May 262011
 

The Naperville city council is very adept at appearing to listen to their constituency and then ignoring what they just heard. At times, the sound of their silence is almost deafening. It’s most evident during the Public Forum portion of the council meetings. This is the portion of the agenda when citizens who sign up prior to the meeting are allowed three minutes to present a topic and make their point. Now what’s interesting is if the topic is sensitive or something the council would rather not hear or have to deal with, the mayor will give a polite ‘thank you’ to the presenter, and the citizen retreats to their seat. It’s almost an exercise in futility for the citizen to speak in front of the council because absolutely nothing happens afterward. The Naperville city council is gifted at the art of ‘acknowledging and ignoring’ citizen comments. It’s also interesting that the keeper of the three-minute time clock cuts off speakers exactly at three minutes if the topic is ‘uncomfortable’ for the council; however if the citizen’s comments are favorable to the council, the 3-minute clock is extended. It makes you wonder if there is a silent vibrating wireless alert between the council and the timekeeper, so the timekeeper knows when to cut off the speaker. I mention ‘wireless’ because the council abundantly embraces the concept of wireless technology, especially the Naperville Smart Grid Project. For those of you not familiar with this local government project, it’s another one of those “seems like a good idea” for the Naperville city council, but not so good for the citizens of Naperville.

The Naperville city council places the needs of their constituency second to the needs of the city council. Let me give you an example. The city of Naperville will dispose of a citizens grass clippings if they bag the clippings in a special paper bag (each bag costs a couple of dollars) and affix a sticker to the bag (and the stickers cost a couple of bucks each). OK so that’s the price of doing business with the City of Naperville if a resident wants the city to haul the clippings elsewhere. Now here is the catch; if you had a few stickers left at the end of the season, the citizen could not use the sticker the following year. Citizens are required to purchase new stickers. The grass clipping stickers have an expiration date. That’s not exactly citizen-friendly.

I imagine if one of the fine citizens of Naperville presented the topic of eliminating the expiration date on grass clipping stickers to the Naperville city council, the timekeeper would ‘ring the bell’ exactly at the three-minute time limit and the mayor would politely say ‘thank you’ to the presenter and absolutely nothing would happen other than acknowledging and ignoring another Naperville citizen.

May 202011
 

It’s been said that one person with courage and perseverance makes a majority, however this was not the case in Tuesday’s Naperville city council meeting when councilman Doug Krause was out voted by a margin of 8 to 1 on the issue of authorizing the city manager to recruit externally and fill one vacant transportation project manager and a public information coordinator.

Naperville Finance Director Karen DeAngelis forecast that the municipal deficit will approach $700,000 for the 2011/2012 year, and could reach $26 million by the year 2016. This is diametrically opposed to Naperville City Manager Doug Krieger’s comment that he is “confident” the 2012 fiscal year budget will be balanced. Somebody has this one wrong. If this were a horse race, I would put my money on the finance director that she has it right.

This is serious folks. These are not idle words; they are solemn words of warning. Yet the Naperville city council repeatedly appears to ignore the ominous ‘iceberg’ that lies ahead.

Some may argue that the council is composed of optimists or romanticists thinking that things will be OK in the near future. Maybe the Naperville city slogan should be “What could possibly go wrong” though I am not sure that would parallel their ‘oath’ to practice fiduciary responsibility. Maybe that’s the problem; eight of the Naperville city council members think they are practicing, while one (Councilman Doug Kruase) knows this is the real thing. This is not dress rehearsal, this is show time. It’s time to turn the wheel to avoid the iceberg and continue to cut expenses when and where they can.

To make the situation even more dire is the fact that state officials are talking about reducing or eliminating the local share of state income tax revenue it collects and shares with local municipalities including Naperville. Leaders from municipalities throughout Illinois have been to Springfield to voice their opposition and lobby for their cities to receive their fare share of those funds. When we contacted the mayor’s office to see what Naperville has done to ‘fight’ for those dollars, the answer was ‘we sent a letter’. Are you kidding me, the City of Naperville spent 44 cents and sent a letter. I suppose that’s an example of being expense conscious, but that’s like the owners of the Titanic not spending a couple of bucks for a set of binoculars.

Councilman Krause has it right. Watch and listen to his comment regarding his quest and awareness for cutting expense.

