Former councilwoman's appointment to Naperville commission sparks debate over intent of term limits

  • Judith Brodhead

    Judith Brodhead

 
 
Updated 6/17/2021 8:15 PM

A former Naperville councilwoman's appointment to the special events cultural amenities commission this week sparked debate over whether elected officials who have reached their term limits should be allowed to continue serving at the advisory level.

Judith Brodhead, whose 12 years in office ended this spring, was among 15 people nominated by Mayor Steve Chirico to sit on various city boards and commissions. But what Brodhead said is usually a "very simple confirmation" by the council became divisive Tuesday when some elected leaders suggested new blood is needed on the commissions.

 

The slate of appointees was approved 5-4, with the mayor casting the deciding vote.

Brodhead was the first council member to "term out" since an ordinance enacted in 2011 set a limit of three consecutive terms. The longtime Naperville resident, whose involvement in city government dates back to 1990, told the Daily Herald she applied for a commission seat in hopes of continuing to serve in some capacity.

"I think I can make a contribution. I had no idea it would be controversial," Brodhead said. "It was just very disappointing to see that kind of unnecessary division."

The push to diversify representation and involve fresh faces was spearheaded by Councilman Paul Hinterlong, who contacted Brodhead ahead of Tuesday's meeting. His concerns have "nothing to do with the individual," he said, but rather with her time of service and the number of other community members who applied for commission seats.

Hinterlong pointed to a recent strategic planning workshop in which city officials prioritized offering more opportunities to a broader spectrum of residents and businesses.

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"This is a chance to do that," he said. "Everybody deserves a chance to give back to the community."

He voted against the mayor's appointments, as did council members Paul Leong, Patty Gustin and Jennifer Bruzan Taylor.

But Councilman Benny White said the advisory panels should encompass a blend of new and experienced voices weighing in on city issues.

"That is diversity," he said. "Why not take advantage of (Brodhead's) years of experience serving on the council and other boards and commissions in this community? Why would we not want to have that person at the table to give us some good counsel?"

Though nothing legally prohibits a termed-out official from immediately serving on a commission, Gustin and Bruzan Taylor said they believe it goes against the intent of a 2010 referendum in which Naperville voters overwhelmingly favored term limits.

With Brodhead being the first to reach that milestone -- Hinterlong will be next in two years -- the council has the chance to set a precedent and avoid placing the same individuals in positions of power, they said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"This would ensure that our council, our local government, always appears to be above board," Bruzan Taylor said, "that we're always looking for fresh ideas, fresh perspective, and that we're following the spirit of the referendum."

Though open to discussing the appointment process at a future meeting, Councilwoman Theresa Sullivan said she opposes creating an "arbitrary" rule that singles out Brodhead.

"We would be remiss as a community if we said, 'Thank you for serving Naperville for years and years and years, but now you're too old and too experienced to be of any use to us,'" she said.

"For someone who terms out, that is a well-liked person in this community," she continued, "I don't know why we would think ... that them serving in an advisory role on a commission is somehow nefarious in any way or taking a spot from anyone else."

Council members Ian Holzhauer and Patrick Kelly agreed it would be inappropriate to enact such a policy change "on the fly."

Naperville's system of government gives the mayor the power to make appointments, which must be approved by the council. After Tuesday's "healthy debate," Chirico and Leong said, the process played out the way it should.

Still, some council members said they'd like to consider potential tweaks to improve transparency and make the application process more accessible. Staff members were directed to review the procedure and explore options.

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