David Stieper: Candidate Profile
Barrington Hills Village Board (4-year Terms) (Independent)
Note: Answers provided have not been edited for grammar, misspellings or typos. In some instances, candidate claims that could not be immediately verified have been omitted.
City: Barrington Hills
Office sought: Barrington Hills Village Board (4-year Terms)
Family: I am married and my wife's name is Darla. We have two young boys, John, age 12 and Michael, age 9. We have a cocker spaniel named Herbie who is 4 years-old. We have lived in Barrington Hills since 2001.
Occupation: Self-employed, attorney, Stieper Law Offices Ltd. Litigating and trying cases primarily in the areas of construction, professional liability, contracts, UCC, business and real estate, including land use, mortgage foreclosure and zoning.
Education: Juris Doctorate, 1990, Chicago Kent College of Law M.B.A, 1988, Illinois Benedictine College Lake Forest College, 1986, B.A. Economics University of Beijing, China, Summer 1984 University of Lvov, Ukraine (former USSR), Summer 1983
Civic involvement: Barrington Hills Plan Commmission and Chairman (2002 -2010) Board of Trustees, Barrington Area Conservation Trust (2005-to present) Vestry Member, St. Mark's Episcopal Church, 2011-present Cub Scout leader, Barrington, Pack 187 - 2010 to present, Wolves and Bears Tee Ball Baseball Coach - 2009 -210
Elected offices held: None.
Have you ever been arrested for or convicted of a crime? If yes, please explain: No.
Key Issue 1
Reduce the Village Budget: In these difficult economic times, we must find meaningful ways to decrease government size and spending by concentrating our efforts on necessary and not excessive government. One of my primary objectives as Trustee will be to change the method on how the Village's annual budget is formulated and how tax payers? funds are spent. I will require and support pre-approval by a majority of the Board of Trustees for all itemized spending by our Village above a stated dollar amount. Instead of assuming costs as a baseline from year to year, we should require that all Village departments and Trustee committees rigorously question past practices and consider re-bidding outside services from vendors, professional service companies and suppliers.
Key Issue 2
Restore Honest Government. I will work diligently to increase transparency in Village government making sure there is strict adherence to both the legislative language and spirit of Illinois sunshine laws (Open Meetings Act, Freedom of Information Act etc.). Village Board meetings should be broadcast on local cable or on-line. Public comment at Village Board meetings should come first on the agenda and residents should be afforded the opportunity to speak after completion of each major agenda item. Recent Board rules governing public comment should be rescinded because they serve only to obstruct the public from necessary access to elected officials. Information available on the Village website should be increased to allow viewers instantaneous access to government documents and information, otherwise not protected under OMA. Such transparency will dramatically decease the cost of FOIA Record Management charges which the Village has budgeted $80,000 for 2013. For instance, vendor bids, contracts, agreements, reports, itemized government credit card statements, invoices, and individual checks issued by the Village to pay third party vendors and professionals (ie. attorneys and engineers) should be available on-line. In summary, if elected, I will work to make the Village of Barrington Hills website a model of disclosure for other municipalities to emulate.
Key Issue 3
Protect our Open Spaces: Continue implementation of proven techniques to preserve our 5 acre way of life, open spaces and protection of surface water and aquifers. Our open spaces have long been the unique and envied jewel of our community and this heritage must be protected. As an attorney experienced in these issues, I will lead efforts to this protection. Our open spaces require vigilance on issues relative to our environment. As a member of the Board of Trustees for the Barrington Area Conservation Trust, I have a proven track record of conservation. I will work with others in the community to protect our precious and distinctive resources.
Is the village taking appropriate steps to maintain its uniqueness in the region, or has such uniqueness become too costly to maintain?
