How To Get Things Done In Naperville; A Benevolent Dictatorship

Have you ever noticed how long it takes to get something done in government. If you live in a democracy or a republic, it can take forever and a day. Everybody wants to get involved with their opinions and ideas, then there’s a lot of discussion which can escalate into an argument or a fight.

The City of Naperville created a carefully conceived plan to choose a developer for the Fifth Avenue Project, which will be a huge development (over 13 acres) near the 5th avenue train station. City officials chose a 15-member advisory committee of outstanding individuals to review proposals from eight companies. A list of criteria was created from which the development firms were to be scored. With much talk and review, one company (Ryan Cos.) stood head and shoulders above the rest and that company was chosen to be presented to the city council to consider as the potential developer. Council approval was the next step towards having the company use their time and money to survey public opinion in the area and then develop a plan for the council to consider.

When city staff presented the findings to the city council and the public during the August 15 city council meeting, it was not received very well by some council members and residents in the project area. Council members said they were not happy with the process; in other words they felt left out of the communication loop as did the residents. Not that the development company chosen was not the best, just that they were left out. No one seemed to understand that choosing this company just meant the company could now move forward in involving others with public opinion of what’s needed in the area if anything.

That’s the ‘problem’ with a republic or a democracy. Everyone wants input, feelings are hurt, egos are bent out of shape, and the process drags on and on. Sooner or later a plan is created and a decision is made, and a vote up or down is taken. Chances are that this company is the one that will be selected to take it to the next step, but not until everyone has had their input and ego massaged. You may have heard the story about the camel being the end result of a committee assigned to design a horse, rather than just having it designed by the guy who knows what a horse should look like.

The beauty of a benevolent dictator, is that the right or best thing can get done quickly without endless discussion. Now before you get bent out of shape with that idea, consider the key word is ‘benevolent’; well meaning and  organized for the purpose of doing good. Now change the word ‘dictator’ to trusted leader. Now who wouldn’t want a trusted leader who’s purpose it is to do good. You could end the endless, circular talking. and get things done.

Yes, I know ‘trusted leader’ is difficult to wrap your arms around. If you don’t trust your leader, then vote him or her out of office. Which is why we are a democratic republic. Which means get ready for endless, circular talking, bruised egos, upset people, resulting in the same decision; Ryan Cos. will be the developer selected.

Show 25 Comments


  1. maudie

    I support you position on this issue. I expected the committee who chose Ryan to present more information at the August 28 meeting regarding each of the bidders who were not chosen, and then give reasons why these bidders were not chosen. Instead, City Staff and the committee put together a justification PowerPoint that was totally confusing and did not answer the question – why they believed Ryan was the best choice. All the bruised egos then had stuff to say to justify their existence on the City Council, all of which made no sense and showed their limited grasp of the simple concept. Mayor Steve finally spoke up at the end and gave the concise explanation that should have been given at the very beginning of the meeting. Many of the residents around the area spoke up, some with their own concerns about pre-existing water conditions that have nothing to do with the subject matter. Additionally, these same residents were collecting signatures at the Naperville Farmers Market Saturday asking for further delay in the decision by the council because of their water problems. These residents said they wanted to have input as to what is developed. Quess what – that is exactly what Ryan is going to do, as was made clear at the August 28 meeting by Mayor Steve. Why these residents do not understand that their problems can only be resolved by the City, and not this developer, is beyond me. So City Council members, when you are presented with the petitions, please understand they were signed by people who did not understand the issue. Just like our City Council.

    • I was there

      The flaws in your argument and the assumptions you make are many.

      For example: I looked and those water issues you talk about have not been addressed by the city for decades. It seems the residents believe this project is their best chance to break that ancient logjam because some of the land in this project could be used exactly for that purpose. If the project goes thru w/o that issue added in, it will go back to being unaddressed for decades more. Why? Because the city doesn’t have the money, or doesn’t want to budget the money, to fix it.

      You know what they say about people who make assumptions, right?

  2. Jim Haselhorst

    The problem is, this was not the process council members understood would happen when they voted yes on creating this ADVISORY council. They were expecting a “short” list of approved developers, developers the committee felt were capable of doing the best job, with a possible recommendation on who the committee believed was the best candidate. Instead they were given a single name with no other developers to review and discuss. Decisions that will have a major impact on our community should be make by those we all elected to do so, not by some committee made up of appointees we did not elect.

    If you told your employees to get together and give you a list of best vendors for a company event and they did not do this, but instead gave you a single vendor’s name. Would you feel it was OK they did not do what you told them, resulting in them circumventing your authority and making the vendor decision themselves or would you tell them they did not do as told and remind them you are the one that is suppose to be making the decisions.

