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
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 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."
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.