DECATUR — Eleven Decatur residents have applied to fill the city council seat vacated by Rodney Walker last month, according to documents obtained by the Herald & Review under the Freedom of Information Act.
The revelation comes after the incumbent six members of the city council spent about an hour-and-a-half in executive session Monday evening reviewing applications, which consisted of resumes and cover letters.
Later reconvening in city council chambers, Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe announced that the body would meet again in closed executive session on Aug. 30 to “do interviews with selected candidates.” The council has until mid-September to fill the vacancy.
“We had some really, really impressive applications,” Moore Wolfe said. “I want to thank everybody that sought to apply and took the time to put a resume together and send it in because it takes a lot to step up and want to be in our shoes. It’s not all as glamorous as people might think.”
Per the documents, those who submitted their credentials for consideration include William Brennan, a certified public accountant; Jessica Cameron, a teacher at Johns Hill Magnet School; Steven Christian, an administrative assistant for Burdick Company; Dennis Cooper, a former chief of staff at the Illinois Department of Corrections; Elijah England, a member service representative at ADM Credit Union; Robert Owen, an attorney and former Macon County Board member; Stephen Payton, a certified public accountant; Terrence “TAT” Taylor, a radio host on 105.5-FM; Derek Wallace, an entrepreneur; Chelsea Ray Walters, a student at Millikin University; and Marty Watkins, a U.S. Army veteran.
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England and Watkins were both candidates for city council in the elections held earlier this year, with the former placing a distant eighth in the 12-candidate February primary election and the latter placing fourth in both the primary and the runoff election held in April. Watkins also ran for council in 2017 and 2019.
Brennan, whose career in finance and accounting has taken him all across the country over a more than 40-year career, wrote in his cover letter that his “experience in business, finance, public affairs and civic and charitable organizations would complement the needs of the council.”
Cameron, a lifelong Decatur resident who has taught in city schools since 2004, said that “teaching has afforded (her) the opportunity to see the strengths and weaknesses of our community” and that she’s “wanted to do more for sometime.”
Christian touts that he’s “done almost every type of job this city has to offer,” but also acknowledged that the council “needs more diversity” and said that “whoever is chosen needs to represent the traditionally underserved citizens of the city.” He urged the council to select a more diverse, better-qualified candidate if there is one.
Cooper, who also serves as a deacon and financial director at Decatur’s Church of the Living God PGT Temple 2, was the popular choice among those who showed up for public comment Monday evening, with many touting his experience and ties to the community.
Owen is a retired attorney who served on the Macon County Board from 1990 to 2000. He also served two different stints (1986-1990 and 2002-2014) on the Macon County Mental Health Board.
Payton has been a certified public accountant at the same Decatur firm for more than 40 years. Among other things, he’s conducted audits of state agencies and non-profits, a background he believes provides him “with a unique set of skills applicable to a thorough understanding of both budgetary and regulatory issues toward the furtherance of our city’s governance.”
Taylor, in addition to his radio gig, is a public engagement organizer for Apex Clean Energy and an essential skills facilitator for Richland Community College. He was previously a family support coordinator for Decatur Public Schools. He said he would bring communication skills, community engagement expertise and conflict resolution skills to the council.
Wallace’s past experience includes stints as an engineer, electrician and — most recently — an entrepreneur, according to his resume.
Walters is slated to graduate from Millikin in December with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, political science and criminal justice. She is a co-leader of Sherrod’s Independent Mentoring Program and is a Macon County CASA advocate. She also served as campaign manager for England’s 2021 city council run.
Moore Wolfe indicated that there might be some candidates the council chooses not to interview, but declined to elaborate further.
“This was our first look,” Moore Wolfe said. “And so we went through the applications and really took some time to read all of them and go through them. It was a good evening.”
Six of the candidates are white and five are Black. This is a factor as Walker’s resignation last month left the council without an African American in a city where they comprise more than one-fifth of the population.
Moore Wolfe said last week that “the most important thing is to get the best council person possible” for the seat regardless of background, but that diversity “needs to be a consideration” to ensure the entire community feels represented in government.
Watch now: Vacant Decatur City Council seat should be filled by African American, community leaders say
Decatur’s city council members are elected to four-year terms that are staggered, meaning three seats are up every two years. Though a member of the council, the mayor is elected in a separate race.
Each member is elected at-large, which advocates say ensures a citywide focus to solving problems. But, a possible consequence is that minority representation isn’t always guaranteed as it might be under an aldermanic form of government.
Walker is the CEO of SkyWalker International Sports Complex in Decatur. He was elected to the council in 2019. He resigned July 20, citing conflict-of-interest laws that prevented him from exploring certain business opportunities.
Council members sifted through about 45 pages worth of cover letters and resumes for the first time Monday evening, sequestering themselves to a first floor conference room away from media and members of the public.
Moore Wolfe said Aug. 30 was the first date all council members would be available to meet again to consider the subject.
Four votes out of six are needed to make the appointment.
Funk took the seat formerly held by Moore Wolfe, who was appointed mayor following the death of Mayor Mike McElroy earlier that year.
Some council members, notably Bill Faber and David Horn, have noted their opposition to the process, saying it lacks transparency and community input.