Watchdogs: 2 Naperville councilmen late paying bills, so can't serve

The authors of a government watchdog website called Illinois Leaks are challenging the eligibility of two Naperville City Council members to serve on the council based on utility bill debts uncovered through a Freedom of Information Act request.

According to documents Illinois Leaks received from the city of Naperville, council members Joseph McElroy and David Wentz have owed debts on their utility bills during the time they've been in office.

The Illinois Municipal Code says a person is ineligible to serve in an elective municipal office "if that person is in arrears in the payment of a tax or other indebtedness due to the municipality."

John Kraft, one of the authors of the downstate-based Illinois Leaks, said based on his review of the documents he received from a FOIA filed in October, Wentz has owed late monthly payments 22 times, while McElroy has been behind on his utility bill six times in the past 2½ years.

McElroy said he has never paid a late fee on his utility bills.

"I've just been informed via text by my wife that we have never paid a late fee," McElroy said during Tuesday's city council meeting. "We're talking about days, maybe a week, not months or anything like that."

Wentz said he would pay his utility bills each month when he would receive a notice in the mail saying the payment was late, but he didn't realize there was a late charge.

"I wasn't aware it was incurring any late fees," Wentz said.

He said he had not been receiving electronic notification of the original bills. But when he became aware of the FOIA request for council members' utility bills, he changed his billing preferences so he now is receiving the original notices.

Wentz said he is current on all utility payments due to the city-owned electric and water utilities at this point. Kraft said no matter how much council members owed, if they paid late, they are violating state code because the "definition of arrears is not paying the amount in full on the day it is due."

Naperville Acting City Attorney Jill Wilger said it is not up to the city to determine whether a council member has been in arrears on a payment and if he should be deemed ineligible to serve. That decision, she said, would lie with the state's attorney's office if the matter is brought to the office's attention.

Council member Robert Fieseler asked Wilger to review the code pertinent to this issue.

"This is not a trivial matter. It could call into question some of the votes that were taken," Fieseler said. "I think we should have our city attorney have a look at the law and decide whether this is correct."

Wilger said she will review the matter and give a report in the next Manager's Memorandum, a public document released every Friday.

Kirk Allen, who authors Illinois Leaks with Kraft, said the watchdog group brought forward the information about the late utility payments to make sure justice is being applied.

"I really don't care who sits on the board," said Allen, who lives in downstate Kansas. "We just want to make sure they're following the law."

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