The Hoopeston City Council will see several contested races this year.

In order to help provide voters with a chance to get to the candidates, the Hoopeston Education Association and Save the Lorraine Foundation presented a candidate forum March 22 at Hoopeston Area High School.

Candidates for Hoopeston City Council were each given three minutes to introduce themselves and share why they are running for election. To watch the candidate forum in full, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJS6HVkybQs

The candidate responses for each contested ward are listed below:

Ward I Candidate: Alderman Bill McElhaney

Alderman Bill McElhaney said he has served on the council for a few years and currently represents Ward I with the recently appointed Alderman Steve Eyrich.

“I serve that ward very proudly,” he said.

McElhaney said he has a home improvement business with his son, Toby, called Woodcrafters that works in and about Hoopeston. He also discussed his previous work experience and how it relates to his role on the council.

“I’ve had the pleasure to serve as team facilitator working for Chrysler and Toyota on team-building concepts and continuous improvement concepts. It was challenging, but something I saw a lot of purpose in and very useful in situations like what we have here in town.”

McElhaney started his time on the council as chairman of the cemetery committee and oversaw the purchase of a new excavator for improved service and improved safety for workers. He also oversaw the work on the roads around the cemetery and drainage concerns at the cemetery. He said they also started planning out a new addition on the east side of the cemetery before he moved to the water committee.

As water committee chairman, McElhaney said he oversaw the installation of new radio read meters. The city also received a grant for a water line project from Thompson all the way to Crown Ford, up Main Street and back to the water tower.

“That was very challenging and very rewarding to see places new and places available for businesses to come along the highway,” he said. “We also received a loan for water tower resurfacing and painting. That was a big challenge. Upgrading our water system was very important and we got that job done very well.”

McElhaney now serves on the civic committee and recently helped oversee improvements on Bank Street this year and helping the new businesses that have gone in on Bank Street with improved curbing. He’s also worked to facilitate a relationship with the new owner of the Downtown Motel as the owner works to clean-up and upgrade the building.

To close his presentation, McElhaney said he was looking to the future.

“As a council, we look forward to a bright new future in this town,” he said. “We face many, many challenges, but I see many opportunities for improvement and, working together, we can seek those things.”

Ward I Candidate: Kyle Richards

Kyle Richards has lived in Hoopeston for most of his life and graduated from high school in Hoopeston.

Richards works as maintenance supervisor for Vermilion County.

“In working with the county, I know that we have to go through certain channels to get something done,” he said.

Richards said he’s running for city council for a few different reasons, chief among them is that he wants to make a difference in his community.

“I want to make a difference in our community,” he said. “I’m ready to sit down with whatever department that I would be assigned to and try to make a difference.”

Richards also wants to be a voice for the community.

“I feel like I’m a good listener and I can convey what they want to say to the council,” he said.

Richards wants to help build a better community for future generations.

“I want my children to have the same opportunities that I had,” he said. “I had a lot of opportunities growing up, there were a lot of things for us to do. There’s not much anymore.”

Richards asked voters to give him a chance.

“Give me a chance and I’ll do what I can do,” he said.

Ward II Candidate: Alderman Carl Ankenbrand

Alderman Carl Ankenbrand started his presentation by sharing how he came to Hoopeston in the summer of 1995, driving 147 miles north to apply for a job interview for a high school art teaching position with Mark Connolly former district superintendent Mark Connelly.

“Fortunately, he decided to hire me,” Ankenbrand said.

Ankenbrand taught at the high school for 11 years and has taught at the district elementary schools for 15 years.

“I’ve made Hoopeston my home,” he said. “I could’ve chosen to live outside the city somewhere, but I chose to live in town and be a part of the town that’s why first decided to be on the council in 2002.”

Ankenbrand detailed his time as chairman of the city’s parks committee.

He said he helped save the big slide after a group wanted to tear it down and helped clean it up and put rubber mulch around it.

He also cited his role in bringing in the splash pad to replace the kiddie pool at the public pool.

