One of the few contested races for mayor in the history of the bucolic village of Mettawa divided the community and ended in a draw, nearly forcing what would have been a historic coin flip to decide the outcome.
Two weeks later, three late-arriving absentee ballots gave Jess Ray, a retired marketing executive, the win in the 2009 municipal election over longtime incumbent Barry MacLean.
But after nearly four years as mayor, Ray has decided not to run for a second term, saying that with the village in better condition than when he took office, it's time to step aside.
"We've done everything, plus some of what we said we were going to do," said Ray, who ran on a slate called the Mettawa Transparency Party, from which two village trustees also were elected.
Ray said he had no political aspirations or experience in municipal government but became involved when he learned of tree removal on village property in advance of a big box store. At the time, he said he was getting involved to bring more transparency to an entrenched and unresponsive local government.
Issues surrounding a proposed Costco store dominated village businesses early in his tenure. Ray had sued the village over the plan, an action since settled. He cited an improved contract with the village and improved landscaping and other features of the Costco plan among his achievements in office.
The store, which opened two years ago, generates about $1 million in annual sales tax for the tiny village of about 550. That has allowed the village to increase the property tax rebate to residents to 10 times what they pay in municipal taxes.
Bidding contracts, village subsidized garbage collection, improved security and land purchases to eliminate the threat of commercial development were other highlights, according to Ray. But he said the foremost improvement has been an increase in information available to and from residents, including surveys and a quarterly newsletter.
In a lengthy letter to residents this past weekend, Ray said he is looking forward to enjoying retirement, taking up new hobbies and traveling.
He also thanked volunteers for their help in improve the community. Ray noted the Roman citizen Cincinnatus, who volunteered for the good of the empire but served only as long as necessary to overcome the conflict for which he was called.
"Now, I ask for the next "Mettawa Cincinnatus" to step forward and become the next village mayor," he wrote.
Municipal elections are April 9. Paperwork is due by Dec. 24.