About 20 residents from around DeKalb County spent Saturday
morning in the community room at the DeKalb police station learning
about public service, both through community volunteerism and
running for office. The workshop was hosted by #ProudlyDeKalb.
It was good to see three of the candidates for DeKalb mayor
- Mike Embrey, incumbent John Rey and Jerry Smith - plus a couple
of others who could be City Council or city clerk candidates.
Three attendees were from other communities - Malta, Cortland
The first three presenters were Greg Kuhn from the Center
for Governmental Studies at Northern Illinois University, Peter
Burchard, also from NIU and a retired city manager, plus Robert
Beezat, another retired city manager.
Seminar panelist from left: Cohen Barnes Bertrand
Simpson, Clark Neher, Brendon Gallagher, and NIU speaker Greg
Kuhn (Schrader photo for Shaw Media)
Later in the morning former city and school board officials
sat as a panel to answer questions.
They were Brendon Gallagher and Bertrand Simpson, both
past DeKalb aldermen, Cohen Barnes, a former DeKalb School District
428 board member, and Clark Neher, former president of the DeKalb
A quote I liked came from Burchard: "Never underestimate
the power of your voice."
Another piece of good advice from him: A person should
be thinking, "I am here to serve the public's interest,
not my own self-interest."
Over many years of covering government and politics, I
have found that some of the best community activists start with
one burning issue that bugs them, or one passion they want pursued.
After a few months or even years of community involvement,
some serve on a city or county committee or commission, others
even run for public office.
My personal experience at getting involved started when
we formed a citizens' committee to advocate for creating a stand-alone
community college in a large district that was dominated by those
in a larger metropolitan area.
After a year of butting heads with that board, it was suggested
I run for a board seat.
To make a long story short, I defeated a 20-year incumbent
and was elected two more times to that board. And we did get
the new college built and accredited during that time.
But I knew enough to eventually say "mission accomplished"
and move on to other interests.
Too many local officials decide the place can't get along
without them and so keep running over and over, sometimes for
the common good, other times out of self-interest and ego.
That is why I firmly believe term limits would be good
for ALL forms of government, even for appointed bodies.
It was fascinating to learn that the DeKalb mayor, with consent
of the council, has to fill no less than 96 positions on city
boards, commissions and committees.
There certainly still is room for people who want to help.
So find your passion and step up to serve your community
in some way.
For those who didn't attend the seminar Saturday but may
be interested, there is a draft document titled "A citizen's
guide to elected and appointed positions serving the City of
DeKalb," which you can request by contacting the Center
for Governmental Studies at NIU. Just call 815-753-1907. It is
full of helpful information.