Jan 312016
 

So often we hear politicians say what we want to hear, only to find out later it was all smoke and mirrors. Our hopes are built up, only to be let down later when actions don’t follow words. It also takes courage to do the right thing in politics, and when it’s time to vote on what needs to be done, politicians oftentimes succumb to pressure, and vote the opposite way.

That’s the position that Naperville city council members, and other government officials will find themselves in, when it comes time for the opportunity to consolidate government.

Most government officials would consider ‘government consolidation’ an oxymoron, but not some Naperville city officials. They have identified, with a little creative thinking,  a number of opportunities which would save the state, city, and most importantly residents a bundle of money.

Naperville city manager Doug Krieger, along with Naperville mayor Steve Chirico, and councilman Kevin Coyne have been working on a plan to have the city provide the servicing of township roads at a far lower cost.  The city has 560 center lane miles of roads and the township has 16 center lane miles of roads so it is quite easy to leverage the city’s existing facilities and resources to absorb the additional miles of roads at a significant savings.

When city officials did the analysis, there indeed is a huge potential savings. The township levies about 1.6 million per year for maintenance. Naperville can do the job for under one million, saving over a half million dollars annually. Plus the Naperville Township can sell off their unneeded facilities, book the sale of the asset and place the property back into the private sector which adds additional revenue into the taxing bodies. Additionally, this could remove the future burden of some township pensions from the budget.

This is truly a win-win-win situation for the city, the township, and for residents. Naperville city officials will be launching this plan at next Tuesday’s meeting and making the pitch to the Naperville Township trustees at their budget meeting on February 9th.  This consolidation falls right in line with Governor Rauner’s objective of eliminating some of the levels of government and it would be proof that it can work and save money. This would be a good win for Rauner and taxpayers. They each need a win.

Jan 282016
 

Trying to get people to agree on almost anything is a challenge. Imagine trying to get two people to agree on ten different topics. If you think that would be difficult, how about getting nine people to agree unanimously on 271 issues our of 295. Unheard of you say, well not when it comes to the Naperville city council.

A review of the voting patterns for the current city council since they took the oath of office in May of 2015, shows that out of the 295 issues voted upon, the council voted unanimously 271 times, or approximately 92% of the time.

We didn’t factor in the voting for the June 2, 2015 meeting, because the city website incorrectly shows the voting results for May 19 meeting also for June 2nd. The city was informed, but as of the date of this posting, the correction has not been made.

To say that this city council has a nearly non-existent diversity of thought would be an understatement.

Even more interesting, is the fact that out of 2,655 individual council member votes on the on the 295 issues, only 53 times did council members vote against the majority as this chart shows:

Council Member # of votes against the majority # of votes with the majority (%)
Judy Brodhead 1 294 (99.7%)
Mayor Steve Chirico 2 293 (99.4%)
Becky Anderson 3 292 (99.0%)
John Krummen 4 291 (98.6%)
Kevin Coyne 6 289 (98.0%)
Paul Hinterlong 8 287 (97.3%)
Kevin Gallaher 9 286 (96.9%)
Rebecca Obarski 9 286 (96.9%)
Patty Gustin 11 284 (96.3%)

It’s possible that members of this Naperville city council either have like-minded thinking and agree on everything just about all the time, or for whatever reason don’t have the courage to take a dissenting point of view.

During the last city council meeting, councilman Kevin Coyne expressed his opinion of not being in favor of having a council meeting on the night of the  Illinois primary election. However, when it came time to vote, he voted in favor of having the council meeting on that night making it another unanimous vote. Coyne flipped his vote, rather than voting his conscious.

It’s also possible that council members don’t have the courage to take an opposing point of view from that of mayor Chirico. No doubt that Chirico seems to be the only council member who appears to know exactly what’s going on during meetings, and often times has to tactfully yet firmly set a council member straight on protocol.

This Naperville city council is a polar opposite of the previous city council when council members Fieseler, Wehrli, Miller, Furstenau, McElroy and Krause had no problem speaking their mind. Many a lively discussion occurred and issues were discussed in opposing fashion.

