Kevin Burns: 2021 candidate for Geneva mayor
Occupation: Communication, Development & Advocacy Professional
Civic involvement: Historic Preservation Commission; Geneva Library Board; Geneva Planning & Zoning Commission; Alderman 1st Ward, 1997-2001; Mayor, 2001- Present; President Metro West Council of Government; Chairman Metropolitan Mayors Caucus Environment Committee & Energy Subcommittee; Metropolitan Mayors Caucus COVID-19 Regional Task Force; Metropolitan Mayors Caucus Economic Development Commission
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. My role was and remains essential in terms of sharing information I gain with the Council, business owners and community. By engaging as many organizations as possible -- local, county, regional, state and national -- I positioned myself to be as accessible to every decision-maker and then disseminate the information I secured to every constituency I serve. My relationship with the Kane County Health Department, Illinois Department of Public Health, Northwestern Medicine's Delnor Hospital management and infectious disease control experts has been enhanced because of the mutual respect we have for each other's positions. Moreover, by building these relationships, I've had the opportunity to help fashion protocols and metrics shared with me by business, education and hospitality leaders for consideration by health officials statewide. In addition, I attended every one of the Kane County CARES Act Allocation Committee meetings to ensure the City of Geneva, our businesses and nonprofit and social service agencies were represented.
Q. Did your town continue to adequately serve its constituents during the disruptions caused by the pandemic?
A. With kudos to our professional staff and appointed and elected officials, the City did yeoman's work of ensuring continuity of services to our residents and business owners. In fact, the level of services, and therefore work, requested of our staff remained almost at and sometimes above the volume of work in 2019. When the effects of COVID-19 took hold, our entire team innovated to provide the same level of service we always have; developing remote building inspection processes, ensuring public safety roles were conducted in a way to safeguard both staff and citizens, developing meeting protocols to ensure the business of the city continued and, most of all, remaining in contact with those we serve by utilizing enhanced communication efforts through our social media platforms.
Q. In light of our experiences with COVID19, what safeguards/guidelines should you put in place to address any future public health crises?
A. The City of Geneva will continue to adhere to all recommendations by the Kane County Health Department and Illinois Department of Public Health related to protocols to keep our professional staff, appointed and elected officials and, of course, our community safe when interacting with each other. Moreover, the City will take an active role, as we have, in relaying all information relative to public health issues upon receipt of information from the relevant and trusted health professionals through our myriad communication tools. Most importantly, we will benefit from what we learned during this period and apply the "best practices" approach to preparing for any future public health crisis.
Q. What cuts can local government make to reduce the burden of the pandemic on taxpayers?
A. Shortly after the City of Geneva unanimously adopted its own Disaster Declaration, more than $5,000,000 was eliminated from our approved FY2020-21 Budget. Included among such "cuts" were capital equipment outlays, street improvements, staff hiring and so on. It's worth noting that every decision I made under the authority granted me by the Declaration of Disaster adopted by the Council was later ratified unanimously by the Council. Moving forward, we must ensure that our essential services are appropriately funded to carryout the level of services expected by all our constituents. Beyond just "cuts," we must consider strategic investments and we have; the City of Geneva unanimously approved the waiver of all business license fees (including liquor license fees), commuter parking fees and late-fee charges on utility bills for a grand total of nearly $800,000 in FY2020-21. We have again waived all liquor license fees and business license fees for FY2021-22 totaling more than $200,000.
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?
Q. There are three critical infrastructure projects on the immediate horizon; 1.) The investment in correcting the stormwater management challenges we are experiencing on the northeast neighborhoods of Geneva. With thanks to the effected residents who collaborated with elected officials and city staff, we are prepared to "make right" the situation they have been experiencing. 2.) The reconstruction and physical improvements off the East State Street Corridor (from Route 25 east to Gary Lane) is a $20,000,000 project, with the lion's share of funding secured from grants, that will redefine streetscapes, improve traffic flow, enhance public safety and provide a necessary and long-overdue aesthetics along this vital corridor. 3.) The launching of the South East Master Plan (located along Route 38 east of Kirk Road to Kautz and south of Route 38 to Fabyan via a public/private partnership designed to improve utilities and attract 2,000,000 square feet of new industrial space -- doubling our current industrial space inventory.
Q. Do you agree or disagree with the stance your board/council has taken on permitting recreational marijuana sales in the community? What would you change about that stance, if you could?
A. The City Council's vote to allow recreational cannabis as a "special use" (requiring any and all applications related to sale, production, infusion, etc.) resulted in a 5-5 tie vote and I broke the tie by voting in the affirmative. Therefore, any applications filed to operate such a business will require review and consideration by the Planning & Zoning Commission and must meet the required "special use" standards. This avenue for consideration allows all parties to participate in the debate before the Planning & Zoning Commission as well as the City Council. To eliminate even the possibility of such a business being considered -- by voting not to break the tie vote -- would have eliminated more robust discussion and self-determination by our community.
Q. What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?
A. I have personally advanced the idea of creating a shared position with our friends in St. Charles and Batavia to fund a position to hire a sustainability professional to work with our respective communities toward advancing a Tri-City Sustainability Plan. This effort is consistent with St. Charles, Batavia and Geneva's commitment to its membership in the Greenest Region Compact (mayorscaucus.org/environment) and, once again, signals the power of working together to address issues important to our respective residents in a collaborative fashion (similar to work that has been done via Tri-City Ambulance, Tri-Com Dispatch, etc.). The sustainability position was unanimously approved by the Geneva City Council on 2/1/21.
Q. What makes you the best candidate for the job?
A. Geneva has a cadence all its own, a rhythm that makes us more than just unique, but the envy of communities near and far. Geneva's cadence is the result of leadership that inspires collective commitment to the strategies, goals and objectives developed by a broad coalition of stakeholders and rooted in the City's adopted strategic plans. I am the best candidate to ensure that Geneva's cadence the next four years reflects the guiding principles of our 2025 Strategic Plan; Strong Governance, Economic Vitality, Environmental Stewardship, Excellent City Services and Quality of Life. As Geneva emerges from a most trying year, responsive, reliable and results-driven leadership is essential to help navigate our communities' return to the cadence we all helped build and we all want restored. I pledge to continue to honor the independence and authority of the City Council, respect and appreciate the city's professional staff and scores of appointed volunteer leaders, continue building mutually respectful relationships with all of Geneva's governing bodies, facilitate necessary and sometimes difficult discussions, preserve the culture of collaboration that serves all of us and, represent the city's promise and potential by being present and connected.