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.