First Ward Alderman Sam Hill dropped the bombshell Monday that he would not be seeking re-election as 1st Ward alderman, a position he's held for almost 12 years.
And he did so in the wake of a City Council Committee of the Whole straw poll that opens the door to allow liquor-license holders to run for office—and owner Mike Olesen to throw his hat in the ring.
"I do intend to run, yes," Olesen said after the Committee of the Whole ended at about 10:20 p.m. Monday night. "Basically, I love Geneva, and I think it’s worth working for and fighting for to make it the best community it can be. It's a fantastic place to grow up, my whole life is invested here, and I look forward to running should the council follow through and vote in favor of this."
Olesen would face off against , 21, who announced his candidacy for the 1st Ward seat in a June press conference. also has said he would seek the 1st Ward position.
"It's official, I'm not going to run," Hill said to a reporter after the meeting Monday night. "Do I want to take on those three young guys? I’m smarter than that."
Hill will have served 12 years as alderman, 10 years on the Plan Commission and eight years on the Park Board.
Olesen said that, if elected, he would recuse himself from any vote that involved a liquor-license motion.
"I would not be able to vote on the issue, I’m quite certain of that," he said. "I'd offer any insight that I would be able to give that would be germane to the discussion, but I would not be involved in any decision."
The Committee of the Whole straw poll was 8-2 in favor of amending city ordinance to allow liquor-license holders to seek an aldermanic seat.
First Ward aldermen Hill and Chuck Brown, 2nd Ward Alderman Don Cummings, 3rd Ward aldermen Dean Kilburg and Dawn Vogelsberg, 4th Ward aldermen Dorothy Flanagan and Ron Singer and 5th Ward Alderman Ralph Dantino said they would favor the ordinance change.
Second Ward Alderman Richard Marks and 5th Ward Alderman Craig Maladra said they would not.
"I’ve been thinking about it, and it’s hard, but what I’m left with is a gut instinct that tells me there’s still the possibility of a conflict of interest here," Maladra said. "A liquor-license holder is not like any other official. That person can be the most ethical person in the world, but there's a difference when a person's livelihood is involved in the decision-making. We’ve opened the door, at best, for the appearance of conflict of interest."
Police Chief Stephen Mexin also advised against an ordinance change.
"I just think there's clearly the potential for a conflict of interest," he said. "This could apply to someone we’re not even thinking of, and from my point of view the potential is too risky."
Mexin said liquor-license decisions can be among the most volatile.
"They often are emotional issues," he said, "and when tied to someone’s livelihood, their decision could be compromised not for the greater good."
Brown and Kilburg argued the other side, noting the Illinois Liquor Control Act does allow a city or village board member to hold a liquor license so long as the sale of alcohol is incidental to the sale of food.
"There have been a number of times aldermen excused themselves due to a conflict of interest," Brown said. "This law is even stronger. This outlines very carefully who has a conflict and who does not."
"I don't think it's right to disqualify a segment of the community from public service," Kilburg said. "This profession isn’t all that dramatically different than other professions."
"This is not about me, guys," Olesen said. "I think the real issue here is not the conflict of interest. I think the real issue is: Do the people have the opportunity to choose who is their voice in government? It’s not about me, it’s about the people whose voices need to be heard. We should not preclude anyone. We should allow all candidates an opportunity to serve."
In other conversations, the Committee of the Whole:
- Split 5-5 in a straw poll on whether to change city ordinance to allow backyard hens in Geneva.
- Directed city staff to draft language that would "opt out" the city of Geneva from video gambling.
- Generally endorsed the establishment of a 501c3 foundation that would raise funds to support the arts in Geneva.
Geneva Patch will follow up with stories on those issues at a later date.