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City Council Candidates Tackle Finances, Environment and More at League Forum Sunday

We're starting with aldermen candidates; check back for coverage of the school board portion of the forum.

Elmhurst residents could have been doing a lot of different things on a sunny Sunday afternoon, but a good many of them filled Elmhurst City Council chambers to hear what their candidates for city, park and school board have to offer.

Elmhurst League of Women Voters, sponsor of Sunday's forum, invited all contested candidates running in the April 9 Consolidated Elections to answer questions in public—and for the local cable channel. The forum will be aired at a later date.

By the time alderman and mayoral candidates were on the dais, League representatives were hauling in more chairs for the observers standing in the back.

Candidates in wards 2, 3 and 6 (Norman Leader, Michael Bram and Jim Kennedy, respectively) are uncontested and were not part of the forum.

The League invited contested candidates in the 1st, 4th, 5th and 7th wards, and seven of the eight attended. Seventh Ward candidate Charles Mueller was a no-show Sunday. Because the Elmhurst League follows the rules of the Federal Election Commission, incumbent 7th Ward Alderman Pat Wagner was not allowed to participate in the forum. FEC rules state at least two candidates in a race must be present so as not to promote or advance one candidate over another.

Both candidates in Ward 1 are newcomers, Marti Deuter and MaryNic Foster. Fourth Ward incumbent Kevin York is facing newcomer Mike Baker, and incumbent Chris Healy is facing Bob Kolb in the 5th Ward.

Related: Mayoral Candidates Take Questions from LWV and Residents Sunday

Finances

All six candidates who participated said the best way to maintain a balanced budget and bring in new revenue is by growing the business district.

When businesses thrive, people spend money, said Baker, a 25-year Elmhurst resident and vice president of marketing at PSI Marketing consultants.

"People will even relocate to a community with a thriving downtown," he said.

The best source of new revenue is increased economic activity, York said.

That also has the trickle-down affect of raising property values, he said, adding he led the effort to reduce property taxes and was involved in putting "more than $4 million back in the pockets of residents and businesses" through electricity aggregation.

Kolb, an information technology project manager/consultant, said enforcing the rules on the books now, like collecting licensing fees and investigating sales tax fraud, could save hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Healy cited growth and diversity already happening in Elmhurst, like the construction of Mariano's Fresh Market, and Total Hockey and Hamburger Jones now open for business. He also said TIF 4, the city's newest tax increment financing district, also will be "a powerful tool to drive sales tax growth."

Foster, an attorney and executive director of the Cook County Department of Human Rights, Ethics and Women's Issues, said every new resident or employee in town is likely to be a consumer of services here. She said the old hospital property on Berteau Avenue offers "a unique opportunity to look at possibly having multiple single-family homes in that area."

Deuter, a five-year Elmhurst resident, who most recently managed a multimillion-dollar research project at DePaul University, said it's not all about revenue. She said the city must continue to identify ways to reduce spending, improve efficiencies, make use of outside service contracts and engage more often in competitive bidding.

Elmhurst's Environmental Impact

Aldermen also answered questions about whether they intend to reduce Elmhurst's carbon footprint.

Give the people what they want, Baker said.

"Elmhurst residents are passionate about making our community more sustainable for the future," Baker said.

Foster supports examining the city's vendors and suppliers to make sure they adhere to the most environmentally friendly practices, while further encouraging citizens to do the same by educating them in composting and recycling.

Deuter said she would like to see the city work more closely with the Elmhurst Cool Cities program to establish "energy benchmarks," and Baker mentioned the need for a policy on replacing city vehicles with hybrids.

Incumbents said Elmhurst already is making sustainability a priority. Healy cited the new garbage and recycling program and the new electricity aggregation program through MC2, which subsidizes the green energy industry. And York pointed out the many alternative transportation modes available to residents and the city's new electronic document system.

Technology

Technology can be a "dual-edged sword," Kolb said. It can "alienate users" who can get caught in an endless loop of voicemail, so it must be used wisely.

Foster and Baker said the council should live stream all City Council and committee meetings in real time.

"That would take away the perception that by the time something comes to the full council, it's already a done deal," Foster said.

Deuter said while the possiblities with technology are endless, the costs must be carefully weighed.

"Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should," she said, adding the city should look for new ways to utilize the technology it already has.

