Every year about this time the Joliet City Council is subjected to one of the more boring responsibilities of municipal government. The Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, or CAFR, is the affirmation that the City’s financial records are in order. The City of Joliet was, in fact, awarded the “coveted” Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting. They have received this award for the umpteenth time and evidence that the city reports an accurate and fiscally responsible set of books. Accurate accounting is one of the necessary elements of any business, public or private.
“What’s past is prologue”. Have you ever heard or read that phrase before? I have seen the expression used many times and have often relied on its usage over the years. The basic origin of the phrase is actually from Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest”. I’m not a Shakespeare scholar, so I had to look it up. According to my source, the phrase that Shakespeare invented came to mean that the past is a preface to the future – we can’t forget the lessons of history. Why bring this up? Because it can also be a predictor of the future.
Political partisans are in their realm for the next couple of weeks with the start of this week’s Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention starting next week. Both conventions are being conducted remotely due to restrictions imposed by COVID-19. There are many complications associated with the November election making it almost impossible to condense into a few words for this week’s column. Therefore (notice, I didn’t say “So”), the best advice I or anyone can give is to vote the earliest and most convenient method available. Also, vote your interests based on your own circumstances. Party votes should take a back seat to the leadership needs of our country.
Axioms are statements that, according to definition, are “regarded as being established, accepted, or self-evidently true.” When referring to commercial/industrial development, for example, infrastructure follows development and is seldom the other way around. Will County has experienced that in the past and is very aware today that the explosion of warehousing developments in the county has led to the need for highway improvements to handle the increased volume of truck traffic to and from warehouses.
It is not a great stretch of imagination to understand we humans face a worldwide crisis that threatens all of us. The COVID-19 pandemic has dominated almost all aspects of our lives for the past six months and that is unlikely to change very soon regardless of who is doing the talking. We have witnessed peaceful protests, partisan quarreling and unwavering stances on some of the simplest of things such as wearing a mask in public places. With all of the serious business going on in the world, Joliet managed to make headlines by paying four city employees overtime wages on a holiday for providing a porta-potty for nurses on strike at Amita St. Joe’s hospital. Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk ordered up the portable facility by directly calling the public works department to set-up the city-owned property. The part-time interim City Manager Steve Jones, who has resigned but not gone, was not happy over the incident and let it be known Mayor O’Dekirk has no authority to do that.
Life continues from day to day no matter what struggles or victories are presented to our specific circumstances. The past few months have tested most of us in one way or another. Many (too many) have lost their lives from the COVID-19 pandemic and other causes that seem avoidable and unnecessary. Many more have lost jobs and income necessary to maintain our daily lives. All of the life issues that we faced prior to the current circumstances still exist, we are just paying less attention to them. Obviously, I don’t have any answers for the current state of affairs that have not already been articulated. I am prompted to write my column this week but Instead of weighing in on some of the serious issues of the day, here are a few tidbits of news that probably don’t have a big impact on most of us.
The Fourth of July is this weekend. It will be a three-day holiday that will probably be somewhat calmer than past years due to COVID-19. Most States, including Illinois, will be more open for celebration than has been possible the last three months. While many restrictions on businesses have been lifted, social distancing and wearing a mask covering are still in place and recommended. The Fourth of July is the celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The day celebrated as Independence Day is fixed on the Fourth of July, but like many historical events it’s an arbitrary date chosen to accommodate the celebration of our independence from Great Britain. John Adams, the second U.S. president, refused to acknowledge the Fourth of July as Independence Day. He recognized July 2, as the date of the official birthday of the new nation. He did, however, host the first Fourth of July party held at the White House in 1801. Perhaps he’s the original “flip-flopper.”
The role of leadership in Joliet seems to be very muddled in the minds of many of its citizens. It is no wonder. The City Manager is leased from a third party, the Mayor wants to play policeman and the city council is split on most items that are not routine. Coverage of the incident has been widespread in the local media, including The Times Weekly. There has even been mention of the incident in other media locations around the nation. In light of Mayor Bob O’Dekirk’s altercation last week with two protesters, perhaps it is time for those elected and appointed officials to review their roles.
Gaming revenue losses are one of the many casualties of the coronavirus pandemic. According to Illinois Gaming Board reports, in 2019 Illinois generated more than $821 million in revenue from casinos and video gaming. Gov. J.B. Pritzker has closed casinos and video gaming to the public since March 16 due to the stay-at-home order. So far, Illinois gaming losses exceed $150 million year to date. Joliet has lost approximately $2.6 million of gaming revenue thus far. The loss of the gaming revenue has brought about an interesting response from the Illinois legislature. Last year’s state budget included a casino for the City of Chicago, along with sports wagering in Illinois but that has yet to come to fruition. Rather than reduce some corresponding expenditures, both the House and the Senate passed a casino measure that would give a larger share of gaming revenue to a Chicago casino, when and if it’s built, rather than share additional revenues with the nine other communities with casinos. There are 10 casinos, and Joliet has two.
The pandemic caused by COVID-19 continues to alter the way we conduct our lives. The first three-day holiday since the shelter-in-place began back in March will be the Memorial Day weekend that starts on Saturday the 23rd and ends with Monday the 25th. Connecting dates to the days of the week is important because it’s getting harder to separate when the weekend starts and the work-week begins, or is it the other way around?
