By Tina Richards
Villa Park City Councilman Robbie Pitts surprised his colleagues and the audience at the Sept. 19 city council meeting by shedding his official cloak and speaking as a private citizen during the public comments portion of the council session.
Individual members of the public are given five minutes each to speak during every meeting. Councilmembers do not customarily use that time for personal remarks.
Remaining in his seat on the dais, the councilman-turned-private-citizen addressed a non-agenda item that arose at last month’s meeting. Specifically, Mayor Bill Nelson’s answer to Pitt’s concerns about consistent 3-2 votes and the make-up of the city’s governing committees. In response to Pitt’s charge that he felt “censored,” Nelson reported that he, too, had been hampered in his first years on the council, that his “vote didn’t count.”
On the record
Pitts took his five minutes to recite the outcome of every vote taken since 2015, noting that Nelson’s vote had often counted. His recital demonstrated that the block voting attributed to the previous council did not consistently occur. But, he said, it does now.
“Since the new council was sworn in,” he ventured, “not only do Diana Fascenelli and I have no city governing committee positions, but there have been 15 three-to-two votes, and every one was in your favor. I represent 1,737 votes in this city. There were 3,632 votes cast during that election, so roughly half. The current situation does not reflect the vote of the citizens of Villa Park.”
Pitt’s comments were followed by those from a bona fide member of the public, Christopher Simpson. Simpson also lambasted the inequity on city committees and pointed out that so far this year, 90 percent of the votes that weren’t unanimous were decided 3-2. The same three vs. the same two. (See his comments Letters to the editor, page 7.)
Not in the plan
Fresh on the heels of Simpson’s admonishment, the council moved on to the next agenda item: the city’s strategic plan. Former mayor, now-citizen Greg Mills asked Nelson to defer that discussion to the end of the meeting in deference to more pressing items. Councilwoman Diana Fascenelli echoed that request. “We have important items on the agenda,” she said, “Don’t make the citizens wait.”
“We’re going ahead with it now,” Nelson directed.
The strategic plan elements under consideration were the city’s mission statement, values and vision for the future. Planning consultant Jim McComb suggested covering the mission statement and values first, then defering the vision discussion. “Strategic planning usually is not done at council meetings,” he said, “when you have other issues to deal with.”
Nelson chose to press on. Pitts and Fascenelli, who had both opposed spending $14,000 on a consultant to guide the city through a planning process they believed had questionable value, left the council chambers.
Before the discussion began, resident Howard Kirschner asked Nelson to explain why the city was “doing this.”
“Most effective entities have strategic plans,” Nelson answered. “Most cities have one. It’s important.”
Important or impotent?
Kirschner then asked McComb how many citizens had offered input. The consultant reported that six people had attended the strategic planning public workshop and that five offered input via email.
“So this is so important,” Kirschner scoffed, “that 11 people in the whole city inputted and two council members have left the room.”
The three council members in the room took a look at Villa Park’s current mission statement and current values and decided both were fine as written. They voted 3-0 to affirm them and moved on to “vision.”
Nelson and Bob Collacott had already written a series of vision statements illustrating where the city wants to be in five years, and suggested the council approve them at that point. The vision was created using public input, the authors noted. It was displayed, via slides, one item at a time.
“Wait,” Greg Mills interjected. “We need to see the written list.The public needs to know what they are.”
“We’ll post them when they are approved,” Nelson said.
Yes we can
“You can do that?” Christopher Simpson asked, “You can vote on statements not published for the public?”
“I respectfully request,” Mills reasserted, “that you print them where people will see them."
“We’ll vote tonight,” Nelson said, and, “and then print them.” The vision was approved, 3-0, and Pitts and Fascenelli returned.
Two hours into the meeting, the council took on the topic of the city’s housing element update that must be submitted to the state for approval. A draft version had already earned the state’s blessing, but residents had questions about it and answering them took time.
Well into that discussion, a member of the audience interrupted to ask if the item he was there to talk about could be moved up. “I’m here to talk about street rehabilitation,” he explained, “Can we move ahead to that?”
“It’s next,” Nelson assured him. It was next, included in the council’s consent calendar. Consent items are usually routine city business that are voted on in bulk. They can, however, be pulled for discussion.
“Why is this item (street rehabilitation) on the consent calendar,” Fascenelli questioned. “It shouldn’t be here, it’s a big project.” She pulled that item and five others, two pertaining to city committee resident appointments.
The persevering citizen asked his questions about street rehabilitation, made his points and left. Fascenelli turned to the committee appointments, noting that “nobody knows who they are.” “Where are they? I’d like to meet them.”
Collacott and Vince Rossini reported that they had interviewed the two in question and both had the right experience to serve on the Infrastructure Management Advisory Committee.
“You’re asking us to make a decision without vetting them,” Pitts observed. “Because this committee will deal with city contracts, it’s important that there is no conflict of interest.”
Fascenelli suggested continuing the vote until the council could meet them. Her motion to do so passed, 5-0.
Unlike the infrastructure committee candidates, the appointee for the Investment Advisory Committee, John Bogart, was in the audience and introduced himself to the council.
Don’t ask, don’t dwell
Fascenelli still had questions. Bogart had been nominated by the Budget and Finance Committee (Nelson, Collacott) of which the Investment Committee is an adjunct. “How did the Budget and Finance Committee come to appoint him,” she asked, “when it hadn’t met since April? And shouldn’t this appointment be recommended by the Investment Advisory Committee? There is a procedure for this, documented in the resolution that formed that committee,” she explained.
The chairman of the Investment Advisory Committee was also in the audience. Bill Underwood said the committee needed Bogart’s help immediately. “Can we ignore the technicality and appoint this guy?” he pleaded.
The council chose to ignore the technicality and approved the appointment, 3-2.
“Those technicalities were put in the resolution for a reason,” Fascenelli stressed. “We should stick with them.” She continued emphasizing the need to follow what has been set down before, until Vince Rossini interrupted her.
“You’re out of order,” he said. “That’s enough grandstanding for one night.”
Fascenell, affirming her right to speak, finished her sentence. There were seven agenda items yet to cover.
Villa Park council meeting reflects a widening
chasm between members