Effingham council candidates

Top, L-R: Kevin Willis, Hank Stephens, Jayne Miller, Larry Micenheimer. Bottom, L-R: Don Althoff, Kevin Esker, Merv Gillenwater, Libby Moeller.

Four incumbents are seeking re-election to the Effingham City Council: Don Althoff, Kevin Esker, Merv Gillenwater and Kevin Willis. Four others with history on the council or with city matters are also seeking a seat: Larry Micenheimer, Jayne Miller, Libby Moeller and Henry “Hank” Stephens.

Only four will be elected on Tuesday.

Don Althoff, 67, of Effingham is seeking his third term to the City Council. He is a graduate of St. Anthony High School and the Culinary Institute. He is retired. His involvements include a volunteer firefighter for 34 years; Douglas Township Assessor for 16 years; Effingham County Board for nine years;and Effingham Country Club Board Member for nine years. He and his wife, Carol, have two children and four grandchildren.

Kevin Esker, 58, of Effingham is an incumbent seeking his second term on the council. He is the customer service manager at Quad Graphics/Petty Co.. He earned a bachelor's degree in finance from EIU. He is a member of St. Anthony Catholic Church and a 40 year member of the Knights of Columbus. He and his wife, Kelley, have a daughter.

Merv Gillenwater, 69, of Effingham, is a retired Illinois State Police Lieutenant, having served as both patrol commander and investigations commander at different times; taught criminal justice classes as an adjunct instructor at Lake Land College Kluthe Center; he earned a bachelor's degree in science from EIU, with coursework toward his master's degree in sociology. Previously, he's served one term as mayor; and two terms as city commissioner. He's a member of the Centenary United Methodist Church, American Legion Post 120; and Retired State Police Association, Illinois Sheriff's Association and National Fraternal Order of Police. He and his wife, Pat, have a son and two grandsons.

Larry Micenheimer, 67, of Effingham has served as Effingham City Commissioner 2007-2011. He is a retired counselor at Effingham High School and currently a Unit 40 bus driver and works for Koerner Distributors. He holds several degrees: a bachelor’s in education from EIU; masters in school service from Uof I; master's in educational administration, EIU; specialist degree in educational administration, EIU; he's involved in the community with the Effingham Park District, paid on call firefighter; TREC board member; Effingham Performance Center volunteer; and HSHS St. Anthony Hospital Foundation Leadership Center. He and his wife, Lisa, have three grown children.

Jayne Miller, 65, of Effingham is retired from the City of Effingham engineering department; she is a 1973 graduate of Patricia Stevens Career College. A member of the Centenary United Methodist Church, serves on the church council and community committee; she's a volunteer with Meals on Wheels. She and her husband, John M. Miller, have two children and two grandchildren.

Libby Moeller, 40, works for the Juvenile Diversion Program, a part of the Effingham County Probation Department; and as the marketing coordinator for Austin Mansion and Walnut Street Weddings. She is a St. Anthony High School graduate, and an EIU graduate with a degree in political science. She has served as the Executive Director of Effingham County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA); and she and her husband own a business. She is currently on the Plan Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals in Effingham; a board member for the Fourth Judicial Circuit Juvenile Justice Council; Centenary United Methodist Church council chair; PEO, and UMW. She and her husband, Scott, have two children.

Henry “Hank” Stephens, 66, of Effingham is a banker where he works on business development and is part-owner of several small business in Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky. He had served as commissioners for one term several years ago, also served as the city attorney for 19 years. He is a St. Anthony High School graduate; earned a government degree from SIU-C; and Juris Doctor from U of I College of Law. He is the founding director of the Effingham County Community Foundation. He and his wife, Debbie, have three children.

Kevin Willis, 54, of Effingham is an incumbent on the council, is the Security Director for J&J Ventures Gaming; he is a retired police officer for Effingham; he has served one term on the council. He attended college.

The candidates answered questions from the Effingham Daily News about the race.

What are the top three things you hope to accomplish in the term?

DON ALTHOFF:

1. To get additional, medium size (100-200 employees) businesses to the area.

2. To continue the study of the completion of the southern interchange to encourage more businesses to come to the area and to enhance the flow of traffic in the industrial park and to decrease the truck traffic in the city.

3. We as a city council need to pursue the widening of Fayette Ave. We need to continue to work with the state and the governor’s capital plan to keep this on the top of their lists.

KEVIN ESKER:

1. Continue growth in the city. This will increase tax base to help support this growth.

2. Extend the TIF District to assist with city growth and improvements.

3. Create a budget that will not increase city property tax. With the tax base Effingham achieves there can be no increases.

