Aug 302015

I have a neighbor who is a very nice guy, but he struggles to keep focused when he talks. He rambles about anything and everything and then inevitably it results in a circular conversation, when he begins repeating what he just said. I quickly lose interest, and my mind begins to wander, while hoping my phone rings so I can gracefully exit. I can’t figure out if he is brilliant, or just simply goofy. Occasionally I get the same feeling while listening to some city council members during meetings.

Watch and listen to Naperville council member Patty Gustin as she attempts to make a point:

So what exactly did she say and what was her point?

She does it quite often. Here she is again during the same meeting, and this time it appears even she is bored with her own comments, or possibly she is reading from a prepared statement:

On the opposite side of the communication spectrum is Naperville councilman Kevin Coyne, who has a gift of saying so much with so few words:

During the last two regular Naperville city council meetings, here is a cumulative breakdown of the number of comments from each member:

Council member # of comments
Hinterlong 36
Gustin 26
Brodhead 25
Obarski 21
Gallaher 16
Krummin 15
Coyne 14
Anderson 9

Recently the Naperville city council adopted a few new rules for themselves to help meetings become more efficient and easier to understand. I would like to suggest two more rules which would help move the meetings along quicker and help minimize viewers from ‘mind wandering’.

Just as the council has a time keeper interrupting speakers during public forum when their three minutes have elapsed, I suggest having a resident-time-keeper in the audience with a cow-bell to use when council members begin rambling or comments are no longer coherent.

Additionally, have the council vote on an agenda item before discussions, rather than voting at the end. If it’s a unanimous vote, what’s the purpose of talking about it for 30 or 45 minutes when they’ve already made up their minds. If it’s not a unanimous vote, then discuss it, but wasting time on something they already agree upon is senseless.

It’s possible that council member Patty Gustin really is brilliant. Watch and listen as she attempts to concisely make a valid point:

I think my phone just rang.

Aug 232015

Who likes taxes? Business doesn’t like to be taxed. Residents don’t like to be taxed. Nobody likes to be taxed. And Naperville city officials don’t like to add taxes, especially if those city officials are city council members serving two-year terms which includes, lowest incumbent vote-getter, JudyBrodhead, Kevin Coyne, lowest overall vote-getter Kevin Gallaher, and John Krummen.

The City of Naperville has a projected $6.8 million budget deficit for fiscal 2016. The current municipal debt is over $120 million and increasing daily. Unless something is done to get these negative numbers under control, it can threaten the city’s AAA bond rating. The city is currently paying $13 million yearly to reduce its debt level. This is not a good position for the City of Naperville to find itself, and the City of Naperville is us. If the City loses, we lose, if the City benefits, we benefit.

It took City officials over a decade to dig this hole, and as city manager Doug Krieger recently stated, “the way to fill the hole is with cash, and the way to get cash is from rate payers”. Watch and listen to Naperville city manager Doug Krieger:

In other words it’s time for residents, and businesses, and consumers to ante up and fill the hole with cash.

The question is no longer, will the City impose a first-time-ever sales tax. The answer is a resounding ‘yes’. The question is will it be 1/4%, 1/2% or 1%. It’s anticipated that a .25% tax will bring in about $15 million, a .5% tax will bring in about $30 million, and a full 1% tax could see up to $60 million rolling in. That’s a lot of dollars to help fill a huge hole.

Watch and listen as Naperville business owner, and the mayor of Homer Glen, George Yukich shares his thoughts and experience on the benefit of creating a city sales tax:

Homer Glen (near Lockport) has no debt, they save their money for capital purchases, and have no municipal property tax. They don’t spend what they don’t have. It sounds like the same type of advice we give our children. It works.

I am not excited about another tax being inflicted, however since it is going to happen, I say let’s shoot for the stars and go with 1%. If I’m going to the oral surgeon to have a tooth extracted, I don’t want the surgeon taking a fourth out now, another fourth later, and then the final half after that. Let it happen all at once and move on.

It’s a consumption tax. If I don’t consume, I don’t pay. It’s my choice. Whereas most taxes are paid without choice. With those taxes I either pay now, or pay more later with interest, or in fines, penalties, or incarceration.

So now rather than something costing me $1.00, I will be paying $1.01. I can live with that. Plus I get four pennies back in change for my grandsons’ piggy bank.

Aug 162015

The City of Naperville has a lot of cool stuff. Things that most communities don’t have, and city officials take pride in that fact. City officials have all sorts of cool new toys that most communities could only wish to have.

For example, the City has initiated a new communication system called the ‘Naper Notify Mass Notification System’, which allows the City to quickly and directly send communications to residents through a wide array of devices to inform them about important news or situations.

When a situation arises, the City can communicate the specifics to residents via text, email, cell phone, home phone, or work phone. It was sold to officials as a wonderful, state-of-the-art method of keeping residents informed on a ‘need to know’ basis.

Last Monday morning when residents ‘needed to know’ something, it didn’t work. The ‘something’ was a police search in the central area of the city, for two robbery suspects. The search lasted over six hours and netted one of the two suspects, while the other vanished in a residential area.

