I was provided with a few notes and an audio recording of the entirety of Wednesday’s 2013 Mayoral Debate in an e-mail from “SL”, though no actual debating was done. This was really a question and answer session. No back and forth was allowed, and surprisingly none of the candidates really made any attempt to rebut despite those rules. The four candidates, Mayor Marty Orr, former mayor Roy Strong, former alderman Russ Gilmour, and outgoing Alderwoman Darla Neises were all present, and this post will serve as a summary of each candidates positions on the questions asked.
Candidate responses and summaries appear in order of answer. Only two candidates were given the chance to respond to any of the audience questions.
Question #1 – People say the city’s broke, what’s the solution?
Strong – “The city has spent money on silly things.” Strong believes the houses purchased to create a nicer entrance to the island park is unnecessary and results in lost tax revenue for the city. He also believes one person can operate as both city administrator and police chief, saving the city money by paying the person one salary for two jobs.
Gilmour – “Money.” Gilmour elaborated, saying he wants to end the fees he believes are stifling growth in Wilmington, noting that the only housing being built in town is one a year by the high school.
Orr – “Are we broke? No.” Orr stated that every town in the nation is facing reduced revenues due to the down economy. Orr admitted the city has spent from reserves, but also said that’s what the reserves are there for. He said the city will benefit for years to come from the Ridgeport annexation, which according to the mayor was on its way to Diamond before he was elected.
Neises – “The city’s not broke, though we may be close.” She stated that the word broke may soon be in our future, and proposes that as mayor she would “review all contracts, [and] go through the budget line-by-line.”]
Question #2 – The city is embroiled in a lawsuit over severance pay, has a mistake been made and what should we do now?
Orr – City employees with no severance package were given 1 year severance if they were employed on May 5. Both publicly stated they had no intention to sue, but that wasn’t the case. The judge threw out the year long severances, chose to give them 2 to 3 months severance, which weren’t in the original contracts, so we decided to appeal. The city has spent about $30k in defense. It’s the “right thing to do.”
Neises – She said she believes in mediation not litigation, a phrase that would be repeated throughout the night. She posited that the lawsuit could have been stopped before it began, stating a rather obvious “problems can often be solved with communication.”
Gilmour – “Why don’t we settle this? Let’s get it over with… I could tell you how it happened, I’m not going to. It’s immaterial” Gilmour wants the city to work out a settlement and move on.
Strong – The former mayor whose administration handed out the severance packages in question deflected any and all responsibility onto the aldermen of the time. According to Strong’s version of events, it was brought up by the aldermen and voted on by them. The people involved said they didn’t want the money and tried to negotiate with the city (though what do they need to negotiate if they didn’t have a severance originally and didn’t want the money thrown on at the end?). He says the legal fees are as high as the severance pay would have been, calling the situation a “silly lawsuit,” as he continued to use the word “silly” in nearly any place he saw an opportunity all night.
Question #3 – The city just increased water and sewer rates, should we sell the plants?
Gilmour – “For God’s sake, never, no.” They (whoever would purchase) will lay off our employees, they can raise the rates further, and they can leave it on us after a few years. “It’s the worst thing we can ever do.”
Strong – “You can’t sell the water and sewer plants.” The city would not be able to be bonded for anything. “It’s a silly thing.”
Neises – “No, absolutely not.” She did not expound upon this at all.
Orr – “Are we selling the plant? Absolutely not.” He claims as an elected official he has to look at all possibilities, but was never in favor of selling the plant. He was just doing due diligence.
Question #4 – You can’t buy a new house in Wilmington. Should the city be progressive to attract new growth?
Neises – “Yes.” She says the city should be for both residential and commercial.
Orr – “Yes.” He suggested the city move impact fees to the back end of deals so they don’t have to be paid until occupancy.
Strong – “Of course they should.” The former mayor asserts that Manhattan has no fees. He believes the city can “get the money” from them in ways other than fees. He went a bit off topic and stated that he alone can get water bills lower. “I don’t think anybody else can do that.”
Gilmour – “We need to be very progressive” Gilmour announced as mayor he would institute a five year moratorium on all fees, and focus on controlled growth with no tract housing.
Question #5 – Five properties on Bridge street are being purchased by the city, what is your opinion on this?