It was just about eight weeks ago that voters in 14 States voted in Primary Elections to select Republican and Democratic candidates for National, State and County offices that will be voted for on November 3, 2020. Just two weeks later, the Illinois primary was held. That was March 17. Since then, COVID-19 has dominated just about every aspect of our lives. The one exception in the Joliet area has been the Northpoint issue and even that has quieted down in the last two weeks. This next week, the City Council meets on Tuesday and no doubt discussion on how Joliet will confront the impending financial crisis facing city government operations will be on the agenda. City revenues have been greatly impacted in at least two of the city’s major revenue sources: gaming and sales taxes. Assuming a modest decrease in sales taxes and the complete loss of gaming revenue in the last six to eight weeks losses could exceed as much as $5 million year to date. There are few possibilities that revenue can be recovered. That only leaves the option of what expenses can be cut.
The people of Joliet have heard from the City’s financial professionals that currently run our city and the news is bleak. Joliet could run out of money to pay all of its obligations by October. That includes the city employees’ payroll. The City Council heard from non-resident, contract Interim City Manager type, Steve Jones and full-time city employee, Finance Department Director, Jim Ghedotte, that the crisis is a result of the pandemic currently being experienced. Nonsense! More explanation than that is necessary. The comments made by Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk that many municipalities in Illinois and around the country are in a financial bind, while true, do not illuminate the whole picture. The City’s financial dilemma dates back some 28 years ago when Joliet became the recipient of casino revenue. In 1992, Joliet was still suffering from what was called the rust-belt syndrome. Midwest manufacturing in Joliet was declining. The need for domestic raw steel production was being replaced by foreign markets. To help offset the loss of jobs and revenue, the State of Illinois made casino gambling on riverboats legal and the beneficiaries of the gaming tax revenue that was imposed, besides the State, would be the rust-belt river towns like Joliet, Aurora, Peoria and East St. Louis among others. The idea was to provide those cities most affected by the loss of industry a source of revenue for capital improvements like infrastructure, roads and bridges. All of the communities with gaming revenue did earmark the money for major capital improvement projects with one exception—Joliet.
It’s been just a little over two weeks since the coronavirus pandemic was declared a national emergency by President Trump and the Illinois Primary squeaked by with a dismal voter turnout for a Presidential Primary. Turn-out this year was just over 25 percent. The last Presidential Primary in 2016 netted slightly less than a 45 percent turnout. The official results of the 2020 primary will be posted on April 7. Provisional and mail-in ballots were added as of March 31. There are no changes in the outcome of any race. There have been no Presidential Primaries held in the U.S. since March 17.
The news is almost completely dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic. There are very few positives that can be highlighted regarding the crisis, but perhaps those objecting to development of the Northpoint intermodal project can take some solace from Mondays announcement. The public hearing on the pre-annexation of the 1260-acre project has been postponed until further notice. Seems the best efforts of many people to delay the vote had unanticipated outside help. This project has been on a fast track for, what appears to be, no visible reason. Why the rush? That’s the question. According to the pre-annexation agreement, several things must be accomplished before any dirt is turned over. A bridge over the Des Plaines River must be built. Even though it has been approved and preliminary plans to proceed with construction have been made, it’s possibly two or more years away from completion. The project’s main concept is that of a closed loop facility with only two places to enter and exit. The promised bridge is one of them.
Tuesday, March 17 is primary election day in Illinois. Early voting began this last Monday. Voters in Will County should have received a sample ballot for both the Democratic and the Republican Primary races. You have to pick one or the other and declare the party ballot you wish to use for your vote. Other than the presidential race, there are not many races providing an array of selections. As of this week the Democratic Party has four choices for President: in ballot order, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Tulsi Gabbard. There are four other races on the ballot that are contested. The contest for the 11th Congressional District is between Bill Foster and Rachel Ventura. The 49th State Senate race is between Meg Loughran Cappel, Larry Hug and Michael Crowner. The Will County Board Chief Executive contest is between Jennifer Bertino-Tarant and Nick Palmer. The Coroner race is between Laurie Summers and Sean Talbot.
Curious. That’s another word for peculiar. Odd, strange and unusual are also words that are derivative meanings of “curious.” What am I talking about? Leadership at City Hall. The City of Joliet continues its administration without a fulltime, permanent City Manager. The current part-time, Interim City Manager Steve Jones, who is also a non-resident, has a new status. Beginning March 1, according to Jones’ new arrangement with the City of Joliet, he is an independent contractor under the terms and conditions of an Employee Leasing Agreement with GovTempsUSA, LLC. The compensation payable to the leasing company is $135.10 per hour. The Assigned Employee, Steven Jones, will be paid only for hours worked. The maximum number of hours that can be invoiced is 40 per week. It is unclear if that means there is no 24/7 on the job or if he has to show up for 40 hours per week. It is also unclear who determines the number of hours actually worked. Jones?
Overtime pay at 135% over budget?
No decision has been made about Joliet’s next permanent City Manager as was implied at a recent Special City Council meeting. City management leadership in Joliet will have to wait at least another couple of weeks. Officially the current part-time Interim City Manager Steve Jones, who is also a non-resident, will continue in the role. That is until he takes some time off this week and next. According to sources, Jones is appointing City Clerk Christa Desiderio as Acting Interim City Manager during his absence. She will be the fifth person to fill in at the manager role, at least temporarily, since Jim Hock left the City Manager position in May of 2017.
The first order of business for the City Council meeting this week was a proclamation recognizing the work of the Environmental Commission. The Proclamation stated in part the Commission “exceeded expectations and provided for a thorough, unbiased and transparent study process for the benefit of all City of Joliet water customers and potential regional water partners.” As a member of the Environmental Commission, I can confirm that is a true statement. That objective guided the study from the beginning. The fact that Lake Michigan was the final choice for Joliet’s alternative water source should come as no surprise. Approximately 83 percent of communities in the Chicago region, which includes seven counties, use Lake Michigan as their drinking water supply. The Great Lakes Region contains more than 20 percent of the world’s surface drinking water.
