Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Marketing of Politicians never Sleeps

Most of us have been overwhelmed with the marketing of politicians during elections. Negative commercials and mailers littering our mailboxes and minds with the trash of professional marketers has become intolerable in recent years. I am totally sick of it. It is just way too much and has turned off many voters and citizens that have been feeling helpless to make a difference.

After any given contested election the negative blast subsides and is replaced by the constant branding of positive marketing of our elected officials demonstrating the same type veneer that lacks any real substance. The old days of the published picture hugging the baby and appearances at public events has been vastly enhanced by displaying these events through modern media market options available, reaching out to the masses. Creating, sharing, and building valuable databases of voters for our newsletters and electronic media accounts is a solid catapult for projecting any willing politician as one hell of a great human being and public servant. Involvement and acceptance within not for profits and professional organizations, neighborhood labeled groups, and movements of day all provide an excellent bed for marketing propaganda that is designed for a positive communication link to the citizens. Now using this communication tool is not bad at its face value but it is just a face value.

Creating positive constructive change in government takes courage, makes people unsettled, and doesn't always make for great media coverage. Standing on the backs of prior champions, celebrating past successes that has carried us through today, can't overshadow the work and challenges we need to face now.

I have always been frustrated by politicians using an effective marketing plan to project an image of substantial accomplishment when in fact the substance of practice has not been remarkable. As we move forward facing unprecedented challenges as government officials, citizens need to look past the marketing branding and focus on results and outcomes that prove the effectiveness of representation.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Update on Governance Reform Leadership.

A colleague on the Board has told me many times that she constantly feels like she is just one hand clapping and I do get it. But for her and I it does not mean we will stop trying to move forward on better governance models in representation of our citizenry. Sometimes we do get people to pay attention and act through perseverance.

When I got elected to these boards I committed to working on creating more efficiencies in Lake County. Our Chairman held round tables with local leaders to listen to their concerns and suggestions on cooperation. One of the low hanging fruit was 911 dispatch and public safety radio communications county wide. We are currently starting to implement, expand, and update these communications and are offering a very low cost buy in for all local governments within Lake County.

Within the County Board and Forest Preserve (we wear both hats) we want to create efficiencies and also provide leadership at the County level as to reduce the citizens burden from all levels of government. While we analyze and implement joint operations between the forest preserve and county, we have also discussed elimination of segregated and outdated units of governments. We have started to research the elimination of local assessors as well as weighed the consolidation of the County Clerk and Recorder of Deeds. Do we need an elected Treasurer or can our professional finance director deal with those obligations?  I am a strong believer in professional government where us elected folks create policy and hire professionals to carry out operations. Outcomes from a governance efficiency process can save millions of taxpayers dollars and provide quality services to our residents. Automation, managerial government models, and elimination of political jobs can help us move forward.

Currently on the finance committee we are looking at compensation to employees which is about 70% of our operating budget. The triad of our employee compensation is a salary, health benefits, and pension. While the pension (IMRF) is mostly controlled by the state, we control salary and health benefits. In a compensation study we have found that some employees are underpaid, our pension is a MASSIVE benefit, and healthcare reform is in transition at all levels of business and government. Digging into health insurance has been a challenge for me and the finance committee. Best practice shared with our citizenry should be our level of benefit at the government level. Bottom line is we can provide a quality benefit package that treats both our employees and residents with respect and fairness. Work in Progress!!!

Also, when it comes to many changes in government structure, state legislative action is required. It would be my preference to allow for a binding referendum for our citizens to make the choice with the facts researched and presented to them. I am hopeful you will see something coming from the County Board in 2016. Stay tuned!!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

When Should Government Hide discussion's?

Sitting on the Lake County Board and Forest Preserve Board, we rarely go into closed session unless we are voting on a lawsuit settlement, dealing with salaries for an individual, or making an offer to buy land. This is in stark contrast to my time on the City Council of Highland Park when we spent many hours every week talking about issues that might graze subjects of personnel, (probable or filed) litigation, or land sale.

Many times over my 20 years on the City Council I protested against going into closed session. I believed that many of the Highland Park Theater discussions were policy, should have been in open, did not jeopardize the city, and were not appropriate for closed session.

The States Attorneys office of Lake County represents the County Board and Holland and Knight is the City of Highland Park's legal representation. Many of the same kind of issues we discussed at the City of Highland Park in closed session is talked about in open session at the County Board. My impression is that the States Attorney has a very high bar to go into closed session while Holland and Knights appears to me very liberal and allows a much larger bandwidth of discussions to occur. Along with compliance of the Open Meetings Act, my opinion has always been if it does not injure the public body (corporation), or an individual, we should not be in closed session.

The Highland Park Country Club discussion amongst the City Council should be fully discussed in open public sessions and not be held in any closed session meetings. After all, the Park District and City both have the same public and therefore any discussion or facts on this matter would not adversely effect us. All these public discussions would do is allow us to be informed and give public comment. I would ask that all discussions in the future on these matters be put on the agenda and held in public. Also, discussions and policy of what we want at the HP Theater site should also be as open as possible. Not something drummed up in closed session and given to us pre-baked.

