Jan 282011

Slip sliding away.

Is it any wonder why in the short span of a couple of years Naperville has gone from being ranked the second best city to live in the United States, to being ranked the second best city to live within a 10 mile radius of  City Hall. We are now # 2 behind Bolingbrook. Now there was a time that being # 2 was so good that it became an advertising bonanza when Avis was # 2 behind Hertz. The Avis motto was ‘we try harder’. Being # 2 is not something Naperville should aspire to, unless of course, we become # 3.

So how did we become # 2 to Bolingbrook. Well simply stated we became # 2 the same way we could become # 1; and that’s with local leadership.

Let me give you three recent and classic examples of how our City Council’s Leadership team has created a mind-set that fosters mediocrity.

First the City Council recently debated the topic of employee compensation and considered performance-based pay as an option; basically the better the performance the better the compensation. Councilman Kenn Miller said, “If you are, say, an average performer, you’re not going to get all your at-risk (performance based) pay.”  Now Councilman Miller you’ve got to be kidding; why would a #1 city want to keep an employee who is deemed ‘average’. Turn your T.V on or listen to your radio, we have major unemployment in this country and this is an ideal time to upgrade the quality of our city staff. We don’t need to settle for average. Apparently you have never heard the slogan, ‘if better is possible then good is not enough’ and you’re not even talking about ‘good’, you are talking about ‘average’. To make this mind-set even more egregious, Kenn Miller is a candidate for Mayor of our fine city.

The second example also comes from the same meeting when some council members conceded that a morale quandary existed among city employees founded by a two-year pay freeze. Council member Judith Brodhead said, “If you have a couple of years where you’re not giving out any pay raises, just what is the reward for doing a fabulous job? What can you do to reward a really, really good employee if you don’t plan on compensating them?” Another classic example of a council member’s answer to solving a problem…….just throw more money at it.    Well Council member Brodhead, let me give you 1,002 ways to reward employees. First get a copy of the book “1,001 ways to Reward Employees” by Bob Nelson, Stephen Schudlich, and Ken Blanchard and read it from cover to cover. Then remind them of the number 1,002 way to reward employees; they have a job and they are not in the unemployment line. Harsh as that may sound, it’s reality. Just as there is “no crying in baseball”, there is “no whining when you’re employed”.

And the final example of fostering a climate to achieve mediocrity came during the State of the City speech when City Manager Doug Krieger made a presentation on city economics, and proudly stated “We get 1% of every purchase made within the city limits. While this may seem like just a sliver, you people buy a lot of stuff”. So basically the city is getting 1% ‘of the action’. Isn’t this the same mind-set that the Federal government is trying to eliminate when in the biggest one-day takedown of one of its biggest competitors;  they recently arrested more than 100 members of the five New York crime families: the Gambinos, Genoveses, Bonnanos, Luccheses and Colombos? Weren’t they also getting ‘a piece of the action’ The only thing more unusual than the City Manager proudly stating that the City is getting a 1% piece of the action, would have been if he got a standing ovation from those the City is squeezing for that 1%.

Jan 252011

Something new and something old.

Now here is something new and something old at the same time. The January 18th meeting of the City Council could have surprised all in attendance by starting on time for the first time since… who can remember when it started on time or if it has ever started on time with this current City Council. There are 11 people on the panel including 8 council members, the Mayor, the City Attorney and the City Manager. Out of 11 people there was only one ready to get the party started on time, and that one person was Councilman Grant Wehrli. There he was, seated by 7:00 and ready to rock-‘n-roll and do the people’s business; however he had no one with which to council. One by one the others came strolling in by leisurely walking to their assigned seats. It’s almost as if they think it’s stylish to come in late. Now I suppose you could say there was one other Council member who was not late, and that was Council member Judy Brodhead. She finally solved her problem of being late by not being at the meeting. Now there’s a clever solution to the punctuality-challenged Council member.

Now there was something that was new to the point of being refreshing, and that was the fact that the meeting lasted about 1 ¾ hours……wow that’s almost a record setting pace considering some of the meeting marathons have lasted up to five hours. If it wasn’t for Councilman Furstenau’s lack of focus punctuated with occasional whining about not being listened to, or wanting to switch his vote from a ‘yes’ to a ‘no’ simply because he couldn’t get his way with the other council members, it could have been a record setting meeting in terms of shortest duration.

Sometimes you get the feeling that the other 7 Council members are delighted that Councilman Furstenau sits among them, because he makes the other 7 look really competent. As long as Richard is there, then the others can’t possibly look that bad.