The character of Barrington Hills is the product of strong and consistent regulation dating back to its founding (i.e. covenants contained in deeds to land requiring minimal lot size). As it is my desire to maintain the current character of Barrington Hills, prior successful land practices should continue to be employed. The foundation, which provides a rationale for current and future zoning, is the Village's Comprehensive Plan. Property owners have the right to enjoy the use of their property, so long as it conforms to zoning regulations which containreasonable objective standards? that respect the unique traditions of our community, surrounding neighbors and are applied equally to all residents. The problem in our recent history is the manner in which the Village has gone about defending against landownerson the borders? who legally meet the requirements and desire to disconnect from the Village. In the recent past, Barrington Hills? tax payers have expended in excess of $1.3 Million in legal fees on failed strategies which have resulted in loss of approximately 500 acres of land on our Western and Southern borders. Often confusing the law in the area of zoning with disconnection, the strategies employed by the Village in these disconnection lawsuits were obvious losers from the onset to anyone with a trained eye. Defenseless disconnection lawsuits require a political solution by Village leadership who possess the demeanor, skill and insight to negotiate in advance favorable inter-governmental agreements with adjacent municipalities. The terms of such inter-governmental agreements must make it unfavorable or impractical for a landowner to disconnect. One tried and proven strategy to encourage qualified landowners not to disconnect is to reduce Village spending which translates into lower property taxes.
The village has debated various forms of regulation in recent years. Is there a general philosophy on regulation that should be applied toward all present and future concerns?
The Village of Barrington Hills should not deviate from its current land use and zoning supported by the Comprehensive Plan which describes the countryside nature of the Village. It is the 5 acre lot that defines the character of this Village, and any deviation from minimum 5 acre zoning requirements would negatively impact property values by altering the character of the Village. Further, while I favor continuing with practices that respect privacy of decisions for each property owner, it would be na?ve to ignore that property owners have changing needs. For years, with the help of unobtrusive government and few regulations, neighbors have mostly been able to resolve issues with the guidance of our zoning policies. The Village, however, has an overriding obligation to protect all the interests of residential, equestrian and agricultural lifestyles within the context of our predominantly R1 zoning and our open space uniqueness. When considering new ordinances, the Village Board should always strike a balance between our open space uniqueness and individual privacy rights.
What is your position on the horse-boarding controversy? Explain.
In general and at the surface level, I do not oppose large scale commercial horse boarding operations. While a tradition of boarding for others on a small scale is protected under the home occupation ordinance, larger scale commercial horse boarding at present is a non-conforming use under the Village Code. Regarding one large equestrian facility engaging in this activity the Illinois Appellate Court in the case of Benj. LeCompte et al. v. ZBA for Village of Barrington Hills, in a decision handed down on June 30, 2011, ruled that horse boarding on Oakwood Farm was not anagricultural use? (as defined in the Village Code) nor does its boarding activities fall within the scope of the Village's home occupation ordinance. The LeCompte Appellate Court decision applies to all large equestrian facilities in Barrington Hills. Other than the creation of the unprecedented and controversial "Schuman Letter" signed by a Village employee which is the focal point of a separate lawsuit, the Village Board has taken no steps for many years now to regulate large scale commercial horse boarding. Plan Commission members knew there was thisgap? in our Village Code when we drafted the Comprehensive Plan. Barrington Hills is a residential community zoned predominantly R1. It is my deep belief that to ensure continued viability of these large equestrian operations this activity must be brought into conformance with the Village Code through adoption of a new ordinance. If elected, I will recommend that a select group of residents comprised of all major interests in the Village ranging from riding club members, large equestrian facility operators, agriculture representaives and informed non-equestrian Barrington Hills? homeowners meet to formulate a list of recommendations, ideas and guidelines which the ZBA, Plan Commission or Board can use when drafting a proposed text amendment to the Village Code dealing solely with this activity.
In these tight economic times, municipal budgets have to be prioritized. Where, if anywhere, could the current budget be trimmed, and conversely, are there areas the budget does not give enough money to?
