Jun 172018
 

Learning city council rules and points of order can be a daunting task for newly elected council members. However by the time a council member has three-plus years of experience you would think that person would understand how things are done at the dais. Such is not the case with Naperville city councilwoman Patty Gustin. As her four year term is coming to a close, she still struggles with knowing the rules. To make matters worse, she tries to bull doze her way through the process.

It happened again at the last Naperville city council meeting when councilman Kevin Coyne made a motion to to amend the proposed animal control ordinance which was seconded by councilman John Krummen. Gustin jumped in wanting to get a second to her amended motion over Coyne, and nothing could be heard except for crickets.

In essence Gustin was trying to amend Coyne’s motion ,which can’t be done according to council rules. Mayor Steve Chirico tried to help her dig herself out of the hole she dug by explaining how she could make a motion in substitution, but Gustin was determined to do it her way and it fell flat.

I’m reminded of the saying, “Better to be silent and thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt”. That might be a bit harsh for Gustin, however reviewing council rules would undoubtedly benefit her city council endeavors.

Jun 102018
 

NaperChange is an active group of residents keeping watchful eyes on city officials including the Naperville city council. NaperChange was created in large part as a result of the Bauer Place vote, a town home annexation that came into the City and replaced four dilapidated vacant homes that were really a ‘junk yard’ by the time they were sold. It has turned out to be a successful upgraded development and a ‘win’ for neighbors, though not all agree on how the annexation played-out.

Watchdog applauds their efforts and for the most part agrees with their positions on many issues. The following post was published by NaperChange on May 27, 2018 and reprinted here with a respectful counter point-of-view by Watchdog.

Link

“On Wednesday, May 16th AIG Investors III appeared before the Naperville Planning and Zoning Commission, regarding a property at Diehl and Raymond, requesting the following: 1.) Rezoning; (from Office, Research and Industrial “ORI” to Office, Commercial and Institutional “OCI”) 2.) Conditional Use; age restricted rental units 3.) Zoning variances: • Parking, from 392 units required in City Code to 304 units; • Height, from the current 43’ allowed to 54’8”; • Number of units, from the 139 allowed under current code (2,600 per acre) to 174 requested.

So, if approved, the proposed project will be taller than allowed by Code, have more units than allowed by Code, and have fewer parking spaces than required by Code.

AIG Investors III includes Mayor Steven Chirico and his brother, Anthony Chirico.

As the Naperville Sun reported, Mayor Chirico will recuse himself from the vote if it comes before City Council.

So, no issue, right? The Mayor will recuse himself from a vote on Code variances on a personal project from which he will, presumably, personally benefit financially.

No conflicts, right?

Of course the mayor will benefit financially, along with others, including the City of Naperville with additional tax revenue. It’s called ‘good business’ when it’s successful and there are no losers.

The City staff which has to recommend approval or rejection of variances to City Code ultimately reports to City Manager Doug Krieger, who reports to Mayor Chirico and the City Council. So City staff is put in the position of recommending or not recommending variances to Code on a project which will presumably personally benefit Mayor Chirico.

No conflict there, right?

Considering everything a conspiracy, which is what this would be, is a stretch, especially considering the mayor has cultivated a culture of “speaking up to authority” within the Municipal Center. Mayor Chirico doesn’t always get what he wants (oftentimes he is on the short end of council votes) but he encourages opposing views if backed by facts.

City staff recommended approval of the project.

The Planning and Zoning Commission (“PZC”) has to review and recommend approval or denial of variances to City Code for the project. Mayor Chirico has either appointed or reappointed all nine members of the PZC. The Naperville Sun recently ran an article about Mayor Chirico’s success at fund raising for his yet to be announced run for reelection. According to the Sun, at least eight people which Mayor Chirico has appointed to various Commissions have contributed to his unannounced campaign. Including through an LLC at least one member, Andrew Margulies, of the PZC. Mayor Chirico’s campaign committee spent over $2,200 at Hugo’s Frog Bar. The General Manager of Hugo’s Frog bar is Anthony Losurdo. Mr. Losurdo is also a member of the PZC. No conflict there. Right?