The end of the year is often the time to reflect on the passing year’s memorable happenings. In keeping with that tradition, here’s my attempt to remind you of a few topics covered by Wayne’s Words columns in 2019. A column in January reminded everyone that in spite of the lousy weather January had dropped on Joliet, polar vortex and snow, that the baseball season was just around the corner. Hometown team, the Joliet Slammers, promised better attendance and a hope for a championship. The promise of improved fans in the stands was kept with a 38 percent increase at the gate. Unfortunately, the team tanked and didn’t make the playoffs as they had in the previous year.
To budget or not to budget was the question at Tuesday’s Joliet City Council meeting. Since the decision was not made this week, the Council will meet again next Thursday. The budget vote requires at least five votes to pass. The vote was four to four on Tuesday. Mayor Bob O’Dekirk, and Council Members Larry Hug, Terry Morris and Jan Quillman objected to several tax and fee increases contained in the budget. The four also opposed a bond issue included in the budget for a $6.5 million renovation of the downtown library. Council members Pat Mudron, Sherri Reardon, Don Dickenson and Mike Turk voted for the budget. One of the major points of disagreement is whether the $11 million deficit projected by Interim City Manager Jones will actually materialize when final revenues for the 2019 budget are realized probably sometime in February or March next year.
Joliet’s pursuit of a new water source has become a complicated saga of miscommunication and questionable cost comparison information. Last week the DuPage Water Commission sent a letter to Mayor Bob O’Dekirk questioning how cost estimates to become a DWC customer were derived. The DWC did not submit or review any of the cost estimates attributed to DWC. According to another source another candidate that could provide a river water source, Aqua Illinois, also did not submit costs. What’s going on? Good question, the trite response goes! The City’s response was sent to DuPage Water Commission on Tuesday in an effort to explain how the cost figures were computed. The reply was provided by Allison Swisher, Public Utilities Director for Joliet. In the letter Swisher suggests they read the Phase II Study Report and after reviewing the full report “provide us with any specific issues that you feel may need to be addressed.”
The City of Joliet received a letter on Monday, November 25, from the DuPage Water Commission (DWC) contesting inclusion of cost estimate comparisons of water source alternatives. The letter was addressed to Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk and copied to the Joliet City Council, the Joliet Environmental Commission and Allison Swisher, Public Utilities Director. The letter acknowledges making a presentation made in March that established the reasons why Joliet should consider using DWC for their water source. The presentation did not include any cost estimates. Since then, the DWC has been invited to submit a formal Request For Proposal (RFI), attend a workshop meeting in Joliet and received an email from Joliet that included cost estimates the DWC deemed inaccurate. The DWC did not respond to any of the requests nor prepare or present anything, according to the letter.
Approximately 18 Months have elapsed since the City of Joliet engaged in a study to determine a sustainable, high quality and cost-effective water supply for the City. The Environmental and Refuse Commission has been charged with the task. There are eight members of the Commission and I am one of them. I have learned a substantial amount of information about water quality and sustainability, but I am not an expert on the subject. All members of the Commission are unpaid volunteers. The expertise supplied to the Commission came from Joliet’s Utility Department and a consultant organization with proficiency in this type of study. The Commission’s conclusions are contained in two reports. Phase I is a 273-page Alternative Water Source Study and Phase II is a 622-page Final Report. The Commission will vote on its choice at a meeting on December 10 in the City Council chambers. The Joliet City Council will decide on the new source of water based on the Commission’s conclusions at a City Council meeting in January. From that point, the City will embark on an infrastructure plan that will take approximately 10 Years before a turn of the faucet will bring a new water source to Joliet. At least that’s the plan.
Ethics in city government. Apparently, it’s a crisis in Joliet that none of the high price talent employed at City Hall can resolve without assistance from a third-party expert. Part-time Interim City Manager Steve Jones proposed a contract this week to retain the services of law firm Ancil Glick in order to “avoid the perception of any type of impropriety.” You’re kidding, right? The City of Joliet has a whole legal department, a temporary city manager, department heads and a city council that costs a large portion of the city budget and we have to hire outside help to settle disputes that are, by and large, petty and unnecessary? Again, really? You’re kidding!
Early Fall is the time of the year when all of the major professional sports are being played simultaneously. Professional and college football dominate the airways, but basketball, hockey, and soccer are also being played and of course baseball is winding up their season. It’s questionable if baseball is still America’s pastime, but the World Series begins this week and that usually generates some interest even if the hometown team (Chicago) isn’t in it this year. A few weeks back our Joliet hometown baseball organization made its annual report to the city, and touted a successful season. Not on the baseball field mind you, but attendance was up and, apparently, they had many more events, besides baseball, that took place in the stadium than in previous years. That’s because the owners of the baseball stadium, Joliet taxpayers, spent a few million dollars in upgrades to the stadium in order to provide a better experience and allow more diversified events.
The City of Joliet fiscal year runs from January 1 to December 31. Every year the city manager submits a recommended budget to the City Council for approval. Of course, each department is expected to live within that budget barring any unforeseen events. The budget is usually adopted sometime in December. Usually by October the budget is coming together for presentation to the City Council in November. It’s probably too early to speculate on any increase in property taxes, but we do know that the Will County Supervisor of Assessments sent out a notice in August regarding the 2019 Quadrennial Assessment for property tax. Most properties show an increased assessment value. The City of Joliet will set the property tax rate accordingly. Even if the tax rate is lowered, it doesn’t mean property taxes will decrease. It usually doesn’t work that way. Property taxes account for about 20 percent of Joliet’s revenue.
