David C. Whitney: 2021 candidate for Rolling Meadows City Council, Ward 1
Rolling Meadows 1st Ward; 2 Candidates -- 1 seat
Hometown: Rolling Meadows
Occupation: Retired from a 42-year career in technology and finance management
Employer: US Cellular was my last employer.
Civic involvement: Rolling Meadows Chamber of Commerce Community Leader of the Year Award, 2019; 20 years on Zoning Board of Appeals and Zoning and Planning Commission, where I chaired both; 20-year volunteer with the Police and Fire Departments focusing on Emergency Services, handicap parking patrol, prisoner watch, and the Citizens Response Team; president of RM Crime Stoppers; past president of HOA; Community Events Foundation; Senior Center Board Treasurer; past president and Coach in Rolling Meadows Youth Baseball; managed the staging of the Rolling Meadows Fourth of July parade for the last 22 years; active participant in the latest creation of Rolling Meadows Comprehensive Plan and the zoning code update; I have attended the Rolling Meadows Citizen's Police, Fire and Public Works Academies to learn in detail how they operate.
Q. What is the primary reason you're running for office? What is the most important issue?
A. I firmly believe I can be a major contributor in the future to help stabilize the Council and add needed experience to what currently is a very inexperienced Council. My knowledge of all aspects of city government, my experience on boards and commissions, and my financial management experience position me to be a major contributor from the start. The most critical issue currently is how to offset lost revenue due to COVID-19. 2020 was a difficult year financially for the city and the main reasons city taxes remained stable for 2021 were the use of reserve funds and delaying pension funding. The Council has approved adding staff and increasing spending in several areas. An additional Social Worker was added and even being partially funded by a grant, it still will cost the city about $50,000 annually according to the budget. Now is not the time to increase spending. My experience managing and reducing budgets as large as $300 million annually will add needed experience to the Council. It is essential the Council members work together with city staff to find ways to combat the decreasing revenue.
Q. Given the upcoming sale of the Arlington racetrack just outside of town, what kind of development would you prefer to see as a replacement?
A. Arlington Heights has been planning for the closure since 2019. Mayor Tom Hayes has indicated that Arlington Heights favors a mixed use of the property with retail, residential, commercial, and entertainment including potentially a music or sports venue. Even with a stadium type venue for sports or entertainment, mixed use will probably be necessary. My preference would be to include retail and commercial that is unique to the area and would supplement existing Rolling Meadows and Arlington Heights businesses. I would support a sports or music venue as entertainment options in the area are sparse and either would support other businesses in the development and surrounding areas. Multiunit housing especially walking distance from the train station would be a benefit to the area and could be fashioned after downtown Arlington Heights with retail mixed in. This property will be competing with the continued development of the Motorola property in Schaumburg. That property has been slow to develop and lessons learned there should be applied.
Q. How should the city of Rolling Meadows proceed in trying to influence any development of Arlington Park?
A. Since developing a property this size will impact more than just Arlington Heights, I would propose proactively forming a regional group that includes Arlington Heights, Rolling Meadows, and Palatine at a minimum to look at the property from a broader perspective. Without this it may be difficult for Rolling Meadows to influence what happens with this property. As public hearings on zoning changes come up, Rolling Meadows City Council and Staff should be represented at these hearings. Prior to these hearings, anything proposed that may negatively impact the City of Rolling Meadows, its businesses and/or its residents should be discussed with Arlington Heights. At the hearings, concerns should be brought up to get them on the public record. We must be proactive on this and willing to spend time and effort to make sure that the property use is a positive for Rolling Meadows.
Q. How do you view your role in confronting the pandemic: provide leadership even if unpopular, give a voice to constituents -- even ones with whom you disagree -- or defer to state and federal authorities?
A. The Role of the Rolling Meadows City Council should be to support the guidelines set in place by state and federal governments. Rolling Meadows does not have the expertise on staff to set its own guidelines, but certainly can abide by those set up by government organizations that do have that expertise. While these guidelines may inconvenience many of the residents, until the vaccine has been distributed to many more individuals, the risk of social gathering should be addressed to keep the virus from spreading further. While I remember polio, measles, and mumps viruses as a child, many people have never experienced anything like this in their lifetime and are having difficulty adjusting. Members of City Council need to be patient and lead by example following the state and federal guidelines ensuring that the residents and businesses are doing the same.