Appointing or reappointing people to commissions is necessary, and isn’t it wiser to work with people you know and trust, rather than have an ‘open cattle call’ and appoint people off resumes, and hearsay. The fact that some contribute to the mayor’s campaign fund shows trust in the mayor’s ability to lead. A tab of $2,200 at Hugo’s for a large group of people is not unusual considering my wife and I took our two friends from Texas out to dinner at Hugo’s and dropped $220. A lot of unsavory dots have to be connected (Margulies, PZC, Losurdo Hugo’s GM, PZC) to imply a conflict of interest. Again another stretch.

On May 16th the Planning and Zoning Commission approved the project 8-0.

An 8-0 vote by the PZC is not unusual.

The proposal will now go to the City Council for approval of variances to City Code. The same City Council which Mayor Chirico presides over. The same City Council which has several members strongly aligned with him. The same City Council which has members whom have received political and financial support on their City Council campaigns from Mayor Chirico.

No conflict there, right?

Yes, some city council members strongly align with the mayor, while other city council members don’t . Again, not unusual. The fact that the mayor provides political and financial support to some council members again is not unusual. Any good leader wants to lead a competent team. Isn’t that what any of us would want.

Is this illegal? No. Should that be the bar for conduct, if it’s not illegal it’s ok?

If it’s not illegal, then yes, it is OK, unless it’s unethical, and ‘unethical’ is a matter of opinion supported by fact. 

Remember the good old days, when elected officials not only avoided conflict, but also the appearance of conflict?

Is it appropriate for a Mayor to be asking city staff whom ultimately report to him, a commission consisting of members which he has appointed or reappointed, and a council of which he is a member and which has members he has supported financially and politically, to approve variances from City Code on a project which will presumably benefit him financially? If the variances are approved for him, how can they not be for the next one asking for variances?

One size doesn’t fit all, and each situation should be decided on its own merit. Have we lost the art of common sense?

This is the second time Mayor Chirico has presented a development project which will presumably benefit him financially for approval of variances through City staff/PZC/Council, the other one being for the development at 720 N Washington. (Which was good timing, given the proposed 5th Avenue development envisioned. A possible entirely new, bustling business district two short blocks away.)

To imply the mayor is up to no-good, is looking at the situation through a distorted lens. Like him or not, isn’t this exactly what is happening to President Donald Trump. No matter what he does, or what Chirico does, or any other government official we don’t like does, we can spin it down the ne’er-do-well corridor, connecting dots to a preconceived conclusion of conspiracy?

But Mayor Chirico says he will recuse himself.

What is he supposed to do? Resign? Do nothing? No matter what he does, there will be those who either disagree with him, don’t like him, or deny him any credit.

So, no conflicts. Right?

Right.

Jun 022018
 

Watchdog’s website has a “Countdown To The 2019 Election” currently showing 303 days, 15 hours. 11 minutes, and 31 seconds, until the good folks of Naperville either rehire or fire council members (Becky Anderson, Patty Gustin, Paul Hinterlong and Rebecca Obarski) along with Mayor Steve Chirico running for office. Some council members will likely get bounced out, as they should; fresh thinking is always welcome.

However, when it comes Mayor Chirico, is anybody willing to run against him? Maybe, but what are the chances of someone unseating Chirico? Probably as likely as the Chicago White Sox rebuilding plan being successful, which is next to zero. It’s not easy unseating an incumbent, especially if the incumbent is getting the job done, which Chirico is doing.

Former Naperville Mayor George Pradel’s nemesis during election time was councilman Doug Krause, who holds the record for second-place finishes. Krause finally got tired of losing, so he not only left the council, he also left Illinois. Who on the council wants to be the next Krause? Councilman Paul Hinterlong could be a Krause wanna-be, but he would only lose once to Chirico because term limits dictate how many times Hinterlong would get pounded by Chirico.

There are a few current council members (Rebecca Obarski and Kevin Coyne) with the talent to lead Naperville, but the only advantage to running and losing to Chirico would be to position themselves as front runners in the next election (2023) when Chirico packs it in for greener pastures as his two-term limit makes him part of Naperville’s history.

That leaves Chirico with a dilemma; what if no one runs against him? What’s the fun of winning an election by getting one vote, like a third-world country. This year alone Chirico has raised more than $50,000 in campaign contributions, probably $49,000 more than he needs to win.

To make it more of a challenge (actually fun) for him, would be for Chirico to offer anyone willing to run against him $10,000 worth of yard signs. He could become the first Naperville mayoral candidate to donate to a competitor’s campaign, maybe the first in the country, and still win the election convincingly.

