BATAVIA – Thomas M. Connelly was chosen to fill Batavia’s 4th Alderman position, in what Mayor Jeff Schielke said was perhaps the closest count Batavia has ever had to appoint an open seat on the City Council.
The vote, which took place during Batavia’s Oct. 5 City Council closed Executive Session, was taken after Council members in an open session interviewed Connelly and two other candidates who had stepped forward to vie for the spot recently vacated by Joe Knopp.
Knopp resigned from his position effective Sept. 30, due to a move he and wife are making to rural Winnebago County.
Connelly, an attorney with Meyers & Flowers, LLC in St. Charles, said he grew up in a family of police officers and municipal workers. He and his wife have lived in Batavia for three years, where they purchased their first home in the 4th ward about 18 months ago. He said that although he has not lived in Batavia as long as the other candidates, he believes that will allow him to bring a fresh and unique perspective to the City Council.
Connelly said that he is in awe of Batavia’s history, and that he was drawn to the city by its rich and important history, which includes a beautiful downtown area, with its beautiful limestone buildings.
“I’m in Batavia for the long haul,” he told the City Council members. “I look forward to raising my growing family here.”
Connelly is 29, and he and his wife have their first child on the way. He said he feels the biggest asset that he brings to the position will be his ability to represent the interests and concerns of younger residents, like those buying their first home in Batavia.
He said he also brings his legal education and professional experience, which has taught him to be reasoned and analytical in making decisions. As an attorney, he said he makes difficult decisions on a daily basis, based on facts and not emotions.
According to his firm’s website, Connelly graduated summa cum laude from Northern Illinois University College of Law, where he was also lead articles editor of the Law Review.
“Tom understands the importance of being knowledgeable in the law and in command of the facts and issues of each case,” the website states.
During the interviewing process, Connelly said that Batavia’s biggest asset is the Depot Pond, calling it a “great meeting place.” When asked which of the five options he would choose from those offered by the city to address the Fox River dam issue, he said that he would be in favor of completely removing the dam that is failing, and using a berm to keep the Depot Pond at its current level.
“That’s the more cost-effective option,” he said.
He said Batavia’s biggest challenge is the number of vacant restaurants.
He views the role of an alderman as not only representing the constituents of his own ward, but also the city as a whole, as well as future residents.
He said he views TIFs favorably, and that over time, the taxing bodies stand to benefit from the projects funded in that way. He said he doesn’t know if he sees the need for a second bridge and does not know if it would be worth the money. Connelly also said he would not be in favor of dipping into the reserves budget.
The other two candidates interviewed were Susan Alderson and Jamie Saam.
Alderson ran for the 4th Ward alderman spot in 2019, losing to Knopp by 19 votes. Alderson, who has lived in Batavia for 22 years, has been a small business owner of a local balloon shop, and is currently a senior manager of instructional design for DeVry University.
Saam served as 4th Ward alderman from 2013 to 2015, subsequently serving as the executive director of Batavia MainStreet, a not-for-profit that helps to bring local businesses to Batavia. She and her husband own Bulldog Plumbing and she is co-owner of Local Connect, a marketing firm that promotes local businesses. She is president-elect of the Batavia Chamber of Commerce. Saam has lived in Batavia since she was in 5th grade.
Several Council members said that it was gratifying to have three residents step up to offer to serve on the Council.
“It speaks volumes for Batavia,” said City Council member Tony Malay.
Schielke explained that the way aldermen are appointed in Batavia is somewhat different from how it is done in other municipalities. Although he has the authority to simply appoint someone himself, his preference is to have the Council members take their own vote.
He asked the two candidates who narrowly missed winning the vote to “stay involved.”
“There are things we’ll definitely need you to step up for,” Malay added.