After election, will Elk Grove Village board have continuity or new voices?

  • Upper from left, Nancy Czarnik, Sam Lissner, Julee Mortensen and lower from left, Scott Saxe and Stephen Schmidt are candidates for Elk Grove Village board. Not pictured is a sixth candidate, Jeff Ziemann.

    Upper from left, Nancy Czarnik, Sam Lissner, Julee Mortensen and lower from left, Scott Saxe and Stephen Schmidt are candidates for Elk Grove Village board. Not pictured is a sixth candidate, Jeff Ziemann.

 
 
Updated 3/13/2019 7:34 PM

Elk Grove Village's board is known for its streak of continuity -- the current panel having been together a dozen years, and some individual trustees having served for decades.

Four of those decades go to Trustee James Petri -- the longest-serving elected official in village history -- who decided not to seek another term and whose departure has created the first open seat on the board in 22 years.

 

So come this spring, at least one new person will be elected, joining a group that usually gets along -- and doesn't often show it when there is discord.

Some of the newcomers who have jumped into the race say they'd bring different views to the dais and work to expand transparency and communication to residents, while two longtime incumbents seeking re-election explained the decision-making process they and other trustees currently employ.

In total, six candidates are seeking three available seats in the April 2 election.

After Petri's announcement last fall, one of the first to declare his candidacy was Scott Saxe, a businessman and member of the village's youth committee. He says he's not running to change village government as much as "change perspectives." He wants more open discussions of the issues at board meetings, instead of in private.

"They discuss, they debate, and when you're sitting in the board meeting, it's very much that this decision has been made and everybody is behind that decision," Saxe said. "I'm not looking to air the dirty laundry ... (but) a little discussion sometimes around the issues that show different views than just the one. I like the united front. I just think it's off-putting to those who might have a different voice."

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Julee Mortensen, a local business owner, agreed there should be more board discussion in public, saying meetings now look "a little staged."

"It's kind of not in my nature to always go along with everybody, so I guess I would have to, if I thought something was wrong, I would push back," Mortensen said.

She said the village's app for cellphones is helpful, but the website could be better. And she suggested village officials keep up with social media to see both positive and negative comments from residents.

Trustee Nancy Czarnik, a 30-year incumbent, said she and village officials try to be transparent to residents and businesses, but some board discussions are held behind closed doors because of legal issues, such as obtaining property.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Czarnik said she follows three pillars of decision-making: discuss, decide and support.

For example, she says there was robust discussion when Mayor Craig Johnson suggested the unconventional $300,000 sponsorship of the Bahamas Bowl in 2018 to market the village's business park. In the end, the mayor brought trustees to his side. And last month, the board re-upped to sponsor the game again this year.

Trustee Sam Lissner, a 24-year incumbent, said he stays active on social media and reads comments from residents. The village operates websites, social media pages and its app to communicate to the community, he said.

Lissner did note some split votes of the board, such as the 4-3 decision to allow Elk Grove Township Elementary District 59 to build its headquarters on Leicester Road. Lissner was against it, but the mayor ended up casting the tiebreaking vote.

Lissner also said many issues are hashed out in lower-level village committees, which are not televised on the village cable channel, as full board meetings are.

Stephen Schmidt, the former police chief who retired in 2016 after 41 years with the department, said he's always been impressed by board members because "when they make a decision, there's no politics involved."

"It's what's best for Elk Grove Village," he said.

While board and committee meetings are open to the public, Schmidt said he believes there is a "degree of apathy" in the community.

"It's important to listen to the people. It's important to debate. It's important to put out there as much as you can in the public, so people understand when a decision is made why that decision was made," he said.

The sixth candidate, Jeff Ziemann, president and business manager of Laborers Union Local 6, declined to participate in an interview or fill out a Daily Herald candidate questionnaire.

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