Villa Park council factions face off

By Tina Richards

The rift between the three-vote majority and two-vote minority on the Villa Park City Council widened into a chasm during its April 25 meeting, when the outcome of two agenda items clearly demonstrated the pecking order.

A proposal made by Mayor Bill Nelson to spend $14,200 to hire a consultant to help the city create a strategic plan had met with resistance when brought up during two previous council meetings.  In February, following a presentation by Wild Card Strategies, Councilmember Diana Fascenelli told Nelson that she did not want to spend the city’s money on something the city didn’t need, and that she wouldn’t participate.  Nelson admitted then that if the full council would not agree to a facilitated meeting, then it wasn’t something they should do.

The idea came back at the March council meeting, with a similar result.  For its third appearance, however, it didn’t matter if the full council supported it or not.  A three (Bill Nelson, Bob Collacott, Vince Rossini) to two (Fascenelli, Robbie Pitts) vote settled the matter.  The city will engage a consultant to help craft a strategic plan.

An inside job?
Prior to the vote, Fascenelli again questioned the need to pay for a strategic plan.  “We’ve done a good job,” she said.  “This is not a new council.  We have resources.” She also reminded her colleagues that City Manager Steve Franks was hired because of his experience, and he has the background to do strategic planning.

“Can Steve do this?” Councilman Robbie Pitts asked. “We don’t want to spend the money, we can spend $14 thousand elsewhere.”  He then asked Franks directly, “Is this something you can help with?”

“Can I do it?  Yes,” the city manager responded.  But, deferring to the council, “do you want me to?”

“Yes,” Pitts said. 

Several residents spoke in favor of the proposal, noting that $14,000 was not a lot of money, that outside sources were good, and that the city needed to think further ahead.

Former Mayor Jim Reichert remarked, “ ‘Strategic’ is just an exotic word for planning.  You can spend a lot of money and you’ll get what you already know.”  He offered a long list of priorities that might come from a strategic plan -- public safety, maintenance, quality of life, balanced budget.  “You already know that, why do you want to pay for it?”

Former Mayor Greg Mills agreed.  “We’ve been doing this for 50 years,” he said.  

Independent study
Overruled on the strategic plan consultant, Fascenelli and Pitts brought up the issue of sober living homes in Villa Park.  Right now there are two of them, but the number is likely to grow. 

Fascenelli had hosted a town hall meeting on sober living homes to listen to residents’ concerns, and to let people know what can and cannot be done about them.   She also noted she’d been fielding complaints from residents for two years.  

Pitts reported that he had researched the issue and visited with Costa Mesa, home to hundreds of group homes, to learn what had worked and not worked in that city’s attempts to control them.

Fascenelli suggested enacting a city ordinance that prohibited group homes from being within 2,500 feet of each other.  Pitts offered that, at the least, sober living home employees should have business licenses in the city.

There’s not a lot a city can do about group homes. The state mandates that as long as there are six beds or fewer, the facility must be treated like any other single-family residence.  City Attorney Todd Litfin reported that about all the city can do is enforce the laws (noise, trash, nuisance) that apply to all residences.

Step aside
While all members agreed that the city needed to be proactive, there was disagreement over how to proceed.  Several members thought the issue should be addressed by the Community Development Committee (CDC) before coming back to the full council. 

Fascenelli made a motion, asking city staff to return to the full council with suggestions for continued discussion.  Her motion was quashed by Vince Rossini, who made an alternate motion, asking staff to bring suggestions to the CDC (composed of himself and Bob Collacott).  

“This shouldn’t go to the CDC,” Fascenelli countered. “It should be discussed by the entire council.” She also noted that the CDC didn’t know anything about the issue until she and Pitts brought it up.  “You don’t get the phone calls from residents,” she said.  “I do.  You’ve never visited these homes.  I have.”   

“I want to participate in this,” Pitts insisted.  “I’ve already put a lot of time into it.”

“You will have input,” Nelson told him, “when it comes back to the council.”

“No,” Pitts, said.  “By then it’ll be a done deal.”

The vote to give the matter to Rossini and Collacott was three (Nelson, Rossini, Collacott) to two.