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Unanswered questions about candidate questions from Elgin activists OCTAVE

ShaunBittle | Staff Photographer Staff writer Mike Danahey photographed ElgIL Wednesday January 21 2009.

Shauna Bittle | Staff Photographer Staff writer Mike Danahey photographed in Elgin, IL on Wednesday, January 21, 2009.

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Updated: February 1, 2013 6:06AM

The first candidates forum for the Elgin City Council elections apparently will be held Jan. 12 and hosted by the activist group OCTAVE.

According to Facebook posts, the event is to run from 6 to 8 p.m. that Saturday at the New Covenant Church, 865 Parkway Ave.

There are 13 candidates vying for four four-year council seats April 9, and another nine are running for a two-year spot. Those nine will be cut to two after a Feb. 26 primary. I’m getting tired and confused just writing this, so imagine what it will be like hearing — or trying to arrange — any sort of panel discussion with that many people.

The Elgin OCTAVE name is an acronym for “Operant Conditioning To Achieve Voter Expectations.”

It refers to the work of social scientist B.F. Skinner, who posited that behavior can be modified by reinforcing consequences. On its website, OCTAVE once claimed it “will reward the politicians that act responsibly with positive publicity and will punish (peacefully of course!) those with a disregard for your wallet by working to oust them from office as swiftly as possible.”

In advance of the forum, one of the group’s founders, Chuck Keysor, sent the candidates a link to a survey the group would like the candidates to complete by Jan. 5. You can take a look at it yourself at:

I did. And I had questions about the questions that I emailed to Keysor. Turnabout is fair play, right?

Anyway, I am still waiting to hear back from him. Maybe he’s on vacation. I hope he’s not being like City Councilman John Prigge.

For whatever reasons, Prigge does not return any messages I leave for him by phone, email, or even on his councilman Facebook page.

As but one example, in July, behind closed doors, Prigge told his fellow council members that The Courier-News has the circulation of a church bulletin. I thought that was funny, and emailed him. I suggested he not be so dismissive about how many people read The Courier. By being part of Sun-Times Media — and because of the Internet — stories sometimes have reach beyond what the numbers may lead one to believe.

Still, no word on that or a host of other things I’ve asked him. And I wanted to kid him about only having 179 people liking his council Facebook page, which is even fewer than pick up a good church bulletin.

How this ties to OCTAVE is that in its survey, the group uses terms and phrases similar to ones Prigge has been using — such as “Rain Tax” for a stormwater utility tax the city is considering.

So among the questions I had for Keysor was: Who thought up the group’s questions? Were any other Elgin groups or any of the current council candidates consulted?

Since I didn’t get an answer, here are some of the other things I asked:

Does the group actually believe you can use operant conditioning to control the behavior of politicians? Would this be the B.F. Skinner variety? If so, has anyone with the OCTAVE group studied psychology, and does anyone know of any research linking operant conditioning to politics?

Given the large number of candidates, what will be the format of the OCTAVE forum?

Will OCTAVE actively campaign for candidates or be making any sort of endorsements?

Last election cycle, the group Association for Legal Americans — which some see as a precursor to OCTAVE — told voters not to pick Tish Powell, John Steffen or Anna Moeller. All won. So are there adjustments to conditioning that have to be made or to strategy this time?

Keysor volunteered for the Joe Walsh congressional campaign, and Walsh was a tea party-backed candidate. Is OCTAVE in any way affiliated with the tea party movement?

Do the questions reflect personal biases of the OCTAVE or are slanted to reflect such?

For instance, when Keysor asks if the city continue to fund the chamber of commerce, the survey neglects to mention that the money is payment for doing economic development work. Thus, the question might more properly be whether the city should continue to pay the chamber for such work.

As one other example, the OCTAVE survey asks candidates to rate on a scale the following statement: “It is wrong that the City of Elgin entered into a partnership with Hoffman Estates for the creation of a dog park in Hoffman Estates that cost Elgin taxpayers $52,000.”

Wasn’t the dog park created with fees collected from builders (to be used for parks)? The question seems to imply the $52,000 would be tax money out of a typical resident’s pocket. Also, the question doesn’t mention the agreement is for 25 years and has a renewal clause, and that maintenance of the park is done by Hoffman Estates.

And a final example: “It is unfair to pay the City of Elgin’s management high salaries when they also have premium pension programs that far exceed the private industry.”

Which positions does Keysor mean? Compared to what other jobs of the same sort and where? Compared to whose pension programs?

Why are these questions just “yes” or “no” or on a level of agreement scale? Is it possible for a candidate to offer a more nuanced or thorough answer or to even question your questions?

The survey asks candidates to rate on a scale, “How relevant do you believe the principles of the U.S. Constitution are to local governance?”

Is there something Keysor and OCTAVE see as unconstitutional going on in Elgin?

I hope to hear back — especially about the last issue, because that could be quite a story.

Kidding aside, while it is necessary in a democracy for citizens to question their institutions, by the same token groups that form to take it upon themselves to do so should also be held accountable for what they have to say.

Mike Danahey covers Elgin city government for The Courier-News.

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