Healy mentioned technology the city already is incorporating—installing radio frequency water meters on homes and reducing staff time at city hall by eliminating thousands of pages of board information each week, among other things.

York said technology can lead to transparency, which is a high priority for him.

"(With BoardDocs) the public will have the same access to meeting materials that we do," he said.

Closed Door Meetings

Audience members asked about work being done behind closed doors.

Deuter, York and Foster pointed to the Illinois Open Meetings Act and the need to follow it consistently and "to the letter and the spirit of the law," Foster said.

Foster, along with Baker, said closed meetings lead to mistrust.

"As elected officials, we need to avoid the appearance of impropriety," she said. "It creates suspicion where there may not need to be any."

Hahn Street

When asked about Hahn Street, Healy said the priority is to get it back on the tax rolls as quickly as possible.

"We've been losing $8 million a year for at least six years," he said. "We need to move quickly to get that property back on the tax rolls."

York agreed. He said that business owners don't understand why it has been stagnant for so long. But with more than 20 developers having picked up packets to bid on the project, he is encouraged.

"Even if we only get back five or six bids, we'll see a diversity of ideas," he said.

Kolb said he just wants to make certain Hahn Street "never happens again."

"Six-plus years, we lost millions in tax revenue, vacant property and on and on," he said. "The city should not be a real estate agent."

Foster said the property presents an exciting opportunity.

"We've been waiting for a long time, she said.

Come back to Elmhurst Patch for reports on the school and park board forums.

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Steve L February 25, 2013 at 08:50 PM
Too bad Mueller no showed - Wagner looked upset that he wasn't allowed to answer any of the questions because his opponent decided not to come.
Shareabit February 25, 2013 at 09:04 PM
Alderman York proudly announced the much business can be done behind closed doors. It is time to vote a real candidate in for 4th Ward Alderman, so, vote for Baker. He is really qualified and has been walking all around the ward. Baker has been to my door twice. I find him to be very articulate and knowledgeable.
fittnessfanatic February 25, 2013 at 10:28 PM
Im glad to hear someone else picked up on what York said, sadly he just does not get what transparency is. He clearly stated that business gets talked about in closed session, and it is def not the stuff that should be. Mueller was probably a no show on purpose knowing that Wags would have to sit up there and not be able to answer. Sad to say, I don't have a good choice in the 7th
Sam Abney February 25, 2013 at 11:36 PM
That's not what York said, at all. Clearly another Patch driven anonymous political hatchet job. All of the candidates said that some business needs to happen behind closed doors. When you negotiate to buy your house, do you sit at the sellers table to discuss negotiation strategy in front of them? Of course you don't. That is exactly why the council meets behind closed doors., to discuss property acquisition. Of course, "Shareabit" and "fitnessfanatic" don't have that problem. You don't buy rat holes, you just dig them. York is my Alderman. He works hard and cares. He's visible and accesible. He is involved with a lot of causes in town. The two hacks above are everything that is wrong with the Patch.
Peggy Suratt February 25, 2013 at 11:48 PM
yes, both Baker (4th) and Foster (1st) were so refreshing: articulate, thoughtful & independent. that's what we need on city council, not a bunch of stooges that glad hand each other @ doc ryans. that's what most people just don't get: the product doesn't need to be manufactured behind closed doors. that there is something called the "appearance" of a conflict of interest whether or not a true financial one actually exists. oh and sam abney, just fyi, it was not property acquisition; it was PROPERTY GIVEAWAY ! two entirely different rationales.
lives in 1st ward February 26, 2013 at 06:35 PM
agree w psuratt above; and truth be told, probably either candidate will be better than pezza. i kind of feel sorry for this ms Deuter; she seems competent, a little stiff though. and its definitely the kiss of death for pezza to "endorse" her; especially before even meeting Foster. does she think she's a power broker ? kind of a joke imo ...
another Lincoln parent February 28, 2013 at 03:16 AM
hey Sam Abney, you might want to double check your facts before you post any more rubbish about all those closed door meetings that are supposedly legal. looks like pete's hand picked counsel (the elmhurst city attorney) really stepped on it this time. and all us taxpayers are going to be left holding the bag once again. i wonder if "acting" mayor levin will find some gravitas and actually make a decision for the good of the taxpayers instead of his buddies on the dais.

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