The Joliet Environmental and Refuse Commission are charged with the advisory responsibility to study and investigate air and water pollution problems and possible solutions. In conjunction with investigations and studies, the Commission shall recommend to the City Council, ordinances to implement their recommendations. According to the City of Joliet website that’s what the Commission is accountable for. About 18 months ago the Commission took on the project of finding a new source of sustainable drinking water. It’s been a slow, laborious task and the Commission’s close to making a recommendation. That will happen in November. The Commission will submit a report with recommendations for a new source of drinking water to the Joliet City Council for their consideration. Full disclosure here: I am a member of that Commission. After all the meetings and research are complete the Commission is supposed to have the answers for cost, quality and sustainability. The seriousness of the need for a sustainable source of drinking water cannot be overemphasized. The cost will most likely be staggering. There has been an obvious reluctance to discuss cost during monthly Commission meetings. There was even an instance where commissioners were asked not to question a potential water supplier about cost.
Transparency and communication are two elements most of us expect from our governments from the national level right on down to the local levels. That’s a big expectation. Oftentimes, it’s not government officials that transmit the transparency and communication. So, it was no big surprise last week that Crain’s Chicago Business issue dated September 2 revealed a private meeting regarding the possibility of Chicago selling Lake Michigan water to the City of Joliet. The only surprise was that the meeting was initiated by City of Chicago representatives after months of not showing up for requested appearances before the Joliet Environmental Commission’s monthly meetings. The Commission is progressing through Phase Two of a lengthy process to find a more sustainable source of drinking water. Phase One was completed and offered by the Committee in a January 8 report that was 247 pages long. This was presented to the public as justification of a previous year-long study that determined the most viable, sustainable sources for Joliet’s drinking water. The study concluded those sources were the Kankakee River, the Illinois River, and Lake Michigan. Surely you will want to peruse all 247 pages of the report. Like most government studies, it’s complicated, boring, and you must have a background in engineering to fully comprehend it. But I digress.
Unless you always pay attention to city government regularly you might find recent deliberations regarding Joliet’s City Manager position somewhat troubling. Watching the Joliet City Council debate the issue has been a real head spinner the last few months. According to all accounts, and the personal affirmations of several Council members, they are all on board for the betterment and advancement of the City of Joliet. Maybe, but there is one city issue they all seem to be struggling with. To wit, who will be the next City Manager? It all began quite innocently two years ago with the public announcement that then City Manager Jim Hock was going for retirement and the search was on for his replacement. City Attorney, Marty Shanahan, served as interim City Manager until a replacement was hired. The City Council employed a recruiting firm to locate the most qualified individual available. After a relatively short search, the council chose an individual with all the qualifications desired in a City Manager. His name was David Hales. Hales lasted less than a year and left a trail of woe and a hefty financial settlement as well. Shanahan again stepped in as the interim manager but this time the Mayor wanted to skip the recruiting process and hire him as permanent City Manager. A majority of the City Council objected, Shanahan was removed as interim manager again and Steve Jones, who was, according to his job description, the Assistant City Manager (don’t ask, it’s too confusing). He took over as Interim City Manager. He really didn’t want the job, so the Council members who didn’t want Shanahan decided to offer the interim job to former City Manager Jim Hock, who decided he didn’t want to be retired anymore. He wanted too much money, however, and the City Council decided not to hire him. The recruiting firm who brought Hales to Joliet was contacted about the dilemma facing the Council’s city manager issue and advised the Council to wait at least six months before searching for a new city manager. The recruiting firm offered a reduction in their fee if they were hired again for the search because Hales didn’t last a full year on the job. Probably part of their guarantee, I guess.
A few weeks back I questioned whether our Joliet government was a sugar-daddy based on the many requests it receives from organizations needing revenue beyond their means. One that was mentioned was the Joliet Public Library. The Library Board has developed a plan for the renovation of the downtown facility. It’s called Project Burnham. Preliminary plans will be presented to the Joliet City Council at the August 19 Pre-Council meeting of the City Council. Following the presentation will be the request for the additional $6.5 million necessary to complete the $10.5 million renovation. According to the library’s website, planning for the project began in 2015 when the board created a master plan for the renovation and made it a top priority. Since the Joliet Public Library is part of the City of Joliet government, the board has no authority to actually levy taxes for the project even though there is a separate levy on the property tax bill. The tax levy is primarily an accounting measure designed to keep the library from spending beyond the levy. Any additional dollars needed for expansion and renovations need the cooperation of the City Council, which has the final say on the levy. There apparently was planning for the renovation prior to 2008, but the recession put the idea on hold. At that time gaming revenue was still a factor in City finances but that has since changed. When Megan Millen, current Library Director, began championing the idea it was seen as part of a “grand renaissance” of the downtown. The new JJC campus building was open and the Will County courthouse project was underway to reality. Beyond that, the revitalization of Joliet’s downtown is largely dependent on private sector development dollars with the help of expanded Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts.