The city’s communication manager, Linda LaCloche said it was “unfortunate” that it didn’t work. A better selection of words for ‘unfortunate’ would be unacceptable, deplorable, or repugnant. A robbery suspect on the loose in a residential area, or any area for that fact, is an absolute ‘must know’ for residents. This is not a communication about a parade, inclement weather, or somebody’s missing garbage can lid; this is a serious, possibly life-threatening  situation, and Naperville’s state-of-the-art system failed miserably.

Watch and listen as Naperville ‘Police Chief’ Bob Marshall awkwardly tries to answer mayor Steve Chirico’s question about the debacle:

Chirico is correct that if we can’t use it, then it’s not much use. Marshall’s excuse is that they don’t use it a lot; not a very reassuring answer for residents.

Now watch and listen as council member Patty Gustin asks Marshall if he can provide a description of the other subject:

OK, so there was a press release, one guy is in jail, and they are actively searching for the other suspect, but what is the description? Marshall never answered the question. I was waiting to hear something, other than a socially acceptable non-productive answer. He had the venue to do so, those sitting in council chambers, those watching on TV, and those streaming on line. Either he doesn’t have an answer, or he missed a golden opportunity to share with the public. Another ‘Naper Notify’ that didn’t work.

Aug 132015

The old saying that 99% of attorneys make the other 1% look bad, could also apply to Naperville city officials, except the percentages are not that drastic, and with Naperville’s new administration, things are quickly improving.

City council members are still too new to get an accurate reading, though each meeting brings actions and abilities more in focus. And leading the improvement is mayor Steve Chirico. One gets the feeling that if you’re getting the job done, Chirico is a staunch supporter, but if you slacking or ‘not on game’, the mayor isn’t pleased. That’s good for Naperville. The captain of the ship better be confident and a good leader, so others can follow the lead.

The same can’t necessarily be said about city manager Doug Krieger. City staff answers to department heads, and they in turn answer to Krieger. So when things go wrong, and they do, the trail leads to Krieger. In business, as in sports, if the team isn’t getting the job done, it’s the manager, coach or leader that get’s called out. It doesn’t exactly work like that in government, though it should and could, and just might happen in Naperville’s municipal center (City Hall).

Deadlines are important to Naperville city officials if they are the ones setting the deadline. However, if others are setting the deadlines for city officials, they often aren’t taken with a sense of urgency; city officials have a  lax or laissez-faire approach to others’ needs.

A few years ago, the City of Naperville missed a deadline with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) causing a charity (Loaves and Fishes) to lose out on $148,000 worth of needed funding. HUD had determined that the City had made “serious mistakes” and did not turn in reports about the use of federal funds.

The City of Naperville covered the lost federal funds to the charity by issuing a $148,627 payment to Loaves and Fishes. Lack of meeting a deadline cost residents a chunk of money.

When residents voted to change council representation from an at-large style to districts, city officials said it would take them five years to implement the voter’s choice. Again, no sense of urgency on their part to meet the wishes of residents. A high school class on government affairs could have taken the assignment of creating districts and accomplished it within a few weeks, but city officials said they needed five years.

The Illinois Housing Development Authority ordered the City to submit plans by June 2 to ensure affordable housing in Naperville. Twenty-eight (28) communities were able to do what the City of Naperville couldn’t do, and that was to submit a workable strategy within a reasonable deadline. It’s not like the City didn’t have time, Naperville was notified in December of 2013. Naperville’s answer is to hire a consultant to complete the process in a year. More dollars being spent, more time being wasted. No sense of urgency. Is it any wonder why the City has a $6.8 million budget deficit.

Aug 082015

Sometimes it happens after returning from vacation, or the month after Christmas, or even on a Monday morning after a great weekend of fun. It’s the awareness that too much money was going out without enough in reserve to cover it. You can do it for quite a while with the aid of credit cards, but sooner or later, without a doubt, it catches up to you, and you can’t outrun the inevitable.

That’s where the City of Naperville is now with a $6.8 million budget deficit. Something has to give. We either give up services which we are accustomed to, or we all pay more, or both. That’s what Naperville city officials will be looking at and deciding within a short period of time.

We can’t blame the current city council for Naperville’s deficit, since six of the nine are new in position. They didn’t start the financial fire; it’s been smoldering since 2000. Steve Chirico was elected as council member in 2011, and won election for Mayor in April of this year, though not taking office until May. However current council members Judith Brodhead and Paul Hinterlong have been on the council since 2009, and have participated in six years worth of over spending.

Naperville city manager Doug Krieger also had the opportunity to slow down the spending machine, by assertively encouraging the council to ‘pull it in’, but why should he slow the spending when the dollars were plentiful and spending is fun. What makes his situation even more interesting, is that prior to becoming the city manager, he was Naperville’s finance director. That was another lost opportunity by Krieger. Apparently he never read the book by Allan Cohen and David Bradford, titled “Influence Without Authority”.

