The culture of an organization is influenced by a number of factors, including the tone that is set by the leadership of the organization. Steve Chirico was elected Mayor of Naperville in April of 2015 on a 'pro business' platform. Most residents of Naperville would agree that he has transformed the culture of Naperville, from twenty years of a family-friendly culture under Mayor Pradel to an ultra business-friendly culture.
In April of this year, the Mayor gave his State of the City Address, highlighting the accomplishments of the past twelve months. The Mayor also referenced the culture and encouraging a "new way of thinking" within the City staff. Some of the Mayor's comments included:
There is a phrase that is used in our Transportation, Engineering and Development group - "Find the Path to Yes." What does it mean? It means working with our businesses to get them settled expeditiously into Naperville while minimizing their costs. As a city, we believe we're partners with the business community. We continually look for the best ways to attract and retain businesses.
To support development in our city in 2016 and beyond, we need to continue down 'the Path to Yes.' We also have to look internally to make sure the city is doing everything it can to encourage this new way of thinking.
As I enter my second year of serving as your Mayor, my commitment to fostering a pro-business environment has never been stronger. I look forward to walking together down the Path to Yes. Thank you!
So we shouldn't be surprised to learn about a class action lawsuit filed by a resident against the City in April of this year. The lawsuit (Case No. L2016000347 in the Circuit Court for the 18th Judicial Circuit in DuPage County, IL.) alleges breach of contract, common law fraud, violation of Naperville Municipal Code, unjust enrichment and statutory fraud.
It seems that a resident noticed that the name of the refuse company on the dumpster in their condominium complex was not the company with which the City contracts for refuse service. In September of 2015 the resident called the utility department and spoke to someone who "pulled up neighboring properties in the Plaintiffs' condominium complex and stated that all neighboring residents were being billed the refuse fee, had been for a long time, and nobody has complained." (Ibid, page 3.)
So the City was billing residents for refuse pickup it was not providing. Whether or not they were previously aware of it, they certainly were after the resident called. Did the City correct it? Apparently the charges were removed for the one resident who called. The neighbors in that complex and in the neighboring complexes continued to be charged every month. On January 1, 2016, the charge for services they were not receiving from the City increased from $2.00 to $12.35 per month.
So what did the City do to correct the billing of its own residents for services it wasn't providing? Did it reverse the charges, credit the residents, or at least notify the residents affected? No. In the 'Naperville Connected' flyer sent with the utility bills mailed to residents in March of 2016, the City included the following message:
So the City had been aware for at least several months that it was charging some of its residents for services it was not providing them, and took no action whatsoever to correct the issue. It sent a general notice with the utility bills sent via USPS, which online bill recipients don't even receive.
Just to be clear, these are residents of Naperville whose own local government was knowingly charging for services it was not providing them. To add insult to injury, it increased those charges from $2.00 per month to $12.35 per month in January of 2016.
How is the cultural environment created in which that conduct is acceptable? Conduct which is not only unethical and immoral, but alleged in the lawsuit to be fraudulent as well. Well, when the focus is on business, business and more business, it becomes pretty clear that the residents are at best secondary. You know, people you don't have to be honest with because they don't really matter, people to be screwed over because, well, you can.
Compare comments from the State of the City address with that behavior:
'Find the Path to Yes' "means working with our businesses to get them settled expeditiously into Naperville while minimizing their costs."Residents, however, get billed for services not being delivered, are not notified when its brought to the City's attention, then have those costs increased by over 500%. Getting things settled expeditiously is noticeably absent for the residents. Costs not only aren't minimized, allegedly fraudulent costs are increased over 500% for some.
“As a City, we believe we’re partners with the business community.” That’s pretty clear when the business community either withholds from City Council material facts like a development is actually 28 units not 22, or has some of the Council’s tacit agreement to do so and the City then defends the developer, or when Mariano’s management says one thing under oath and does another . The residents have no partner on the City's way to 'Find the Path to Yes'.
"(W)e need to continue down 'the Path to Yes.' We also have to look internally to make sure the city is doing everything it can to encourage this new way of thinking." The 'new way of thinking' down the 'Path to Yes' included sending out bills to residents which the City knew were wrong, then increasing them by a multiple of 5X.
A healthy, vibrant business community is absolutely a good thing for the City. It just doesn't have to be at the exclusion of everything and everyone else, and doesn't have to be the sole focus. The people who live, work, pay taxes and raise their families here deserve some consideration too.
Perhaps that path can become two way, and the City can 'Find the Path to Yes' for the residents every once in a while.
Reminder: Four seats at City Council blindly following the Mayor and currently occupied by Council members Brodhead, Coyne, Gallaherand Krummen are up for election on April 4th, 2017. Help us change the composition of the Council and give residents a voice. Perhaps then we too can get a 'Path to Yes.'
Acknowledgement: Thanks to City Council Watchdog for providing the background and case number for this Issue.