Champaign gets Feinen to fill seat on Council

By Susan Kantor

The Champaign City Council elected Deborah Feinen to fill the vacant council chair Wednesday night during the council’s regular meeting.

Feinen received the minimum five votes from Michael La Due, Vic McIntosh, Marci Dodds, Thomas Bruno and Mayor Gerald Schweighart. Feinen took office after resigning from the county board Wednesday morning.

She said her priorities as a council member are to learn how the city works and continue building her relationship with the staff during the next months.

“I’m excited to be back representing my friends and neighbors,” Feinen said. Feinen also said she is looking forward to being a voice for the citizens of this community.

Bruno said that Feinen was his top choice out of a group of extremely qualified people vying for this position.

“She brings 14 years experience in local government,” Bruno said. “She is already familiar with the issues and has established a rapport with the residents of the city of Champaign because she has been a representative for a number of years.”

Feinen has lived in Champaign since her childhood and calls the city home. Her mother was a circuit clerk, which she said exposed her to politics at a young age. She was a member of the county board for 14 years and was a precinct committee member, and she ran for state representative in 2004, losing to Naomi Jakobsson (D-Urbana).

Before the vote, debate was sparked when Tracy Parsons, head of the Urban League of Champaign County, addressed the way Patricia Avery, another candidate for the at-large vacancy and a black Democrat, had been treated by the council at last Tuesday’s meeting.

At that meeting, Council members questioned Avery about arriving late, leaving early and missing meetings, Parsons said.

“Each call was an individual shocked and deeply offended by the way a person that expressed themselves as a candidate for a city council position had been treated here at the council,” he said about calls he received after Tuesday’s meeting. “Each person talked about fairness of the questions, but more importantly, the tone of the council being disrespectful, unnecessary and demeaning.”

An anonymous letter highlighting problems with Avery’s candidacy was placed in Avery’s packet for the council.

“I think most of the community was unaware of any letter having been written about Trish Avery until she came up and led her remarks with ‘I haven’t been fairly allowed to apply for this office because of an anonymous letter,'” said Bruno, council member at-large.

Councilwoman Gina Jackson objected to the letter.

“I took offense to (the letter) because it was very cowardly, and I felt it was totally irrelevant and should have not been included in any way, shape or form,” Jackson said.

Feinen replaces Kathy Ennen, who resigned from her seat at the end of June. Ennen, a seven-year council member, decided to resign when her husband got a new job in North Carolina.

Ennen was often the swing vote in a council split over business and social concerns. Ennen resigned about one year after Marci Dobbs was chosen instead of Feinen.

Ryan Ruzic, Illinois Student Senate president, was also appointed to the Liquor Advisory Commission in Champaign with a vote of 8-0.

Ruzic was nominated by the student senate to serve as the student representative on the commission.

Eric Chima and Frank Radosevich II contributed to this story

Deborah Frank Feinen

  • Age: 39
  • Education: Degree in psychology and education from Mount Holyoke College and a law degree from IIT Chicago Kent College of Law.
  • Prior political experience: Served on Champaign County Board for 14 years. She was elected to the board when she was a law student.
  • On her goals as a member of the council: “Mostly city government is making sure that city services are delivered in an efficient matter. I’d like to help the city to encourage in-fill development and economic development.”