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Article updated: 3/20/2013 11:23 PM

Spirited exchanges at Geneva candidates forum

By Susan Sarkauskas

Geneva mayoral hopeful Bob McQuillan likened Wednesday night's candidate forum -- during which he and incumbent Kevin Burns made the case for why they should be mayor -- to a 12-round prize fight.

Burns called it "a spirited discussion."

Neither pulled any punches in their opening and closing remarks or their answers to questions during the forum sponsored by Geneva TaxFACTS watchdog group, of which McQuillan is a co-founder, and Patch.com.

"My opponent has constantly tried to pick your pocket," such as with increases in property tax levies and water and sewer rates, McQuillan said of Burns, who has been mayor since 2001.

"There is a fine line between agitating and advocating," Burns said of McQuillan, adding that McQuillan had "short-term thinking ... that is pandering, pure and simple."

The forum, which Geneva TaxFACTS organized around the theme of "fiscal responsibility," also included candidates for 1st Ward alderman and Geneva school board. TaxFACTS members have been critical the last few years of Geneva school board spending.

The forum was anything but staid. In addition to the usual opening and closing statements and explain-your-stance questions, it featured "lightning rounds" where candidates were asked to give brief yes/no, true/false-type answers.

One that drew a groan from the audience was which mayoral candidate 1st Ward hopefuls Michael Bruno and Zachary Ploppert felt they would work with best. Each was reluctant to answer, but did: Ploppert said McQuillan, while Bruno said Burns. Ploppert and Bruno disagreed over the role and value of historic preservation in the 1st Ward, which includes downtown.

Several school board candidates said the current board should have used more of the district's reserve money to pay down debt. Discussion was even-keeled, even drawing laughter at times. School board candidates were asked who they would vote for, other than themselves; board president Mark Grosso declined to answer, but then at least four other candidates said they would vote for him.

McQuillan said the city was on a "fiscally irresponsible path," while Burns cited reports that sales tax revenue is growing, and a study about how the city is providing good service with fewer workers than comparable municipalities.

Burns said that city surveys, as well as residents' votes -- in 1997 to purchase 400 acres for open space and in 2005 to expand the police station and replace a fire station -- prove residents are willing to spend money if they believe in the services it will provide. But McQuillan said things are different now.

"It is no longer 2005. Any survey that was given in 2005 is out the window. 2008 (the recession) started a new world," McQuillan said. He criticized raising the city's property tax levy, saying he would push for a freeze or decrease.

Burns bristled at McQuillan's point that the mayor and city administrators need to be more accessible to the public, with McQuillan saying he's heard complaints about the mayor being unreachable at times. McQuillan said he will have set hours at city hall if he is elected.

"Frightening, Mr. McQuillan's response," Burns said. "By phone, by email, by text, I am responsive to a fault."

The forum was videotaped, and will be made available on the Geneva TaxFACTS website, genevataxfacts.org.

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