You almost hope that Councilman Furstenau is not preparing for the meeting for more than 4 minutes, because if he is, then he is truly wasting his time.

Here are just a couple of examples. During one of his meltdowns he chastises his fellow councilmen, panel members, and those in attendance by raising his voice and saying “I only raise my voice because I never get a chance to speak without somebody saying something, and I’m about tired of that. I don’t care who it’s coming from.”. Now I ask you, my fellow citizens, is this the ‘voice’ of leadership that we seek from our elected officials, or is that the whining and crying of  someone who is clueless in leadership ability. The other instance occurred after a vote had been taken, and the Council was ready to move to the next topic on the agenda, and Councilman Furstenau wanted to go back and ask more questions about what he had already voted ‘yes’ to. Councilman Boyajian said, “Mr. Mayor, since we have already voted on that, I suggest the Councilman take that off line.”  So basically Councilman Furstenau voted ‘yes’ to something he didn’t fully understand. Now here comes the interesting part of the verbal exchange. Councilman Furstenau says “I’ll tell you what; I am going to change my vote on the whole thing.” So now he wants to vote ‘no’ for something he still doesn’t understand. So apparently Mr. Furstenau never heard the saying that when you dig yourself into a hole, the first thing you need to do is throw away the shovel. Councilman Grant Wehrli brought the voice of reason to the conversation by saying “I understand you overlooked something, I get that,  bring it up under New Business, that’s why we have Robert’s Rules of Order. Right now we’re in the middle of an agenda and because you had an epiphany that you missed something, the whole meeting doesn’t come to a grinding halt. We move on.” Kudos for Councilman Wehrli for taking a stand to keep the line moving. You would think that Councilman Furstenau would throw away the shovel at this point, but oh think again, he continues to dig his hole deeper by saying “ You know what Mr. Wehrli, we’ll move on, but I’ll remember that. I’m through with this kind of stuff.” We could only wish that Councilman Furstenau would be ‘through with that kind of stuff’, but at last sighting he was still carrying that shovel.

Jan 122011

Who’s watching the City Council watch us?

We are seeing watchful eyes at both the Federal and State levels of government; however at the local levels of government the misuse or abuse of government is running unbridled. There are over 230 million personal computers in our country of over 300 million people. No newspaper has ever attained that kind of circulation. www.CityCouncilWatchdog.com allows that type of watchful eye.

For far too long we have allowed the local policy makers to determine how we live and what we do, and how we do it in the guise that they know what’s best for us. Enough is enough. It’s time to tell the City Council to ‘get their hands out of our pockets’. It’s time to limit their insatiable fiscal appetite for government. We’ve seen it happen on the national level with the emergence of the Tea Party, and we’re seeing it at the State level. Now it’s time to see it on the local level. It’s time the local government manage the city as a business rather than a part-time hobby. It’s time they listen to their constituency.

When ordinances are passed that can’t be enforced, then what’s the purpose. When dollars are spent, that don’t need to be spent, then what’s the purpose. When a referendum is passed for term limits and local representation on a geographic basis and we hear that the City Council didn’t have enough time to prepare for the change how does that show accountability on their part. Time and time again the wishes and needs of the citizens are shelved, bypassed or overlooked. Enough is enough.

How did it get to this point? Well the answer is incrementally; little by little like erosion. If the City Council thinks no one is watching, then basically they have free reign to do as they please. And that’s exactly what they have done for the most part without accountability. Citizen tax payers are so busy either trying to make a living, making ends meet, or trying to have a life that little time is available to watch City Council decisions, actions, or in most cases their inaction.

So what sources are available to learn about local government action or inaction? Well, we have the local newspaper but newspapers are dying. The Naperville Sun announced today that the paper will reduce publishing from six days down to three.  We can watch the local TV station and read the scroll, but that’s boring and monotonous. We can watch the Council meeting on TV, but so much is missed by not being at the meeting live; like a Councilman dozing off, or another Councilman looking bored, or the fact that they can’t even start the meetings on time. So attending meetings is great, in fact in many ways it’s almost like entertainment. The only downside is that they can take two hours of actual meeting content and turn it into four hours of circular conversation by repeating themselves over and over without adding anything constructive. You can also see the meetings on line, but it’s not easy to navigate the website to locate and view meetings.