MERV GILLENWATER:

1. I want to continue to strive to maintain an efficient, fiscally responsible city government.

2. I want to continue to address our existing infrastructure. Building new is good, but we must not fall behind in upgrading and improving our roads, sewers and water lines.

3. I not only want the city to continue to aggressively recruit new businesses/industries, but also keep those we have.

LARRY MICENHEIMER:

1. Economic development is the lifeline to the continued growth of Effingham. We must do all we can to support our current employers and help them prosper. In addition, we must continue to provide opportunities for new employers to locate here. We should support our awesome health care community and become an even stronger destination for visitors to spend their travel dollars.

2. I will work to build strong, cooperative partnerships with other government entities like the Effingham Park District, School District, Community College, Chamber of Commerce, Effingham Community Foundation, and the Regional Growth Alliance to build coalitions to achieve positive goals.

3. I have committed my adult lifetime as an educator and youth leader to improve our childrens’ future. Young people in Effingham should have every opportunity to experience a strong education and quality-of-life that will prepare them to be better citizens with good jobs in the future.

JAYNE MILLER:

1. Better communication with the public: There are many things that citizens should do or should not do which would make our community a better place to live. We need to continually keep the public informed about ordinances and regulations as well as opportunities.

2. Encourage better communication between the city council and city staff: As a representative of our citizens, each council member needs to do his or her own homework prior to making any formal decision. Council packets are received several days before meetings. Any questions regarding a particular item should be clarified with the originating staff member so that intelligent discussions can be held during council meetings.

3. I would like to improve the public’s perception of our local government and restore trust. My vote would only be one of five, but a council working together with its staff and citizens will make our community even more desirable to others.

LIBBY MOELLER:

1. Support current and adopt new policies and procedures that are in the best interest of the residents of Effingham.

2. Support policy and procedures that allows Effingham to run as efficiently and effectively as possible for the taxpayers.

3. The City of Effingham is teeming with talented staff across all departments. I would support policy and procedures that allows them to do their job day in and day out, to the best of their ability. City staff is our most valuable asset and makes this city run 24/7 they should always be a high priority.

HANK STEPHENS:

1. For many years our community was successful because of excellent collaboration between the City and other taxing bodies as well as with the private sector. My goal would to be for the City to return to that spirit of collaboration with others in the community so that we can all reach our full potential.

2. When I was first elected to the City Council, our major employers were World Color Press, Fedders, and Yellow Freight. If some of these names are not familiar it is because they are all gone. Communities must be constantly changing, and I fear that the City is not working proactively to identify who are going to be the job creators 10 and 20 years from now. We are blessed with great companies providing good jobs today, but many of these companies are in industries that may not be around in 10 or 20 years, and we must be identifying and attracting the employers of tomorrow. In conjunction with that, we must also be sure that we are providing housing and amenities in the community that will attract people to work for those companies.

3. A City of Effingham resident pays about 30 percent more in real estate taxes than residents residing just outside of the city. Are we getting 30 percent more value? When our sales tax TIF expired a few years ago, there was a huge influx of new sales tax revenue to the general fund which should have provided the city an opportunity to provide significant property tax relief. Instead, it seems that we have found ways to spend the new funds instead of addressing the city vs. non-city disparity in property taxes. There has been a lot of talk about encouraging residential development and I think property tax reduction is a great start for that.

KEVIN WILLIS:

1. Continuing in the direction the city has been going with the infrastructure ie, street, sewer, water and sidewalk development.

2. Adding the south interchange project to help develop the south end of Effingham

3. Seeing the Meijer project to completion.

All of these projects I feel are vital to the Effingham being a prosperous community.

Two parts. What strengths do you have set you apart from other candidates in this race? Also, what background or experience do you have that will make you an effective commissioner?

DON ALTHOFF: I listen to the the people and look out for them. I have the experience of running my own businesses.I am one of the original individuals that organized CTEC (Construction Trades Education Curriculum).It has been very fulfilling to see it from inception to completion of the program. Since the beginning of program, 75 percent of the trade students have gone on to pursue careers in a trade. It is very rewarding when you know the program has been a success. I am very proud of the City of Effingham and proud to serve the citizens and keep the community thriving and vibrant. I am proud to be a voice for the people. Business background as a business owner for companies which allowed me to have numerous duties and involvement with the community. It has taught me many valuable traits that I have used throughout the years. I am a voice for the citizens about issues and what their thoughts are before I vote.

KEVIN ESKER: With 35 years experience in the private business sector and a Bachelor of Science in Finance, this experience gives me the understanding that a budget does not have to be spent and increased each year.

