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Wayne's Words: Strong Mayor vs. City Council Manager

Wayne Horne | 6/13/2019, 6 a.m.
According to my research, Joliet adopted the current Council-Manager form of government about 60 years ago, in 1959. Under this ...

According to my research, Joliet adopted the current Council-Manager form of government about 60 years ago, in 1959. Under this form, the power of the council is purely legislative except that it is empowered to approve all expenses and liabilities to the municipality. That’s how the Illinois City/ Council Management Association defines the way Joliet municipal government functions. There was an attempt to change to a Strong Mayor form of governing Joliet in 1989 by then Mayor John Connor. The idea was rejected and hasn’t surfaced since. Or has it?

Any change of government form in Joliet requires a voter referendum. Most municipalities in Illinois prefer and utilize the manager type of government but most perceive that it is the mayor who really runs the show. The way it is designed to work is well laid out. The City Manager takes direction from the legislation passed by the City Council and also administers the day to day operations of the city. The Mayor conducts City Council meetings from an agenda provided by the City Manager. That’s not exactly what’s happening today at City Hall.

The current City Manager Marty Shanahan, is the interim City Manager and appointed by the mayor with the Council’s affirming vote presumably until a permanent replacement could be hired. The interim City Attorney Chris Regis, at last week’s Council meeting publicly asserted Shanahan was qualified for the job. Regis is also Assistant City Manager when not substituting as the city’s attorney. He’s was appointed to the position by the mayor with concurrence of the City Council.

Now the Mayor wants to make Shanahan permanent City manager without any further search. Typically, the City Manager is interviewed from candidates who have applied for the job and the council, by vote, hires the most qualified person for the job. The Mayor said last week that method would be a conflict because any recommendations from staff regarding how the hiring process would be conducted would be a conflict because staff all work under Shanahan. Regis also works under Shanahan but he said it would be okay if he was hired for the job. No conflict there, apparently. Are you dizzy yet?

Do we have a strong-mayor form of government or not? Maybe we don’t need a referendum.

Some more head-scratching occurred last week regarding the Route 66 Stadium and the Collins Street Prison project. The Slammers organization inked a naming rights deal with DuPage Medical Group that everyone assumed would be made public and approved by the City Council. Instead, Interim City Manager Shanahan approved the deal and said it would remain “confidential” because it was between two private parties. That’s not how it’s supposed to work according to the lease. The fear is DuPage Medical might walk if the agreement is not kept confidential. That’s a big so what for the city. Any share of the financial split the Slammers receive reduces the amount the Slammers pay in rent. The city share is a wash.

Then there’s the issue of the prison as an entertainment facility. Seems like great fun until you find out what it’s costing the taxpayers. It’s been estimated it will cost upwards of $10 million just to stabilize the place. Councilman Larry Hug last week estimated the city has spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 million so far and only a few tourists have seen it. Like the ballpark, there is no long-term plan in place projecting future revenue and expenses to run the place. It’s another money-pit for Joliet to take care of. No wonder the State of Illinois was willing to lease the responsibility for one buck to Joliet. There’s a sucker born every day.