Bourbonnais trustee gears up for second mayoral bid
When he became a village trustee in 2015, Jeff Keast set out with a personal mission to ensure that Bourbonnais residents are well-informed about their local government.
Deeply troubled that village committee meeting minutes weren’t being passed on to residents in any form -- a violation of the Open Meetings Act -- Keast took steps to correct the problem on his first day in office.
“The problem was that no one really knew what was going on in the village,” Keast told the Kankakee Times. “The administration was clearly in violation on the Open Meetings Act, and I had to do something about that.”
Since then, Keast has taken strides to promote transparency in the village’s administration, but he believes he can be even more effective as a mayor.
“I believe strongly, and I wouldn’t be running if I didn’t feel this way, that as mayor I can take the village to where it needs to be,” he said.
Keast challenged two-term incumbent Mayor Paul Shore in 2013 but lost with 41 percent of the vote – a defeat that was difficult to swallow.
“When I lost last time, I was devastated … and it still bothers me to this day,” Keast said. “We worked really hard, and I was devastated because I felt like I let everyone who supported me down.”
But the loss only fueled him to run for trustee two years later and launch a campaign to “Bring Back Bourbonnais.” Keast won one of the three available trustee seats.
The trustees worked to hire a new village administrator, whom Keast credits for a lot of the positive changes in how the village currently serves the public.
But more needs to be done, he said.
This time around, Keast is running for mayor with an assembled team of candidates -- Brad Arthur, Chris Deschand and Mike Zenz -- on the GOP ticket vying for open trustee spots on the village board. Their goal is to make the administration run more effectively and restore it into the hands of residents.
“What we are looking to do is explore various ways of getting the community involved in local government decisions and being accessible to them when they have concerns they need addressed,” Keast said.
As chairman of the Parks and Recreation Committee and a member of five other committees, Keast says he can attest to the lack of communication in the current administration. He said Shore has made decisions regarding the parks without informing him, despite the fact that Keast chairs the committee.
Other times, members of the administration are not notified about the scheduling of some meetings, Keast said, which is why he wants to ensure improved communication across the board and reassure residents that their voices matter.
"One of the reasons why people don’t get involved in their local government is they feel their vote won’t make a difference, and that’s sad,” Keast said.
Keast has adopted a different mayoral run strategy this time around.
“Last time I knocked on 5,000 doors, but this time we’re being a little more strategic in our approach and trying to make sure we reach people at least twice,” he said.
One thing Keast can assure residents is that he will always take the time to hear their concerns.
“I want them to know that I’m just a phone call away,” Keast said. “Unless I’m on the other line, in a meeting or sleeping, my phone is always on.”
A lifelong Kankakee resident, Keast has lived in Bourbonnais since 1994 and owns Keast Electric, a union electrical contractor.