“That helped at the pool as far as not having to have someone monitor that,” he said. “And luckily we had that last summer because that was a place for people to cool off because you could have that open without having the pool open.”

Ankenbrand said he also worked with former city attorney, Paul Manion, to bring the Girl Scout House into the city’s possession so the city could get a little revenue from that by renting it out.

Ankenbrand said he’s not just a follower and has his own opinions that he stands up for when considering issues before the council.

“I don’t always follow everybody,” he said. “I went into the public hearing on the Lincoln Street closure and sat in the back of the room and heard quite a few citizens saying that [the council] had already made up their mind and they’re not going to leave it open, they’re going to close it. When that vote came about, I voted no.”

Ankenbrand also pointed to his vote on idea of the city eliminating the local police dispatch positions and using the county’s service.

“I was pro-dispatch,” he said. “After we decided to keep dispatch, the council decided they wanted to add a $9 fee to help pay for that. I voted no on that budget. I didn’t think it was right for to pay that. I figured there was another way to get that money.”

Ankenbrand also commented on the disposition of vacant and dilapidated buildings in the downtown area.

“I don’t really think it’s up to the taxpayers to help pay for it,” he said.

Ankenbrand said he knows the city is currently working on ways to speed up the process of getting these buildings dealt with. He said other cities like Hoopeston around the region are facing the same issues.

“I drive 147 miles every time I go home and drive through other towns on Route 1 and you see the same thing. They’re facing the same issues,” he said. “I’d appreciate your vote to re-elect me as alderman of Ward II.”

Ward II Candidate: Kellie Ferrell

Kellie Ferrell introduced herself as a third-generation citizen of Hoopeston with her father and grandparents growing up in the city.

Ferrell believes it’s important to find something more for the city’s youth to do.

“I’m sure it’s not the first time you’ve heard that Hoopeston needs a skate and bike park and I’m sure it won’t be the last,” she said.

Ferrell said that Hoopeston seems to be stuck in its ways.

“Our thought process has always been that the way things are has always been how they are,” she said. “We don’t really try new things in Hoopeston. That’s not working for us anymore. It’s only killing us faster.”

Ferrell also spoke about the city’s ordinances.

“For ordinances, I want to see our ordinances be updated,” she said. “In the past it’s been said that ordinances don’t have the teeth they need to hold up in court. If this is true, then we need to revise them and make alterations so that they will. Some of our problems lie in the fact that we do not enforce our ordinances and I firmly believe that many of the issues that we have happening right now could have been prevented if we’d taken a firmer stance.”

Ferrell also pointed to other issues in the city such as flooding on McCracken.

“Which has been an issue for over 50 years,” she said.

Ferrell said sidewalks need to be repaired and more pride needs to be taken in the city in general.

Ferrell raised concerns of the city pool.

“We recently learned that our pool has lost nearly $800,000 in the last 10 years, but we also haven’t made a move to update it and make it more enticing for people to come here,” she said.

Ferrell spoke about taking a proactive approach to bringing new business to town.

“For businesses, I feel like we to take a more proactive approach to seek out businesses that would benefit our town, keeping an open mind about what would fit with our community as well as being open to progressive business proposals,” she said.

On spending, Ferrell said the council needs to be more cautious about spending the city’s money with long-term goals in mind.

“This is the taxpayer’s money and every purchase we make should be heavily considered,” she said. “These band-aid fixes only work for so long and we end up spending more money than we probably would have spent if we had just done it right the first time.”

Ferrell also feels the council needs to be better at communicating with residents.

“I don’t feel that waiting months for an answer is acceptable,” she said. “I understand that not everything moves at the pace that we want, but even a small update to let people know you haven’t forgotten is better than nothing. Communication with constituents is important. I’m not a fan of making people feel like they have no say of what happens with their city.”

Ferrell finished her presentation by saying she loves Hoopeston.