Strong – “I think it’s silly.” At least $10k are lost in taxes per year due to this, according to Strong’s approximation.
Gilmour – He says taking five houses of the tax roll increases taxes on people living here, stating his opposition without saying as much. “We need more jobs, not more demolition.”
Orr – “These houses were in disrepair.” He claims “one of the greatest assets of Wilmington is our islands,” so we should improve them. It’s a long term process that will benefit the city for years to come.
Neises – “My opinion on this purchase is, I can see both sides” Seriously. Listen for yourself. I’m not going to recap this non-taking of sides.
Question #6 – What should the city’s priority be?
Orr – “Growth, growth, and more growth,” he said we have to push forward for growth and prepare for the Illiana.
Neises – “I do agree with growth.” New business and commercial growth, while “coming together for the common good.”
Gilmour – “Growth also,” Gilmour said the city should annex the Lorenzo truck stop.
Strong – “Raising money is the priority.” He believes the city should sell water to other cities to keep in the black. He then stated the city should not grow, with “As far as the growth, I don’t agree a whole lot.”
Question #7 – What do you think about the Illiana?
Gilmour – “It’s going over the top of my house, I’m not in favor of it.” But next admitted his is in favor of it, but not where it’s going. He’d rather see the tollway run over River Road. “It’s been on the books for 50 years, I don’t know where they’re going to get the money.”
Strong – “I’m not in favor, never was.” Strong claims at one time Wilmington was the only one that wanted it in town. It was probably coming here no matter what we did. He wants no exit at 53.
Neises – She brought a 2010 resolution she voted on to support bringing the Illiana to Wilmington. It would “bring much needed construction jobs to the region,” but cautioned that “we should be at the table every meeting.” She is concerned about the loss of tax revenue and pollution with the current route.
Orr – According to the mayor, a plan utilizing Peotone and River Rd for a 4 lane highway was in place, before Midewin and the intermodals existed, so the route had to change. He said it started with 87 routes before narrowing to the locally infamous B3. He stated he hopes it will alleviate truck traffic on local roads.
Question #8 (First of audience questions) – How can the city work together to make city more appealing to city and business with regards to facades
Neises – She referenced the city’s facade grant program, and said she wants to put money back into it to help businesses improve the appearance of their buildings. She would also like to bring an ordinance officer in to fine businesses who do not keep up with standards the city sets.
Orr – Orr agreed that the city has long had a facade grant, but noted it is not always budgeted depending on the year. He went into a little more detail about it, saying it is a 50/50 grant after work is finished up to $5000. He also said there is a property maintenance ordinance in committee now.
Note: Starting with this question, only two candidates (chosen by the moderator) were able to answer each of the audience questions
Question #9 – What are your thoughts on Ridgeport?
Strong – “The best thing about it is it’s outside of town.” He doesn’t think the roads will last out there with all the truck traffic.
Gilmour – “Ridge property is a good thing, no doubt.” Gilmour said commercial stores are slated to run down 55 in front of Ridgeport. He believes the roads will be fine, but warned that the city can’t depend on Ridgeport as the cash cow.
Question #10 – What do you think about building inspectors getting 90% of fee they’re allowed to set?
Gilmour – “They get 90% and the city gets 10, it should be just the reverse.”
Neises – She went strangely into semantics here, stating the inspector gets 100%, then the city gets a 10% stipend from the inspector. Gilmour chimed in over the top here, stating “That’s still 90-10.” Neises then said she doesn’t agree and the number should be changed as a way to increase revenue.
Question #11 – What would be your plan to improve police leadership, which has been an issue in recent years?
Orr – “I don’t think it’s been an issue in recent years.”
Strong – I think when he (Orr) hired the administrator he could do both jobs. Strong claims the current chief wants to retire anyway, and the city should promote from within. Strong stated that police spending is close to 2 million, and seemed to get agreement on this number from both Orr and Neises according to the person who sent in the audio.
Question #12 – What if anything can be done with the shape of roads in town?
Neises – We need to work with IDOT, find the money, and make cuts where we can.
Orr – We need to work with IDOT for the state roads. He said work is coming between Forked creek and Kankakee St on 53, but for local roads we need to do the best we can with the funds we have.
Question #13 – Do you think the number of liquor licenses should be restricted?
