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updated: 1/4/2013 6:35 PM

Elgin Octave organizes city council candidates forum

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How do you go about organizing an election forum with 22 candidates?

If you're the Elgin Octave group, you send city council candidates an online questionnaire and schedule a follow-up forum.

The questionnaire, which has more than 40 items, asks for "yes" or "no" answers or to respond on a 1-to-5 scale. Issues include video gambling, the city's budget surplus and funding for the Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce.

The answers will be tabulated and distributed during a forum Jan. 12 when candidates might be asked follow-up questions, or simply to give introductory statements, said Chuck Keysor, one of the founding members of the group.

"This is the only way we could get some meaningful answers from all the candidates," he said.

The reaction from candidates has been mixed.

Incumbent John Prigge and challenger Terry Gavin, a former city council member, said the questions were overall straightforward. They are among 10 candidates who have answered the questionnaire so far.

"You either know the issues or you don't," Gavin said.

Incumbent Richard Dunne said the format is too restrictive and will not complete the questionnaire.

For example, a question asking whether candidates support a proposed stormwater utility tax can't be properly answered until a consultant hired by the city prepares a report on the topic, Dunne said.

Challenger Craig Dresang decided to skip the format and email his answers to Elgin Octave and all the other candidates.

"I didn't feel like the questionnaire would provide either the candidates or voters the kind of discussion and perspective on important issues they both deserve," he said.

Keysor acknowledged not all topics lend themselves to categorical answers.

"Ultimately, when you're on the city council, everybody will have to give yes/no answers. This is not an irrational thing," he said.

Incumbent Robert Gilliam said he's not going to participate in the forum.

"My philosophy and Elgin Octave's philosophy are not compatible," said Gilliam, adding this is the first time he's going to steer clear of a forum.

"Their forum is not designed to elicit information. I think it's more of a crucifixion for people who disagree with them."

The group, which formed in 2011, pushes for fiscal responsibility and advocates no new taxes. Its goals include eliminating the business license the city created in December 2009.

Keysor said the forum questionnaire is not intended to target anyone, although it does reflect the group's values. Octave stands for "Operant Conditioning to Achieve Voter Expectations."

Candidates are welcome to attend the forum even if they don't answer the questionnaire, he said. The group won't back any of the candidates, although its individual members can choose to do so, he added.

The forum is scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. at New Covenant Fellowship, 865 Parkway Avenue, Elgin.

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