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6 candidates seeking 2 open city council seats

Appointed Urbana members face challenges to retain positions.

Residents will have a diverse pool of candidates to choose from in November when they vote to decide who will fill two vacant seats on Urbana City Council.

In all, six candidates will be on the ballot to fill the two at-large seats on the council. The race will include a mix of incumbents and first-time candidates as well as others with a wide range of backgrounds.

In one race, incumbent Doug Hoffman will try to keep his seat on the council against Richard Kerns and Tony Pena. Kerns worked at the former Fox River Paper Co. for several decades, while Pena serves as a youth and children’s pastor at the River of Life Christian Center in Urbana.

The other seat was left open when former council member Larry Lokai retired earlier this year. Amy White, a financial aid analyst at Urbana University, was appointed to fill the vacancy. But she will have to defend her seat against Pat Thackery, a local business owner, and Richard McCain, who spent most of his career in various roles with the city, including time as a street superintendent and sewer superintendent.

Hoffman, who was appointed to his seat in 2012, said his experience has helped him become a better council member. Hoffman said he has had to make tough votes that he believes will ultimately help the city, including a decision to increase sewer rates to help cover the cost to build a new wastewater treatment facility for the city.

Earlier this year, council members voted to approve a $17.6 million wastewater treatment facility, because the current facility on Muzzy Road was nearing its capacity. To help cover some of the cost, sewer rates for residents are expected to increase by about $6 per year for the next three years.

Hoffman said the facility was necessary to allow more business to move to the city, but said any decision that means higher costs for residents is tough.

“That was a really tough decision to make, knowing you’re going to impact people’s sewer rates,” Hoffman said. “That’s not something you take lightly.”

Hoffman said he thinks the city is headed in the right direction. As a council member, he said his job is to keep an eye on how the city spends its money and to act as a point of contact between residents and the city’s administration.

“You’re kind of a liaison between the administration and the citizens,” Hoffman said.

Kerns is a lifelong Urbana resident who worked at the former Fox River Paper Co. for more than 40 years before retiring. As a council member, he said he’d be an asset because he’s been active in organizations such as the Champaign County Board of Elections and the city’s Charter Review Board.

As a council member, Kerns said he’d be able to work well with the administration and other council members, but would also make sure to keep a close eye on how the city spends its money. Previously, Kerns has run for seats in the city’s 3rd ward and as a county commission candidate, but was unsuccessful.

“I’m not going to be a council member who just sits up there and says yes,” Kerns said.

Pena is running for office for the first time and serves as a youth pastor at the River of Life Christian Center in Urbana. He also is a substitute bus driver for Urbana City Schools and said his connections throughout the city will help him be a good liaison between residents and the city’s administration.

He said in dealing with younger residents, he knows the issues they face. Pena said he would work with other council members to make sure there are enough jobs and opportunities to encourage younger residents to stay in the city.

“I know the heartbeat of the city because I know the people,” Pena said.

The other at-large seat will pit Amy White against Pat Thackery and Richard McCain. White has served on the council since she was appointed in July this year. She said it’s important to keep residents informed of what is happening in the city. If elected, she said it’s especially important for council members to keep a close watch on the city’s finances with the current economy.

“We have to remain good stewards of the money we’re entrusted with,” White said.

McCain, who spent four decades working for the city in various roles, said he knows the city’s operations well, which would be beneficial to the council. The council’s job is to legislate and appropriate finances, McCain said, as well as to keep communication open between residents and the city’s administration.

“I know a lot of the city operations and how it operates,” McCain said.

Thackery, a local restaurant owner, said he’s spent his career in private business and thinks he can bring a fresh perspective to the council. He thinks some city ordinances can be tweaked to make them more friendly to small businesses. If elected, Thackery said he’d be able to provide some input from a business perspective, and focus on improving quality of life in Urbana.

“If you make Urbana a really nice place to live, people will show up,” Thackery said.

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