DeKALB – DeKalb alderman Victor Wogen stepped down from office early Monday morning, citing that a difficult divorce is making it hard for him to represent the community.
He announced his resignation about 8 a.m. on WLBK 1360-AM. In the 12-minute interview with morning-show host Terry Ryan, Wogen said his decision was based solely on personal reasons and not to controversy surrounding city contracts awarded to his now-defunct masonry company.
"With what we're going through in the personal life, the alderman position in the whole scheme of things is really, really not important to me at this point," Wogen said on-air. "And I think for me and my kids to move forward, we need to just concentrate on what we need to do for the future and we need to move on."
Wogen was charged in August with two counts of domestic battery after police said he shoved his wife during an argument. The case is scheduled for a status hearing Jan. 7.
DeKalb Mayor Kris Povlsen said he had spoken to Wogen and knew about his plans to resign.
"We've talked about this for the last couple of months," Povlsen said. "I encouraged him to really evaluate his life and his ability to responsibly serve the citizens of the 3rd Ward, and he came to the decision it was important he move on and attend to issues in his personal life."
Wogen faxed a letter of resignation to Povlsen at City Hall on Monday. In the letter, Wogen stated that "it has been an honor to serve the residents of the 3rd Ward and I wish you and the rest of the city future success."
Attempts to reach Wogen for comment were unsuccessful.
Because there are less than 18 months left in Wogen's term – his seat is up for election in April 2011 – the mayor can appoint someone to fill the vacancy. A special election is held if there are more than 18 months left in a vacant officeholder's term, according to city code.
Anyone interested in the seat can call or e-mail Povlsen, who hopes to have a new alderman sworn in by the end of January.
"The good news is, in terms of meetings, this is our last one until January," Povlsen said. "I would hope over the next two to three weeks, I can talk to the aldermen and get a sense of who they would support."
One resident urged that process be done with care.
"I encourage Mayor Povlsen, when you do go through the process of vetting... that you vet these people, or the person, thoroughly so we have an idea of who is going to be filling the position of the alderman of the 3rd Ward," said John Duerk during a public comments portion of the meeting.
Before his resignation, Wogen was facing fines totaling $500 for missing two regular city council meetings in November. According to city code, aldermen can be fined if they don't provide a good reason for being absent.
The fines were dropped Monday as he is no longer a sitting alderman.
"Since Mr. Wogen is no longer a member of the city council, it is my opinion he cannot be fined," City Attorney Norma Guess said.
Regarding the absence policy, Povlsen said that typically, aldermen call in advance if they know they won't be attending a meeting.
But although a fine has not been imposed on an alderman before, he does not think this instance will set a precedence of bringing on fines every time an alderman is absent, with or without good reason.
"One thing I don't like about the policy is that aldermen and the mayor do a lot more work than attend a meeting," Povlsen said.
However, if an alderman is forgoing duties for an extended period of time, "action needs to be taken," he said.
Reforms get green light
The DeKalb City Council approved major changes to financial policies on Monday.
Povlsen broke a tie vote of 3-3, with aldermen Brendon Gallagher, Dave Baker and Brent Keller opposing the series of changes that gives the council more power in spending decisions that stemmed from Wogen's former company performing work on public projects in 2008.
The sticking point was whether the city council should have control over all purchases over $10,000 or $20,000. Baker made an amendment, which failed, that would allow the city manager to approve fuel purchases up to $20,000, but that all other spending under $10,000 would be the council's authority.
Debate centered around whether giving the council more spending discretion may result in specially called meetings to take care of routine business, thus slowing down government.
In the end, the council kept that spending threshold at $20,000 – unless it involves a city worker or elected official. If an employee or official has financial interest and the contract is between $1,500 and $20,000, the city council must now take action.
Another change requires city council members to file a disclosure statement and statement of economic interests.
The latest firestorm surrounding Wogen is not the first. Before taking office in 2007, he admitted to having a hand in getting a controversial political brochure into voters' mailboxes the day before the election, in which he beat three-term incumbent Steve Kapitan by 14 votes out of 854 cast.
Wogen initially denied any involvement with the anonymous mailing, but later, after being confronted with a report from a postal employee who saw Wogen bring the brochures to the post office, he admitted he helped pay for their postage.
• Daily Chronicle reporter Dana Herra contributed to this report.