It’s not always easy to know the facts. That’s a phrase we all hear frequently. The initial reaction to that expression is often times one of skepticism because the facts are thought to be based on proven data. The facts may depend on how they relate to the circumstances being presented. For instance, over the last couple of weeks I read two articles in two different publications about how the new minimum wage laws implemented in some states will affect employers. One article said an increased minimum wage will cause employers to reduce their work force due to the increased cost of wages. The other article said many employers are offering wages above the minimum requirement due to the labor shortage. Both articles were backed up with factual data that proved each article’s premise. It reminded me of the glass half full versus the glass half empty comparison. More to the point might be that one’s perception of the facts depend on which end of the elephant a blindfolded person is examining. (Or which end of the donkey, depending on your political persuasion).
Did you ever have a rich uncle? You know, one that you always depended on to give the best gifts for birthdays and holidays? The relative you always thought you could depend on if you were in a financial bind? Or did you have a good-time Charlies in the family that were always spreading money around so you would like them? Most of the time, you enjoy the relationship and don’t take advantage of the connection. But there is always the one that wants to take advantage of the good fortune available. They hang around and look for the opportunity to comfortably benefit rather than seek their own fortune. There is some measure that casts the City of Joliet in the role of that rich uncle. Why, you say? The most recent example would be the request from the Joliet Public Library Director Megan Millen. The request is for remodeling the downtown library which is located on Ottawa Street. It also has a closed entrance on Chicago Street. The building was first constructed in 1903 and was expanded to its current size in 1989. The library downtown could use a facelift, no doubt. It was commented at last week’s City Council Finance Committee meeting that as the third largest city in Illinois Joliet should have a modern library. Joliet does have a modern library branch and it’s less than 20 years old. The library branch is on Joliet’s far west side and it was built with a grant of $5 million from the City. By the way, the Joliet Library District is a separate taxing entity with its own levy. They now want an additional $6.5 million from Joliet to renovate the downtown library. The former grant was possible in 2002 because the city was the beneficiary of gaming revenue that exceeded $30 million a year. At that time the City was on a spending binge that lasted about 15 years. There have been others who have sought the generosity of the Joliet municipal government. Recently, the nonprofit Joliet Area Historical Museum sought additional revenue and other City support for their prison tourist attraction venture. It was suggested that without the City’s support, the museum would have a difficult time meeting its obligations.
It has been entertaining to observe the City Council’s bickering over what should be a transparent and open resolution to who will be Joliet’s next City Manager. Obviously, regardless of all the pontificating about who would be the most qualified person for the job, what it really comes down to is who projects the most power on the City Council. The council has moved from objective disagreement of issues to “it’s my way or the highway.” It makes for great theater but it doesn’t get the city business done. For all the bluster being displayed on this important issue, I find it hard to believe that what should be a simple matter of transparency regarding the lease contract with the Slammers baseball organization, the City Council looks helpless. Not a good look for any of the Council “players.” This Times Weekly column has provided many articles over the years about Joliet’s baseball stadium so it’s not like I am unfamiliar with what has happened over the past many years with Joliet’s baseball stadium. It was about 10 years ago this column publicly exposed the fact that the then stadium occupants, the Joliet Jackhammers, hadn’t paid rent for over a year. During the Jackhammers tenure there was the revelation that the stadium water pipes were exposed to the cold, harsh winters in the Midwest and they burst. The extensive damage to the property, along with other repairs, was paid for by the City because we owned it. After the Jackhammers went bust, the new tenants wanted a new scoreboard replacement which the City paid for because “we owned it.” A few years later the grass field was replaced with $1.2 million worth of artificial turf so the baseball organization could use the stadium for more events. The City paid for it because “we owned it.” None of the revenue from the increased use went to the City of Joliet. That revenue accrued to the Slammers organization. When the Silver Cross Hospital naming rights contract expired a couple of years ago the City renamed the stadium Route 66 Field and paid for the new sign that went up replacing the old one. You guessed it: The City paid for it because “we owned it.”
The City of Joliet has a long political history, dating back to 1852 when C. C. Van Horn served two years as Joliet’s first mayor. Since 1852 Joliet has had 38 mayors. Most of them served only one two-year term. A few served two-year terms two or three times, usually not consecutively. The length of the mayoral term changed to four years in 1915. There have been no female mayors of Joliet. Over the last 32 years, since 1987, there have been only four mayors. Current mayor, Bob O’Dekirk, is beginning his second term. By the end of his second term, Joliet will have had 36 years with only four mayors. Conversely, Joliet will be deciding on its fourth City Manager, counting interims, in just six years. Remember, we’re told, Joliet has a City Manager form of government. That brings Joliet government to the political theater of the last few weeks. What is currently playing out has little to do with substance and everything to do with “Who’s in charge here?” First, the hiring of former City Manager David Hales was not particularly well vetted prior to his start date in September 2018, and his tenure was short lived. The City Council unanimously approved his contract but he was gone in less than a year. Assistant City Manager Steve Jones was bypassed for the role of interim city manager and Marty Shanahan was appointed to the role for a second time, again by unanimous vote of the council. No real public attempt has been made to search for a replacement City Manager since Hales’ departure. For the present, Steve Jones is the interim city manager because that is part of his job description.
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.
Last week’s announcement regarding the naming rights for Joliet Route 66 Stadium may be somewhat premature. To be clear, there are no indications that such an agreement is not in the works, but the City of Joliet has not yet formally accepted a naming rights agreement to date. Plus, details of the agreement have not been released to the city council or the public. The agreement will have to be made public, after all, the City of Joliet owns Route 66 Stadium, not the Slammers baseball organization. The announcement of the agreement was released on May 20 and read like it was a done deal. According to Section 18 of the AGREEMENT FOR THE LEASE AND OPERATION OF THE JOLIET ROUTE 66 STADIUM “the City shall own the naming rights in and to the Stadium.” The Team (Slammers) acts as the City’s agent for selling or licensing the naming rights, according to the lease. Since the City Council has not yet met to approve the agreement it is not official. When City Manager Marty Shanahan was contacted last week regarding the announcement, he was unaware of any details of the agreement. The author of the Slammers press release, vice president of sales John Wilson, was also contacted for further information. He repeated the highlights of the release but would not give any information regarding the dollar amount of the agreement, citing it as “confidential information”. The same section of the lease cited above also specifies that all Naming Rights revenues after expenses are shared on a 50/50 basis with the Slammers organization.