Our property taxes have spiraled out of control. The Village of Barrington Hills, per capita, is the highest taxed municipality of any suburb. The Village's property tax revenue has more than doubled between 2003 and 2010. In 2001, property tax revenues collected by the Village totaled approximately $2.7 Million. In 2004, these tax revenues climbed to $5.2 Million. In 2008, property tax revenues surpassed $6 Million for the first time and have increased ever since. The Village's approved budget for this year is a slightly more than $8.2 Million. This year, it is estimated the Village will collect about $6.8 Million from real estate taxes. In the span of 12 years, annual property tax revenues collected by the Village has more than doubled which directly correlates with most of our real estate tax bills which have done the same. There has been no serious effort by elected officials to reduce spending. While the appetite for property tax revenues by the Village has become insatiable in recent years, average cash balances on hand with the Village have decreased dramatically. Between 2004 and the present, Barrington Hills spent anywhere between $750,000 and $1.2 Million a year for attorneys. At least $50,000 to $60,000 a year of these expenditures is itemized on the Budget asother legal expenses? with no information asfor what these services are for? andto whom these fees are being paid." To put the Village's legal expenditures in perspective, during 2010, the City of Elgin with 118,000 residents and 48 square miles incurred legal expenses totaling $1,007,350.00 compared to $824,840.00 for Barrington Hills with only 4,200 residents and 18 square miles. Long Grove has approximately 6,700 residents and 18 square miles and budgeted only $62,500 for legal expenses during this same period. Otherwise stated, on average each household in Barrington Hills is assessed annually approximately $550 for legal expenses versus $31.25 for Long Grove; $25.18 for Elgin; $19.35 for Algonquin and $20.76 for Crystal Lake. There is no municipality in the state of Illinois (and possibly the entire United States) who spends more per capita on attorneys than Barrington Hills. The total annual budget in 2013 for Long Grove is $2,383,000 ($85,100 for legal) compared to $8,281,305 for Barrington Hills. Besides spending obscene sums of money on attorneys, Barrington Hills this year has budgeted $80,000 (an increase of $39,000) for FOIA Records Management even though these services are being performed by current salaried Village employees. Other than Barrington Hills, I could find no municipality which contains a line item in their budget for FOIA compliance work. For 2013, the Village Board has budgeted $14,000 for tuition and travel expenses which is an increase of $10,000 over last year. While not a lot of money in the big scheme of things, this 285% increase in one year for these non-essential government activities, while in the midst of a deep recession,is symptomatic of a Village whose fiscal accountability is unchecked. Almost all municipalities are finding ways to reduce spending during these difficult economic times. Barrington Hills has taken the opposite approach increasing the dollar amount for anticipating spending in 2013 by $93,000 which is already off a bloated baseline of spending. The impact of these never ending spending increases by the Village not only financially burdens families, many of which are already cash strapped, but also depresses property values.
What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?
Beside, making the Village website a model of disclosure, it is time the Village adopt a formal code of ethics. This will instill greater public trust in Village government which is at an all-time low. Some of this distrust comes from the failure of elected officials? to disclose actual or apparent conflicts of interests. Village Trustees through formal adoption of a code of ethics would be obligated to disclose personal and/or business relationships with any third-party the Village compensates or with whom the Village makes any financial concession. If a personal or business relationship exists, the elected official must disclose this fact and recuse him or herself immediately from the process, including the vote to approve. This code of ethics should discuss use of government titles (i.e.Village President?,Village Trustee?,Commissioner? etc.) when it comes to engaging in activities unrelated to Village government. For instance, Village titles should not be used by Village officials or employees when expressing personal political views on national issues whether posted on the internet or elsewhere. The code would emphasize the legal duty of elected officials to conduct government business in plain view before the public except in those limited circumstances provided in the Illinois Open Meetings Act. In conjunction with adoption of a code of ethics, the Village Code must be amended when it comes to removal of any professional hired by the Village to render an opinion. For instance, an attorney hired by the Village should not have to misrepresent or skew his or her views for fear of reprisal by member(s) of the Board who may be in disagreement or embarrassed. Finally,freedom is not free? and many of us have had family members, relatives or friends who have answered the call of their nation by serving in our armed forces and some who have died in this service. Barrington Hills is the only municipality that I know of which does not say thePledge of Allegiance? or pay any other tribute to the United States. My first order of business when elected will be to introduce a motion that the U.S. flag andfor which it stands? be properly recognized before every Board meeting by simply asking everyone in attendance to stand and say thePledge of Allegiance?.