Ron Woerman: 2021 candidate for at-large Aurora city council
Voters have a choice for Aurora alderman in Wards 4, 7 and 10 and for the at-large seat in the April 6 election. In the 4th Ward, incumbent William Donnell is facing John Bell. In the 7th Ward, incumbent Scheketa Hart-Burns is being challenged by Saul Fultz. In the 10th Ward, Shweta Baid and Arjun Nair are running to fill a seat being vacated. And Raymond Hull, Brooke Shanley and Ron Woerman are running for the open at-large seat. All are 4-year terms.
Age: 53 on March 28
Occupation: Restaurant General Manager, Spartan House & O'Malley's Pub & Eatery
Civic involvement: Hesed House, Marie Wilkinson Food Pantry, Fox Valley Kids Foundation, Aurora Chamber of Commerce, Aurora East Educational Foundation, A+ Foundation, Youth Sports Supporter
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: In Aurora, Aldermen at Large represent the entire city and all constituents. When it comes to leadership during a pandemic, it's about doing the right things for the right reasons for the greatest good for our constituents. Part of effective crisis management is listening to everyone including those with opposing views and making sure they are getting their basic needs and services met including those from their municipal government. I am going to make sure that if those needs can't be met by the city that I support efforts to work with the Mayor, City Council and staff to obtain the necessary resources to help our Aurora constituents. Simply deferring to state or federal authorities is not enough in my opinion. We have to strongly and repeatedly advocate on behalf of all Aurora residents and businesses to county, state and federal governments for pandemic relief until everyone has received the assistance they need.
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: Yes in my opinion the City of Aurora more than adequately met the needs of its constituents due to pandemic disruptions. The City quickly pivoted to providing virtual services to its residents and businesses when it had to close City Hall. The City also implemented a hiring freeze with the exception of public safety personnel as well as imposed a financial austerity program to hold the line on spending while the negative reduction of municipal revenues were monitored and evaluated. The City also quickly provided various pandemic financial relief programs for local businesses such as the STABLE fund and rental relief at the onset of the pandemic. Recently the City has announced another relief program called the Coronavirus Emergency Relief Fund as well as Liquor License 1-year waiver and a 90-day food and beverage tax holiday for this year. All of these programs totaling approximately $3.5M in financial relief I would have wholeheartedly supported as Alderman at Large.
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: If given the opportunity to be elected Alderman at Large, I would ensure that all of the positive and effective partnerships that have arisen as a result of the pandemic response to COVID-19 including the State of Illinois, all four of our counties and their health departments not only continue to the end of the pandemic but be converted to actual proactive intergovernmental agreements approved by the City Council, the State and each county so that we are prepared for any future public health crises and have the necessary resources already in place. This would include but not be limited to testing and vaccination sites accessible to all constituents and throughout the entire city, access to appropriate PPE and encouraging satellite health department offices focused on public health throughout Aurora city limits.
Q: What cuts can local government make to reduce the burden of the pandemic on taxpayers?
A: Our constituents need critical local government services such as public health and safety more than ever because of the pandemic. Local government services are one portion of taxpayers' overall tax burden locally. All units of government have to review their operations and prioritize expenses that in my opinion are of critical importance to providing vital services to taxpayers and their quality of life, safety and well-being. If elected Alderman at Large I would support prioritizing and continuing critical services such as police, fire/emergency medical services and water & sewer and look to postpone or eliminate noncritical services and related expenses such as large capital projects or special events until the pandemic is over.
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: I would like to see the city's lead service replacement program be implemented and adopted as a model statewide. We still have neighborhoods and businesses with old lead service lines which need to be replaced for both public health and water conservation reasons. As the second largest city with over 40,000 water customers it is imperative a reasonable and appropriate replacement program be adopted. With an estimated cost of over $200M, however, the city will not be able to undertake this program on its own. As Alderman at Large I would support current efforts to create a statewide funding mechanism through state bonding to create a fund that cities like Aurora could participate in without unduly burdening the city's water fund or taxpayers.
Due to economic uncertainty, I would support the strategic prioritization and postponement of certain infrastructure projects or certain aspects of projects such as the new Public Works facility and road resurfacing similar to what the City has currently done as a result of the pandemic. As Alderman at Large I would work closely with the Mayor, City Council and staff to monitor these large projects and budget and schedule accordingly.
Q: Do you plan to address businesses that don't adhere to the governor's order to close or restrict business?
A: If I am fortunate enough to be elected Alderman at Large, I will not take office until May. By then more than a year will have passed since the Governor issued the first of his executive orders that closed many businesses. Also by then I would hope that current trends will have continued and all businesses will be permitted to operate with very few limitations. I believe my efforts as Alderman at Large would be better spent making sure that our local businesses have the tools necessary to fully recover from the pandemic. Right now there seems to be light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel and the city's efforts should be laser focused on business retention and doing what it can to improve the local business climate as we emerge from this crisis.
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: Yes I agree with the city's stance taken on permitting recreational marijuana sales. With the state legalizing marijuana and the ongoing need for increasing sources of local municipal revenue, I would have supported the initiative as an Alderman at Large. I fully support the way the city has responsibly and appropriately created a limited number of licenses and where they are allowed. The locations allowed will provide for maximum revenue for the city.
Q: What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?
A: As a former banker and current business owner/entrepreneur I know and appreciate the value of financial literacy and education. As Alderman at Large I want to lead a citywide internship initiative led by a collaborative group of local business and technology leaders, educators/educational institutions and local governments to create a network of internship opportunities for Aurora students especially focused on the needs of our diverse minority community. Our collective business success and acumen needs to be shared forward with our students who may not otherwise have such opportunities for beneficial internships and mentoring in their hometown.