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Thursday, Feb. 19, 2004 10:42 pm

Unexcused absence

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Rudy Davenport
Photo by Ginny Lee

There was a place on the dais reserved for Mayor Tim Davlin when the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People held their annual Lincoln-Douglass banquet last week. They had every reason to expect him to attend: Not only had he given his verbal commitment as early as December, but also he had the event on his schedule.

"He had planned to be there," said Ernie Slottag, the City of Springfield's director of communications.

But Davlin was a no-show at the civil rights group's big event, held Sunday, Feb. 8, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

In a letter of apology written at the request of NAACP chapter president Rudy Davenport, the mayor explained that he missed the banquet because "my departure from a series of meetings in Peoria was unexpectedly delayed."

Davlin had spent the previous two days in Peoria at the annual convention and trade show of the Mid-West Truckers Association. Davlin serves on the MTA's board of directors. Slottag initially attributed Davlin's absence from the banquet to an MTA meeting that lasted through Sunday afternoon.

However, Don Schaefer, executive vice-president of MTA, said all MTA events concluded on Saturday by 11 p.m. "Nothing happens on Sunday; it's done," he said.

Slottag later said he had mistakenly assumed the mayor's meeting involved MTA business. "It was another meeting that he had set up on his own," Slottag said, adding that he has no idea with whom Davlin met. "It was a private meeting," Slottag said.

According to its Web site, MTA is a lobbying group that advocates for larger, heavier trucks to have access to a wider variety of roads. MTA also advocates for tax reductions and exemptions for truckers.

Davenport called the mayor's absence "an affront to the black community," and said the letter from Davlin didn't offer a clear explanation. "I can't jump into his head to figure out what his strategy is," Davenport said.

However, he said he wouldn't dwell on the issue. "The banquet went on and it was a great success and we certainly enjoyed our celebration."

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