Animal activists don't want pet store owner on Naperville board

Updated 7/24/2015 11:28 AM

Activists opposed to so-called "puppy mills" are questioning the potential appointment of a pet store owner to a volunteer finance board in Naperville.

Michael Isaac, who co-owns a Petland franchise in Naperville, has been nominated to the city's financial advisory board, pending council approval.

Mayor Steve Chirico said he reviewed applicants for finance board seats with the help of residents he trusts, and he determined Isaac was the best person to fill one of two open positions.

Isaac's appointment was the only one to be questioned Tuesday among 17 names suggested to fill openings on nine boards and commissions

"We came up with the list of appointments who I believe, and still do believe, were the best choices for Naperville," Chirico said.

But three people asked the council to reconsider Isaac as a choice for the finance board, citing concerns with Isaac's business as a pet store owner.

The speakers also used their remarks as a pitch for a "humane pet store ordinance," which could prevent shops from selling animals from commercial breeders they characterize as "puppy mills."

"When we heard Michael Isaac, who is a co-owner of Petland in Naperville, was being considered to be part of the financial advisory board, it was like a slap in the face," said Tracey Rees, who spoke to the council wearing a "Puppy Mill Project" T-shirt.

She and Candy Knippenberg, a founding member of the Naperville Area Humane Society, said appointing Isaac to the finance board would not help solve the problems they are trying to fight -- those of animal mistreatment by large breeders and unwanted pets in the community.

But Deborah Newman, a spokeswoman for the Naperville Petland franchise, said the topics are unrelated.

"The Petland issue and whether Mike is qualified are two separate issues," she said.

Isaac has been a Petland franchise owner since 2006, according to the resume he submitted to Chirico with his finance board application. He has a bachelor's degree in business marketing and management from Coastal Carolina University and experience as a regional vice president at a mortgage company.

City Attorney Jill Wilger said she sees no issue with Isaac serving on the finance board because it's unlikely there would be any conflict of interest, even if the city were to enact a humane pet store ordinance.

Isaac said his motivation to serve is simple: he wants to give back to the community where he has a business and is raising his family.

"I am proud to live in Naperville and am eager to contribute to our community," Isaac said. "I believe my varied business experience and financial knowledge can be an asset to the city and I am honored that Mayor Chirico would allow me this opportunity to serve."

Chirico said choosing the right people to fill roughly 40 vacant spots on 20 boards and commissions has been one of his top priorities since taking office May 3. Aside from top qualifications, Chirico also has been seeking balance in terms of gender, age, ethnicity and geographic location.

"I did not ask them their social views," Chirico said. "I think that's a slippery slope. It's not relevant to the board or commission."

Jim Haselhorst, a mayoral candidate who lost to Chirico, agreed, saying only an applicant's qualifications to conduct the work of the board or commission should be a factor, not "any other consideration anyone might consider controversial."

"All that matters," Haselhorst said, "is do they meet the requirements for the office."

Isaac's appointment and the 16 others the council began considering Tuesday will be set for a vote during a meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 11, in the municipal center at 400 S. Eagle St.

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