Graduate student enters city council race

By Seth Richardson

Graduate Assistant Brent Ritzel has submitted his application for the open Carbondale City Council seat.

Ritzel is one of eight applicants and one of two SIU students vying for the seat left vacant by Acting Mayor Don Monty after Former Mayor Joel Fritzler’s Feb. 3 resignation.

The deadline for applications was Friday.

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Ritzel was born in 1968 in Carbondale and graduated from Carbondale Community High School in 1986 where he was in the top 10 in his class. He graduated from Northwestern University in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy.

During his time in Chicago, he was active in the music community and started Happy Tails Records and the cooperative Crank Records.

He moved to Boulder, Colo., in 2006 and launched a mortgage brokerage, an employment agency, a trading-card company and a combination comedy club/cigar bar.

He returned to Carbondale in 2009, acting as president of the Fuller Dome Home, vice president of Gaia House and on the board of directors of Lifesavers.

He is a graduate assistant for Library Affairs and is pursuing a master’s degree in public administration.

Ritzel ran for City Council in 2013, placing fourth behind Lee Fronabarger, Carolin Harvey and Jessica Bradshaw.

Ritzel said his charitable and entrepreneurial work in Chicago, Boulder and Carbondale gives him a different perspective into what the city needs.

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“I’ve been fortunate to have a unique set of experiences throughout my professional career throughout the last 20 years that gives me insight into what Carbondale really needs to do to turn the tide for itself,” he said.

He said the budget is the most important matter the city faces. Ritzel said instead of tackling the issue by raising taxes, the city should look to increase funds in a more creative way.

“There’s 30,000 municipalities around the country and thousands of them are finding great success right now,” Ritzel said. “It’s not rocket science, but it does take doing things different.”

Ritzel said he is against raising the property or sales tax in the city because it discourages people from purchasing within Carbondale. He said instead he would rather tax social ills so the community does not suffer.

A plastic bag tax and a previous two percent tax on boxed liquor proposed by Councilwoman Jane Adams were some examples of raising revenue Ritzel said he would like to see passed. He also wanted to see cuts, such as the tax Carbondale residents pay to John A. Logan College.

Besides the budget, Ritzel said Carbondale needs to focus on business development and retaining talent from SIU. He said instead of focusing on encouraging larger, outside businesses to develop in the city, the community should try to encourage more inward growth.

“That’s not the kind of development we want,” he said. “We don’t want to encourage those kind of businesses to come into town that are going to be a suck on the government. What we want to do is increase entrepreneurial capacity.”

Ritzel said the city should also try adding more internships at small businesses within the community for SIU students. He said this would show the students how a business runs, and potentially encourage students to start their own businesses.

However, Ritzel said he does not want to come to the council with a set agenda, but work with the councilmembers to address the city’s problems.

“I’m really excited about this city council that we have,” he said. “I’ve worked with all of them in some capacity. It seems like this is really a group that can cohere together and I want to put myself out there as a ‘missing link’ of someone with a track record of moving things forward.”

Councilwoman Jessica Bradshaw, while not outright endorsing Ritzel, said being a local as well as a university student could be invaluable to the council.

“The university, while certainly important, sometimes gets overlooked,” she said. “He’s a student at the university in grad school, and that kind of dual perspective of townie and SIU affiliate can help.”

Georgia de la Garza, a political activist and organizer of Shawnee Hills and Hollers, said she fully supports Ritzel for the vacant seat.

“I think Brent is one of the most insightful people I’ve met since I’ve been in Carbondale,” she said. “He looks toward the future. A lot of people look around at the moment. Brent is always looking at the future.”

The city council will discuss the applicants Wednesday during a special closed session to narrow the pool of eight down to three qualified individuals. A final decision on the new council member will take place at a special meeting Feb. 28 with the new member likely taking office at the March 4 regular session.

Seth Richardson can be reached at [email protected], on Twitter at @EgyptianRich or at 536-3311 ext. 268.

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