Considering the current council is in unanimous agreement 92% of the time, it would make sense to take the vote first, and save a tremendous amount of time in wasted and mindless talking. And only have discussion during the few times there is disagreement. But even in disagreement, as in Coyne’s case, it still results in a unanimous vote.

Here’s another thought, since independent thought is lacking, why not simply reduce the size of council from nine down to five, or three; now that would be a cost-cutting measure that residents would surely applaud.

Jan 242016
 

Rules are rules, policy is policy, and guidelines are in place, unless it applies to to members of the Naperville city council. If members of the city council are involved, then the double standard applies which trumps rules, policy, and guidelines.

It was evident during the last city council meeting, January 19, when council member Kevin Coyne asked a question to other council members concerning the March 15 city council meeting.

Watch and listen as Coyne mentions that March 15 is primary election day in Illinois, along with four other states,  and whether or not the meeting date can be changed, followed by council member Paul Hinterlong’s response that typically the council meets on that day, unless a member of the council is running for election.

If changing the meeting day benefits a member of the council who is running for office, then the day is changed. Where do the residents of Naperville fit into this equation? People who attend council meetings or watch online or on television tend to be interested in politics, locally, statewide, and/or nationally. By not changing the date of the council meeting, necessitates those folks to choose between viewing the council meeting live, or following the primary results in real time.

Yes, I get it, those wanting to watch the council meeting can record and watch it at a later time, or catch it online, but why not simply move the date of the council meeting to Wednesday, allowing folks to see both in real time.

Could it be that council members, other than Coyne, relish in the idea that fewer residents will see the council meeting, hence the less the residents know the better it is for council members to conduct business without resident interference. Maybe so, maybe not. But what’s the problem with the council changing the day, to eliminate any thought that the council likes to conduct business with fewer residents watching.

Even more disappointing, is the fact that Coyne himself voted to keep the March 15 meeting date intact, thereby resulting in a 9 to 0 vote, even though he “prefers not to have a meeting on election day”.

There appears to be a disturbing trend with this city council that a unanimous vote is more important than standing up for one’s convictions. If that’s true, then what is the purpose of having nine council members.

Jan 212016
 

It wasn’t that long ago that a Top-10 list of towns for something positive would invariably include the city of Naperville at the top of the list or very close to it. Lists included best places to live, best libraries, best school systems, best places to raise a family, best downtown areas, best river walks, etc. That’s not the case anymore. Often times Naperville doesn’t show up on the list, or if it does, it’s not at the top or even near it.

Such is the case recently when a list ranking the Best Family Friendly Cities in Illinois was announced by Wallethub, an online personal finance-based site. Naperville was listed dead-last on the Top-10 list behind other northern Illinois towns including #2 Deerfield, #4 Libertyville, #6 Hinsdale, # 7 Cary, #8 Lake in the Hills, and #9 Frankfurt. Ranked first on the list was Morton (near Peoria), along with #3 Washington, and #5 O’Fallon.

The judging included 21 indicators, some of which included:

  • Affordability
  • Air quality
  • Attractions within city limits
  • Commute times
  • Crime statistics
  • Diversity
  • Divorce rates
  • Employment level
  • Foreclosures
  • High school graduation rates
  • Income
  • Number of pediatricians
  • Number of playgrounds
  • Percentage of families with children under age 18
  • Recreational and park options
  • School system rankings
  • Socioeconomic environment
  • Weather

Comparatively speaking, Naperville is an expensive city in which to live, and has become even more expensive recently with the addition of a first-time ever city sales tax, a 617% increase in refuse pick-up, and huge increases in electric rates. With those increases included, Naperville would have been a no-show on the Top-10 list.

As the Naperville city council continues to nickel and dime, and sawbuck and C-note residents and businesses upward, along with increasing numbers of regulations, Naperville making any positive top-ten list may become a distant memory.

Jan 172016
 

Have you ever had a conversation with someone when you asked a question but you didn’t really care about the answer, and the person answering the question gave you a meaningless answer, and you were both content with the exchange. It would go under the category of ‘socially acceptable non-productive behavior’. It served no purpose other than burning some time while both individuals appear to be intelligent.

