He was the superintendent of Albion’s streets, parks and cemeteries. She had just moved into town as Albion’s Utilities and Payroll Clerk. Through work they met and later married. Now, Joe Domingo is finishing his eighth and final year as mayor with his wife, Jill, sitting right beside him as city clerk.
“I’ll miss my husband going to all my meetings with me,” said Jill Domingo about her husband’s last city council session as mayor Dec. 19th.
When Mayor Domingo was first elected in 2008, his wife was serving as Deputy Clerk. When the former city clerk resigned, she naturally filled in the position and found herself taking minutes at city council meetings right next to her husband.
Their marriage has been a unique situation for the city. Before they married, the Domingos signed their checks individually, as municipalities usually require. Now with a special exemption, they sign all checks, contracts and ordinances together.
“That’s probably the first time in [Albion] history that’s ever happened,” said Mayor Domingo.
As Mayor Domingo steps down from his position, another first in Albion’s history will occur. The mayor and the majority of the city council—five out of six, to be exact—will be African-American. Garrett Brown (mayor), Sonya Brown (Precinct Three), Marcola Dean Lawler (Precinct Four) and Jeanette Spicer (Precinct Five) were all elected. Outside of the mayor, all people of color elected were women. These women join Lenn Reid (Precinct Two), who is already on the council.
“I think Albion now realizes who they are, what they are and what they can bring to the town, and it’s going to be different for everybody,” said Mayor Domingo.
Past changes and memories
The mayor has witnessed Albion transform before. He was eighth of eight children and was born and raised in Albion where he has lived ever since, just like his parents and grandparents. For the past 22 years, he has assumed various roles in city government, from his position as superintendent to a public official.
Just after Jill Domingo came to Albion as the Utilities and Payroll Clerk in 2002, Harvard Industries and Trillium Hospital, two of the city’s largest employers, closed. Albion was hit with high unemployment and economic downturn. Mayor Domingo believes that creativity is what is now needed in small cities like Albion that have lost their large employers.
What has kept Mayor Domingo here working for Albion is the “togetherness” of its community. Most of the residents know each other, and if they don’t, they make sure to do so. It is the people whom he has worked for and worked with that he will miss most as he steps down.
One of the toughest challenges, according to Mayor Domingo, was making those people believe that the mayor was there for them, not for political reasons.
“The biggest thing is trying to make people accountable for right, wrong, anything—you know what I’m saying?” asked Mayor Domingo. “You have to have accountability, and you have to be honest to the people and keep them informed of everything that you can that’s going on. And I think I’ve done that the eight years I’ve been here, even though it upset some people.”
Mayor Domingo earned the nickname “The Crazy Mayor” shortly after taking office because of his outspokenness. But he wants the new city council to remember that accountability and commitment are key to serving people.
“They have to understand that it’s not just for them,” said Mayor Domingo. “They’re doing it for the citizens that put them in. They have to be citizen conscious and try not to take anything personally, which is very hard.”
What Mayor Domingo will miss the most about his position is running the Mayor’s Youth Coalition—or, as Jill Domingo calls them, “his kids.”
The coalition is a “tag-team” between Mayor Domingo and Harry Bonner, founder of substance abuse prevention program Kids at Hope. Participants take on the roles and responsibilities of mayor and council members and play out what a typical city council meeting is like.
Although, of course, no actual ordinances are passed, Mayor Domingo tries to get the youth involved with issues involving their education, encouraging them to take notice of the goings-on at school. Many would hear about or see problems that would happen and bring them to the council meetings, each taking a stance on the issue at hand.
Jill Domingo said that the groups over the years have gotten very good at public speaking, namely because of her husband’s strong encouragement to read their proclamations aloud. Mayor Domingo believes that some past members are bound to come back to Albion and take part in its city council. The coalition is planning on continuing after Brown takes office.
With no council meetings, ceremonial duties or Mayor’s Youth Coalitions to run, Mayor Domingo said everyone keeps asking him if he has plans for the future. For now, he will sit back and absorb what the council will do.
Jill Domingo will still be keeping busy as Albion’s city clerk. Now that she and her workers, whom she is extremely grateful for, have finished conducting the frantic election process, she can focus on “minutes, minutes, minutes.” As the city clerk, she attends and records meetings for city council, boards, commissions and budgeting sessions.
Jill Domingo is also working on creating a permanent absentee ballot list. Election law states that if a municipality has such a list, every resident who is signed up on it will be sent an absentee ballot automatically for every election and proposal, big or small. As Albion has 1,542 eligible residents who are 60 and older; she believes the initiative will increase voter turnout in those who are unable to get to the polls.
Despite Jill Domingo still attending each council meeting, her husband does not believe he will be going to many.
“It’s kind of like going hunting and watching somebody else shoot the deer,” said Mayor Domingo .
His wife, however, thinks he’ll show up.
Photo by Catherine Kerley