Thursday, March 15, 2012

Looking for that "commitment to transparency, accessibility and ethics..."

Sharing a letter sent to Mayor Nancy Rotering today -

March 15, 2012
Mayor Nancy R. Rotering

SUBJECT: Termination of the Storm and Sanitary Program & Reimbursement to Residents

Dear Mayor Rotering,

Congratulations on completing the search for a new city manager. David Knapp appears to be an excellent choice and I look forward to welcoming him to Highland Park.

As you know, in addition to a good mayor, a knowledgeable and sound city manager can have a significant and positive impact on the city.  Unfortunately, the lasting legacy of our former city manager is that nearly 50 residents were seriously harmed financially with regard to an ill-conceived storm and sanitary sewer program.  There were several other better solutions to HP's storm sewer problems but he decided upon and promoted the very worst alternative, patently inequitable, discriminatory, and unfair, and the City Council accepted his proposal. 

Other communities in northern Illinois addressed their city's storm and sanitary sewer systems holistically and ensured that the entire community paid for any necessary updates to the infrastructure. Our former city manager and City Council devised a program to foist the entire infrastructure problem on individual homeowners in uncapped and undefined amounts possibly as high as $20,000+.   Nearly $250,000 was paid by about 50 of these unfortunate HP residents in 2008 -- an inequitable financial burden that the City has yet to foist upon all the other residents, yet was clearly ready to do so at the clip of 50+ homes per year had not the Ravinia Neighbors Association put up a fight.  You were a part of that fight, and that fight helped you to gain a seat as a Councilman which, in turn, helped enable you to succeed in your election as a mayoral candidate. 

To the best of my knowledge, this storm and sanitary program has yet to be terminated by the City Council under your leadership.  Yet, approximately 50 of our fellow residents and neighbors have borne the brunt of this shameful program.  It’s long overdue and time for the Mayor and Councilmen to do the right thing now -- reimburse all those who were coerced and forced to pay under threat of lien for this program.  Terminate the program and embark on a new program that is equitable, effective and cost efficient for the community.

As indicated in my blog, “Down the Drain in HP,” many of these homeowners were in their retirement years, some of them had to move or leave the community as a result.  I've had calls from widows, as well as families trying to pay for their children's college tuition, or just get by, and they are asking, "why is Mayor Rotering doing nothing about this? Why is the City of Highland Park not reimbursing us? They know this is wrong but the Mayor and the Councilmen just don't give a damn about us." The homes of some of these residents were foreclosed upon by the banks and some are no longer able to live in our community. I've informed those who are in touch with me that I wrote to the Mayor and all the City Councilmen but only Paul Frank has met with me, and Jim Kirsch had a phone conversation with me. That Steve Mandel is strongly opposed and the others are silent. I’ve told them that Paul Frank informed me that he is “sympathetic” but he doesn’t believe City Council can reimburse the residents because the City doesn’t want to set a precedent of [doing the right thing and] acknowledging they did the wrong thing and making it right ("because they have made so many other errors in the past, so this might mean other residents will want reimbursement, too, for other mistakes").  Is that the kind of reasoning that our mayor and City Council should abide?  In any event, the reimbursement requested by these residents is completely distinct from any other program in the City and would not set a precedent with regard to former programs.  However, the point is that we look to the Mayor and Councilmen to do the right thing, under any circumstance.

This is a sad, disgraceful story community story. In the face of the facts that have been disclosed to this current City Council, they cannot just say that this program was started by former City Council.  It is the current City Council’s job to resolve this and yet they show an egregious callousness to our City's residents and the principles of community and equitable treatment under the law, made worse in the economy that existed then and now.

Over the years, I have heard various councilmen indicate that the City of HP's program was the only way the work could be done.  No other viable alternatives existed or exist even today in their minds. This is likely because the former city manager didn't provide them with alternatives, and they didn’t and haven’t looked for any. It is clear that many of the Councilmen have never taken the time to read the detailed information in my blog or to seek the appropriate information from the City’s Public Works department.  Everyone in HP city government has failed to fix these problems and search for better answers.

So, I reached out to the Mayor of Downers Grove, MartinTully, and he provided me with the Downers Grove Sanitary District PrivateProperty Infiltration and Inflow Removal Program, a copy of which is attached with this e-mail.  Not only will you find a practical solution to the City of Highland Park's problem, you will see the overriding philosophy of Downers Grove:

“The financial assistance is being provided by the District to recognize that the removal of I/I from the sanitary sewer system benefits all users of the system and, therefore, the costs of this removal should be paid by all users as a system cost. The program also provides a mechanism to insure that the work is performed cost effectively and in a manner which protects the integrity of the sanitary sewer system.”
Downers Grove asks permission to go onto private property and the community – not individual residents -- pays for all the work need to be done to ensure that the storm sewers do not invade the sanitary sewers and vice versa.  The Mayor of Downers Grove informs me that the residents are very pleased with this system.  Isn’t it amazing that their community with a lower per capita income (according to Wikipedia) has the ability to provide more valuable services to their residents than Highland Park?  I would be glad to provide you with an introduction to Mayor Tully who has shown great leadership in his community and perhaps he has other valuable insights to share with our community.

As you’ll see, the Downers Grove program was determined by their Sanitary District.  So, I have copied Daniel Pierce on this correspondence.

 Quoting from your email today to Highland Park residents:

“Less than a year ago, four new Council members and a new Mayor came to City Hall. We ran for office out of a desire to serve our community, to make our City government more responsive to our residents and to use your money wisely.

We made a commitment to transparency, accessibility and ethics.”

I would like to see the Mayor and City Council walk the talk. So far, this community has seen the former and current mayors and councilmen turn their back on 50 residents that have been harmed by the City of Highland Park, a City Council that for too long has ignored this issue and has not been willing to do the right, fair, and just thing and reimburse residents who who were cherry-picked to bear the burden of an ill-conceived sanitary line program.

I would like to meet with you as soon as possible to seek a resolution of the storm and sanitary sewer program.  If possible, it would be great to meet with the new City Manager, too. We can meet jointly, or I can meet with David Knapp on my own.  Please provide me with several of the earliest possible dates to meet with David Knapp and you. I will do my best to arrange my schedule to accommodate yours.  Please advise me a few dates, and please schedule 1.5 hours for the meeting as there are considerable details that need to be discussed not only for resolution, but to also constructively move forward in way that’s a benefit to our entire community.

Frankly, it is very difficult for me to find the time to keep going back to City Council on this issue.  Running the City equitably is not my job.  Learning everything I now know about storm and sanitary sewers is not my job.  I’m not even one of the people whose homes were affected by this inequitable program.  Yet, I care about deeply about this City and look to City Council to fix this problem once and for all. 

Respectfully, and with best personal regards,


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