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.
Your points about treating speakers with more respect are well taken. People who take the time to attend and make remarks before the Council should not be subjected to hostility or bullying. It’s good to have a WatchDog to hold Councilmen accountable for their actions. All the best, ~Bob Fieseler.