It is a common occurrence for politicians to publicly float an idea for a reason other than the obvious one. Sometimes even the ideas they know are going nowhere. The Naperville Safety Town was recently in the news, as Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico suggested that Safety Town could be used as a part time traffic court. The Mayor described the discussions as “very preliminary.” The benefit of such an arrangement, according to the Mayor, would be a new source of income for the City of Naperville through better use of an underutilized asset. A secondary benefit would be convenience for Naperville residents and greater efficiency for Naperville police, who would no longer have to drive to Wheaton for traffic court.
Despite some public opposition, which doesn’t resonate with Chirico, the Mayor said that the proposal was in keeping with the direction of Council, which has directed City staff to identify all underutilized buildings.
Turns out the proposal was going nowhere. A few days after the Sun article, the Mayor announced at the September 20th City Council meeting that the County had notified the City just that day that the proposed courthouse at Safety Town doesn’t meet the County’s needs. It seems as if Safety Town didn’t meet either the size or security requirements of a courthouse.
That’s interesting. The Mayor seemingly has a good relationship with members of the County board. The Mayor makes public a “very preliminary” proposal which generates some resistance and buzz within the City and is picked up by the local press. The stated objective of the proposal is to generate additional revenue for the city and efficiencies, and would require an agreement with DuPage County in order to implement. The proposal gets shot down by the County a few days later, because the proposed sites didn’t meet either the security or size requirements of the County. The Mayor doesn’t say how he heard from the County. He probably talked to someone informally on the phone. You know, the way he could have before publicly disclosing the “very preliminary” proposal.
The Mayor and City personnel didn’t know that the proposal would be rejected? Really? They couldn’t have picked up the phone to determine the size and security requirements for a part-time courthouse? Instead, the Mayor floats a proposal which generates a moderately negative reaction from residents, getting press coverage regarding the City’s efforts at creating revenue from underutilized City assets. The Mayor says the proposal is rejected by the County just in time for him to announce it at the September 20th City Council meeting. The Mayor says that City Council has directed the City Manager to“…look outside the box for different opportunities... to run the City better and more effectively, and I think we need to continue to do that..”
What seems apparent is if the Mayor didn’t want the proposal to be public, it wouldn’t have been. He simply could have waited for the answer he says he received on September 20th and never said a word. So why would the Mayor want the possibility of Safety Town being a part time court house to be public, and then announce that the County rejected the proposal?
Could simply be politics. The Mayor just wanting to project the image to residents that he and City staff are looking at every possibility for revenue and productivity.
Could be getting out in public the idea that Safety Town needs to go. He mentions that "this particular item we still have issues with" and "we have a lease that's expired." The city owns the land Safety Town is on. The Mayor is pro-development.
Could also be setting the table for tax increases. ‘We’ve looked at everything; we even looked at using Safety Town. We have no choice but to raise taxes.’
There is that estimated $5 million deficit in the budget for police and fire pension funding. No word on how that’s going to be addressed. Coincidentally (?) the September 20, 2016 City Council meeting considered a proposal regarding whether a portion of downtown food and beverage taxes originally designated for SECA should be used as part of, rather than the current requirement of in addition to, the required annual funding for pensions. Also, let’s not forget that the Home Rule Sales Tax was originally proposed at 1% and implemented at 0.5%.
What seems pretty clear is this was deliberately played out in public for some reason.
Here’s an idea: level with the residents. Be upfront, straightforward and honest with the people who elected you. We deserve that.
Safety Town is a Naperville institution for young parents with small children.
Even that isn't above using for politics. 'Find the Path to Yes' is for business. Not us.
Four seats are up for election on April 4, 2017: Councilmen Coyne, Gallaher and Krummen, and Councilwoman Brodhead. Isn’t it time to replace them with someone independent (which excludes Michael Issac) who will listen to the residents instead of this May