron Ammons and a lot of other town players," Miller said about his time campaigning. "People liked me as an organizer and I thought I had a future in political organizing."

One of those contacts later reached out to Miller and encouraged him to run for Mayor Diane Marlin's former council seat. That, combined with encouragement from his mother-in-law, led Miller down his own campaign trail.

He ran unopposed for Ward 7 alderman and was elected in the spring.

"For the first time since he's lived here, my younger brother registered here and voted for me," Miller said.

Since he's gotten more involved, Miller said it's not difficult to discuss council happenings with his peers.

"They're interested, especially when there's a hot public topic like the Landmark Hotel," Miller said. "I try to talk to as many people as I can if they're interested. There's a very wide knowledge gap between what the average person thinks government functions are and what we're doing."

When it comes to working and socializing with his older counterparts, Miller said it wasn't easy at first. The senior members have reached out to help with things like nitty-gritty zoning details.

"I've done a lot of listening. ... There's so many things to know and understand," Miller said. "But when I have an idea, I'm not afraid to bring it forward and add my voice to the conversation."

It helps that he considers himself a nerd for the intricacies of municipal government.

"You get to see the inter-connectedness of everything," he said. "It allows me to use the creative part of my brain to think of solutions to problems that might not be apparent otherwise."

Miller's tattoos and laid-back nature set him apart from the more old-school aldermen. He'll suit up for events like his inauguration day but he never feels the need to be formal or cover his arm tattoos for council meetings.

"I don't think we look at tattoos the same today as we did 30 years ago," Miller said. "I don't feel they're inappropriate because they're a part of who I am. There's a story behind all of my ink and it's a story I wear visually."

For Millennials who want to become more involved in their communities, running for a local seat isn't necessary. Miller wants young adults to know that municipal governments are ready to help and show them ways to use their talents.

"Just go to the thing you're interested in, do it like a job shadow or internship, and see if it appeals to you," Miller said. "There's all kinds of organizing efforts in town and resources for people who fight for the least-advantaged.

"Comment threads are never going to get it done — volunteering is the number one way to see your voice and heart get turned into real effective change in your community."

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Joe American wrote on June 05, 2017 at 12:06 pm

"Former" anarchist?

Bernie supporter and campaigner?



This is exactly why we need the more promising Generation Z to step up to the plate, sooner rather than later, and let the Millennial generation fade away as a stain in our history books.

CommonSenseless wrote on June 05, 2017 at 4:06 pm

You mean you don't respect the millennial list of demands?

Government funded or secured debt for worthless feel good degree.

Employment after college with flexible hours, flexible duties, low responsibility, high level of praise and minimal criticism. Don't forget high pay, they have HUGE loans to pay off...

Irresponsibly large mortgage/rent on upscale dwelling, walking distance to nightlife and eclectic downtown scene. Don't forget high-end appliances and granite everywhere. They have to live at least as good as their luxury campus apartments their parents paid for. Nearby cafe with frappe-cappi-latte nonsense.

Then they have the gall to demand even more tax dollars from everyone else.