Furthermore, I would suggest that the tapes from these closed session past meetings be offered to the Lake County States Attorney or the Attorney General of the State of Illinois to review and give a legal opinion if in fact there has been compliance of the Open Meetings Act. I think this would be a good exercise for all our public bodies to be sure our local governments are complying. There can be immunity given to those participating so no one would go to jail for past offenses if there was non-compliance to the open meeting act.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

City Council should hand over Country Club to Park District

After the City Council worked with the Park District for decades on providing quality amenities for the citizens of Highland Park things have polarized between the City and Park District. Government efficiency is not only consolidation of operations and efficiency of services for the residents, it is also about cooperation and melding of ideas between governmental entities. Trust and being on the same team is important. Lets work together people....

The City Council worked with the Park District on buying lands and building facilities like the Aqua Park, Driving Range, and the new recreation center.

In 1993 we originally bought the Highland Park Country Club (HPCC) because a large housing development had been proposed that would have devastated the flood plain and open space. Current Council people have wrongly professed the City bought it to save the golf course. The purchase was never about saving a golf course and in fact the City of Highland Park should not be in the golf and banquet business. The Council had operated the golf course to use net revenue to offset part of the bond payments.  The Park District would have purchased the HPCC but were prohibited from borrowing money due to "Tax Cap". Since the City was "home rule" we had the authority to save this property for open space. The cost was 10 million for the HPCC purchase and the 20 year bonds (about 700k/year in debt service) were fully paid in January of 2013.

Through the years we had identified 100k-300k for repayment of debt service from this enterprise HPCC fund. As the golf business tanked after the turn of the century this debt service repayment pretty much evaporated as the business continued to shrink. When the Park District needed to build a new recreation center the HPCC site was chosen because the commitment to hand it over. The HPCC would be turned over to the Park District upon repayment of bonds by the City or sooner if they would take over a portion of the debt service (100k-300k) on the 20 year bonds. At the time of the recreation center construction the Park District decided to wait until 2013 for taking over the operations but moved forward with us spending about 12 million on a new recreation center based on the fact the property would be under their control in 2013.

Several years ago the Mayor and I sat down with the Park District to discuss the transfer with a brand new Park Board and after a few meetings things seemed like they were on track. At that time we also talked about transitioning the City's Senior and Youth services to the Park District along with the HPCC transfer. More available parking for seniors and the concept of multigenerational programming under one roof seemed like a great way to enhance the Youth and Senior programming.

Upon leaving the City Council for the County Board I recall the Park District telling us they needed to work on a master plan vision before moving forward. We had talked about a decision point to decide which golf course (Sunset or HPCC) they were going to keep open and would survey the business and residents to help facilitate a recommendation.

I believe in early 2014 a decision was made to close the HPCC and resume the transition discussion with the City. The City's position of demanding the HPCC and Banquet facilities stay open was prompted by the Mayor and Councilman Tony Blumberg. To me this demand is totally out of left field, unreasonable, and without merit. This demand immediately short circuited the discussion and trust between the parties making it impossible for the Park District to proceed with their plan to consolidate golf play and liberating this open space for a more passive and environmentally friendly use of the Highland Park Country Club.

The recent article in the Triblocal reporting the huge losses in 2013 are just the tip of the iceberg of losses to be incurred if the City of Highland Park continues operations of the HPCC. Renovations and maintenance of the Golf Course and Facilities will require 100's of thousands in the next several years along with the operations being in direct competition with the Park District's Sunset Golf Course.

The City of Highland Park should not have done a 180 degree policy change, demanding the HPCC golf and banquet facilities stay open and driving intergovernmental cooperation into the ground. Instead, they should come to their senses and work out an agreement with the Park District and remove themselves out of these operations. Allow the Park District to do their job we elected them to do for the citizens of Highland Park.

Greg Totter wrote an article in the Triblocal you should read.....

Monday, January 27, 2014

As the Temp Drops Anxiety Rises!

Highland Park, Lake County, TV stations, and politicians galore have developed a practice of notifications that warn us of snow events and low temperatures. Our weather people dramatically display events and warn us all to take cover and not leave home at least once a month.

I have chosen to not put up the warning flag every time it snows more than 4 inches or when the temp falls below zero. Is it just me that remembers 30+ inches of snow on the ground in winter and temperatures below zero for weeks? Am I that old?

Yes, the past decade has been pretty light on snow and cold but there is no need to panic! The world is not coming to an end and we need to turn down the level of anxiety drummed up by the media. The professional media and individuals on the web need to step back and let us enjoy the four seasons without panic and stress.

Yes, let people know where they can get help and let them know the resources we have as a normal practice but lets not keep sounding sirens every week. All will be fine and we will survive.

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