Suzanne Fitch: Candidate profile
Name: Suzanne M. Fitch
Office sought: Councilman At-Large
Age: 43 years old
Family: Married, 3 Kids
Education: Bachelor of Arts and Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Juris Doctor, Northern Illinois University College of Law
Civic involvement: Member of City of Wheaton's Planning and Zoning Board from 2009-2015
Previous elected offices held: Incumbent Councilwoman At-Large, Wheaton City Council (Elected April 2015, Term began May 2015)
What are the most important issues facing your community and how do you intend to address them?
The City's challenges include repair and replacement of our aging infrastructure and roads, mitigation of flooding with improved stormwater management, and community safety. We completed flood prone area studies which the city staff will use to complete a cost-benefit analysis and make recommendations for stormwater projects. I worked to change the City's policy on sidewalks because some neighborhoods are lacking sidewalks for children to walk to school. Instead of just replacing existing sidewalks, the City now has a plan to construct new sidewalks within a set radius of our elementary schools. All of these initiatives come with a cost, but with financial planning and prioritization, we can address them without raising property taxes. We also need to ensure that the City remains a great place to live, raise a family and do business. The City has laid the groundwork for a vibrant, prosperous and modern city. Prior to being elected to the City Council, I served on the City's Planning and Zoning Board for six years. Over the past ten years, I have seen a lot of private investment in the City. This has expanded our tax base which will help to lessen the burden on our taxpayers.
What makes you the best candidate for the job?
My accomplishments on the City Council have centered around fiscal responsibility, maintaining a safe, family-friendly community, replacing our aging infrastructure, and addressing long standing issues such as flooding. I have advocated for more open and transparent government and fiscal discipline. I have been accessible to residents and regularly attend the monthly Coffee with Council meetings where residents can share concerns and ideas in an informal setting. In matters requiring a public hearing before the Council, I have been fair and impartial. My professional experience as an attorney includes real estate, zoning, local government and other areas of law which provide a foundation for analyzing policy and legal issues that regularly come before the Council. The Council is often tasked with reviewing and amending various sections of our city code. Serving on the City's Planning and Zoning Board for six years prior to serving on the Council has provided me with extensive knowledge of our zoning code and comprehensive land use plan. I have worked to improve and update our zoning laws for the benefit of our residents and businesses. As a member of the Illinois Municipal League, I am knowledgeable about statewide initiatives and legislation that impact the City.
Describe your leadership style and explain how you think that will be effective in producing actions and decisions with our city council.
I have an excellent working relationship with the other members of the City Council and have earned the endorsement of the Mayor and other current and former city council members. As a council, we do not always agree on issues and the final vote may be 5-2 or 4-3. I always provide a thorough reasoning for my decision or position on major issues. My approach is to never be disagreeable, but instead, to listen and show respect for others who may have a different perspective. To build a consensus on your priorities, you must first earn the trust and respect of your colleagues. I have provided leadership in many areas including changing our sidewalk policy and suggesting ways to make the City more open and transparent. I have made a compelling case for how we can continue to invest in infrastructure improvements and maintain our current level of services without the need to increase taxes on our residents.
How would you describe the condition of your community's budget, and what are the most important specific actions the City should take to assure providing the level of services people want?
The City prepares an annual budget with projected revenues and expenditures and with a target of 40 percent of general fund operating expenditures to be held in reserve. This allows the City to maintain a positive financial position while having a buffer against any reduction in intergovernmental revenues. The City also ensures that there is a 2 percent or less increase in annual operating expenses for major operating funds. We have been able to provide a high level of service to our residents, and I do not expect this to change. We need to be concerned with the increase in expenditures, both operating expenses and discretionary capital improvements. The best way to ensure that important capital improvements get done without the need to increase revenue is to prioritize discretionary projects. The City funds discretionary capital improvements each year without prioritizing these projects against future possible projects. Creating a new policy for prioritizing discretionary capital projects will allow the City to spend its limited resources more responsibly and without the need to raise taxes or fees. The City also needs to identify cost savings and efficiency improvements in each department so we can reduce the yearly increases in our operating expenses.
What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?
My idea is to use our existing boards and commissions and establish resident advisory groups, when necessary, to advise the city staff on discretionary capital improvement proposals before they are presented to the City Council. Consultants and designers, who have a financial interest in a proposal, are hired before the public has had an opportunity to weigh in on the need for a particular project. The City needs to engage the public and listen to the voice of the taxpayers before developing plans for costly discretionary projects. Currently, there is little opportunity for residents to participate other than to speak during the public comment portion of a formal meeting. We should be tapping into the ingenuity of our residents to get the best outcome for the City. We should also use our monthly coffee with council meetings to discuss possible projects and gather public input by providing notice of the topic in advance to our residents and to our boards and commissions.