Strong – “Yes. People think more liquor stores make more money, that’s totally wrong.” He claimed “one or two” people might have been going outside of town for cheaper beer and wine, that it wasn’t a bunch of people going to Braidwood, saying again “that’s silly.” He stated that both Berkot’s and ‘the gas station’ are returning beer because it isn’t selling. Strong then made one of the most interesting statements of the night, saying “I don’t really like gas stations having liquor, it’s too convenient. You don’t really know if they’re going to drink in the car.” If gas stations can’t sell liquor does he intend to revoke the liquor license from Wee-Sips?
Gilmour – “I think we have enough liquor stores.” We don’t need liqour stores in in gas stations. He said there were 600 or 800 signatures against the licenses, but it went through anyway, perhaps implying shady dealings by the administration.
Question #14 – Where did you buy your last car?
This is a totally bogus question, but unfortunately no candidates called it out. Yes we should support our local businesses, but not blindly all the time. If a business cannot or will not compete, we should not be held hostage to their pricing based solely upon where we live. If I can get a car $2000 cheaper 20 miles away and a local dealership won’t match, should I be expected to dump those $2000 savings just because the business is located in the town I live in? Would you? On to the responses.
Neises – Several second pause, followed with “I have several so just hold on a minute.” She sounded blindsided by this question, stumbling her way towards saying she bought the car she drives by I-55. The moderator said that was close enough, and she spoke over him, attempting to fix what she could tell was an exceptionally poor sounding statement with “I intend to buy my next car in the city of Wilmington. I wasn’t.. I wasn’t….” trailing off but she would come back to this debacle in her closing remarks.
Orr – “Emporium Collision on the corner of Kankakee St and Rt 53.”
Gilmour – “I bought all my vehicles from Ford garage when they were here” and one more from them in Manteno.
Strong – “Lombardi Chevy and Buick, where we buy all our vehicles”
Closing Statements. Each candidate was asked why we should vote for them for mayor.
Strong – “We want Wilmington back to the Wilmington people.” He doesn’t believe people who live outside of Wilmington could or should have any job working for the city. He made mention of getting the aldermen “on board.”
Gilmour – “I’ve lived here all my life.” “We need to work with the city council for the good of the town.” “There’s a lot of hard work ahead.”
Orr – “When I took over the budget was 800k in the red. With tremendous cuts, we’re going to have a balanced budget and have the potential to be in the black.” The mayor cited the Ridgeport annexation as a major accomplishment of his tenure, and chimed in on the liquor license question he didn’t receive by stating his actions relating to them were to give the people choice, only.
Neises – “I have experience relating to the position of mayor,” stating she learned how to “come together for a common goal” from many seminars. Comparing herself to Orr, she claims to be the better choice because “I have more time to be available,” announcing she will have regular office hours and will “probably be pushing a full-time mayor.” She mentioned “shop local” then went back to her answer on the car question, rationalizing (though she shouldn’t have to) her outside of town purchase by stating she bought it five or six years ago, before she held any office, so that makes it okay for her to not support local business. But if it’s okay for her to do it when not elected why should we? Neises finished up by saying she wants to encourage union jobs and believes that even though state statute says liquor licenses are up to the mayor, she would like it to be a more distributed decision. I wonder if she’d still feel that way if she were elected.
The notes I received stated in general the person thought the debate format created a rather boring atmosphere, and in listening back I’d have to agree. A debate should have candidates going back and forth with a moderator facilitating discussion. A question and answer session gets some information out, but with no rebuttals candidates can say whatever they want without fear of being called out on any lies or half-truths. The note said Neises appeared to be reading from a script up until the audience questions. I can’t see that in listening back, but the cadence of her voice was noticeably different when responding to the questions that were prepared in advance and those the audience came up with. The note mentioned that she was the only candidate to not show up on time, arriving 10-15 minutes after the debate start time, but school board and alderman candidates spoke first so she didn’t miss any of her time. According again to the note sender, the crowd seemed mostly in favor of Orr. There was whispering and laughs of disbelief at responses (that I could confirm on the audio) when other candidates spoke. The sender felt that the crowd was probably most antagonistic towards former mayor Strong’s answers.
Approximately 75 people were said to be in attendance, and some had to stand at the wall for space.