Jennifer Bruzan Taylor: 2021 candidate for Naperville City Council
Challenger Jennifer Bruzan Taylor, one of 11 candidates running for four 4-year terms on Naperville City Council, responds to the Daily Herald candidate questionnaire for the April 6, 2021, local elections.
In-person early voting with paper ballots is now available at the DuPage County Fairgrounds Building 5, 2015 Manchester Road, Wheaton. In-person early voting with touch-screen voting begins March 22 at locations throughout the county. Learn more at www.dupageco.org/earlyvoting/.
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Occupation: Attorney: Former Cook County Assistant State's Attorney and adjunct professor of Constitutional Law; currently self-employed, stay-at-home mom
Civic involvement: DuPage Children's Museum NextGen Board member; Vice Chairwoman of the Westside Homeowner's Association (WHOA); member of the City Housing Conditions Focus Group (2019); Chairwoman of the Opt Out Naperville PAC; served on a condo association board where I managed a multimillion-dollar budget
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: As a councilwoman, I will provide leadership by listening to constituents and reviewing scientifically based data to make decisions that are best for all of Naperville. To be clear, it is important to collect and look at data provided by county, state and federal authorities, but ultimately it is the council's job to make decisions for Naperville and not simply defer to county, state, and federal elected officials.
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: Generally speaking Naperville did a good job of serving its constituents. There was no significant disruption to the level of services that residents expect. The Transportation, Engineering, and Development (TED) department, for example, switched in 21 days from an entirely paper permitting system to an electronic system.
On the other hand, I think Naperville can and should do more to help struggling small businesses right now. For example, I propose a private/public partnership between the city and local area banks to offer low-interest loans to struggling small businesses to keep them afloat during this time. Protecting small businesses is especially important to me because my parents lost their Naperville business as a child so I know the economic devastation it can cause.
Every time a business closes in Naperville, it has a ripple effect throughout our community. Helping small businesses is not only the right thing to do, but it ensures the economic vitality of Naperville by attracting visitors and therefore more revenue which will help ease our residential property tax burden.
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: As a city, we have to develop a detailed and comprehensive response plan with input from our community stakeholders and businesses so that Naperville can act quickly if we ever are presented again with a pandemic situation.
The city's response during this pandemic was not fluid, mainly because it was unexpected. We cannot use that excuse in the future. In addition, throughout the pandemic many residents felt there was a disconnect and inconsistency between the city, school districts, forest preserve, and the park district responses.
Every stakeholder had different levels of restrictions which in many cases were inconsistent with each other. For example, why could my kids go to indoor gymnastics at the park district, but not attend school in person? As such, this response plan needs to envelope all of the community stakeholders. Each cannot work independently, we need to act as one unit under a single cohesive plan.
Q: What cuts can local government make to reduce the burden of the pandemic on taxpayers?
A: Broadly speaking, Naperville's budget can be broken down into two categories: discretionary and non-discretionary. Discretionary items include not only the "nice to haves," but also many of the services we offer that residents have come to expect, such as immediate brush clean up after storms and beautification projects. Luckily Naperville finances did not fare as bad as other communities, and we actually ended up with a $2 million CARES Act surplus. However, if we continue to lose revenue with the loss of local businesses, then council will need to make cuts. In my opinion, beautification projects will need to be indefinitely deferred.
I also support how Councilman Hinterlong continually looks to save on outside contracts, and I will do so as well on council. What is non-discretionary in our budget is our public safety departments, such as the fire and police departments.
The number one priority the city has to its residents is to keep them safe, and so the absolute last thing that would ever get cut is public safety personnel. If we can no longer keep our citizens safe, then we no longer exist as a City.
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: Without question, the Washington Street Bridge is our most important infrastructure project. Everyday tens of thousands of cars use the Washington Street Bridge and it literally is falling apart! Typically a bridge is inspected every two years. The Washington Street Bridge is inspected every month because of safety concerns.
The Transportation, Engineering, and Development department (TED) hopes it can last until the 2022 project start date. When it comes to paying for projects, we need to budget properly to reduce the need to borrow money.
If we ever borrow money, we need to seek favorable financial terms with a plan to pay down the debt quickly. Naperville has a strong credit rating and we need to keep it that way by not incurring unnecessary debt. I believe in living within our means and it is possible if we budget properly.
The downtown streetscape infrastructure project needs to remain on the back burner for now. At the Nov. 23, 2020, city council meeting, I spoke about how in the long term that this will be a wonderful addition to our downtown, but that currently our downtown businesses cannot handle the financial obligations nor the reduced foot traffic the construction would cause.
Q: Do you agree or disagree with the stance the council has taken on permitting recreational marijuana sales in the community? What would you change about that stance, if you could?
A: I was the chairwoman of the Opt Out Naperville PAC, whose goal was to educate the public about recreational cannabis stores so that they would vote no to the referendum question on the topic. I also was the first person to go before Council in the summer of 2019 to ask for a referendum as to recreational cannabis stores because it was an issue that the residents should decide.
As such, I respected from day one the referendum results and that 53% of Naperville voted yes to the recreational cannabis stores. I never asked our city council to disregard the vote and I understand why our council voted to allow recreational cannabis stores.
I also respect that 47% of our residents voted no, which means that council should never take a "winner take all" approach, and needs to be conservative about zoning and any type of expansion as to the amount of cannabis stores and the types of ancillary businesses that may arise.
Q: What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?
A: Make Naperville a "smart connected city" through the expansion of its optical fiber so that all of Naperville has the option to use fiber for their internet rather than rely on the growing outdated broadband and cable technologies. This not only will allow a higher bandwidth and faster internet connections for residents and businesses, but it costs less to use. The fiber expansion is also necessary to attract tech companies to Naperville. In addition, optical fiber provides a much more sustainable and greener IT technology, which goes along with Naperville's goal of creating a more sustainable community. Naperville already has almost all of its public buildings connected to fiber. As such, there already are miles of laid fiber and empty canisters in the ground ready to be filled with fiber, which means a lot of the expensive digging has been done.
Plus, Naperville previously hired an outside consultant to look into this topic in 2018, and so much of the work is already completed to move forward in making Naperville a "smart connected city." Naperville needs to continually improve for its future, and this is a way to do so that benefits all of Naperville.