Working in the private sector for 35 years in the tough printing industry, this experience has proven that I have the knowledge to think outside the box and able to budget and make a profit when other printing companies failed. I have four years of experience on the current council.

MERV GILLENWATER: I have proven I know how to supervise and manage personnel and money. I have written and been responsible for the management of grant money. I have experience in establishing and managing budgets. In my leadership roles with the Illinois State Police I have been responsible for the management of more than 50 personnel. Some were located at five offices spread throughout a 31 county area. As the mayor of the city of Effingham for four years I have proven that not only can I work with city personnel but also the public. Probably my most important strength is that the citizens of city of Effingham know me. They know who I am!

At the end of this term I will have completed two terms as a city commissioner. In between those two terms I served as the mayor of the city. I know how the city works and have an understanding of what the citizens want.

LARRY MICENHEIMER: I feel my experience with the Effingham School District, Park District, and community activities has made me strongly qualified to be a city commissioner. My previous term as a commissioner has given me the knowledge of how local government works to better serve the citizens of Effingham. I have the background, energy, and passion to be a great Effingham City Council Commissioner.

I have experience in a variety of volunteer activities that will make me an effective commissioner. I have served in many volunteer capacities as a firefighter, Effingham Performance Center worker, youth sports coach, and a member of leadership boards with HSHS St. Anthony Hospital, TREC, and the Workman Sports Center. My passion for Effingham is genuine, as I have invested countless hours in this community, and I strive for it to be a great place to call “Home.”

JAYNE MILLER: Having worked with and for the City of Effingham for almost 35 years, I have the required knowledge and experience to step into the position of commissioner already informed about city processes, budget and protocol. I’ve lived in Effingham County my entire life. Not every decision the Council makes is going to please everyone, but the council needs to ensure that we have done our research, understand the facts and the budget, and consider the concerns of all citizens. Having assisted with the fiscal year capital improvement budget, I understand that location, costs and available funds all need to be considered when prioritizing projects.I have the integrity and courage to make decisions that will not be swayed by particular interest groups.I will make decisions based on research and facts and what is best for our community and our citizens.

I worked for the City Attorney for 15 years, preparing resolutions and ordinances for collective bargaining, economic development agreements, and the purchase or sale of right of way. I assisted with the development of the first Tax Increment Finance District. I also worked for our state representative, tracking donations, paying bills and filing campaign disclosures. I was a Technical Assistant for almost 20 years in the Engineering and Public Works Departments for the City of Effingham, keeping detailed records of capital improvement projects, Motor Fuel Tax funds, TIF funds, as well as funding from state and federal sources, debt certificates, bond proceeds and grants, and also keeping detailed records of real estate purchases and sales.I assisted in the preparation of the Capital Improvement Budget, updating income and expenses throughout the fiscal year, and I met annually with the city’s contracted auditors and state MFT auditors.I served on the Labor/Management Insured Benefits Committee for the city.This committee was formed in an effort to keep health insurance cost increases at a minimum. I was also chairman of the Wellness Committee, distributing information to all employees regarding healthcare and creating incentives to encourage better health.

LIBBY MOELLER: I'm raising an active family in this community. I am sandwiched between the two largest generations in this community and see and speak with many many people every single day. I don't believe in repeatedly pointing out problems, but offer solutions, and listen to other's input for solutions. I believe my background and experience is the same as my strengths

HANK STEPHENS: I have worked with and for the City of Effingham in a number of capacities for much of my career, and I believe that my understanding of all aspects of city government does set me apart from other candidates.I also feel that I have the ability to work with others to achieve consensus on how we address the issues of the community. In my 23 years as a commissioner and City Attorney, the city had strong, positive relationships with Unit 40, the Effingham Park District, Effingham County and other taxing bodies, and I think I can help to restore those great relationships.

I think my undergraduate degree in government and my law degree have prepared me well from an educational point of view. As mentioned before, I have four years of experience as a commissioner, 19 years as the City Attorney, and a number of years in which I worked in a consulting capacity in economic development. I feel that this has given me a good understanding of all aspects of the city.

KEVIN WILLIS: A strong commitment to the community from being a lifelong citizen of Effingham with a combined total of 25 years of service via the Effingham Police Department and Effingham City Council. Also, a practical business sense from being a small business owner for over 25 years.

The knowledge gained from being a city commissioner for the last 4 years has been very valuable in understanding the abilities and needs of the community. I also believe my experience as a small business owner and public servant have given a unique insight into the Effingham community.

Is there a parking problem downtown Effingham? What would you suggest the city do to fix the parking issues downtown?

