DeKALB – During his 16-year tenure on the City Council, Kris Povlsen never saw himself as a politician.
He vowed to never let personal interest guide his decision-making, even if it meant losing a friendship. The minute he did so, he would resign.
“I have lost friends. I have made decisions that I know have lost friends,” Povlsen said. “There are people who don’t speak to me to this day because of something I’ve done. ... That’s probably the guiding principle, is that I am not here for personal gain. I’m not here to make friends.
“... I’m here to make a decision based on what’s the best interest of the community. And I can honestly say I’ve always done that.”
Monday marks the last day of Povlsen’s tenure as mayor, and possibly his last day in public office. Mayor-elect John Rey, along with Aldermen-elect Bill Finucane and Robert Snow, will be sworn in during a special ceremony at 6 p.m.
Povlsen described his final days as mayor as bittersweet. He said he would miss the day-to-day interactions with the public and challenges of the day, but he’s looking forward to having more freedom. One thing Povlsen won’t miss, however, is the disappointment people have whenever legislation is enacted.
“Managing a tight budget with community demands is really, really challenging, and I’m not going to miss that because a municipality can’t do everything for everyone,” Povlsen said. “Every time we put a budget together, there are aspects that are going to disappoint people.”
He ran for the city council in 1997 looking for something different to do with his time. He had spent 21 years teaching Monday-night psychology class at Kishwaukee College.
“I’ll trade my Monday nights from teaching college to being an alderman, whatever an alderman does,” Povlsen said. “I had never stepped foot in city hall. I had no idea what an alderman did. … Little did I realize it was more than Monday nights.”
Povlsen’s wife, Jenine, said there were many nights where he would come home work only to dive into research for whatever the city happened to be discussing at the time.
“It’s a lot of work,” Jenine Povlsen said. “It’s not a situation where you simply go in, collect a paycheck and leave. If you’re truly doing your job as a mayor or alderman, it’s public service.”
It was at this point when Povlsen first met City Manager Mark Biernacki, who was then the city’s community development director. After being hired by the city in 2004, Biernacki said he interacted with Alderman Povlsen on a weekly basis.
“He was definitely a good steward of his ward, and a good steward of the city on becoming mayor,” Biernacki said. “He always did what was right for the city, not what was right for Kris Povlsen as a politician. He always set that aside.”
One example Biernacki cited was the imposition of a citywide ban on smoking in public places. Povlsen pushed for the ban despite the impact it could have had on his career.
Since his first election, the city has had to do more with less. Povlsen said the money the city takes in has not kept pace with the increased demand for public services.
Povlsen said he was planning to retire after finishing his third term as alderman in 2009. He had considered running for mayor, but decided not to when he learned that then-Mayor Frank Van Buer planned to seek re-election.
On July 23, 2008, Van Buer died after a battle with pancreatic cancer. In August, Povlsen was unanimously selected by the council to finish out his term.
“When he passed away, I really felt that I wanted someone in that position that had the same values as Mayor Van Buer did,” Povlsen said. “He and I agreed on most, if not all issues, in terms of the city. I was approaching retirement and I realized I would have the time. ... I really felt when I looked at the other council members that I was the strongest candidate with the most experience that could lead the city forward.”
In 2010, Povlsen retired from the Ben Gordon Center, where he started in 1981 as a volunteer with the center’s crisis hotline and finished as its director of education and prevention services.
Similar to his time on the city council, Povlsen engaged in community coalition-building during his time at the center.
“I think that’s truly what gave me the impetus to run,” Povlsen said. “I knew everybody. I knew what the quality of life, what would enhance the quality of life.”
Michael Flora, the CEO and president of the Ben Gordon Center, praised Povlsen’s work with the DeKalb County Partnership for a Substance Abuse Free Environment.
“Kris has always been very strong and community-minded, a servant leader,” Flora said. “It was natural progression. He had a natural passion of his civic responsibilities and community responsibilities.”