“I love Hoopeston. Hoopeston is my home,” she said. “You can love your hometown but still want it to do better. And I believe we can be doing better.”

Ward III Candidate: Alderman Joe Garrett

Garrett introduced himself as being born and raised in Hoopeston.

“When I say I was born here, I was born here,” he said. “I was one of the last few kids that was born at the hospital across the street here.”

Garrett said there are three things he feels the city needs to invest in: “our children, our residents and any new businesses we can bring in.”

“If we don’t start with our children, then our town will die as everyone says. If we don’t maintain our residents, eventually people will move away and, whatever the case may be, we have no town,” he said. “We can only do so much for business. Can we bring Caterpillar here? Maybe, maybe not. We lack an interstate, we lack a rail system. That’s not our fault. That’s just where Hoopeston was placed at when it started. But we can bring business here to town. It may not be a 300-400 job business, but a 10-person job business is just as good, I think.”

As for how the city can retain residents, Garrett said the key is providing a town people want to live in.

“We make a town that they want to live in,” he said. “Safety, different things they can do. We have schools, we have a grocery store, we have a Dollar General. We have several place where people can get what they need here.”

Garrett then spoke about how they can keep kids going down the path they want them to go down.

“I think that takes a community as well as the council to try and figure that out,” he said. “We have to work with each other to bring that to where our kids will go down the right path and make the right decisions and they’ll come back and stay here in town and be productive citizens.”

“There’s good and bad in every community,” Garrett said. “But I’ll guarantee there’s a lot more good in this community than there is in other communities. I’ve been through several incidents where the call was put out that somebody needs help or somebody needs this or that, doesn’t matter if it’s minutes or hours, that call is answered.”

“I’m proud to call Hoopeston my home and I think most people here are proud to call Hoopeston their home as well,” he said. “It takes a council and a community to make a city run. So when I hear Hoopeston’s dying, no, it’s not. Hoopeston’s changing, but every other town, every other city is changing as well. We have to learn to adapt to those changes, improvise for those changes and overcome those changes and challenges.”

“In short, I’d like to have the opportunity to bring try and bring those three things and keep Hoopeston growing,” Garrett said.

Ward III Candidate:

Jeff Keith

  • Editor’s Note: Jeff Keith did not participate in the Candidate’s Forum, so The Chronicle reached out to him and asked him to provide a written statement for this story. That statement is provided below:

I am a lifelong resident of Hoopeston, a member of the Hoopeston High School Class of 1981. I am divorced. I am a retired Paramedic and Pharmacy Technician, having retired early due to medical issue and on disability, but I in no way let that hinder my goals.

I am a member of Pleasant View Masonic Lodge #782 in Bismarck, Illinois, and am a 2nd Degree Mason, currently working towards my Master Mason Degree.

I spent my early years volunteering with the American Red Cross, teaching CPR, First Aid and Disaster Shelter Management. As time passed and my education increased, I started working at the former St. Elizabeth Hospital in Danville on the Inpatient Psychiatric unit where they also had the Substance Abuse Treatment Center. Having a need to be further involved and better educated, I worked on attaining my Paramedic License during the day while working the night shift. God’s good graces opened the door of opportunity and a position opened with Medix EMS. INC. — at that time the county’s only full time Paramedic service — and for the next 12 years I worked a grueling shift of 24 hours on 24 off, 24 on 48 off, frequently taking additional out-of-town transfers as needed because a dedication to helping my fellow man has always been my core life motto.

My goal as an alderman is to address and listen and respond in a timely manner by walking and talking to those in my ward and this city as a whole. I feel that as an elected official, we are responsible for more than our own ward — we are representatives of the people, and should be seen in our wards, not just having our names seen in the paper.

