The city of Braidwood Board of Commissioners meeting was packed this week as the community of about 6,200 residents saw yet another new mayor take office after an election.
Bob Jones, a local business owner, defeated mayor Jim Vehrs, by 33 votes in the April municipal election. Jones said he thought the voters felt the candidates running who already had been in public office weren’t doing a good job and that he benefited from their dissatisfaction.
“I kind of thought I was going to have a chance at it because [the other candidates] were cutting each others’ throats,” Jones said in reaction to his win. “I wasn’t too surprised.”
It’s a familiar occurrence over the years in Braidwood: the incumbent mayor voted out after only one term.
Braidwood has not reelected an incumbent mayor since at least 1995, the city clerk said. Some locals said the streak is even longer.
Rich Girot, who ran for mayor in 2019, was elected mayor in 1995; Harvey Taylor was elected in 1999; Wayne T. Saltzman in 2003; Sue Grygiel in 2007; Jerry Pressley in 2011; Bill Rulien for a two-year term in 2013; Vehrs in 2015; and now Jones in 2019.
Jones, along with three other challengers to Vehrs, decried what they saw as a bloated budget, specifically with the police department.
When asked what his first priority was, Jones said he’ll focus on “cutting back on our big expenditures.”
Jones also said he probably will be making other changes in city government and will be “looking into” changing the commissioner style of government which nearly all candidates, including Vehrs, described as antiquated and ineffective.
Vehrs and Braidwood Police Chief Nick Ficarello argued that they had to step up their efforts to combat the opioid epidemic and they saw tremendous progress under the previous administration.
Braidwood went from having one of the highest overdose death rates per capita in the state to going more than a year between 2017 and 2018 without one death.
However, the city had several overdose deaths in 2018 involving fentanyl.
One of those deaths was that of Samantha Kile, a 22-year-old who died of an overdose in November. Her stepfather, Chris Earling, was at the board meeting this week to express his disapproval of the outgoing administration.
Earling said he supported Girot for mayor but was more concerned with ousting the incumbent. He said he drove his pickup truck around with a sign reading, “Anybody but Jim Vehrs,” along with the names of nearly all the commissioners.
Earling has complained that Vehrs and the city used “every bit of money” they could to fund the “overgrown police department,” and despite that spending, did not do enough to clean up the streets, which is why he wanted to see a change.
“I think that every four years everybody is not happy that they didn’t get enough, and they think somebody new is going to be able to fix it,” Earling said.
He also said that despite the challenges Jones will face during his tenure in office, he still is satisfied with the result of the election and made his feelings known at the city meeting.
“I’m extremely happy to work with Bob,” Earling said.
With the city’s track record of ousting incumbents, Jones knows he has to be able to say he accomplished something during the next four years.
He said he will be focusing on bringing new businesses to Braidwood and improving the city’s reputation to make it a more friendly and welcoming place.
“I’m going to make the most of the next four years,” Jones said. “I’ve got to make the town better so people come to our town.”