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Waldack: Seeking Reality TV? Come to a Village Council Meeting

Commissioner responds to colleagues, residents comments on storm cleanup and ComEd.

This meeting was all about the storms, including another storm cloud brewing over Village Hall.

Commissioner (Bob) Barnett was clearly in campaign re-election mode as he may have been pandering to Downers Grove voters at their most vulnerable time. He suggested taxpayer funding of private property cleanup, which is a major flip-flop on his part from everything he has supported up to now, which would cost taxpayers about another $132,000.

For a commissioner who was unwilling to collect $1 for the most vulnerable of our residents, he now seems to be supporting a policy change that may increase taxes by 25 times as much. After supporting over $1 million in tax increases, he may now be supporting $132,000 on top of the over $600,000 already spent this year due to both winter and summer storms—and not just as a one-time event.

The council majority for the last several years has expounded the delineation of private property from public property in redevelopment issues. The council majority attitude was to “keep the village away from my private property trees.” The ideology espouses the separation, but Commissioner Barnett seems to now promote the frequent removal of the private debris at taxpayer expense.

One must question whether this is a true flip-flop in ideology, or pandering, knowing he did not have the votes to overturn the policy.  Either way, the mantra he pushed for his three candidates at the last election was a village living “within its means.” He may be willing to drastically increase “the means” and start reaching for the village credit card. 

I will reiterate for the record that all those residents who came out to complain to council about the siren policy should realize that council has no direct input with the siren policy. We are not consulted nor does council approve the procedures. That is the purview of staff and staff alone. 

Having said that, Downers Grove has been lucky twice and each time the policy and preparedness has been improved. We have been given unique circumstances and have improved. Until another community has been tested similarly, are you really sure of their preparedness? I have, over the last few weeks, expressed my opinions and frustrations on my web site. 

Commissioner (Sean) Durkin’s comments at the July 5 meeting were correct to a point. We all must take some responsibility for our own safety. However, his suggestion that people always see a storm coming is not always true.

For over a decade, I had the somewhat unique vantage point living in a high rise that allowed me to see storms coming from 20 miles away and also looking down upon people and traffic on the streets below. I saw people and cars below enjoying the spring or summer day below and could count down the seconds that they would be inundated with all manner of rain, hail, and lightning. They would scatter below. In an instant, it went from a beautiful day to serious thunderstorms. The assumption that people see or hear it coming is not necessarily so.

The role of the sirens is to warn. Since our tornado traveled a mile a minute, does five miles or five minutes seem to be sufficient? Would you like more warning? I would, but as I stated above, that’s not part of the council job description.

ComEd is essentially a monopoly deliverer of electrical service. Service has not been acceptable and their message is more public relations than fact. While people like to suggest court action, the realities are that the process would be long and expensive, and the prospects for success are not encouraging. An example would be the public distaste for the District 99 lawsuit over the Woodridge property—which would pale in comparison.

Council has not been passive on the issue. While some may be placated by a visit from a ComEd VP, ComEd has more VPs than an average bank, and the title is there to impress the customer rather than insure action.

The fact is Downers Grove is not alone in bad service and ComEd frequently drinks at the trough in Springfield. We should seek allies in our fight so I suggest we make amends with our neighbors, who we may have estranged in recent years, and seek regional organizations, such as DuPage Mayors and Managers, who we have abandoned in favor of going it alone, to help. There are also our state-elected officials, CUB, and the Illinois Attorney General’s Office ( I misspoke and said State’s Attorney at the meeting). 

Stomping up and down at a council meeting is not welcome—I’ve come close and have been heavily criticized—and so do not take comments or lack thereof as fear or passivity. Emotional outbursts by our visitors to council meetings should be expected and allowed as people do need to vent frustrations on this or other issues.

I like to see our residents at meetings and I want them to speak up. While some may feel it extends meetings and keeps one from going home early, I think it’s part of the job. How do you represent people if you don’t listen to them? You can’t be opening mail and texting during council meetings.

By the way, I noticed some extra laughter and chattering during my comments coming from the other side of the dais. Cripes! Some people don’t want to hear from either residents or commissioners!  Come to a meeting and enjoy the off-camera antics. I am of the opinion that my side of the dais has been the more civil. Come and judge for yourself.

Summer is a time for “reality TV.” There is no better “reality” than coming to a council meeting and actually seeing and hearing how your money is collected and spent. Indeed, you may even want to become part of the process. You can meet and talk to all the actors and even interact with members of the audience and make new friends.  

William Waldack
Village Council Commissioner 

Cliff Grammich July 15, 2011 at 11:30 PM
I can't imagine many voters really want to think about the 2013 elections this early. Or even the 2012 elections. I don't recall "block" voting on the Maple Avenue crossing project, one of the first significant decisions this council had to make. I trust all (including Commissioners Barnett and Waldack, who voted opposite ways) voted their convictions on that. Anyway, rather than worrying too much about council politics just three months after the last election, I might lobby for a new town motto: "The Village of Downers Grove--we may not always have electricity, but we might pick up your storm debris!"
paul cappetta July 16, 2011 at 10:24 AM
Cliff, I agree it's a little early but it's never too early to "try" to get the eligible voters at least slightly enagaged in what is happening in local DG politics. I am amazed at how many people I talk to in our town, that can't even name one of the commissioner's names! When you have a less than 20 percent voter turnout, it is a pretty sad state of affairs. It would have been interesting to have polled the residents who came to complain about Com Ed and sirens to see how many voted this spring. My point is this that 80% choose to pass up on their right to have a say on who represents them and their interests! This is pathetic and embarassing for the town and the local political process.
Cliff Grammich July 16, 2011 at 01:19 PM
Paul, I would never discourage anybody from becoming engaged in local affairs nor from voting. I might question whether low voter turnout is the most embarassing thing about VoDG politics. Cheers,.
paul cappetta July 17, 2011 at 11:34 AM
I just like residents to realize that our mayor and commissioners make major decisons that impact what happens in Downers Grove in almost every area from services to taxes and beyond. Why 80 percent sat on the sidelides in one of the most trying economic times in years befuddles me! We should have no lower than a 35 percent turnout in a very important election this past spring. Instead we sat back and let one area of the town in particular dictate by it's strong voter turnout (my compliments to that area for being active in the political process; Melanie is well aware of what I am saying here) who would represent us as commissioners for the next 4 years. I will do all I can before the 2013 local elections to get the message out to vote. When we pass on voting locally, we give our voice on key decisions away. It all seems pretty easy that we could go from a 20 to a 30 percent voter turnout in the next election especially with all the early voting opportunities. And yes Cliff it is very embarassing that less than 20 percent of the eligible voters in DG voted.....it spells apathy.
Jeffrey Crane July 17, 2011 at 02:41 PM
Village leaders depend on low turnout to further their agenda. Just a few hundred more voters and the outcome would change dramatically. Let's get "political."

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