    If the watchdog is OK with advisory committees/boards making council decisions then he better get ready for his taxes to be raised significantly because that was the decision of the financial advisory board.

    Trying to paint the council members that spoke up as being motivated by political ambitions simply because you do not agree with their decision or actions is Political Mud-slinging 101. This project is going to be huge for our community and we only get one change to do it right, which means no shortcuts and no rushing to make a decision.

    I my opinion any developer that has ever been involve in a TIF district or has spoken in favor of TIF districts should not even be consider for this project. Unless you like higher property taxes the last thing our community needs is another damn TIF district.

    As to “benevolent” dictators I will say two things. First, eventually “absolute power corrupts absolutely” and second we use to have what the watchdog has defined as a benevolent dictator only he was called a Monarch.

  3. John

    The city council is clueless and will follow the direction of the Trusted Leader . Anybody with independent thinking will be shunned .
    The selection of Ryan looks fishy . How many candidates were considered ? Is that a secret ?
    Citizens are treated like mushrooms — keep them in the dark and feed them horse manure – and they will grow .
    Enjoy the refurbished TOWER and new 5th AVE development

    • Jim Haselhorst

      If the city council were clueless then those on the council that challenged this resolution would not have notice and brought it to the public attention. In short the only reason we are having this debate is because Councilwomen Anderson red flagged it publicly, not the actions of mindless sheep.

    • maudie

      eight candidates were considered. This whole process would not have ended up this messy if the original plan to have a workshop for Council members before the final selection had been followed. I do understand why City Council was upset. What I do not like is the fact that the City Council members demonstrated their lack of understanding of the very simple issue: whomever was chosen as the best qualified would indeed be the developer. To throw in engagements and arranged marriages was cute, but totally inaccurate. To question Ryan as to whether or not they understood they were only being asked to do some investigation and not get the bid, was so inaccurate as to be laughable The City Council did not bother to try to understand the process in the RFQ. Also, the water issues are listed on the presentation of that evening as something to be addressed during the development of the project. So once again, the neighbors complained without bothering to read what was in front of them, or at least say, Thanks for understanding our problems! I wonder how many people who are now going to be interviewed who live in the neighborhood will support apartments or any development? Do they really treasure their parking lots? What Ryan is proposing is standard Euclid zoning. Place tall developments by the railroad tracks as a buffer zone for the residential homes already in the area.

      • Jim Haselhorst

        Good comments. It is also worth noting that they are complaining about possible building heights when there is already a building in this area of comparable height, the 5th Avenue Station building.

        • I was there

          5th Avenue Station will be far shorter than what gets proposed for the lots. Mark my words.

  4. John

    What happened to the Open Meetings Act . The selection of Ryan was done under closed doors . Throw the regulations out the door .

    • Jim Haselhorst

      The Open Meeting Act only applies to elected officials of a given government body. In this case specifically it only applies when 3 or more council members are meeting. There was only one council member on this committee and she was only there to observe, she had no voting rights on this committee (which is SOP for all city boards made up of appointees). So the open meetings act was not violated.

      • mike

        That’s not the entire scope of the OMA. The OMA applies to a “public body” which is defined as “all legislative, executive, administrative or advisory bodies of the State, counties, townships, cities, villages, incorporated towns, school districts and all other municipal corporations, boards, bureaus, committees or commissions of this State, and any subsidiary bodies of any of the foregoing including but not limited to committees and subcommittees which are supported in whole or in part by tax revenue, or which expend tax revenue, except the General Assembly and committees or commissions thereof. ”

        (5 ILCS 120, Open Meetings Act)

        While it’s not entirely clear that the OMA applies, it’s also not a slam dunk that it doesn’t, as the OMA applies to advisory bodies, committees and sub committees.

        • Jim Haselhorst

          Most Naperville city committees and boards are voluntary. so no city revenue is used to support them, which was the case for this committee.

          • Mike

            City staff was a part of the Committee, as was Christine Jeffries of the NDP, which is approx. 90% funded by the City, so city revenue was used.

            If you read the law, a committee doesn’t have to be supported by taxpayer money, but this one was anyway.

    • Jim Haselhorst

      Appointments to committees and boards are made by the mayor and usually approved by city council. These approvals are usually part of the council agenda that is approved by an omnibus motion so if you blink you will miss them.

