Sep 182016
 

In my lifetime, I have seen four Illinois Governors (Koerner, Walker, Ryan, and Blagojevich) land in the Graybar Hotel for various indiscretions. Most recently and still a resident of the hotel is Blago(jevich). When politicians mix bad decisions with videos and tape recordings, it can result in a long reservation at the hotel. Blago’s smoking gun was a tape recording extolling his excitement when he said, “I got this thing and it’s f—— golden”, referring to the vacant Illinois senate seat resulting from Obama’s presidential election. Money and greed have a way of opening the door for problems.

The City of Naperville has it’s own ‘golden thing’, known as the SECA (Special Events Cultural and Amenities) Fund. What started out as a small source of revenue derived from a food and beverage tax, has morphed into a huge pile of money. Originally the purpose of the money was clearly defined, but as with most streams of government revenue, those clearly defined guidelines become blurry.

Fortunately for the residents and businesses of Naperville, city officials have been good stewards of those funds with checks and balances in place. The problem is that there was a time when Governors’ Koerner, Walker, Ryan and Blago were also walking the straight and narrow before veering off the road.

It’s tempting for city officials to use the SECA fund for something other than what it was intended for. The Naperville city council lives by the ‘golden rule’; he who has the gold makes the rules. In this case the ‘gold’ is the SECA fund, and the city council can and will change those rules any time they want.

  6 Responses to “Naperville’s ‘Got This Thing And It’s ——- Golden’”

  1. As I stated during my campaign for City Council a couple of years ago at the Rotary Forum: “SECA has been a great success, but it needs to change its name to Special Events and Cultural Amenities fund, Slush Fund for the City of Naperville and Slush Fund for the Naperville Park District.”

    No, I am not running for City Council again. However, it has been interesting to see how the term “slush fund” has been adopted during the last few years to discuss this fund.

    • Is the Rotary Forum the same group that runs the fake home lottery. I’m have Rotary people hang up on me when I ask about the Fake Rotary Lottery. Did you every try to call the Rotary?

  2. Is there a list of what the money was requested for, by whom, and how much.

  3. It is, was and will always be a slush fund doled out to supporters of current incumbents to get walkers, door knockers and poster pasters to get them reelected.

  4. City Council and the Mayor adopted the food and beverage tax after reassuring concerned residents it sole purpose would be to provide funding for what is today called SECA, and not become a funds used by city government to meet other funding needs.

    For this reason I would argue that the City Council and Mayor have not been good stewards of these funds. The most senior members of the council and the mayor were all on board when the decision was made to set aside 25% of these funds to not go to SECA. And with any amount left over from this 25%, after expending at most $900K annually for the city police and fire pension fund, to be spent at the Mayor and Councils discretion. They then cap SECA funding at $2 million with a 2% inflation increase annually, with no indication as to how any surplus funds this created were to be used. And finally one of the first orders of business for the present council and mayor was to reduce this cap to $1.9 million and eliminate the 2% annual inflation adjustment. The justification for all of this manipulation of these funds is that the revenue from the food and beverage tax has grow to great and that to allocate all of it to SECA, as originally promised the residents, would encourage wasteful spending.

    If wasteful spending is truly the concern then creating and enacting ordinances that gives city council and the mayor greater access to these funds with minimal (at best) transparency as to how they will be used, is to go down a path that history tells us is most likely to lead to abuse, waste and fraud. The appropriate and responsible way good stewards would have handled a situation of to much money coming from this tax would have been to simply reduce the tax!!!

    As to how the SECA funds are actually allocated each year, by city ordinance, over $1 million is spend to cover SECA administrative costs, Costs for maintenance of the River Walk & Carillon, and subsidize the operating expenses of the DuPage Children’s Museum. Of the remaining $900K, about a third is allocated (i.e. multi year grants commitments, etc) before any funding requests are considered from local organizations. And while the SECA board reviews these requests and makes recommendations on how these fund should be allocated it is actually the city council and mayor that make the final decision and authorizes expenditure of these funds. This is important to remember in light of the argument by city council and the mayor that the amount of tax revenue that should go to this fund should be limited to prevent waste. It should also be remembered that it has historically been the city council that has changed or circumvented the SECA board’s guidance on the nature of what these funds can and what cannot be used for. Finally, prior to the present council, if not enough legitimate requests to grant all the funds allocated to SECA was received by the board they would simple recommend these funds be carried over to the next year which past councils agreed with, it has only been with the present council that the imperative to spend all the allocated funds has been adopted, a practice which will only encourage waste and abuse.

    Based on these facts I can only conclude that the city council and mayor have not been good stewards of these funds and that a trend has been establish that will only reduce the quality of this stewardship in the future. In fact some are speculating that all of these manipulations of the SECA funding has been done solely to create greater controversy around SECA that can eventually be use to justify eliminating SECA all together and divert all of the underlying tax revenues to the city coffers, which is exactly what many residents were concerned would eventually happen when this tax was adopted.

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