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posted: 4/24/2014 5:30 AM

Elgin council interest in stark contrast with voter turnout

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Elgin has no lack of people interested in serving on its city council.

Twenty-one people, including former Councilman John Walters, are seeking appointment to a vacant seat, and 23 candidates filed to run for five open council spots in last year's election.

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That lies in stark contrast with dismal voter participation in 2013, when the turnout was an average 9.1 percent in Elgin, based on data from Cook and Kane counties.

Resident Armida Dominguez said she thinks it's all about people believing that their single vote doesn't make a difference.

Dominguez, a member of the city's strategic plan advisory commission, and her husband, Joe, regularly attend city council meetings.

While people might not be inclined to vote, some can be counted on to take charge when needed, she said.

"There's always this handful of people that kind of moves and shakes things. It always comes down to this handful of people," she said.

Former Mayor Ed Schock said that, despite recent voter apathy, it's always been common for lots of people to step forward for municipal and school board vacancies.

Also, an appointment is a relatively easy process compared to running for election, he said.

"(When you're running) you're out there, you're grilled by the public, you put yourself on the line," he said. "Here, you just do an interview with the city council."

City Manager Sean Stegall said he, too, wasn't surprised 21 people are interested in the seat.

"Elgin has always had many civic-minded individuals who have served in a variety of leadership positions," he said. "I do find (the large number of applicants) to be encouraging and reflective of this great community."

Typically, there's also a lot of interest in participating in task force initiatives, Stegall said.

City officials are in the process of selecting from a large group of applicants for a to-be-appointed Hemmens Cultural Center task force. In 2011, the city created a 12-member budget task force for the city.

However, it's not as easy to fill seats on boards and commissions, he said.

"It is more difficult because they are subject intensive and thus only interest a smaller group of people," he said.

The city council voted 5-3 on Wednesday night to meet in closed session April 30 to identify which among the 21 candidates will be interviewed and to conduct those interviews May 7.

Councilmen John Prigge, Terry Gavin and Toby Shaw voted against the motion.

If a consensus is reached on an appointment, that person could be sworn in as early as May 14.

At least five votes are needed to appoint someone for the seat vacated by Anna Moeller on March 30. If that happens, it would be the first council appointment since 1998.

In the past, open seats were left vacant mostly because there was about a year or less remaining to be served, Schock said. When Councilwoman Marie Yearman died in office in 2003, the city council couldn't agree on a replacement among 32 applicants.

"I think everybody came to the conclusion that it would be hard to fill, it would be hard for everybody to agree on (one person)," Schock said. "It's hard to appoint somebody when you're terribly split."

Prior experience serving the city in some form should be key, Schock said.

"Not just me, but the others on the council, we usually volunteered on boards or commissions so you learn about how the city works," he said. "I think it's hard to go from no involvement to the council, and be effective, because it just doesn't work like a lot of people think it works."

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