One of my biggest goals is to find a solution to a problem which has been addressed by many individuals and many mayors and seemingly no one has discovered the answer. The problem is that the North East side of Hoopeston has continual storm water flooding! I want to sit down with hydrologic engineers, water and soil officials and local farmers who own property bounding the city to the North and east to develop a plan to lessen the burden on our storm water system, which will also help to alleviate the property damages to residences and businesses. We need to work with the water and sewer department to identify bottlenecks and form the most cost-effective method to remediate these as rapidly as possibly, not just talk about the problem as has happened for decades, but invest in saving people’s property and businesses. I see no reason a home or business should have storm water backing up in their sanitary sewer.

I also want to address the accountability of property owners who own rental property. If you own it, you are responsible to keep it in a condition which conforms to our city ordinances, not detracting from the neighboring property values, and not contributing to vermin, vagrants going through garbage, or trash blowing across the neighborhoods. If the property becomes abandoned, the owners need to ensure that it is secured, not allowing squatters and vagrants access, which creates hazards to the neighborhoods and unsafe conditions for children.

Please take the opportunity to give me the chance to work with the mayor and the Council to address OUR issues, so we can make Hoopeston a better place as each day progresses.

Vote on April 6, St. Anthony’s Catholic Church Parish Hall. Your vote would be much appreciated.

Ward IV Candidate: Chris Small

Chris Small thanked the Hoopeston Area Board of Education, Superintendent Robert Richardson, the Hoopeston Education Association and the Save the Lorraine Foundation for hosting the candidate forum.

Small said he serve as an accountant at thyssenkrupp Presta in Danville for the past eight years and served in the Army for 15 years and currently is medically retired. He went straight into the Army after graduating high school and was medically discharged from the Army in June 2001.

Small said he was fortunate enough to serve as a member of the Hoopeston Area Board of Education for nearly 10 years.

He said he was born in Dubuque and has lived in Hoopeston since 2005. He and his wife, Becky, married in 2001 and moved to Hoopeston after he graduated from Middle Tennessee University.

Discussing why he’s the right person to represent Ward IV on the council, Small cited his nearly 10 years of experience on the Hoopeston Area Board of Education and as board vice president for the final two years of his time on the board.

He also pointed to his military experience.

“My military experience was invaluable and made me a leader and a person who is not afraid to take charge,” he said.

Small also reiterated his commitment to Hoopeston.

“Hoopeston is my home and the community in which I have decided to live in and raise my family,” he said. “We want to see it grow and prosper.”

Small said he wasn’t a “Good Ol’ Boy” and said that his decisions will be his own.

Small commented on the one percent sales that was on the ballot during the last election and was aimed at providing additional revenue for school districts in the county.

Small said he wasn’t a fan of the tax and has no problem providing his views on an issue.

“I have no problem whatsoever speaking up,” he said. “I haven’t met a tax that I liked. I haven’t met a fee increase that I loved. I think it should always be, if it at all happens, the very last thing that we do.”

Ward IV Candidate:

Bob Porth

When he first announced he’d be running for city council, Bob Porth was asked why he’d want to go from his position as manager at IGA to serving on the council.

“I was asked what was I thinking to retire from a job 35 years with just a little bit of stress to take on this opportunity,” he said. “It wasn’t something I just decided to do. It was something I’d thought about for years, but, with the position I held, I knew if I’m going to take on another position I’m going to have the time to do it and do it properly. Being retired now, I do have the time to devote to it.”

Porth said he brings some of the skills from his previous position at IGA with him as a candidate for the council seat.

“Communicating, listening, in some cases moderating discussions, to get things done,” he said. “Being store manager, you don’t just do it yourself, you’ve got to get everybody involved and opinions on both sides, whether it be customers or employees, to work towards a common goal. I hope to bring that to the city council. That is, to work as a group to reach a goal.”

Porth said Hoopeston faces many challenges and he wants to help the city face them.

“There’s a lot of challenges that face Hoopeston,” he said. “There’s been a lot of changes in the 35 years that I’ve been here, but you can’t remember the past, it’s over with, we have to figure out where we need to be in the future and start working as a group, as a council with the mayor, with the community, to try and achieve what we need to be in the future and ongoing.”

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