The ins and outs of the City Council

By Gus Bode

The ins and outs of the City Council

Council position acts as a second full-time job

Factoid:For more information on the City Council, visit www.ci.carbondale.il.us.

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City Council members meet twice a month to discuss the budget and make policy changes that affect the lives of all Carbondale residents – but that’s just scratching the surface.

Aside from the bi-monthly public meetings, the City Council position is a full-time job that calls for unlimited dedication from its members, who Councilwoman Maggie Flanagan said are no different from other Carbondale citizens.

“The people on the City Council are residents, who virtually volunteer many hours of their time,” she said. “Although there’s a small stipend, they donate a lot of their time because they love their community and they want to do the best job they can.”

Flanagan said members of the commission are kept busy outside the office with families and other jobs, plus they belong to boards and commissions associated with the council.

According to City Attorney Paige Reed, the primary job of the council is to supervise the budget to make sure money is being properly spent, and to set policy and directives for the city. After that, there are numerous responsibilities the council members oversee.

For starters, the council is responsible for choosing a city manager. Jeff Doherty, who has occupied the position for almost 11 years, sits in on council meetings and carries out the directives and policies on which the council votes. This includes making sure city codes, such as housing inspections, are carried out.

One of the other tasks of a council member is to attend town meetings 3 or 4 times a year. The meetings are never scheduled in City Hall, and Flanagan said this is to try and reach out to some citizens who may be more comfortable attending the meeting if it takes place elsewhere.

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“The purpose is to bring the council into the neighborhoods and be more present,” she said. “City Hall is a really formal environment, but when people can go to a familiar place like a school or community center, they’re more willing to come out.”

At the meetings, the panel sits and listens to problems and concerns from local residents. Flanagan said they hear about everything from potholes to barking dogs, and all suggestions are taken into consideration.

Councilman Brad Cole agreed that the role of councilman is a very demanding job, but said it is also rewarding.

“The main thing we do is take concerns from people in town and try to address them through the local government,” Cole said. “Whether they’re homeowners, business owners or just people who are in Carbondale, the most important thing is getting feedback about what those people want out of their city and then trying to accomplish it for them.”

Cole said the council is also responsible for meeting with boards and commission such as the Liquor Advisory Board, to keep current with important issues in Carbondale.

“Basically, we sit there and listen to what to they’re trying to get across,” Cole said. “Those groups are advisory to us, and we don’t have to act on it until later.”

On top of everything, the candidates have to deal with citizens confronting them on a daily basis and then listen while people talk about personal problems on the candidates’ free time.

“Being on the council is definitely a full-time job, because no matter where you go, somebody knows who you are and may come up and say something,” Cole said. “It may be something good, or it may be something bad, but that’s part of the job, and it makes it interesting.”

The City Council primary election takes place on Feb. 25, while the main election is scheduled for April 1.

All but two of the City Council members are campaigning for a position on the council this year. Mayor Neil Dillard is retiring and Corene McDaniel has another year left, while Councilman Mike Neill is hoping to be reelected into his council seat, and both Cole and Flanagan are running for mayor. Flanagan’s council seat has not expired and if she wins the mayoral election, the council position she vacated will be filled by her appointee upon approval by the council, according to Reed. If she loses, she will retain the seat.

Flanagan put the role of a councilwoman simply, and said she hopes citizens understand that the council members are only human and try their best to better the city.

“We’re no different than any other citizen, except we come to every meeting and make decisions,” Flanagan said. “We like to hike and have birthday parties for our kids just like everybody else.”

Reporter Brian Peach can be reached at [email protected]

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