Now don’t get me wrong, all of these sources for information are better than nothing, so we encourage you to learn as much as you can from as many sources as possible in order to get a real feel for what’s happening locally. The more we learn about local government in the form of the City Council’s actions and decisions, the more amazed we are that anything gets accomplished.

A quote attributed to the late Speaker of the House Thomas P. (Tip) O’Neill Jr. in 2003, that “all politics is local”. If this is true, and we believe it is, then what happens locally is of utmost importance to us, and it’s vital that we keep a watchful eye on those who make decisions that affect our daily lives locally. That is our primary purpose and we intend to do exactly that. An informed citizenry is a necessity for good government. With 230 million computers and over 300 million people, much can accomplished not only on a State or National level, but also on a local basis. This is neither a conservative nor a liberal idea; it is an American idea and one that is needed and welcomed by millions of Americans of all political persuasions.

Jan 082011

The Naperville City Council meeting on Tuesday January 4th showed both the best and the worst aspects of local government leadership. In a group of 11 people (8 council members, the Mayor, city attorney, and City Manager) you will have a wide spectrum of characters including those who want action without procrastination,  seek solutions, and offer remedies (Councilman Fieseler), and those who point fingers of blame, chastise, and berate (Councilman Boyajian).

Here’s how the positive, solution-focused portion of the meeting unfolded. During the Public Forum portion of the meeting, a mother with her three children addressed the Council requesting an opportunity to resolve the issue of the water being turned off in her home. After some bantering back and forth between council members, and staff, Councilman Fieseler came to the rescue of the family, and offered an avenue of opportunity to help the mom and her three children get their water turned on.  Now that’s making things happen.

Later in the Public Forum ‘the good, the bad, and the ugly’ portion of the ongoing issue of Scott Huber and Doctor Borchadt’s power struggle for control of the pavement in front, near, or anywhere within sight of her office unfolded. Now Scott Huber is no longer a homeless guy, in fact Naperville no longer has homeless folk, we now refer to them as street dwellers; it sounds more palatable, it doesn’t seem nearly as bad. Dr. Borchart along with four supporters stated her concern again, this time intensified by the Council’s lack of apparent concern or action about her plight. None of our leaders ‘seemed’ to know why she wasn’t on an agenda, or how that could happen. Again as the Council began to banter back and forth, Councilman Fieseler ‘the good’ spoke up and firmly stated, “Let’s do it now. Enforce the ordinance now.” Kudos for Councilman Fieseler, not only for taking a stand and creating a sense of urgency, but also for using the word ‘now’. That word is not often heard during City Council meetings. More typically what we hear are the words, ‘later, memos, legal analysis, postpone, delay, cancel, look into’. The only awareness resulting from Dr. Borchart’s ‘presentation’ is that hopefully the members of City Council now know how to pronounce her name. You would think that for as long as this saga has continued, the Council members would at least know how to pronounce her name correctly; the ‘ch’ of Borchart is pronounced as a ‘k’. If you can’t at least get a person’s name correct (the bad), then it’s no surprise she gets lost in the shuffle of council agendas. And now we get to the ‘ugly’ portion of the bantering. This is were Councilman Boyajian speaks up and begins a verbal ‘beat down’ our Police Chief Dial demanding that the police do their job, of keeping tabs of Huber, which they are already doing legally, diligently, professionally, and constitutionally. To Police Chief Dial’s credit, he maintained control of himself, showed class and professionalism, and refrained from negatively responding to Councilman Boyajian. It might be beneficial to Council Boyajian and those around him to switch to decaffeinated beverages, or loosen his bow tie to help him see things in a less combative manner.

Toward the end of meeting the agenda topic to approve the expenditure for water meters was discussed. It’s during these discussions that members from the city staff answer questions or concerns for the council, and in this case that person was Chief Procurement Officer Mike Bevis who was in the crosshairs of the council. It seems to be the City Council’s questioning style to place members of the staff in a defensive mode, rather than to be enlightened by staff. You get the feeling that the staff has put a lot of time, research and effort into their areas of responsibility, only to be harshly interrogated at best, or berated at worst by Council members who don’t have the foggiest idea as to the specifics of the topic at hand. It’s almost like a Supreme Court nominee going before a Congressional hearing and getting pounded by a Senator with a personal agenda; in this case it’s a council member who wants to appear ‘on top’ of a topic, or tough on expense, when in fact they either don’t have the desire or IQ to understand what the staff is presenting. To the staff’s credit (in this case Mike Bevis) they remain respectful and attempt to explain details but it’s almost as if the staff member is trying to teach a monkey how to play the clarinet.