May 272018
 

When Steve Chirico was elected mayor of Naperville in 2015, it was a declaration that doing business in Naperville was about to change; Naperville was now going to be lead by a successful businessman. A little over three years of Chirico’s first term and a number of changes are apparent, including running the City of Naperville as an efficient business. Some of the more noticeable improvements include:

  • Demonstrating accountability
  • Building trust
  • Maximizing relationships
  • Managing performance
  • Driving change
  • Thinking critically
  • Managing execution
  • Improving communication

The first change occurred at the beginning of the very first city council meeting when Mayor Chirico called the meeting to order at 7:00 PM sharp. No more starting council meetings five or ten minutes late; being punctual was the new order of business. This was a major change from previous mayoral administrations when meetings would start in the vicinity of the start time which was always late. Punctuality (respect for other peoples time) now became a priority. You can’t run a successful business if the sign shows you’re open at 9:00AM and the doors don’t get unlocked until 9:10, or the phone is ringing and no one is there to answer it.

You would think that by now, Naperville council members would know they better be ready to do the ‘peoples business’ when roll call is announced, but unfortunately there’s typically someone stumbling their way to their seat at the dais during roll call. At the last meeting Naperville councilman John Krummen was nowhere to be seen as his name was called during roll call:

There is no doubt that Krummen is a very important person with places to go, people to see, and things to do. Krummen would be the first to agree with that, so being late or a no-show goes with his territory. The good news for Krummen is that he’s not the only person who was a no-show for a roll call

The difference is that Bueller had a really good reason to miss roll call; you can’t beat fun at the old ball park.

May 202018
 

Kudos to Naperville Finance Director Rachel Mayer for ‘coming clean’ during Naperville’s May 15 city council meeting, regarding the recent utility billing error which was the focus of Watchdog’s last posting. It’s always refreshing when someone (especially in government) can ‘own up’ to making an error, and in this case it was a “90% error”, not so much the 10% error.

Watch and listen as the Finance Director owns accountability and more importantly discusses with Mayor Steve Chirico, and Naperville council member Rebecca Obarski what can be done to avoid the mistake going forward:

The error in billing was simply a mistake. Mistakes happen. We all make them. I once heard, and firmly believe that we are 10% of what happens to us, and 90% how we respond to it. The 10% was the billing error, and the 90% was the city not communicating about the error with the rate payers. Now with Finance Director addressing the issue, the “90%” has been rectified, and the opportunity for improvement exists.

Good for the City. Good for Rachel Mayer. And dilly, dilly for the rate payers.

May 132018
 

Is it possible that Naperville city officials have little if any respect for its residents? If sending out incorrect utility bills twice to over two-thousand residents is a measurement, then city officials appear to have no respect for the time residents invest in figuring out their utility bills. I happened to be one of the 2,000+ residents receiving the incorrect bills.

It was a Saturday and I came home after supporting a family member in the hospital, so it was a long but necessary day. I tend to be OC so I always have to go thru the mail before turning out the lights at night. I opened my City of Naperville utility bill and the bill was dated 4/21/18 with a due date of 3/14/18. Even more baffling was the bill showed a payment of $1,591.32 with a credit balance of -$407.81. How could the due date be before I received the bill, and how could they be showing a a huge payment being made that I didn’t make, especially for that dollar amount?

I was alarmed thinking that I had sent the wrong check to the City, which meant that another creditor didn’t get the check they should have received. It looked as if I had some explaining to do to someone if I could figure out who that ‘someone’ was. I invested a few hours trying to solve the brain teaser, with no success.

On Monday I called the City finance department and they said there was a billing error, and that I would be receiving a corrected bill. That same day I received the ‘new and improved ‘ bill but this one was screwed up too. The bill was dated 4/25/18 with a due date of 4/14/18 and again the dollar amounts made no sense.

The following day (Tuesday) I went to the city with bills-in-hand to get clarification of what I owe, and when is it due, and this is when it really gets interesting. The cashier made her best effort to explain the situation but apparently her supervisor or the department head gave her no help in advance for fielding questions. She said it was a ‘computer problem’ and only ‘couple of people were billed incorrectly’. I asked her if anybody oversees the billing, and she responded, ‘nobody oversees the billing’. I wanted to help the staff member, so I asked if I could speak to a supervisor, who happened to be five feet away and heard the conversation.

