Rolling Meadows candidates debate spending, city staffing
Two Rolling Meadows aldermen are opposed by a pair of challengers with a history in city government, in a battle for seats on a city council that remains divided along local political lines.
Ward 4 Alderman Jenifer Vinezeano, appointed by Mayor Joe Gallo in July 2019, and Ward 1 Alderman Karen McHale, appointed by Gallo in December, are in their first election campaigns ahead of the April 6 decision day at the polls.
In a contest for a full 4-year term, Vinezeano is challenged by Brad Judd, who held the Ward 4 seat for eight years until Gallo defeated him in 2017.
After longtime Ward 1 Alderman Mike Cannon's abrupt resignation last November, McHale is facing former Planning and Zoning Commission Vice Chairman and two-time mayoral candidate Dave Whitney for a 2-year term. Gallo decided not to reappoint Whitney to the zoning panel last year.
During an interview with the Daily Herald Editorial Board, Judd and Whitney disagreed with some of the current council's budgetary decisions -- namely, the prospect of creating an assistant city manager position. But Vinezeano and McHale back the move as necessary while defending the council's fiscal management amid the pandemic.
The proposed $150,000-a-year administrative role would serve as a backup to City Manager Barry Krumstok, who runs day-to-day operations of city government.
Vinezeano said things fell by the wayside when Krumstok was out of the office for a time last year. Money could be reallocated from within the budget, she said, to pay for the new position.
"Do you need to spend that money to make sure that your community continues to prosper and function for our residents, or could that hindrance cost us more money?" Vinezeano said.
She added that at the onset of the pandemic, she was the first to question the city staff about the necessity of certain expenditures and whether some items could be postponed.
But Judd said the city has done well without the assistant manager position for more than a decade; Krumstok held the title until he was promoted upon the departure of Sarah Phillips in 2010.
Judd questioned the wisdom of creating a new job at the same time the council has had to transfer funds and dip into reserves to balance the budget. He said the city should be cautious with spending, especially when big-ticket items, like a possible new police station, could be coming down the line.
"I think some of the things that the council has been doing when it comes to spending ... is something that's going to come back to haunt the next council, whoever that may be," Judd said.
The west-side Ward 1 race highlights differences between experience and approach.
Whitney, a 40-year resident recently retired from a career in technology and finance management, said he would bring experience to the council on the financial side, in addition to his background as a community events volunteer. He says the council -- practically like a "two-party system" now -- needs to communicate and compromise better.
McHale, a four-year resident and president of the Plum Grove Creek Neighborhood Association, said she would help "bridge the gap" between her portion of the city -- where residents have Palatine mailing addresses and go to Palatine schools -- and the rest of town. One way to do that is through social media engagement, she said.
"The city council is changing. It is no longer a retirement hobby," McHale said. "I appreciate the volunteer hours and valuable time that is spent on the city, and we still need that. We still need those people. But we need fresh perspective. I believe that I am the change that Rolling Meadows residents are demanding."
Two other candidates are unopposed for seats on the seven-member council. Nick Budmats, who was appointed in 2017 and elected to a 2-year term in 2019, is running for a full 4-year term in Ward 2. Mandy Reyez is unopposed in Ward 6, after longtime Alderman John D'Astice is stepping down due to term limits.