It was a brief but groundbreaking ceremony when Bill Payne began his tenure as a Glen Ellyn trustee.
Payne was appointed by board members to finish out the remaining two years in the trustee term of Mark Senak, who was elected village president in April.
Payne, who has spent much of his career in leadership roles for communication giants AT&T, Motorola and Nokia, took his seat on the board this week. He’s believed to be the first Black man to serve in the position in village history.
“It is about time for the board to be more diversified,” Payne said. “I’ve been here 32 years, so I’ve seen the village itself become more diverse over those years.”
To fill the vacancy, Senak asked previous and current board members to nominate a diverse slate of candidates to better reflect the village’s population. In Glen Ellyn, a town of about 28,000, 8% of residents are Asian, 4.7% are Hispanic or Latino and 3% are Black, according to the most recent census data.
But village government has historically been dominated by mostly white men.
“I bring my own experiences as an African American in Glen Ellyn to that board,” Payne said. “And there may be times where that helps in some of the decision-making.”
Eight people were identified as potential candidates, Senak said. Four were minority candidates from three different racial and ethnic backgrounds, Senak said. Of those, two decided to remove their names from consideration due to time constraints.
“We’re very much interested in continuing our efforts to promote diversity in the village,” Senak said. “And the opportunity to appoint a minority trustee demonstrates I think the village’s commitment to the concepts of diversity, equality and inclusiveness.”
Senak also wanted to help bring a geographic balance to the board and dispel the notion that Glen Ellyn is divided north and south by Roosevelt Road. Payne lives in a subdivision south of Roosevelt with his wife, Nancy, and their three adult children are graduates of Glenbard South High School.
But Payne emerged as the consensus choice because of his credentials and collaborative style, Senak said.
“While increasing the diversity of the board was one objective the board considered, it is important to note that Bill was not selected because of his race, but because he was the best-qualified person for the job,” Senak said.
Payne went to Leo Catholic High School in Chicago’s Auburn Gresham neighborhood. He has degrees in electrical engineering from Purdue University, Georgia Tech and the Illinois Institute of Technology. He holds nine U.S. patents.
And he’s currently the executive director of science and technology at the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Chicago.
In that position, Payne manages the commercialization of technologies that come out of the university’s research laboratories, including the development of intellectual property. He also helps faculty members create startups.
He’ll lend his technical expertise as a board liaison to Glen Ellyn’s capital improvements commission, an advisory panel now reviewing plans for a major streetscape and infrastructure project set to break ground in the downtown next spring.
Payne joins the board as apartment developments are on the drawing board or in the early stages of construction downtown. But he also wants to focus on the other key commercial area within Glen Ellyn: the Roosevelt Road corridor.
“We do have some former businesses that have vacated,” Payne said, “and the question will be what kinds of development can we incentivize to move into that space.”
After he completes his two-year tenure on the board, will Payne run for a full term?
“Assuming that I can make the contributions and provide the service that I think that I can,” he said, “and the mix of my work and my services to Glen Ellyn is a good healthy mix for both my work life and volunteer life, then yes, I’d like consider it.”