Newly elected Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel presented a four-point litmus test to the Chicago city council regarding the city budget and expense.

  • Can we afford it?
  • Is it worth it?
  • Do we need it?
  • Can we do it better?

Councilman Krause gets it. Maybe the other eight members of the Naperville city council need to either listen to their big city brother 35 miles to the east of Naperville or listen to Councilman Krause a few seats to the right of Mayor Pradel.

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May 112011
 

The citizens of Naperville overwhelmingly approved the formation of district representation for the Naperville city council. Five districts are to be created with one council member elected to represent each of the five districts, while three other council members will provide at-large representation. The citizens of Naperville wanted to have this happen quickly in time for the 2011 election. However if there is one thing that local government and the legal system is extremely adept at doing, it’s making things happen quickly like voting on and raising the water rates immediately, or making things happen slowly like creating a five-district map; which the citizens of Naperville may have within the next four years. Have you ever noticed that if government wants something now, it happens now, yet if the citizens want something, it happens later if at all?

The Naperville City Council is pondering what to do. How can they possibly accomplish this in such little time? A year, two, or more just does not seem like enough time. The anticipated one-word answer by the Naperville City Council is ‘procrastination’; do nothing, then drag it along, and then when the pressure is on give it to a highly paid consulting firm (business partner) for them to solve. Another potential waste of taxpayer dollars.

The Naperville city council needs to incorporate Occam’s razor into their decision making process. Occam’s razor is a scientific and philosophic rule, which states,

“The simplest of competing theories be preferred to the more complex.”

So here is the first idea. Give the assignment of drawing a district map to a team of students from each local high school. It could be teams of students from debate class, or political science, or business. Get students involved; who knows they may become city council members some day.  Give them the paradigms and a time frame to complete the challenge (a weekend, a week, a month) and give the winning team a $50 gift certificate for a pizza party. They will get the job done quicker, better, and less expensively than using a consulting firm.

Now for the next idea. The Naperville City Council likes to talk about ‘transparency’.

Sometimes they make things so transparent that they can’t even be seen. It makes you wonder if they like it better that way. Take for example the agenda for the Tuesday night city council meetings. Yes, you can dig it out of the city website but that takes time and the website is not exactly user friendly. Why not make it easy for people to see what is on the agenda. Collaborate with the local newspaper (Naperville Sun) and publish it on the Friday or Sunday prior to the meeting. Naperville citizens could see it and decide if an agenda item catches their attention; like the recent topic of raising the water rates by 29%. Now publishing the agenda would take some real courage on the part of the Naperville city council. The question is, do they have the courage to do it. Or, will they stick to their value of “transparency” so that as few as possible see it.

‘Occam’ had a simple idea…” keep it simple”   How simple is that.

May 062011
 

The economy is down, unemployment is up, Naperville’s population is declining, vacant homes are increasing, and people are struggling to make ends meet and what does the Naperville city council do; they raise the water rate. Now we are not talking about 2% or 5% increase, we are talking about a 29% increase. There is no decimal point between the ‘2’ and the ‘9’.  You are not misreading this. Twenty-nine percent is 29%.  What makes this even more egregious is that when the Naperville city council is given the choice of raising the rate by 29%, 19% or 13%, they choose the 29% rate because it is supposed to make the citizens happier five years from now based on council assumptions. It is another example of the council’s major malfunction of relying on faulty assumptions when making decisions. It is as if the Naperville City Council bases many of their decisions on the following premise, “if everything works out perfect we will be just fine in the future.” What could possibly go wrong with that mind-set? Take look at this exchange between the Director of the Naperville Water Department (Jim Holzapfel) and Councilman Fieseler regarding faulty assumptions and an $8.5 million ‘water’ deficit.