It happens every day, and it really happens often the first and third Tuesday night’s of each month during Naperville city council meetings.

The following is an example when councilman Paul Hinterlong asks a question, about snow removal in the downtown area, to Naperville’s Director of Public Works, Dick Dublinski:

So the question is, what exactly did Dublinski learn? No one on the Naperville city council was interested enough to find out. A simple question from a council member could have allowed Dublinski to enlighten the council and all those watching the meeting. Something like, “Well Dick, what exactly did you learn that will help the next time time we have a slushy snow?

Maybe I’m the only one who truly wanted to know. I was sitting on the edge of my seat, waiting to learn something that I did not know about slushy snow, and poof, the opportunity to be enlightened was gone.

I know the council was flying through the meeting, in near record-setting fashion, it only took 37 minutes. Obviously the council members were in a rush to go somewhere, hence the quick exit from the meeting.

It’s always a little concerning when the ‘executive closed-door’ meeting before the regular council meeting takes almost three times longer than the regular meeting. A lot of things can happen during ‘closed door’ meetings that residents not only would like to know, but also need to know. Inquiring residents are always interested in knowing how and why their tax dollars are being spent.

No doubt that the Dick Dublinski is a sharp and knowledgeable Director of Public Works. He has been in position since 2011, and a city employee for 18 years. I’m sure that during the last 5 years he’s has seen slushy snow before in the downtown area. What happened this time, that allowed him to learn something new?

Maybe we’ll never know, or at least not until the next slushy snow in downtown Naperville. It also would help if a council member, any council member, would care enough to ask delving questions in open session.

Jan 142016
 

I don’t know if council members receive any type of training after being elected or take any type of continuous education during their stay on the council, but if they don’t, they may want to consider the idea.

Most council members tend to grow and evolve into their position on the council, while others don’t seem to get the knack of it. For a new council member, it’s somewhat understandable if they don’t catch on quickly, but at what point to you begin to question their competency.

Naperville council member Patty Gustin was elected in April 2015, as were five other members of the city couincil, however Gustin continues to think she is a commissioner on a board rather than a city council member:

and thinks the board should do a straw vote, rather than have the council vote on an issue:

If a council member’s learning curve has flat-lined, that’s an issue.

Even more curious is seasoned council member Judith Brodhead. None of the nine council members, including Mayor Steve Chirico, have more experience and tenure than Brodhead who was elected in 2009. She is in her 7th year on the council, but has to be reminded by the mayor that an issue to be discussed at a later date is ‘tabled’ rather than ‘continued’.

Seven seconds earlier Chirico says ‘tabled’ and Brodhead asks ‘continued’.

OK, mistakes and mis-speaks happen, and these may appear to be minor in nature, and they are, however when it happens with more frequency one has to wonder if the issues being voted upon, are being fully understood by council members. A misunderstood vote, resulting in a 5 to 4 vote on an important issue can have major consequences.

Jan 102016
 

You would think that a meeting of short duration by the Naperville city council would bode well for Naperville residents and businesses; less time available for more ordinances, regulations and fees to be inflicted. But this was not the case for the first Naperville city council meeting of 2016.

The meeting lasted only 37 minutes not including starting almost five minutes late. During that time, the city council approved cash disbursements of $24,381,051.96 (let’s hear councilman Hinterlong say that number). That equates to approving $10,982 in expenditures per second. That’s a lot of ‘approving’ in the blink of an eye.

But the Naperville city council was only getting started. They then picked up a two-by-four and figuratively speaking hit residents and businesses in the back of the head with an 8.3% increase in electric rates for this year, which is to be followed with 2.4% increases for each of the following two years.

This is what Naperville’s destructive pattern of electric rate increases look like since 2013:

  • 2013    2%
  • 2014    6%
  • 2015    7 %
  • 2016    8.3 %
  • 2017    2.4%
  • 2018   2.4%

Naperville city officials have no plan in place to address this destructive pattern, other than to squeeze the dollars out of residents. Watch and listen to Naperville city manager Doug Krieger as he outlines the strategy:

It was just a few years ago, that Naperville city councils of past would debate long and hard about electric rate increases, and then apologetically explain the need for increases to residents in the media and during meetings. That’s no longer the case.

