With customer care at village hall a top concern in Mundelein's mayoral race, candidate Steve Lentz has proposed using undercover operatives to apply for various permits as a way to observe the process.
Lentz, a trustee making his first bid for the mayor's chair, suggested creating a "secret shopper" program as a way to improve the way the village staff works with businesses considering locating in town.
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"Companies use them. There's no reason the village shouldn't, either," Lentz told the Daily Herald during a group interview Friday.
Lentz's idea was rejected by the other two mayoral candidates, Robin Meier and Wally Frasier, during the hourlong session at the Herald's office in Libertyville. Each had ideas about how best to improve the local business climate.
The candidates are seeking to replace Kenneth H. Kessler as Mundelein's mayor in the April 9 election. Kessler is stepping down after two terms.
Lentz, Meier and Frasier were asked about attracting businesses to town, the economy and other issues during the interview.
Lentz, a village trustee since 2009, suggested creating the undercover program during a discussion about the best ways to lure and retain businesses.
"We need to not only bring the service level up to where our neighbors are but we need to go beyond," Lentz said. "That's going to require doing things perhaps that are a little bit more aggressive."
Under Lentz's proposal, someone would pose as a prospective business owner and go through the permit application process "and (take) some serious notes along the way."
"That will help bring accountability," he said.
Meier, a village trustee since 2008, flatly rejected the idea. Although she endorsed bringing business concepts into the way government works, she backed performance measurements over undercover work.
Meier said customer service will improve if the village creates service-related performance measurements for employees.
As for the application process, Meier said it needs to be completed quickly and efficiently, and there should be assurances from the village that it will go smoothly.
"The key there is you have to have consistency," Meier said. "It has to be consistent every time. You can't have just a few happy customers, you have to have all happy customers coming in. Because that's how you get a reputation."
Frasier, a longtime Mundelein Park District trustee and former police chief in town, didn't back Lentz's idea, either.
Although he said officials should monitor how employees do their jobs, Frasier believes the way to attract new businesses is for village hall staffers to "overextend themselves" to prospective tenants and help them get through the bureaucracy.
"We can't just have people walking into the village hall to open up a new business and say, 'Well, here are the codes, here's the application, fill them out and come back,'" Frasier said.
Additionally, all village employees -- whether at the police department, the clerk's office, public works or other departments -- should operate with a customer service mindset, Frasier said.
"Mundelein's in the heart of Lake County. They need to develop a heart and become known as a business-friendly community," he said.