On a positive note you do see an occasional glimpse of compassion, empathy or genuine concern from Council members (Fieseler, Wehrli, Hinterlong, Miller and Mayor Pradel) to a member of staff or a citizen. That’s refreshing, and it would be even more refreshing if the remaining members from the ‘table of 11’ would occasionally do the same.  Now if we could only see the Council start a meeting on time that would really be refreshing.

Jan 032011

Attending a Tuesday evening City Council meeting is an eye opener, and I mean that literally. Your peripheral vision allows you to see what you can’t see when viewing the meeting online. Things like a Councilman Furstenau ever so slightly dozing off, or Councilman Wehrli showing obvious non-verbal communication of being bored. Now of course when the meeting lasts just short of five hours, dozing off or being bored could be excused, but not when their decisions (or abundant procrastination) affect the lives of Naperville citizens. The meeting of December 21st could have concluded 10 minutes earlier if it hadn’t been delayed by ten minutes from starting on time because Councilwoman Brodhead was late. I suppose there’s an excuse for being late, but apparently Councilwoman Brodhead has never heard the definition of punctuality which is ‘respect for another person’s time’ or in this case a good number of people in attendance.

Also attending a council meeting gives you the opportunity to hear what you can’t hear by reading the local newspaper; in this case the Naperville Sun. Now don’t get me wrong, the Naperville Sun is a wonderful family-friendly publication not wanting to ‘make waves’ and keeping it warm and fuzzy, but let’s face it, unfortunately newspapers are dying, yet they are not willing to focus on the quality and value of the meal rather than the silverware. When newspapers flourished, journalists ‘protected’ their readership by digging for the story. Now because they need to be in the ‘good graces’ of the newsmakers in order to get a story, they are beholding to the newsmakers and not to their readership. Journalism has gone sideways much like many of the mortgages in our country.

We need action, and in today’s economy we need leadership in the City Council. We need Council members who can make the difficult decisions, and not push them off into the future. We need Council members who realize they are stewards of their titles and not owners of their titles. They work for the citizens of Naperville; the citizens do not work for the council.

Yet during the meeting it was blatantly clear that many of the Council members see the citizens as ‘the little unimportant people’, like Joe Hornbaker, the hot-dog guy trying to make a living and provide a service of selling hotdogs from a mobile cart on the sidewalks of downtown Naperville to those who want to buy a hotdog , yet in City Council he’s treated like a human piñata. The City Council has bestowed the gift of allowing Joe to sell hotdogs in the freezing cold of winter, and the rains of spring until May 1st when again he must seek the blessing of the City Council to see if he can stay in business. Councilman Werhli stated “I have not been supportive of mobile carts; I think they do a disservice to those who ‘buy real estate’.” So apparently Council Wehrli doesn’t want to offend the restaurant owners who might lose a couple of bucks per nite because Joe is selling his hotdogs. Loosely translated, Joe is not important, nor are the fine folks who would like the joy of exchanging a buck-plus for a hotdog.

Or how about the egregious and blatant disrespect Councilman Boyajian showed for Andrew Becker when it came time for Andrew to have his 3-minute public forum to express his view on sidewalk extensions in the Naperville Heights area; before Andrew could even get to the podium Councilman Boyajian blurts out “if you’re going to make the same points, the previous speakers made, I don’t need to hear them”. If that’s not an example of absolute total disregard from Councilman Boyajian to a Naperville tax-paying citizen, then what is? Keep in mind that Andrew Becker may have been there for hours waiting for his three minutes of time before being castigated by Councilman Boyajian. To Councilman Boyajian’s credit, he apparently is not running for re-election this year because even he may have realized his ‘expiration date’ for being effective has expired.

And then there is the story of Christopher Evans who has been trying to get a refund of his utility deposit. He spoke with three people at the Naperville Finance Department and a City attorney and they all said he could not get a refund, but he could get a credit on his monthly utility bills. His only recourse was to appear for three precious minutes in front of the City Council, and plead his case which he efficiently did. Now here is where it gets really interesting. The City said “there may be 500 to 1000 in that situation” and it would be too expensive to ‘cut checks’ and mail them to citizens. Yet when asked how many requests have there been for a refund, the answer was one, and that one was Christopher Evans and he even offered to save the City the cost of 44 cents postage by coming in to personally get his refund. This is a classic example of government gone wrong. All the man wants is his $102.95, now I ask you, is that asking for too much. Well apparently the City Council thinks so because they voted 5 to 4 not to issue a check to Christopher. Those voting against refunding his money were Council members Furstenau, Boyajian, Fiesler, Krause, (a Mayoral candidate), and Mayor Pradel.

