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CHAMPAIGN — In a move that came as a surprise to some, Mayor Deb Feinen asked city council members this week to support her in appointing a new member to the city’s Human Relations Commission.

Out was Kenton Elmore. In: Ahmed Taha, president of the Muslim American Society of Urbana-Champaign.

Feinen said when faced with the chance to appoint Taha, she couldn’t pass it up.

“I thought having that diversity in the Human Relations Commission was a positive thing,” Feinen said. “We appreciate Elmore’s service and we’re grateful to him for the time he’s spent in the commission.

“But particularly at the HRC, we’re trying to diversify the commission and provide opportunities for a wide variety of different opinions, socioeconomic status, backgrounds, etc. Diversity is really important there.”

Elmore appeared caught off-guard, as were many commission members.

When asked about Elmore’s departure, commission Chairwoman Alissia Young said she was “shocked” and “sad to see him go.”

Member Demario Turner said he was “stunned.”

“I feel like Kenton had a big body of knowledge for the commission,” Turner said. “I’m kind of surprised, and this is something I’ll be inquiring about.”

Elmore said that in a conversation he had with Feinen, the mayor said the city felt it was “underrepresenting the Muslim-American community.”

“I understand that, and I have nothing against that,” he said. “It’s great to have more representation. I was just a little bit unsure of why that meant that I was not being re-appointed when there were three (of nine) seats up. What I found to be missing was: Why me?”

Feinen said the decision had nothing to do with Elmore.

“I think he’d like to make it about him, but it’s not about him,” Feinen said. “This is about the opportunity to appoint someone else to that position.

“You know, you serve at the pleasure of the mayor and council, and I have made various different appointments over the years. We appoint and reappoint people all the time. This was a great opportunity for diversity.”

Elmore, who has served on the commission since 2015, ran unsuccessfully for one of three at-large seats on the city council in April’s election.

Reporter

Aldo Toledo is a reporter covering local government at The News-Gazette. His email is atoledo@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@aldot29).