Opening for Danville mayor job draws crowd

Opening for Danville mayor job draws crowd

DANVILLE — At least four aldermen have already expressed interest in being Danville's interim mayor, setting the stage for what could become a contentious process to choose Scott Eisenhauer's successor.

"Because you are getting into personalities and stuff," said Alderman Steve Foster, who'd only be interested in the temp job if his fellow council members can't reach a consensus on the other three aldermen who want to run the city until a new mayor is elected next spring.

So far, Rickey Williams Jr., Steve Nichols and Mike Puhr have told fellow aldermen they're interested in the interim job that is likely to officially come open on Nov. 5 — the day that four-term Mayor Scott Eisenhauer is expected to report for work as Rantoul's new village administrator.

The Rantoul village board is expected to approve Eisenhauer's hiring tonight.

A week from today, Danville's 14 aldermen are scheduled to meet to nominate an interim mayor. It's a process Foster and others believe should take place in closed session, with the final vote happening in public.

A synopsis of who's in — and out:

— Williams, the executive director of Project Success, said he not only wants the job for the final six months of Eisenhauer's term but also plans to run for the office in April. It's a dream Williams said he has had since 1996, when he was a Danville High student participating in a youth leadership summit.

Williams has run for mayor once before, challenging Eisenhauer in 2011 along with two others (Jim McMahon and David Quick). He finished third in the four-way race.

"I've spoken to my (Project Success) board about it, and they have supported me retaining my position and serving as interim mayor," Williams said Monday.

If he's chosen as interim mayor, Williams said he'd work four "very long" days a week in that position and devote the remaining weekday, evenings and Saturdays to Project Success.

"My board assured me they are confident in the leadership I've shown that I would be able to maintain both," Williams said.

— Nichols, who also has a full-time job, has interest in being mayor both for the short and long term, as well.

"It's something I've always thought about doing, but I didn't want to run against Scott (Eisenhauer)," Nichols said.

— Lloyd Randle is interested in running for mayor in April but has not told fellow aldermen he wants the interim job.

— Puhr, who's retired but remains very active in the community, said he has the time to devote to being interim mayor. But he has no interest in the position beyond that.

Puhr said he believes it's critical that the city tap someone with experience to be interim mayor — and not someone who's thinking about their candidacy while at the same time dealing with the city's upcoming budget and property tax levy process.

"We need to make some tough decisions in the interim, and anyone running for full- or part-time mayor who's on the council, I'm afraid, would be more worried about their decision making affecting the outcome in the spring election," Puhr said.

The time argument

The interim mayor would also lead the council in selecting its first city manager should voters approve a Nov. 6 referendum to change Danville's form of government — from the current strong mayor/council to city manager/council.

"It's going to be interesting," Puhr said. "The interim mayor is going to have a very difficult time, and has to commit a lot of time."

Nichols said he disagrees with Puhr on the qualifications for the interim job, saying: "I don't think we can afford a caretaker mayor."

Nichols said he doesn't believe serving as interim mayor would give him, or anyone else, an advantage in the April election, considering the city's cash flow issues and the difficulties that will create in the budget process.

Nichols recently transitioned from his longtime position as district manager overseeing 10 Steak 'n Shake restaurants to store manager at the North Vermilion Street location, which he said would give him the flexibility needed to be interim mayor.

He said he would not quit his job to be interim mayor, especially given the uncertainty of the mayor's position beyond April.

Depending on what voters do in November, mayor would either be a part-time $5,000-a-year position (if the city manager proposal is approved) or remain a full-time job, which pays $73,000 now and would be bumped to $75,000 in May.

Nichols said he has talked with his employer about being interim mayor. If nominated, he could work days at the city and nights and weekends managing the restaurant.

"It's something I've really wanted to do, and this is a good opportunity to do it," Nichols said of being mayor. "I just feel like I have the best experience overall and the right temperament."

Open or closed?

Foster said he has told aldermen that he believes anyone interested in running for the four-year term shouldn't be selected for the interim position.

"In all fairness, they shouldn't have the advantage of being interim," Foster said. "I just want to make sure we have a smooth transition."

David Wesner, corporate counsel for the city, said there's nothing legally spelling out how much time a mayor must spend at the office, whether he comes into the job by nomination or election. But, Wesner added, "they are the CEO of this company, so they have to be putting the time in to manage, and you cannot manage if you are not in the office."

While aldermen's discussion about the interim mayor could be held behind closed doors next week, the actual vote would be held in open session.

Illinois' Open Meetings Act in Illinois has several exceptions, including one for selecting a person to fill a public office when the public body has the power to appoint under law or ordinance, which is the case here. But the Act goes on to state that "exceptions authorize but do not require the holding of a closed meeting to a subject included" in the list of exceptions.

But, Wesner said, "you really don't want this kind of discussion occurring out in open session." What if, for instance, none of the aldermen interested can get the minimum eight votes required and none of them want to withdraw, Wesner said.

The reason for having the discussion in closed session, he said, is not a matter of "trying to hide who the candidates are or their backgrounds. It's just not having the potential argument and name calling as you try to figure out who the candidate is going to be."

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