Breaking News Bar
updated: 4/29/2014 1:32 PM

Has city council lost its spirit of volunteerism?

Success - Article sent! close

Editor's Note: This is the second installment of Around Naperville columnist Stephanie Penick's two-part report. Wednesday's column focused on the city's spirit of volunteerism. Today's questions whether some city council members still feel that sense of volunteerism.

Yesterday we wrote about volunteerism in Naperville.

That column lauded the growth and development of cherished local amenities such as the Illinois Prairie Path, Naper Settlement and the Riverwalk, thanks to the vision of Naperville residents and the dedication of thousands and thousands of volunteers.

Though I'm pretty good about volunteering, serving as an elected public servant would be an altogether different story.

For instance, occasionally when I've offered an opinion about some city issue, a councilman has replied, "Then why don't you run for city council?"

I wouldn't serve well on city council because I enjoy the spontaneity of old-fashioned "brainstorming."

On the other hand, I try to live by an expression, "Let me think about it." I'd have a tough time participating in on-the-spot decision-making from the dais.

All too often I'd want to consider unintended consequences of the proposals that take time to surface.

Case in point was the challenge to the media during the April 15 meeting of the Naperville City Council, questioning whether newspaper headlines would serve to communicate a "half-empty" or "half-full" decision.

The agenda item under discussion stated, "Consider the issue of whether council members should continue to be eligible for health and dental coverage and direct staff accordingly."

At issue was that some council members would like all costs of compensation and access to health benefits clearly in place before candidates throw their hats in the ring for the 2015 municipal election next spring.

The next election is when all nine council seats will be up for grabs. The 2015 at-large election to serve Naperville's "council-manager form of government" also is the first time each council seat (whether incumbent or not) begins with a limit of three terms.

The April 15 discussion to discontinue health benefits in favor of addressing equitable and just compensation led to an unexpected development: a proposal to double council members' salaries.

Here's hoping folks interested in our city will watch the April 15 unedited video saved in the city's archive at under "Streaming Videos and Meeting Documents." It's enlightening.

What you will learn by watching and listening to the video is that each council member has chosen to receive (or not) a different compensation/benefit package for voluntary public service.

I think council members are on the right path to try to achieve equity compensation. It's just how to determine the reasonable amount.

I've been fortunate to know the past four mayors and most of the council members, all of whom have served our city with a different style and time commitment.

Some officials are good at returning phone calls. Some prefer email. All are accessible. Some attend all workshops. Some are visible at special events. Some volunteer to serve other initiatives. It's an individual choice. We need all kinds.

What I found unworkable was the sample set used to find that equitable number. That's why I'm hopeful folks will watch the video to be mindful of every council member's reasoning. That way, when we head to the polls next spring, voters will not be surprised by the issues.

As a home-rule, self-insured city, the comparisons used on April 15 failed the apples-to-apples test, especially when considering the remarkable Naperville spirit dating back to the days of Joe Naper.

Half-empty or half-full headlines?

To suddenly propose doubling compensation for a citizen's choice to serve on city council seems out of character at first reading.

Without further discussion, I think many unintended consequences loom in the future.

I'm still thinking about it.

What do you think?

The next council meeting begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 6.

Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.