      • mike

        What you wrote is true regarding advisory commissions, like Planning and Zoning, Transportation Advisory Commission, etc. The review committee for 5th Avenue was not that. The only disclosure that I am aware of regarding it was in the February 21, 2017 Agenda, which approved the RFQ process. The reference reqarding the review of RFQs read as follows: “The City intends to review the RFQ responses through a procurement process involving community leaders, technical subject matter experts, and areas (SIC) stakeholders.”

  5. John

    The council pulled the plug only after some citizens presented a petition . Otherwise the project would have moved forward . The selection of Ryan smelled . Where are our watchdogs to protect the citizens .
    The omnibus motions are rather suspicious and prediscussed prior to the meetings .
    To have closure put the Tower and 5th Ave project on a ballot and let the people decide their fate

    • mike

      The Council didn’t pull the plug. The project, from all indications, is moving forward. Ryan was given 30 days to develop a specific plan for the development process, which will be reviewed at the October 3rd City Council meeting. Presuming that plan meets with Council approval, they will proceed with Ryan exactly as they proposed.

    • maudie

      Speakers were miffed the they had not been asked what they want, or that the City is ignoring their water problems. All speakers showing lack of knowledge. The process going forward was to ask for their input by Ryan and the City has made it clear solving their water problems is on the list. So – exactly how do these residents who spoke up believe they should have been given the opportunity to state what they want to happen at 5th Avenue if not through a process that the city has already set up? What else do they want? Why did they think delaying the signing of a contract would give them this opportunity? Makes no sense to me. Rather, the opportunity to speak up and let the council and mayor know their wishes can only begin when Ryan is put on the job.

      • Mike

        We’re you at the PZC or Council meetings, or did you watch them? If you did, not sure how you can ask ‘what more do they want?’

        I thought the vast majority of the speakers showed quite a bit of knowledge, about the process and the issues.

  6. John

    The whole issue is having selected Ryan by a secret process without the knowledge of some council members . The 5th Ave project is proceeding with Ryan at the helm . No use complaining since it is know as Naperville transparency.

    • Mike

      Actually there are Quite a few people expressing their disagreement with a number of issues regarding the proposal.

      There are a number of things just flat out wrong with the way this has started, and the direction it seems to be headed.

      • maudie

        Mike I was at the workshop and watched both council meetings. John is correct. The whole issue is having selected Ryan by a secret process without giving the council members a chance to look at the data and rationale as to why Ryan was selected. So the council members did not like that and protested at the first council meeting. then the workshop was held where many of the same speakers who spoke at the second council meeting spoke, and then the second council meeting with again speakers. The workshop information was not what was expected to allow people the opportunity to second quess the choice. Rather it was a justification of the choice of Ryan. All speakers, including council, still made the same protests at the second council meeting. They want to have more input into what is built, or even if anything is going to be built. Understandable. However, the process set up by the RFQ is now at the stage for that input was to be given to Ryan upon approval of the City Council of the Ryan choice. City Council somewhat, in a backdoor way, approved Ryan starting the process, based on Ryan submitting their proposal to do a community outreach to get input regarding what the people want. Speakers surmised the Ryan would then build whatever it wanted to in order to make as much money as possible regardless of what the people want. However, that is now how the proposal and final determination works. There is a committee in Naperville that will weigh in on any plans and then the plans will have to be approved by the City council, at which time residents will again have the opportunity to express themselves. There really is no proposal to protest at this point other than the selection of the company to do the job. Did these residents/speakers want to sit in with the committee during its deliberations? Sounds like it – would they have done so? Probably not. One city council member asked to be at the meetings and she did not have a vote. However, she did see what was going on and it would have been a good idea for her to inform other council members better. This did not happen. All council members could have sat in on those initial meetings and choose not to. It is a real mess, created by the city because of the way this was handled. But that does not mean that Ryan was not an appropriate choice or that the speakers will not be able to express what they want to have built in their neighborhood. I looked at all of the proposals. They are available on the city website. I agree that Ryan was the best choice. What they showed as their concept is not what is being voted on. Choosing Ryan is not locking the city into what they proposed as a development. Other residents who do not live in the neighborhood are also affected because all of the legal residents of Naperville own this valuable property and so all legal residents of Naperville also should have a voice in what is developed. I certainly hope the community outreach plan also includes all legal residents of Naperville, not just the residents in the area of 5th Avenue.

        • Jim Haselhorst

          What upset council members is that the original plan was for this committee to review all applicants and come up with a short list of not more than three candidates to be reviewed at the workshop by council members, who would then pick one. The committee choose to submit a “list” of one to the council essentially cutting them out of the final decision making process.

        • Mike

          Well you clearly were and are clearly informed. Good to see. I appreciate your comments.

  7. John

    The council is not a democracy but is run by the pleasure of one person .

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