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2/8/2013 10:01:00 AM Column: Spring Valley, for certain, needs city manager
Craig Sterrett News Editor
We’ve been entertained and, at times, aghast, by city council meetings in the past five to 10 years that have been, well, chaotic. A few years ago, Spring Valley had a mayor who handled council meetings quickly and crisply, and had administrative experience from his years as a school superintendent. However, there were times when things did not go his way, when he didn’t like the answers or attitudes from elected council members, when his my way or the highway demeanor would backfire. I recall one meeting in particular when Jim Narczewski walked out of the council meeting before it had ended. He usually did a good job of handling the meetings, but that was not his, or Spring Valley’s finest moment. In the past two years, with freshman mayors in La Salle, Oglesby, Spring Valley and Peru, council meetings in Peru and Spring Valley have, at times, become free-for-alls, for differing reasons. A spectators group in Peru and opinionated alderman Rodney Perez have turned the weekly meetings, the way I read the stories, into bizarre-o-world in the city with the slogan, “The Leader of the Valley.” In Spring Valley, outright arguing and a few less-than-professional exchanges between Mayor Cliff Banks and some of the aldermen have made for interesting comments on reporters’ tape recorders and have overshadowed the actual tasks or questions at hand. One could say it’s good, old-fashioned, grassroots government, reminiscent of a town selectmen meeting in New England. But frankly, it’s a little bit too quaint. In my opinion, area cities, and Spring Valley for certain, need to consider hiring city managers or at least city administrators. Our cities have cobbled together ways to get jobs done, such as budgeting, dealing with the public, greeting newcomers and prospective businesses or developers, etc. But if an elected mayor cannot, and probably should not, be available all day any day due to having a day job, who’s going to accurately and professionally answer questions if a developer comes to town and wants answers immediately? Who’s going to tell a potential industrial employer what benefits the city can or cannot extend to them through a Tax Increment Financing district? How many problems arise that should be solved immediately that currently require a vote at a city council meeting, and how unwieldy do things become when a council can’t vote until an item has been published on an agenda? And, if city council meetings are turning into wild affairs, what kind of an impression would that make on a developer or an industrial firm? Illinois Valley cities have a lot going for them and a lot to offer. Our location and transportation systems are ideal and convenient. We have a community college that can help train workers. We have plentiful water, which is more than can be said about many entire regions of the United States, and the communities have ample sewer capacity. All of our communities already have one major disadvantage. They’re all in Illinois, which has the worst credit rating in the nation and has a government/public pension system that’s bogging it down. If Illinois Valley communities have that strike against them, they would do well to correct all their other weaknesses to the best of their ability. The city manager must enforce and adhere to ordinances, hire and fire employees other than those required by law to be appointed by the mayor or council, do all hiring based on merit and fitness, exercise control of all departments and fill in if a department head position is temporarily vacant, submit a budget and prepare the annual tax levy, be responsible for collective bargaining, issue all licenses and permits and make purchases as necessary, although council permission is needed for purchases or contracts in excess of $10,000. It’s time to scrutinize not just city council affairs but the form of city governments.