Memorial Day is the federal holiday in the United States for remembering those people who died while serving in the country's armed forces. It was formerly known as Decoration Day and was traditionally observed on May 30. This year Memorial Day falls on Monday the 27th and is this next weekend. It was officially declared a national holiday in 1967. It is the traditional holiday that starts the summer. It is always a three-day weekend since the Uniform Monday Holiday Act went into effect in 1968. The holiday moved from its traditional observance on May 30 to the last Monday in May. Families and friends gather for picnics and numerous outdoor events in observance of the holiday weekend. There are also the incessant holiday sales hyped by businesses big and small. But that’s not really what Memorial Day weekend is about. The official and traditional purpose of Memorial Day is a commemoration for soldiers who lost their lives while serving their country. The grateful phrase “Thanks for your service” should be reserved that weekend for those service members who paid the ultimate price-- they died fighting in battle for the United States of America.
Joliet has some unique challenges currently facing its future. The rapid residential growth of the early 2000’s has mostly halted and the concentration of the last several years is on economic growth. Seems Joliet can’t build enough warehouse space to accommodate the demand. At least that’s what it looks like. CenterPoint Intermodal Center and the areas surrounding it are the focal point for warehouse development. No one needs to coax the developers. They just keep on coming. That’s not the case for other areas of Joliet. With some exceptions, Joliet has a difficult time attracting private development without significant incentives to lure growth and expansion. In fact, some of our long-term businesses and employers seem to need incentives to stay here. Recently, two auto dealerships, already with a presence here, were each given in excess of $3 million worth of incentives for new dealerships they are building on Joliet’s far west side. Locating a business in Joliet must not be as desirable as we want to believe. The people at City Hall must believe it, though. Indeed, the following statement is printed at the bottom of most of the correspondence sent from city hall: “The City of Joliet is the third largest city in the State of Illinois and home to over 149,000 residents. Joliet sits 35 miles southwest of Chicago and is easily accessible by auto, train and bus; making it the perfect place to live, work and play.” We all want to believe Joliet is the place to work and play because we live here, but the evidence isn’t always working for us. To that end the City of Joliet is currently promoting three separate Tax Increment Financing Districts. For those of you who are less familiar with the TIF concept, it is a method to entice economic development to areas of the city that developers are presently not interested in developing. Tax incentives are made available to promote and incentivize properties that are “blighted or in disrepair.”
The Consolidated election results will not be official until April 23 when all of the ballots not counted on election night are audited and certified. The outcomes for Joliet’s City Council newly-elected members will be recognized at the May 6 council meeting. There will be some pomp and circumstance, no doubt, but there will only be one new addition to the City Council, Sharon “Sherri Reardon. She replaces John Gerl, who did not run for reelection. Mayor O’Dekirk ran unopposed and totaled just under 7500 votes on election night. That’s slightly more votes than four years ago when he captured 52 percent of the vote in a three-person race for mayor. Money spent for the 2019 O’Dekirk campaign was slightly higher than in 2015 ($48,728 v. $45,174) even though he was unopposed. Prior to the 2015 Joliet City Council election, while voting patterns were relatively similar, campaign fund expenditures were typically in the $20,000 or less range for mayoral candidates. Compare those results to the king of mayoral elections in Will County and the State of Illinois outside of Chicago, Bolingbrook Mayor Roger Claar. He barely won his last election in 2017 so he did not need to campaign for mayor this election cycle, but still spent almost $112,000 according to the most recently filed Illinois State Board of Election report. Claar spends about $50,000 or more each reporting quarter whether he has an election or not. He’s quite a campaigner for the six or seven thousand votes he gets every mayoral election.
If you Google the definition of politics it states “Politics is the way that people living in groups make decisions.... In everyday life, the term "politics" refers to the way that countries are governed, and to the ways that governments make rules and laws.” Governments are political creatures. Politics has and probably always will be a game of “gotcha.” There are several varieties of political action. Some actions tend to be divisive and some are mildly harmless. For instance, campaigns tend to operate on the idea of “I’m right and you’re wrong on the issues.” Any given candidate may be correct in the statement, but it’s hard to know because there are seldom facts to back up a given claim. Then there is the “I can do anything you can do, only better.” Actually, that is probably the most normal way politics is conducted during a campaign for election. It’s oftentimes the most normal because the candidates themselves are not schooled on what the issues are. Another method is the “one-upmanship.” That’s when a candidate or officeholder puts forth an idea and the opponent will attempt to go one better. It can be a real positive but this method usually suffers from a lack of how the idea will be funded or accomplished. The most divisive and destructive type of politics is “revenge politics.” I don’t suggest it is “to the victor belongs the spoils.” That’s fair game in politics. Revenge politics sometimes occurs during an election campaign but more often it occurs after the election is over. It is more subtle. Most of the time it’s barely noticed. Oftentimes it’s disguised as legislation or job replacement. Recent legislation being proposed by State Representative Natalie Manley looks somewhat like revenge politics. Maybe not, but last Fall, Representative Manley supported the recently elected Will County Clerk, Lauren Staley-Ferry, in the Democrat primary election. Lockport Township Clerk, Denise Mushro-Rumchak, ran against Staley-Ferry for the position. The legislation being proposed eliminates the Will County Township clerks in Manley’s Illinois Legislative District. The responsibilities would be done by the Will County Clerk. The premise of the legislation, she calls it a pilot program, is to save taxpayers the cost for what Manley describes as “duplicative services.”
