Bob Fischer: City Council discussion on pay far from over

Bob Fischer
For Sun-Times Media
May 21 4 p.m.

For anyone following recent Naperville City Council meetings, an easy assumption would be that community problems and substantive issues are few. After all, the most pressing items facing our government, based on the amount of time our elected leaders spent on introspective deliberations, were the salaries and benefits for the eight councilmen and new mayor to be chosen next April.

In the overall scheme of things, not a lot of money was in play. But there were definitely perceptions, political posturing and maybe even gamesmanship afoot.

If you were watching this municipal theater, Tuesday’s performance was somewhat anticlimactic. After all was said, said again and finally done, the “nondecision” was to stick with the status quo. The only change going forward is codification of the administrative decision to remove coverage within the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund. After the sitting councilmen declined to attest they were working at least 20 hours a week, IMRF inclusion for council became moot.

The discussions leading up to Tuesday’s nondecision were enlightening. Citizens were presented, first-hand, with perceptions of what the council job entails, and, by extension, what it is worth to those serving.

Under the council-manager model used by Naperville, day-to-day responsibility for running the city lies with the professionally paid staff. In theory, council is a policy and governance board. Beyond approving budgets, expenditures and contracts, they set direction in areas such as zoning, land use and community life.

The council’s primary responsibility is to hire and supervise a city manager. This manager is then responsible, within the guidelines and oversight established by council, to take care of business. As a neighbor observed when we were discussing this setup, City Council could be compared to the board of directors of a nonprofit organization, volunteering a portion of their time for the good of the cause.

Reality seems to paint a different picture. Mayor A. George Pradel opened the discussion Tuesday night by saying that his job, along with those of the council, is not part time but rather 24/7. Former councilman Dick Furstenau, during the public comment period, told his erstwhile peers that “you run the place, you are in charge.” During an earlier meeting, Councilman Doug Krause related how he was engaged by a constituent while using the men’s room at a local movie theater.

Salary and benefit parity with other elected officials was touched on, too. Mentioned were paychecks received by DuPage and Will county board members, along with the revelation that the proposed (and not approved) Naperville pay scale would only rank fifth among a peer group of seven similar communities.

Councilman Paul Hinterlong made a plea on behalf of public service. Some of his cohorts, perhaps in recognition of expenses incurred in running for office, or the potentially negative impacts time spent on council has on other employment, felt their compensation packages were easily justified.

I do not think this discussion is over. Undoubtedly it will be part of next year’s campaigns. Hopefully that review will focus on remuneration for roles, requirements and responsibilities — not rhetoric and recrimination.

Bob Fischer is president of the Naperville Area Homeowners Confederation. Contact him at bobfischer@wowway.com.

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