On Tuesday, Feb. 26, Republican candidates for alderman in Morris’s Fourth Ward — incumbent Bill Martin and newcomer Lori Werden — will face off in the primary election.
Whomever wins Tuesday’s race will run unopposed in the April 9 election for the Fourth Ward seat on the Morris City Council.
Although both candidates share a political party and even some goals, they come from different backgrounds.
Incumbent Martin is a life-long resident of Morris who has had his eye on politics since his college days, when he graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in social science and minor in political science and sociology.
“I’ve always wanted to work with people and I have always enjoyed it,” said Martin. “Since getting involved with the city council about five years ago, I’ve gotten a better handle on what is going on in the community in a more hands-on capacity.”
Martin is a member of the Local 75 Laborers Union.
Newcomer Werden is not a Morris native, but she grew up in the Serena and Seneca areas and has made Morris her home for the last nine years.
Almost a year ago, she became the office manager for Donico Inc. in Morris, which is a company that produces gaming equipment. But before that, she came from the banking industry as branch manager at First National Bank in Morris. She was in the banking industry for 10 years.
“I have been interested in local government for quite some time. I have always had a hidden passion for it and saw an opportunity and jumped for it,” said Werden. “I started getting excited when (State’s Attorney Jason Helland) was running. It got my juices going for it and I thought, why not?”
Alderman Martin was appointed to replace former alderwoman Martha Shugart in 2008. He then ran for election unopposed. He previously ran for the Grundy County Board, but lost the election by a narrow margin before he was appointed to the council.
He currently serves as the chairman of the council’s Finance & Administration Committee. This committee, he said, has continued to work to keep the city’s property tax rate at 65 cents and plans to make this a continuous goal if re-elected.
Some significant action he has voted for as alderman includes voting against the proposed landfill expansion, and to decrease the alderman’s pay from $5,800 a year to $4,800.
While Martin has been serving the council and leading the finance committee, the city’s credit rating has increased to an Aa2 rating, just two steps behind the highest rating you can have.
“For a city this size, that is remarkable, especially in the last four years of the toughest economy since the Great Depression,” said Martin.
While on the council, Martin also voted in favor of building the new Morris Municipal Services Facility and remodeling the Morris pool. These are two projects that have been criticized by some, he said, but new and improved infrastructure in the city is what attracts new development to a city.
And both projects were paid for with cash, the city acquired no debt with these improvements, said Martin. Also, he said, both were necessary for the city. It had grown out of its previous city hall and police station, and the pool was in great need of improvements.
“It’s my goal to continue to work hard to try and clean up the city’s blighted areas, for example the old papermill. We are currently obtaining more property over there and I want to continue to work on cleaning and improving it,” he said.
Martin said he also voted in favor of trying to obtain a federal grant for money to have a physical engineering study done to look at the potential for flooding throughout parts of the city. Some homeowners within the Fourth Ward are in a flood plain requiring them to pay for expensive flood insurance, but the area hasn’t flooded in decades. The study could have helped these residents be removed from the flood plain.
Although this didn’t occur, Martin said he is committed to continuing to try to find a solution for these people.
“I will continue to do everything in my power as alderman to try and get a new flood plain survey for the Fourth Ward residents,” he said.
Working with the council and mayor to attract new business and industry to the city is also a priority for Martin, but in a controlled manner and still while being mindful of the taxpayer’s money.
Martin said he is the best candidate for the Fourth Ward alderman position because, as a Morris native, he has seen where Morris has been and where it needs to go.
With his political science education and past experience on the council, he is already familiar with the city’s wants and needs and will continue to better the community, he said.
Martin is married to Meghan Martin, a grant coordinator for Premier Academy in Morris.
Werden said she may not have any government experience, but it is time for a change at the local level and her determination is what makes her the best choice.
“I think it is time for a woman’s perspective, it’s long over due,” said Werden.
Although she is not sure how the rest of the male-dominated council will feel about a woman joining their team, she said she would have no problem taking her place on the council and gaining respect.
Her top priority is going to be getting the Fourth Ward homes out of the flood plain so those residents can save the hundreds they spend a year on flood insurance.
“I also want to give everyone in the Fourth Ward a voice. I think a lot of people are feeling they have been forgotten and I don’t want them to feel that way anymore,” Werden said. “I want to take their issues to the council.”
For First National Bank, she sat on four committees that worked on the leadership, operations, management and compliance of the bank, so she is used to working as part of a team, she said. With her financial background, she said, she can help to balance the city’s budget.
“I think there is a lot of purchasing that can be done collectively for better pricing,” she said.
Werden said she is the right candidate for the Fourth Ward because she will not only listen to residents, but she will fight for them.
She said the council needs a new person to mix it up a bit.
“A lot of them have been there for a long time and have gotten comfortable and are not necessarily doing what they were put there to do. It’s time for a change,” said Werden.
Werden is married to Morris police detective Eric Werden. She has two children and two stepchildren ranging from 14 to 23 years old.