The City of Joliet Environmental Commission (the water commission) continues to trudge on towards a decision regarding the future source of drinking water for Joliet residents and perhaps other residents beyond its borders. In fact, that is one of the major issues being reviewed, studied and deliberated: Will Joliet be a purchaser of water from a third party or will Joliet be a regional supplier of water to surrounding communities? Actually, the process of finding a new source of water supply has been talked about for at least the last two decades. The last serious attempt to find a new source began back in the year 2000. At that time the impetus was not so much about finding a new source of water supply but finding a source that did not contain the high levels of radium found in the deep wells Joliet is still using. The City decided to go the route of removing the radium from the existing wells by building filtration plants for the removal purpose. The idea for a new water source was shelved until this last year. At that time in 2000, Joliet had gone so far as to set aside $55 million for the project. The timeline was set for a switch to the Kankakee River as a water source by the year 2004. By 2003 the idea of using the Kankakee River for a water source was abandoned. Then City Manager John Mezera said the idea of using a filtration method to remove the radium would be less costly than the projected $150 million it would cost to pump water from the Kankakee River.
The Consolidated Election is almost upon us. On April 2 voters in Will County will choose people to represent them on school boards, park districts and municipal boards, in most cases, for the next four years. It seems as if we are in a constant state of election campaigns. On the national level campaigns have become perpetual events. Local elections, however, are just as important. You wouldn’t know that judging by voter turnout. Joliet’s last mayoral election was in 2015. There were three candidates running for mayor. Incumbent Mayor Tom Giarrante and candidate Andy Mihelich lost to current Mayor Robert O’Dekirk. There were several hotbed issues including the public housing complex on Broadway Street, the City of Joliet subsidizing the Rialto Theatre and other budget problems. With all that going on, voter turnout in was just over 15 percent. Apathy ruled. The ballot for Joliet on April 2 has one name on the ballot for mayor, incumbent Mayor Robert O’Dekirk. All successful political campaigns require resources, usually money, to get the message out to the voters. O’Dekirk was certainly ready to campaign hard for reelection. The Mayor has over $196,000 in his campaign fund according to his last quarterly campaign fund disclosure filed in January of this year. One of the major issues for the City Council revolves around the truck traffic clogging the area Interstates and roads surrounding Joliet. Another big issue is where Joliet will get its water supply from for the next 50-100 years. After many years of delaying a resolution of the water supply sustainability the City Council finally decided to do something about it. Since there is no resolution of cost or sourcing to date, the issue is still on the backburner. Although the uproar with the public housing complex issue mentioned above has subsided there is insufficient revenue to do any redevelopment of the property as originally promised. The Rialto Theatre still faces a funding crisis, but the turmoil surrounding the place has also abated.
An increase in the minimum wage paid to workers always sparks debate among those who see it as the demise of small business and the loss of profit for big corporations. Generally, the debate centers on those who depend on entry level jobs and the hastening of automation that will eliminate the very jobs that command minimum wages. Most of the arguments regarding the newly increased minimum wage in Illinois, are the same ones raised the last time it was increased from $6.50 in 2007 to the current $8.25 in 2010. The increase is incrementally set to increase over five years starting in 2020 at $9.25. That’s not really the big deal some have made of it when you consider that, based on the Consumer Price Index, a wage of $8.25 per hour in January of 2010 has the same buying power of $9.58 today. Put another way, if the minimum wage were indexed for inflation, today’s minimum wage would be $9.58. That’s higher than it will be a year from now. The minimum wage in 1978 was $2.65 per hour. That equates to $10.67 today, according to the CPI.
President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday coincided with the Chinese New Year known in many Asian countries, including China, as Tet. In Vietnam the new year is officially named Tet Nguyen Dan. Tet is considered one of the most important holidays in Asian culture with families gathering in their hometowns to celebrate, much in the same way families gather in the USA for Christmas or Thanksgiving. Before the Tet holiday begins Vietnamese try to get rid of any "bad fortune" by cleaning their homes, buying new clothes, resolving disputes, and paying their debts. The Vietnamese spend much of the holiday paying respect to family and friends. They also court lady luck because they believe that events occurring during Tet can determine what happens during the rest of the year. It seems almost ironic that the State of the Union address was held on the first day of the Tet holiday. Especially the idea of “resolving disputes” and “paying their debts.” Good advice. The Tet holiday also holds an indelible memory for the United States, particularly for those who served in the military during the Tet offensive in 1968 Vietnam. The occasion that year was supposed to begin a cease-fire in the shooting war that would last several days. Instead, the government of North Vietnam used the event to begin an offensive that turned out to be a turning point in the war that eventually ended Americans popular support of the war.
Now that the year’s first snowstorm has past and we’re in the first real cold snap of the winter, it’s time to start thinking summer. One of the best preoccupations of summer is baseball. Joliet is a baseball city but it’s not the only locale in the region with a minor league team. The “Bigs”, otherwise known as Major League Baseball, have two Chicago teams, the Cubs and the White Sox, but there are five other professional baseball teams in the region. One, The Kane County Cougars, lays claim to being the only affiliated Class-A Major League Baseball team in the Chicago area. Since 1991 the Cougars have welcomed over 11 million fans to their home games. They have been affiliated with the Arizona Diamondbacks since 2015. They will play 69 home games this year starting on April 6.
