Naperville senior issues to be tackled by task force

Naperville officials are dipping their toes into the possibility of playing a bigger role in programs and services for the city’s older residents. City Council members this week agreed to form a task force to serve in part as a clearinghouse connecting the community’s seniors with the plethora of local programs and services available to them.

Two advocates for seniors suggested a more structured approach, recommending that the council establish a new appointed commission to cover the task, but the council opted to launch the effort in a more informal way.

Longtime resident and retired business owner Bev Patterson Frier and Karen Courney, a Sun columnist, pressed for establishment of a commission to involve as many entities in the process as possible. Frier said relative to a committee or task force, a commission would have a higher profile, a broader reach and a “dedicated and committed” membership. It also would be well positioned, she said, to address such issues as affordable housing for seniors.

“Naperville is known as a kid-friendly city. We’d like to make it known as a senior-friendly city,” she said.

Frier also said it’s difficult to identify and locate the available programs and services, describing the agencies that provide them as isolated, “like silos.”

Courney said a commission could serve to pull together all of the local programs and services under a single umbrella, citing the senior commission in place in Elmhurst for the past four decades as an example of the model’s promise for success.

“The commission serves as an advisory group and investigates the needs and concerns of seniors and makes recommendations to the City Council regarding adoption or amendments of ordinances relating to senior citizens,” Courney wrote in an October 2012 column, shortly after visiting the Elmhurst group. “In addition, the commission assists seniors in obtaining services from government and local nonprofit agencies. The commission can hold public hearings and is responsible for educational programs on senior matters. … We need what Elmhurst has!”

Council members weren’t so sure. Some noted that some existing bodies, such as the Planning and Zoning Commission, the Advisory Commission on Disabilities and the Fair Housing Advisory Commission, could cover many seniors’ concerns without creating a new appointed body. Formation of a commission, they said, would involve such details as bylaws, formal appointments and notification requirements. Marci Schatz, deputy city manager, said a committee or task force would be able to accomplish things far more quickly.

Some also were hesitant to create a new layer of government.

“It gets into a control thing that we really don’t want to get into, to be perfectly honest with you,” City Council member Grant Wehrli said.

Along with seeking out new ways to improve communication with local seniors, the staff’s suggestions for helping officials determine what, if anything, they need to do included conducting a survey, at an estimated cost of $35,000. Schatz said a survey could help identify any gaps in services.

There appeared to be wide agreement, however, that gaps are unlikely.

“We certainly see no need for a survey at this time,” Frier said.

Mike Barbour, Naperville Township’s advocate for veterans and seniors, suggested skipping the middleman altogether. He noted that at least 12,000 veterans reside in Naperville, nearly three-quarters of them seniors or nearing their senior years. When it became clear that very few of the vets were aware of the many free programs and services available to them, Barbour and others last April pulled together Naperville Joining Forces, a communication-based breakfast event that drew together representatives of more than 30 local vet-focused local agencies to stress the value of informal partnerships among nonprofits that share a common goal.

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