UPDATE: Danville group proposes switch to city-manager form of government

UPDATE: Danville group proposes switch to city-manager form of government

DANVILLE — A grassroots group called Moving Danville Forward is pushing for a new form of government in Danville — one led by a city manager, not a mayor — and will seek voter approval to get it done.

On Tuesday, about a dozen community members announced a petition drive to place a question on the Nov. 6 ballot asking voters if they want to change the structure of municipal government.

If they succeed and a majority of voters are in favor, the change would take effect in spring 2019, when Mayor Scott Eisenhauer’s fourth term comes to an end. Eisenhauer has not said publicly whether he plans to seek a fifth term, and he did not attend Tuesday’s announcement at the David S. Palmer Arena.

But afterward, he e-mailed a statement that made it clear: He prefers the current system over one in which council members choose the city leader.

“When this city changed its form of government in 1987, it did so to give the residents of this community a greater say in electing its leadership. To take that out of the hands of the citizens, and instead put all of that power in the hands of 14 aldermen, stands strongly against what so many fought for 30 years ago,” Eisenhauer said. “The current form of government is most responsive to the public and requires vision and leadership which benefits the community as a whole, not just 14 people.

“I hope as citizens consider this referendum, they evaluate what role they personally want in choosing their future leaders, or if they are comfortable conceding that power to only a few.”

Volunteers with Moving Danville Forward will begin circulating petitions this week in hopes of collecting the 550 signatures from registered voters needed for a fall referendum.

Tuesday’s announcement was led by lifelong Danville resident Doug Ahrens, who left his job as public works director last fall to become director of the Danville Sanitary District.

Ahrens, who emphasized he was speaking as a private citizen, pointed out the significant economic changes affecting Danville neighborhoods and businesses over the past three decades.

The new format, he said, “is an effective and proven practice that offers citizens the best value for their taxpayer dollars. City-manager/council format can provide access to leadership candidates who have been educated, trained, certified and experienced in the administration of local government. It also provides a higher level of accountability, as their job is continuously dependent on their performance.”

Under the group’s proposal, the current council structure would remain intact. And, as in Champaign, there would still be a mayor, but the position would have a reduced role and powers.

Currently, Eisenhauer functions as Danville’s CEO, overseeing day-to-day administration at an annual salary of $73,000.

In a city-manager format, the mayor would be part time, but still preside over council meetings and make appointments to boards and commissions. The city manager would play the role of CEO.

The nonpartisan group backing the change includes two former city department heads — Gayle Brandon (comptroller) and Mike Federman (Danville Development Services director). Former Aldermen Nancy O’Kane and Jerry Askren are also on board, along with more than a dozen business owners and community leaders.

Ahrens and Brandon both emphasized that the group has no desire to change the current aldermanic structure of the council, which has two representatives from each of the city’s seven wards. After a 1987 voting-rights lawsuit brought by a group of citizens seeking better representation, Danville’s form of government was switched from commissioner to the current mayor-council.

Three current aldermen attended Tuesday’s event — Mike O’Kane (Ward 4), Rickey Williams Jr. (Ward 1) and Lloyd Randle (Ward 7).

Randle said he’s interested in running for mayor, but only if it’s the current full-time position. He said he is not in favor of this proposal and won’t sign a petition, as O’Kane did.

Randle said he believes this proposal will cost the city more money, because even a part-time mayor will be paid along with the new city manager.

“We need to have a new mayor and not a new form of government,” said Randle, who has been an aldermen for three years. “Until it’s proven to me that an alternate form of government can be put in place to address some of the core issues that face our community, I will not be convinced that we need to move forward with a change in the form of government under a city manager.

“We do have a community that is failing miserably under the current form of government and that is because the city needs a leader. We need a fire chief, as an example. We need a police chief, as an example. We need a finance committee that can help rein in the spending that we’ve experienced the last several years. My term as alderman the last three years has been one of complete frustration.”

Moving Danville Forward organizers said they want to expand their group of supporters and volunteers in the community, and they’re planning to launch a website, a speaking circuit for neighborhood and other community groups and a series of public meetings to inform voters and answer their questions. The first public meeting is being planned for May.

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