Watch and listen as councilman Krummen states he would like to help make a public service announcement:

If councilman John Krummen really wants to make a ‘Public Service Announcement’, he could start with why he supported forced installation of Smart Meters and stated they would save residents money. Smart meters haven’t cumulatively saved residents enough money to buy Krummen a cheap cup of day-old coffee.

This was only a 37 minute meeting and in just a few heart beats the increase was approved by a vote of 8 in favor, and 1 against. The one vote against the increase was council woman Patty Gustin. She was sensitive to the fact that the council recently hit residents with a 617% increase in garbage pick-up fees, and approved a first-time-ever city sales tax of .5%.

No doubt that the ‘no’ vote for increasing electric rates over 8% will look good as a speaking-point in Gustin’s re-election campaign in three years, considering she is the only council person that will be able to say that. Those anticipated running for re-election next year (Brodhead, Coyne, Gallaher, and Krummen will have some explaining to do when voters question their ‘yes’ vote for squeezing more money out of a family’s budget to subsidize horrendous decisions made by Naperville city officials regarding Naperville’s electric utility. Is it any wonder why internet shopping is seen by residents as an opportunity to save some money to apply to their electric bills. Council woman Becky Anderson (supporter of internet taxing) may want to consider this the next time she votes on anything involving the extraction more money from Naperville residents.

And if anybody really thinks the Naperville city council will keep their word with the residents and stick to 2.4% increases for the following two years, find out who they are and you can sell them anything you want.

Watch and listen to councilman Krummen as he explains ‘executive closed door sessions’:

Those council members wishing to get re-elected may want to consider less time invested in closed sessions, and more time in open sessions.

Jan 032016
 

Just five days into the new year, the Naperville City Council will be back in session (this Tuesday) determining new ways to spend money, generate cash flow, add more ordinances, increase more fees, infringe on our privacy, mandate our behavior, regulate our life style, and basically add more confusion and stress to our daily lives.

The State does it, so why not on a local level. In Illinois a person can be in our country illegally, yet obtain a license to practice law in Illinois. I wonder how that works.

Another Illinois law makes it a Class A misdemeanor for pet owners to leave a pet outdoors (including a vehicle) in extremely hot or cold weather. Offenders can be fined up to $2,500 and spend a year in the slammer. I fully agree with this law, however no one can tell me what’s too cold or too hot, or how long is too long to be outside. I called the Naperville police department and no one could give me a clear answer, yet police are expected to enforce this law. Will police now be required to carry a thermometer and a stop watch. If I can qualify for a year in the slammer, or have $2,500 extracted from my bank account, I’d like to know the specifics of the law so I can be sure to follow the law. The Naperville police department said I “should use common sense”, but what’s common sense to one is not common to another.

This law is important for me at many levels including the fact that my dog (like most dogs) loves to go on a car ride. She knows she gets one ride a day and comes running when she hears the car keys. If I have a short list of errands to run, I’ll take her with me, if I know each errand-stop will take less than five minutes. Like most folks, I’m happy to follow the law if I know exactly what the law is.

It appears one of the first ‘welcomes’ to the new year from the Naperville city council will be a huge increase in electric rates, followed by a myriad of ‘welcomes’ during the year from the council.

Some of the mainstays we can expect from Naperville city council members will be, as they sit from left to right at the dais:

  • John Krummen: looking at everything analytically, which can be a good thing.
  • Kevin Coyne: saying very little but making a whole lot of sense.
  • Rebecca Obarski: openly admitting she knows very little about what’s being discussed, but more than willing to learn about it.
  • Judith Brodhead: looking for more time to say less during a campaign year.
  • Mayor Steve Chirico: striving for unanimity versus consensus on votes.
  • Paul Hinterlong: verbalizing before thinking things through, while on camera.
  • Patty Gustin: talking more and making less sense as she talks even more.
  • Becky Anderson: saving emotion and energy for online taxing issues.
  • Kevin Gallaher: being even more comfortable and casual than usual.

It will be an interesting year, beginning with those sky-rocketing electric rates.