City-manager referendum will be on November ballot in Danville

City-manager referendum will be on November ballot in Danville

DANVILLE — For the first time in nearly a century, voters in Danville will make a decision on how they want to be governed now that a judge has approved a November referendum asking if a city manager, rather than a mayor, should lead the municipal government.

“Now the work begins,” Pat O’Shaughnessy said Wednesday within minutes of Judge Mitchell Shick’s decision during the petition hearing in Vermilion County Circuit Court. O’Shaughnessy and Danville Attorney Jim Mulvaney presented a petition asking the court to place the following question on the Nov. 6 ballot:

“Shall the city of Danville, Illinois, adopt the managerial form of municipal government and continue to elect aldermen from wards?”

It will be the first time since 1926 that voters will decide the form of government. That year, Danville changed to a commission style of government; the change to its current mayor-aldermanic form was part of a settlement reached in a 1987 civil-rights lawsuit.

“I’m very, very happy for the citizens of Danville,” O’Shaughnessy said after Wednesday’s brief hearing, which had several petition supporters in attendance. Dave Wesner, corporation counsel for the city, did not object to any part of the procedure, telling the judge he had already reviewed information being submitted.

Mulvaney and O’Shaughnessy, a Danville resident and businessman, are both members of the nonpartisan grass roots committee Moving Danville Forward, which began a door-to-door initiative in April to gather the 551 signatures necessary to get the question on the ballot. O’Shaughnessy, who has ample experience with signature petition drives for political candidates, said this one was harder than any he has done previously because registered voters asked a lot of questions before signing.

“I was spending anywhere from five to 35 minutes talking with people in their garages, stoops or front yards,” O’Shaughnessy said of going door to door.

The committee submitted 748 voter signatures to Shick. It had compared each with current registered-voter records in the city and crossed out any that weren’t valid for various reasons, including incorrect addresses or addresses outside the city. That reduced the number to 704, still well above the 551 necessary.

Moving Danville Forward publicly announced in April its intent to petition the court to put the question on the ballot. The dozen residents who comprise it said they was doing so because they believe a city manager with formal education, certification and experience guiding the day-to-day operations of the city, which would allow a part-time mayor to focus on policy issues, is a better way to govern in the future.

Decisions on hiring and firing a city manager would be in the hands of the city’s 14 aldermen, while the part-time mayor would still be elected. And the aldermanic structure would remain the same, with two aldermen elected from each of the city’s seven wards.

On its website, Moving Danville Foward states that current Mayor Scott Eisenhauer has served the city well for the past 16 years, and if “every future mayoral candidate possessed the formal education and intimate knowledge of how to run a $51 million, 200+ employee City, and the best strategies and organizational techniques to succeed, we wouldn’t need this. But that just isn’t going to happen. To expect one person to do that AND navigate a whole city is not fair to them or to the taxpayers. The mayor is the leader and the face of Danville. We feel that switching to a city manager will give us the best of both worlds.”

Eisenhauer has not publicly campaigned against the initiative, but he released a written statement in early April stating that he doesn’t believe the city-manager form of government is the best for Danville. His current four-year term is up in April. He has not announced that he won’t run again but has said he’s entertaining other employment possibilities.

After Nov. 6, any mayoral candidates will know whether they will be running for the same full-time position — with a current salary of $73,000 a year — or a new part-time role with a much lower salary to be determined by aldermen.

Alderman Lloyd Randle, who’s formed a committee with Alderwoman Brenda Brown opposing Moving Danville Forward’s initiative, has said he is interested in running for mayor, but not under a city-manager form of government.

With the question officially going on the ballot, O’Shaughnessy said his committee now must go back to work informing residents through public meetings and speaking engagements as well as door-to-door campaigning about the city-manager form of government and what it would mean for Danville.

The group’s next public informational meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Danville Area Community College’s Bremer Conference Center, 2000 E. Main St., featuring the mayor and city manager from the small Illinois town of Streator, who will talk about how their city-manager government works.