DON ALTHOFF: Yes, there has always been parking issues downtown. For the 11 years I co-owned Popcorn Treats N’ Other Eats (downtown Effingham) and I personally dealt with it for our customers. There is a need to add additional parking and I think the best solution for this to happen would be to have diagonal parking on one side of the street and parallel on the other. Which means the road would then be a lane and a half which would allow for drivers to move around other cars which are parking and/or delivery trucks. Also, I am not against the outside public cafe permits, but I do not agree with the idea of fencing it in permanently, which would decrease the parking availability for the entire year. There is a better approach to whole concept and to satisfy not only the citizens, but also business owners. I have personally been contacted by current business owners and citizens concerning possible solutions.I value the input of the citizens and look out for their interest.

KEVIN ESKER: Yes. The city needs to work with the county for alternative parking and pursue different opportunities of for more parking. Business workers and residents need to work together to park a little further from their front door leaving prime parking for clients and shoppers. If property could be purchased a reasonable price for additional parking lots, I feel the city should pursue adding more public parking.

MERV GILLENWATER: I think this issue is more a perception and what people have come to expect. The perception by some people is that there are not enough parking spaces in the downtown area. However, according to our engineering department, a recent survey of parking spaces in the downtown area indicated that there are at least 727 parking spaces in the downtown area. At least 13 of these were created this year. So, there really are plenty of parking spaces.Some of these spaces are located in parking lots or along streets which may be a block or so away from stores or offices where some people want to shop or do business. People might consider that to be too far to walk and do not believe these spaces should be included as being downtown parking spaces.

Another issue is that many downtown workers park in the spaces near shopping and dining areas all day. We have asked that these workers be considerate and use parking lots if they don’t intend to move their vehicles until the end of their work shifts. The city is also continuing to try to create more parking spaces around the old court house and along Jefferson Ave. and the side streets.

LARRY MICENHEIMER: Effingham has a downtown parking problem that is the result of a vibrant, growing downtown with a variety of attractions. It is important that our downtown continues down the successful path Effingham has enjoyed for many years. Parking is a crucial issue if we want downtown Effingham to be a destination for both locals and out-of-town visitors. A comprehensive plan must include cooperation of the county, city, and private business-owners to address the parking problem.

JAYNE MILLER: Yes, there is a parking problem, but I’m not convinced that it should be fixed at the expense of city tax payers only. It should be a joint effort between the city and the county. This problem didn’t happen overnight. It’s ongoing and increases with each new business that opens. We want to encourage new business, so this is an issue that will require extensive thought, research, cooperation and money.

LIBBY MOELLER: There is a parking problem downtown. But let's be real, this is a good problem. There is so much good stuff going on downtown that we are seeing inconveniences like parking occurring. When a problem like this arises their is great opportunity! The first step is the city and county collaborating on solutions and allowing both entities the opportunity to contribute to the solutions.

HANK STEPHENS: There is obviously a parking problem downtown. If there is such a thing as a good problem, this is it, as it is the result of us having a dynamic downtown. Yet it is a problem nonetheless, and I think it must be addressed in a comprehensive manner with all of the downtown stakeholders, public and private, being involved in a solution that can be a win for everyone. I don’t know what that solution is today, but I think we can collectively figure it out if we can bring all parties to the table and have open discussions about what makes sense for everyone.

KEVIN WILLIS: There are always issues with parking in the downtown area and I feel this is directly related to the progression and expansion of the businesses that have recently opened in that area. Without trying to inconvenience anyone the first step would be to encourage all the employees and business owners to park in areas that allow for the patrons of those businesses to have closer access. This could allow the city to explore options for parking.

Is there a housing shortage in Effingham? If so, how would you address the city’s housing needs?

DON ALTHOFF: Yes, we have a housing shortage in Effingham. There are three subdivisions being built right now which will help put medium range housing on the market. I do not think that the city should compete against the private sectors.

KEVIN ESKER: There is a shortage of middle income housing and this is being addressed with the Goldstein subdivision in process north of town. Another opportunity could be demolition and re-build of existing houses in poor condition. This would save the developer the cost of building roads and utilities, as well as improve the overall city appearance. I think the city needs to work with developers of new subdivisions and come up with incentives and requirement compromises to benefit both parties.

MERV GILLENWATER: There is a housing shortage but possibly not as bad as people might believe. The city conducts routine visits with businesses. During these visits we ask them what are their concerns. For years the lack of available, well-qualified workers has been a problem. The city has been working on this problem for as long as I have been on the city council. We are still working on it. The problem is when we work with housing developers the city is not allowed to provide the particulars of the development until the plans have been finalized, which is the situation we are in with several developers. Recently, the city held a town hall meeting of those in the housing industry to discuss the housing concerns. In my opinion, the meeting went very well. I think those that came were surprised at what efforts the city has made and how the city is continuing to try to help with the expansion of housing in Effingham.