Leadership requires the ability to think critically, and approving a water-rate increase of 29% at this time by a 5 to 4 vote indicates there might be some room for improvement on this leadership dimension within the majority who voted for this outrageous increase

Where is ex-councilman Furstenau when you need him? Even the ‘expense conscious’ ex-councilman Furstenau couldn’t have saved the citizens on this one by voting against the increase because the two new council members Steve Chirico and Joe McElroy also voted against the increase. Both Councilman Chirico and McElroy along with long-standing Councilman Doug Krause, who voted against the 29% increase, made excellent points while discussing water rate increases. Watch and listen to councilmen Krause (the senior prevailing voice of reason on the council), followed by new councilmen Chirico  and  McElroy, who are sensitive to the financial struggles on Naperville citizens:

The bad news is that the 29% water rate increase will take affect next month (June). The good news is that both new council members Steve Chirico and Joe McElroy appear to be Naperville-citizen-friendly. The citizens of Naperville need council members who have the courage to ease the financial burdens that council decisions place upon the citizenry.

It was encouraging to see the first council member seated and ready to do business last Tuesday night was Councilman McElroy. You get the feeling that both McElroy and Councilman Chirico are ready to get to work and ‘right the ship’.

This appears to be in contrast with another council member who was looking for support to take a city council meeting night off in August. Watch and listen to the exchange between Councilman Fieseler and Councilmen Wehrli and Miller

As one resident was heard saying, ‘Hey cowboy, not so fast looking for a night off in August’, when there is so much yet to be accomplished (Smart Grid Initiative, mapping of districts, and ‘righting the ship’)

May 032011
 

‘That’s right, you read it here.  Let’s dispense with the suspense and give you the bottom line of this posting right now’….that’s  how we started our April 27 posting titled “Naperville has too many city council members” and we stated ‘the Naperville city council has too many council members (eight not including the mayor) for a city of our size (141,000 residents). And we proceeded to support our statement with the numbers of council members from various cities along with comparable populations. Now that’s not what needs to be corrected. What we need to correct is the fact that we said the city of Naperville needs to and can reduce the number of council members from eight to four or five. Now we still believe that would be prudent, however the bottom line fact of the matter is that the laws of the State of Illinois dictate the number of council members a municipality needs to have; it is not a decision that can be made by the citizens or the city council of that municipality with a simple referendum. So even though Naperville was able to pass referendums for term limits and the creation of wards or district representation to replace at-large representation, we don’t have the luxury of reducing the number of council members Naperville has with a referendum.

The first person to bring this to our attention with a considerate email was Councilman Grant Wehrli. We then contacted Naperville city attorney Margo Ely who explained it was her understanding that council number is based on Illinois law, but did not site the specific law.

Providing this information to the city council guard dog, research into the Naperville municipal code (http://library.municode.com/index.aspx?clientId=14853&stateId=13&stateName=Illinois) began again.  Naperville municipal code (section 1-5-1 – Powers and functions of the of the Mayor and city council) states “The City Council shall consist of the Mayor and eight (8) Councilmen elected for four-year terms as provided by State law”.  This statement references 65 ILCS 5/5-2-2 that outlines the maximum number of aldermen, when not elected by the minority representation plan.  The second reference 65 ILCS 5/5-2-8 discusses staggered terms and tenure.  When attending seventh grade English class in Naperville I was told that I must site my sources properly.  Had the constructors of this section of the municipal code taken that seventh grade English course as I did, they would have also sited 65 ILCS 5/5-2-12. Please note the screen shots of the Naperville municipal code below.  – City Council Guard Dog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking for a second opinion for confirmation, we also contacted Illinois State Senator Dan Duffy (R-26, Lake Barrington). He responded immediately and asked his administrative assistant (Cindy) to research the topic ‘if Illinois state law limits the number of council members a municipality has on its city council’ and Cindy along with State Senator Dan Duffy confirmed ‘Yes, the council number is restricted by Illinois law.

(65 ILCS 5/5-2-12 subsection (b) determines the number of council members)

In cities of at least 100,000 but not more than 500,000 population, the council shall consist of the mayor and 8 council members.

So Watchdog stands corrected by Naperville city councilman Grant Wehrli, Naperville city attorney Margo Ely, and the office of Illinois State Senator Dan Duffy.

Now with the record set straight, it still begs the questions, how is it that the city councils of Dayton, Ohio, Hollywood, Florida, Ft. Collins, Colorado, and Pasadena, California with comparable populations get the same amount of work done with fewer council members than Naperville? And how is it that the individual council members of Phoenix, Arizona, San Diego, California, and Seattle, Washington can represent so many more residents per council member than those of the Naperville city council? We may have to research elsewhere to get those questions answered.