Krieger’s quick solution is to “get it (cash) from the residents”. Unfortunately that is now one of the unpleasant options. Cutting services is another distasteful option. Doing both is is a one-two punch to residents and businesses alike.

Depending upon how two-year term council members (Brodhead, Coyne, Gallaher and Krummen) vote, it could determine which if any return for another term. People don’t like paying more and getting less. Council members Judy Brodhead and John Krummen appear to be the most vulnerable to losing their seats at the dais during the next election.

Amazingly, city manager Doug Krieger appears insulated from a pink-slip, but just like the over-extended credit card user,  sooner or later, without a doubt, it will catch up to him, and he can’t outrun the inevitable.

Aug 052015

Has anyone noticed that Naperville city manager, Doug Krieger, has all but disappeared during city council meetings. Whether he has decided to keep his foot out of his mouth by not talking as much, or he was encouraged to do so by the new administration is up for debate; either way it has been refreshing.

Krieger couldn’t blend into the woodwork when he was the lead participant in the recent workshop meeting. The workshop focused on a financial update regarding the city budget. Naperville city Finance Director, Rachel Mayer did a commendable job of presenting the state of financial affairs in Naperville, with what was supposed to be support from city manager Doug Krieger. However, in Krieger’s typical style, rather than clarifying he obfuscated.

The previous, well-seasoned, city council including Doug Krause, Bob Fieseler, Joe McElroy and Grant Wehrli would occasionally ‘call Krieger out’ for trying to bamboozle the council with non-sense. Most members of the current city council, other than council members Gallagher and Coyne, are allowing Krieger to skate without challenging him to be more clear and forthright.

Some things are so blatant, that they are screaming for someone to question “what’s going on with that”. Take a look at the following pie chart showing where budget dollars are being spent,, and see if you notice anything that seems out of balance:

Who didn’t notice the huge piece of pie that reflects 42% being spent on electric.

Now watch and listen to city manager Doug Krieger as he states that the city owned ‘electric utility provides a lot of electric’, as if it was something he should receive a standing ovation for:

Here is where it gets even better, when Krieger states, the utility “financially needs some fixing”, a hole was dug, and “the way you fix holes, is with more cash, the way you get more cash is from the rate payers” (residents and businesses). So Naperville’s highly paid city manager’s solution, for his terrible decision-making (long term electric contract), is to squeeze it out of the very people already affected by high electric rates.

Krieger is going for the ‘easy fix’ rather applying some creativity and sacrifice suggested by councilman Paul Hinterlong in the following clip:

The City of Naperville has a $6.8 million deficit, or about $50 person. Rather than jacking up the electric rates, adding a city sales tax, and slapping residents with a 617% increase in garbage pick-up, how about we all chip in $50 each and require city manger Doug Krieger to toss in a percentage of his salary to cover the deficit. Krieger can then go back to saying less at meetings, and making far fewer bad decisions that cost the City and residents more than they should have to pay.

Aug 012015

In 2004, the Naperville city council approved a 1% sales tax on restaurant food and beverages. The tax collected was earmarked for special events and cultural activities, hence the acronym SECA. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and it was. As with just about any good government idea, and there are a few, in the beginning it was used for what it was intended for.

However SECA is a classic example why government programs, and the taxes to support them, never disappear and go away. They just keep getting bigger and bigger until the purpose of SECA becomes its own existence by getting bigger and bigger. The tax created a huge chunk of money, cherished by the City of Naperville. The ‘want’ has now become a ‘need’.

Watch and listen to Naperville councilman Kevin Coyne’s position that SECA has ‘outgrown its purpose and design’:

The city of Naperville has a huge $6.8 million budget deficit and city officials began to address the issue at a recent city council workshop. The only city council member not to attend the budget meeting was Naperville council woman Judy Brodhead. Watch and listen to Brodhead as she clearly states that $2 million is a very small amount:

Brodhead has no problem spending money, especially when it’s not hers. Apparently she doesn’t think she needs to be held accountable for it. Fiscal responsibility has not been a strength for Brodhead. In less than two years Brodhead most likely will be running for re-election and voters will be reminded that she has no problem spending taxpayer’s money.

Now watch and listen to councilman Paul Hinterlong as he suggests keeping a lid on the number of events supported by eliminating a few of those events.

Every group needs at least one person who adds common sense to a discussion, and Kevin Coyne does exactly that for the Naperville city council.  Watch and listen as Coyne suggests stepping back for a clearer view and looking at the budget first before committing to increase expense by adding SECA payroll hours:

This is not a time to be frivolously adding expense to a budget that is already nearly $7 million in the hole. The best thing you can do when you’re in a hole is to throw away the shovel. Somebody needs to confiscate Brodhead’s shovel. If it’s not now, the voters can do it in less than two years.

The vote was 6 to 3 in favor of increasing this expense. Council members voting ‘no’ to the expense were Kevin Coyne, Patty Gustin, and Paul Hinterlong. It looks like a few more shovels need to be confiscated.