The supervisor said, “the billing team noticed the wrong billing date was entered and without a garbage fee” and that there are 22 billing cycles with each cycle having about 2,200 customers (bills). I asked if there was an announcement made anywhere informing residents of the error, and she said “the decision was made to do nothing (no communication) and wait for the new billing”.

So the City rather than letting the good folks of Naperville know, decided to let the folks figure it out themselves, or have city staff members (like the cashier I spoke with) deal with hundreds of phone calls, or people like me appearing at the Municipal Center trying to figure out what was going on. I asked the supervisor if the City had learned anything from this error, and she replied, “the utility billing group had conversations about changing the process”. That’s code for ‘the city didn’t learn anything.

City officials made absolutely no effort to inform residents of the error. Nothing was announced at the city council meeting, no mention on the city website, nothing on TV public access station, nothing mentioned by Naperville’s 10th council member (The Naperville Sun). Shame on city officials for doing nothing to help the rate payers understand the situation., Apparently transparency has no action and no words.

May 062018
 

How much stuff is too much stuff on the sidewalks of downtown Naperville? That is a question yet to be answered by the Naperville city council. City officials are pushing the envelope to see how many people, tables, chairs, benches, signs, and huge pieces of ‘artwork’ they can jam onto the sidewalks and still have some semblance of movement within the mass. Which will come to a complete stop first, pedestrians on the sidewalk or vehicles in the street? If the goal is to stop speeding, or making it easier for Naperville’s finest to apprehend the bad guys after a robbery, city officials are making it happen. Not much if anything will be moving at a quick pace in downtown Naperville.

For a number of years the Downtown Naperville Alliance has promoted an annual themed sculpture series. This year heart-shaped sculptures will be on display throughout the downtown area from June through September. In previous years other series have included chairs, book benches, cows, baseballs, classic cars and golf balls to name a few.

The concept is admirable, businesses or sponsors pay for the sculptures, artists are commissioned to design and paint or decorate the themed items, they are then placed in the downtown area, and afterward returned to the sponsors to sell, auction, or donate to non-for-profit organizations for fund raising. So to that extent, it’s a cool idea, however with most cool ideas, at some point it crosses over to being a bit much or too much.

Downtown Naperville is blessed and cursed at the same time with excessiveness. By adding 18 heart-shaped sculptures the size of VW Beetles (actually 52 inches high and 52 inches wide) on sidewalks, it’s going to make congested areas even more difficult to navigate. When city officials have to measure the distance between a store front or restaurant to the curb to see if a baby stroller and wheel chair can safely navigate side-by side without one or the other spilling into the street, you know you have reached the point of too much.

Apr 292018
 

Naperville city officials have a knack for getting the good folks of Naperville to buy-into an idea, but then changing the original buy-in idea. You have to give city officials a lot of credit for continuing to play games with the residents of Naperville. It’s so easy for them to tell us one thing, and then do the opposite later. It appears they must have a lot of fun doing it, otherwise they wouldn’t be doing it.

This time it involves the much anticipated Smart Park which will be built adjacent to the Naperville Municipal Center. It’s being presented as a really cool place for people to use the park, including children for outdoor classroom activities.

Watch and listen as councilman Bernie White asks if any consideration has been given to possibly renting out the grounds:

That’s a good question. Let’s get it out in the open so there are no unwanted surprises, right?

Now listen to Naperville city manager Doug Krieger respond:

He said ‘that’s a new idea’, as if this hasn’t been discussed. His wording is interesting. He said, “at this time” staff wouldn’t recommend it. How does he know that, if this is a ‘new idea’? And if staff wouldn’t recommend it “at this time”, how about a week after the park opens.

He goes on to say, “the intention would be to make it available to any and all users”. The key word is ‘intention’. Intentions can cause all sorts of problems. Didn’t the good folks of Naperville hear this same thing when a different group of Naperville city officials were selling us the idea of building a new municipal center, when they said meeting rooms could be used without cost (no rental charge) to residents (taxpayers) and groups in Naperville. Then this group of city officials decided to rent meeting rooms by squeezing residents and small groups for cash.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing of Krieger would say, “Listen, we are trying to sell you something that’s not true. We can’t cover our expenses for having the park, and even if we could, we want more revenue (cash) for other unnecessary things we want. Of course we are going to rent the park and if a resident wants to see the park, they can go into the Municipal building and look out the window at the park.” The other option would be for city officials to install a toll booth for getting into the park, and then another toll both to get out of it.

