Springfield Elections: City Clerk's Race
Springfield voters will again decide between Rianne Hawkins and incumbent Frank Lesko for city clerk when they head to the polls April 2.
The city clerk performs a range of duties and legal requirements for city council, including recording meeting minutes, filing municipal records, and drafting agendas.
Lesko narrowly beat Hawkins by a 51-49 margin in 2015.
NPR Illinois talked with Hawkins about her plans to win back the office.
Lesko did not respond to several phone requests for an interview.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
For people who are not familiar with you, can you talk about who you are and why you're running?
RH: My name is Rianne Hawkins and I'm a candidate running for Springfield city clerk. The short answer is I’m running to move Springfield forward. I believe, fundamentally, that government makes its best decision when we all have a seat at the table to participate in the debates. I think the clerk's office plays an integral role in making sure that everyone at that table has access to as much information as possible, so that we can all make the best decisions for our community moving forward.
What do you think the most important role of a city clerk is?
RH: The city clerk fulfills a lot of important goals in City Hall. I joke sometimes — only half kidding — that the city clerk's office is the most important job at City Hall, because it's the keeper of the information. It's the information hub for the city. Most everything that flows through the city in some way, shape or form is touched by the clerk's office. And I believe that it's the duty of the clerk to make sure that those records remain open and accessible to all the citizens of Springfield.
What do you think is something that's working well in the current city clerk's office?
RH: The the employees in the current city clerk's office are phenomenal. The combined experience of them is about 70 years of City Hall experience. They're very knowledgeable and they're very, very good at their job.
What is something that isn't working so well in the current city clerk's office?
RH: Unfortunately, quite a bit. I find that there are continuing issues with the city clerk's website. Just recently, we found that the city clerk had posted the wrong information when it came to deadlines for voting in the spring elections. It's almost impossible to find certain ordinances or historical information on the website. If you wanted to look back on how your alderman voted on a certain issue, it's difficult to locate that information. Similarly, I think that the social media channels have been underutilized — and just in general, the the lack of attention to detail. The city clerk's office is a very detail-oriented office, and it's incumbent on the clerk to make sure that the correct information is put out to the public. I don't believe that that's happening currently.
You ran against Frank Lesko in 2015 and it was a really tight race. You got around 49 percent of the vote. What is different about your campaign this time around?
RH: Well, I think we weren't able to talk to as many people last time and I think that made a real difference in the race and I think it showed. This time we're making a concerted effort to get out there and talk to more people — to introduce myself to more people — so that they can get to know me, get to know my family and get to know my plans for the office. I think that I have a very specific vision for the office, and that is to be more open and transparent for the citizens of Springfield. And I have a plan on how I hope to make that happen. Once I explain that to people, hopefully they will choose to vote for me.
Can you run through what your plan to increase transparency and citizen participation would be?
RH: It starts with utilizing the assets that are already available to the clerk. Better organization on the website is key. The website is the 24/7 office for the city clerk. Anybody can go and visit that site. And I want to make it more easy to navigate for people looking for information. I also want to go out into the community and host forums in the community, similar to the way Mayor Langfelder has done the ward community meetings. But I want to go out and teach people how to file FOIAs, teach them about the Open Meetings Act, teach people about the records that they are able to get through the City Clerk's office, so that they can then utilize that information to: a) become better informed, and b) participate in their governments and hold their elected officials accountable with the issues that that are important to them.
I want to also increase the different meeting agendas that are available on the city clerk's websites. City Council is just one of the many public meetings that happen at City Hall. The Oak Ridge Cemetery Board of Managers has a regular meeting that's open to the public. There's a committee called the Specifications Committee, which deals with the contracting that happens at City Hall through the different departments. That’s a meeting that's open to the public. I think making sure that the information about those meetings is posted in a timely manner in a way that people can find out more about their government and what's happening with their city government is my ultimate goal.
Is there anything else you'd like voters to know?
RH: I served as the deputy city clerk four years ago, from 2011 to 2015. During my time as deputy city clerk, I completely fell in love with the office. There is a lot of potential in the office — a lot of areas where we can grow and we could utilize new technology to make our city not only work more efficiently, but also to encourage citizen participation. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened the last four years. I would like to get back into the office so that I can continue my passion for the work and to help make city government more open, accessible, transparent, less mysterious so that people can get involved in their government. That's the ultimate goal of the clerk is to encourage people to get involved in their local government. It would be my dream to have more people around that table helping to make decisions so that we can all participate in the future and what our Springfield looks like.