The City of Joliet has embarked on the mission of finding a sustainable water source that will last 50 years or more and capable of remaining free of contamination for the duration of sustainability. Oh, and it must be affordable. Affordable means different things to a diverse demographic. The City of Joliet’s Phase 2 water study will focus on cost. That focus will determine whether Joliet will be a regional supplier of water in partnership with other suppliers or the owner of the system that controls water purchases by other municipalities. Phase 1 of the Alternative Water Source Study is contained in a 264-page draft report. The report’s recommendations identify three major sources of water that meet criteria studied and discussed by the Environmental Commission. The three are the Kankakee River, Illinois River and Lake Michigan. The Kankakee River offers four variations of source and Lake Michigan has three variations. The report is available on the City of Joliet website. By way of full disclosure, I am a member of the Environmental Commission.
The big story for 2019 could be Joliet’s quest for a sustainable source of drinking water for the region. The City’s Environmental Commission is scheduled to submit recommendations to the City Council regarding the most viable alternatives for future water resources. The Commission has identified 14 possible sources. Five have been eliminated for various reason, mostly for viability and control issues. The remaining nine are potential solutions, cost notwithstanding. The Commission has broken the process down into two phases. The first phase only considers viable resolutions to a sustainable water source. Phase two will consider the cost of the viable solutions. Basically, phase one has identified three possibilities for a minimum 50- year solution starting in the year 2030, the Kankakee River has four variations possible, Lake Michigan with four possible variations and the Illinois River which offers a high volume of available water but the lowest quality of the three possibilities.
The workings of government are a common focus of most media outlets. This column, while not exclusive to any particular focus, is often looking at local government doings. Oftentimes the attention I put forth is from an outsider’s point of view regarding news happenings, thus the title of the column, “Wayne’s Words.” The idea is to point out pertinent information by using public information sites, various forms of media, and personal observation. In pursuit of that goal, I sometimes check past columns to see if certain issues have been resolved. A column I wrote December 11, 2014 concerned the 2015 budget being proposed at the time. The issue then involved insufficient budget revenue to pay for additional Neighborhood Oriented Policing Team (NOPT) personnel. After some discussion it was decided that money would be taken from another portion of the budget. That’s not unusual, in fact it’s done all the time in order to properly manage budgets. Where did it come from? The Fire Department overtime budget.
One of the major issues that propelled the mid-term elections was health care. The elections are over, now what? The Affordable Care Act, some called it Obamacare, was implemented in 2010 and has been demonized by some, praised by others, misunderstood and ignored by most. The original concept of the ACA was to provide health insurance coverage for everyone at an affordable rate. The ACA has met stiff resistance since its inception. Many believe it is akin to socialized medicine. It’s not even close. According to healthinsurance.org, socialized medicine is, by definition, a government health care system which owns and operates all the medical facilities and employs the health care professionals. For instance, the Veterans Health Administration is a socialized system according to that definition. The VA does coordinate, in some instances, with private sector healthcare providers when appropriate. Medical schools and teaching hospitals' have partnered with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for over 70 years, dating back to the end of World War II, to ensure all veterans receive the care they need and deserve. The VA has become a vital part of U.S. physician training, with more than 40,000 residents and more than 20,000 medical students receiving some or all of their clinical training at a VA facility per year. Medicare, on the other hand, is a single-payer system. The federal government pays private sector doctors and hospitals, but does not employ or own the facilities used for medical care. Medicaid is similar but the various states partner with the federal government to provide funding. The promise of a better way to provide resources to pay for medical care has been around for some time, but a few have become more visible by touting lower cost. There are two major factors that determine the cost of health insurance. One is the plan. What does the health plan pay for incurred medical cost? The other is who are the providers and where are they located? Sounds simple, but it’s not. A low price usually means less coverage (more out of pocket), a limited number of providers that will accept the plan or both. That important consideration of pre-existing conditions is an element of price. For a comparison, consider the cost of a car. You will pay a lot less for it if there are no wheels or an engine, but can you use it? The old adage “you get what you pay for” comes to mind.
Next week begins the traditional holiday season. Thanksgiving Day, Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s Day are major holiday celebrations for most of us. The Thanksgiving holiday provides an opportunity to pause and reflect on the blessings and good fortune many of us enjoy. It is also a time to remember those who may not be as fortunate. The first Thanksgiving celebration lasted three days. Most Government agencies take the Thanksgiving holiday very serious since they close up for a full four days. Elected officials in Federal and State government are “home for the holidays”. Local officials will conduct some meetings through the holidays but, generally, not much gets done. It was Abraham Lincoln who first formalized the celebration of a national day of Thanksgiving to be held on the last Thursday of November. That date endured as Thanksgiving Day until President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed the day to the Fourth Thursday of November in order to add a few more days for Christmas shopping in 1939. It’s a time to review the good fortune we are thankful for the past year. Below are a few items this columnist is thankful for because they provided topics for comment and analysis… Last year (2017), the City of Joliet installed lights at all of the city-owned flag pavilions. This was a project that was first brought up more than seven years ago. The lights allow the U.S. flag to be displayed 24/7. The city also committed to replacing the worn and tattered flags when necessary and to present the flags at half-staff when appropriate. The Joliet Fire Department is in charge of the responsibility for the flags. Thank you.