It’s almost as if the City Council is playing baseball where they are the bat, and their constituents are the ball. Keep in mind that anyone who appears in front of the Council wants something, if nothing more than just to be heard, hence we as citizens come with ‘hats in hand’ asking the Council to bless our reasonable requests and add some common sense into their thought process, however common sense is not part of the equation used when making their decisions and proclamations.

Now consider this, one of the agenda topics was whether or not to approve an expenditure of $117,760 for a backhoe loader, or to keep the one the city has now and have yearly repairs which last year were $4800.  Now I wouldn’t know a backhoe loader from a front hoe unloader, but I do know what $117,760 is compared to $4800. Common sense says that in today’s economy and considering the city’s budget woes and the fact that we had to reduce our police force by 4%, that unnecessary spending is totally unacceptable. Yet the Council approved the expense by a vote of 7 to 2. It begs the question, is the Council running our City like a business or a part-time hobby.  The City Council apparently thinks that we can spend our way out of a budget deficit; which would be like an alcoholic thinking he can drink himself out of alcoholism.

Another agenda topic was the approval by a vote of 6 to 3 of two union contracts. Councilman Miller (a Mayoral candidate) said “we did get some concessions that were favorable” and “it’s a good starting point.”  Well Councilman Miller, if ‘better’ is possible then ‘good’ is not enough. We live in Naperville, not Berwyn where ‘good’ is considered good enough. It might be the reason why just 5 years ago Naperville was listed as the #2 place to live in the entire United States. Now just 5 years later we are considered the # 2 place to live within a 10 mile radius Council chambers because Bolingbrook is now # 1.Are you kidding me…..Bolingbrook is ahead of Naperville.

How did we get to be #2 behind Bolingbrook? Maybe it’s because ‘good’ is considered good enough. Is this what Councilman Boyajian meant when he said, “we are moving this city in the right direction”, does that mean from # 1 to # 2. If the Council is moving the city in the right direction, then they are not doing it as quickly as they moved it in the wrong direction.

A contributing factor could be that Councilman Furstenau appears to be clueless about most agenda topics.  If someone from out of town attended the December 21st Council meeting he or she might have thought that Councilman Furstenau had won a contest to be “Guest Councilman For the Night” because of his comments during the meeting which included, “I missed all of that”, “I’m not really sure of what’s going on here”, “I guess I just don’t understand this”, “I never knew we were doing that”, “I guess I’m lost”, and the classic line of the evening was from Councilman Boyajian towards Furstenau when he said, “What don’t you understand about ‘no’” prior to taking a vote. It might behoove Councilman Furstenau to ‘do his homework’ prior to the Council meeting rather than appearing clueless during the meeting.

The final topic on the agenda, the City Council voted 5 to 4 on an ordinance ‘permanently’ establishing ‘weekend overnight parking’ in downtown parking decks. The amazing part of this vote was not that it was approved, but the fact that 4 Councilmen (Miller, Boyajian, Hinterlong, and Wehrli) voted against the approval.

That would be like voting against baseball, apple pie, and the importance of being a mom. It absolutely defies all logic. That means we were one vote away from adding non-functioning drivers on our roadways. Space is available in the those parking facilities on those nights and we should give a standing ovation for those drivers who know they should not be driving and are wise enough to park their vehicles rather than risking lives on the roadways, and it passes by just one simple vote.

Simply stated it’s time to restore sanity to our City Council and the leaders of our fine city. If a guy can’t sell a hotdog, or get a refund of his money, or get to speak his three minutes at a public forum, or park his car in a near empty city parking garage, then it’s time for a change in leadership. If you can’t start a meeting on time, and it takes them almost 5 hours to conclude a two hour meeting, and elected Councilmen are either dozing off, too bored to listen, not willing to save taxpayer dollars, or clueless to agenda topics then it’s time for a change in leadership. When ‘good’ is considered ‘good enough’ and ‘better’ is not considered, and going from # 1 to # 2 is considered ‘moving in the right direction’, then it’s time for a change in leadership. When the title of ‘Council member’ or ‘Mayor’ is considered ownership rather than stewardship, then it’s time for a change in leadership.  When this is our City Council at work, then it’s time a change in leadership. . This is why we have created CityCouncilWatchdog.com.