Q. Did your town continue to adequately serve its constituents during the disruptions caused by the pandemic? If so, please cite an example of how it successfully adjusted to providing services. If not, please cite a specific example of what could have been done better.
A. The City was able to adjust to the disruption with minimal impact to services. Many community events needed to be canceled due to larger crowds. Necessary city services continued with minimal disruption. Restrictions were put on garbage/recycling collection to seal up garbage bags and if you were sick, seal up recycling and throw it in the garbage. This would help protect city staff and people at the recycling center. City Hall was closed for a period of time to avoid contact. When it reopened masks were required and hand sanitizer was readily available throughout the facility. The Boards and Commissions were somewhat restricted from meeting and when they did meet, many of them were virtual meetings. The City Council has remained virtual.
Q. In light of our experiences with COVID-19, what safeguards/guidelines should you put in place to address any future public health crises?
A. Until we get to the 75-85% vaccination rate which is projected to limit the spread, we must continue to be responsible by wearing masks, hand sanitizing, washing hands and limiting public contact. As far as putting any local plans in place, I would defer to the experts and follow the state and federal guidelines.
Q. What cuts can local government make to reduce the burden of the pandemic on taxpayers?
A. Going into the Pandemic, Rolling Meadows was positioned well financially. Reserves were adequate and the city had been working on catching up on pension funding. This year, the budget remained stable with the revenue deficit funded mainly from those reserves and delaying pension funding. Even with the existing budget issues, several new staff additions have been budgeted. An Assistant City Manager position budgeted at a $150,000 should be eliminated immediately.
City staff needs to be proactively looking for ways to cut expense. Should it be necessary, I would support a hiring freeze, cutting all nonessential overtime, and moving into a maintenance mode on infrastructure projects that are not essential and not funded by grants. Capital expenditures on items such as new vehicles and building improvements should be reviewed for necessity. This current council has dramatically increased legal fees over the last two years and those can be more controlled and substantially reduced. Many cities are looking at furloughs and layoffs as a way to reduce expense. I would have difficulty supporting furloughs or layoffs where it negatively impacted public safety or staff safety. Expensive new initiatives being discussed such as implementing containers for garbage collection should be tabled for now.
Q. What do you see as the most important infrastructure project you must address? Why and how should it be paid for? Conversely, during these uncertain economic times, what infrastructure project can be put on the back burner?
A. Now that the Fire Stations are completed, there are many smaller projects that require attention. In my opinion, the biggest outstanding issue is the condition of our roads. After the 2007 Recession, roads became a budget casualty and were generally in a maintenance mode for several years. The city has been unable to catch up with the repair and replacement since then. The Motor Fuel Taxes we get from the state help fund this. We are in year two of a three-year window of grants from the state under the Rebuild Illinois program that we can use specifically for this if the state can provide that grant money. Cutting expense here may have a long-term impact. We can certainly ensure the use of all available grant money and Motor Fuel Taxes to keep this going. The Public Works facility on Central is badly in need of repair as well. It should be determined if this building has any long-term value to the city and until then delayed. At some point in time, issues with the Police Department facilities will also need to be addressed but should be postponed until revenue increases to prior levels.
Q. Do you agree or disagree with the stance your municipality has taken on permitting recreational marijuana sales in the community? What would you change about that stance, if you could?
A. The acceptance of Medical Marijuana was not difficult. The products helped many people to live a more normal life. While I do not condone the use of recreational marijuana it is legal in the state. I believe it was a decision that was made to leverage our existing facility to supplement tax revenue generated by the medical marijuana. It was strictly a business decision which benefits the city financially. 2021 revenue from taxes is projected at $300,000. The only issue resulting from this is that the facility may be too small to handle the volume of customers. I would not change anything on the City's stance at this time.
Q. What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?
A. As part of the team that put the Comprehensive Plan Together last year, many good ideas came up that would really benefit the city. One idea that we worked on was expanding the Kirchoff Road downtown area out to Hicks and over to the new fire station. Another one impacts my Ward more directly and that would be working on how we eliminate the East/West division within the city. However, investing in any of these ideas with decreased revenues may not be the best use of city funds. One of the ideas sitting with me for the last several years as a way to save money is a governmental group purchasing organization (GPO) such as Sourcewell. A GPO will aggregate its members purchases and can will typically get larger discounts based on the increased volume. GPOs have worked extremely well in health care. Savings would be generated on cost of the products purchased and the reduced staff time to research the purchase prices prior to ordering.