LARRY MICENHEIMER: As we continue to grow and attract businesses (and their employees) to Effingham, it is crucial that we have affordable housing for citizens across the total economic spectrum. Affordable housing options may include tax incentives for both home owners and subdivision developers.

JAYNE MILLER: I’m not so sure there is a housing shortage. As I placed signs throughout the community, I noted many houses for sale and rent, as well as apartments. Perhaps we should study it further and consider incentives for new development by local developers, but I don’t feel that tax dollars should be used to fully fund a housing project.

LIBBY MOELLER: Yes. And it snowballs into a conversation on what we think is quality housing and what is affordable housing. This is an issue that would be best served with short and long terms goals and solutions. My first desire in addressing this issue is surveying what the taxpayers want and what private investors are willing to scale.

HANK STEPHENS: I have been concerned for many years about the lack of housing development within the city. Developers for a number of reasons have decided that it is easier to develop on the outskirts of town, which has resulted in not only a loss of potential revenue for the city but also in the loss of talented people who are not eligible to serve on our boards and commissions. Part of what is driving people away is our property tax inequity as I discussed earlier, but from my conversations with developers it appears that the city has become a development unfriendly city, and we need to figure out how to change that. We also need to be willing to think outside of the box for a solution, much as the Village of Dieterich has been doing for many years. I was fortunate to be working with Dieterich in the early years of their residential development planning and it was a tremendous example of what can be done when all of the stakeholders get together and set out to do something that is for the greater good of the community.

KEVIN WILLIS: This is a question that is difficult to answer with just a “yes’ or “no”. Housing choices are very specific to a family’s wants, needs and abilities, but I do believe that Effingham offers a range of opportunities for developers, builders and buyers from renting to owning.

What motivated you to seek election?

DON ALTHOFF: There are a lot of unsolved issues/problems that I would like continue working on to get resolved and I enjoy serving the people and being the voice for them. I started the concept of rebuilding/reconstructing the Heart Theater to keep the downtown area thriving. A board has been formed with plans to start fund raising to keep things moving forward with this project.

KEVIN ESKER: I am a candidate with extensive private business experience and understand that government and private businesses need to work together to achieve the same goals. I feel that I understand the citizens and represent them as one of the current commissioners.

MERV GILLENWATER: I have served the public since I was 18. I served in the military, was a police officer for approximately 40 years, taught college and for the past 12 years served on the city council. Working with people is what I know and love.

LARRY MICENHEIMER: My motivation to seek election actually began last fall when my school bus was stopped by a train on South Banker Street. As I sat at the crossing, I knew this problem would be best addressed by the team at City Hall. That train made me reflect on my previous term as a commissioner and my desire to grow our community to its fullest potential. I am really proud of the accomplishments during my term from 2007-2011. The TREC trail, the Workman Sports Center, the Effingham Public Library, the Effingham Performance Center, and the hiring of Jim Arndt, as the first City Administrator were among our successes. I look forward to serving this community in any way I can.

JAYNE MILLER: I’ve always believed that you cannot complain unless you are informed and involved. Effingham is my home. I was born here, worship here, and my husband and I raised our family here. I’ve been involved with city government for more than half my life, and I talked about running for City Council long before my retirement. I want to continue to be involved and encourage others to be involved, and I feel my knowledge and my experience would be an asset to our community.

LIBBY MOELLER: I have always been civic minded and have felt it a priority, personally, to engage and serve in the community. It is important to me that the council broadens its representation of the citizens of Effingham. On several occasions, my husband and I have considered moving to areas close like Teutopolis, Dieterich, or the Lake Sara area.We always came back to staying in the city limits of Effingham. The pros for us have always outweighed everything else. As an Effingham native, I firmly believe the city of Effingham is a great community! I want to be a part of that in this role as commissioner. There is always room for improvement and opportunities for growth and change.  Operating efficiently and effectively on behalf of the taxpayers should be the highest priority. We need to keep Effingham thriving and prosperous so people choose to live here and raise their children in our wonderful community.

HANK STEPHENS: Obviously, City of Effingham government has been very important to me throughout my entire career. For the last few years I have been away from it, which has been OK but I have never stopped being interested in what is going on. I am concerned that in recent years the city has not been doing the things necessary in the economic development arena to insure a strong future for the next generation, and a number of people in the community who share that concern encouraged me to get back involved. So, I decided to give it a shot.

KEVIN WILLIS: It has always been my pleasure to be able to serve the community that I have been raised in and I would like to continue to serve another term to see some of the projects that I spoke about to completion.