Apr 212018
 

Unfortunately, so often good intentions go bad, especially if it involves government, and it looks like it could be happening again in Naperville.

The Naperville Jaycees offered a huge donation to help build a Smart Park adjacent to the Naperville Municipal Center. I’m not exactly sure what a ‘smart park’ is, but if that’s what it takes to get $200,000 from the Jaycees then I’m all for it. The definition of ‘smart’ is a quick-witted intelligence, or clean, neat, and well-dressed. So if that’s required to get into the park, I might be able to almost qualify on one of the two.

Initially the Naperville city council made the Jaycees jump through some hoops in order for council members to accept the generous gift, but ultimately the Jaycees qualified for handing over the money to city officials. When council members were shown the plans for the Smart Park in full color, the council was quite excited about the possibilities. Beautiful colors have a way of raising the excitement level.

During the last council meeting (April 17) as the plans were unveiled, with all the bells and whistles, you could feel the enthusiasm from city officials. It was almost as if they were kids, and each was being offered a cute little puppy. What kid doesn’t want a puppy. When kids learn from mom and/or dad that they have to feed it, give it water, take it out , and clean-up little surprises left on the floor, they still want the puppy. Then after they have the puppy, somehow they forgot about the responsibility that goes with it.

This almost happened during the council meeting until Naperville councilwoman Rebecca Obarski threw a bucket of cold water on the council when she asked, how is maintenance going to be paid for? The audacity of Obarski to ask such a great question during the fun and festivities. Watch and listen as she asks her question, followed by Mayor Chirico’s response, which doesn’t quite satisfy Obarski, and city manager then chimes in with a little bit of double-talk intermingled with some fuzzy math.

Good for councilwoman Obarski for asking the question, and dilly, dilly for the good folks of Naperville for having the answer on record. We’ve been down this road many times before; “don’t worry, it’s paid for”, including  hearing it when Naperville cut a horrendous deal with its provider of electric, and then we heard it when the Carillon was built, and now it’s falling apart and in desperate need of funding.

It’s never a problem, until it’s a problem. But bingo, Naperville city officials always have a Plan-B to solve financial problems.  And who better to explain Plan-B than Naperville city manager Doug Krieger:

Apr 152018
 

Things are working pretty good at the Naperville Fire Department. They receive a lot of recognition and awards. In fact, things are going so well with Naperville’s fire department, city officials are looking to see how they can change it. It’s being done in the spirit of cost effectiveness and efficiency, meaning it might be time to consolidate the number of fire department locations and trim the number of employees.

Naperville city officials have publicly said nothing about privatization of the fire department, but nor did city officials from the hundreds of other municipal fire departments throughout the country before the change became imminent. Naperville city officials should be applauded for seeking cost efficiencies but should those cost cutting measures be focused on the fire and police departments? Those are services of safety and well-being that can affect all residents and businesses in Naperville. Other than clean water and refuse pick-up, just about every service the city provides affects the good folks of Naperville to a far lesser degree than police and fire services.

Personally I can do with much less Carillon music than I can do with a lower response time from the fire department. When it’s time to review my home owner’s insurance, the insurance company wants to know the distance from my home to the closest fire station, and not whether or not I can hear the Carillon bells.

Currently Naperville’s arrival time is about six minutes about 90% of the time. Seems like a reasonable amount of time unless I’m the guy having a heart attack, or it’s my home looking like a huge Bunsen burner. Given the chance to reduce that time down to five minutes or having leaves removed from my yard by the city, I’ll go with the five minute response-time option from the fire department.

Naperville city manager Doug Krieger said that any reductions in fire department staffing to facilitate consolidation would happen via retirement and attrition. So that’s good news for job security within the fire department, but it’s not good news for the workload of those remaining, nor is it necessarily good news for the residents and businesses of Naperville depending upon quick response time in an emergency.

Many municipalities have moved to privatizing fire department services in an effort to combat unionization and the increasing costs of higher salaries, benefits, pensions, and defending lawsuits, so trying to control those expenses is understandable, but to what end? If the end is a reduction in service or positive outcomes, then even though city officials may come out ahead, it will be at the expense of the good folks of Naperville.

The good news is, if you live within the sound of the Carillon bells, and your home catches fire, you’ll be able to hear the bells a few minutes longer until a fire truck or ambulance arrives.