Commissioners Terry Steinbach and Patrick Doolin fielded a bevy of questions Thursday night as residents quizzed the two mayoral candidates on everything from crosswalks to zoning during a forum sponsored by Citizens United in Forest Park.
Both sitting commissioners will challenge incumbent Anthony Calderone for the mayor’s office in the primary election on Feb. 27. Calderone’s absence was conspicuously noted by an empty chair that remained on stage through the evening. CUinFP President Steve Backman said the mayor did not respond to several invitations to attend.
“We kept a chair here, just in case,” Backman said.
In an interview following the forum, Calderone said it is clear Backman is opposed to his administration. The mayor said he will attend other forums not affiliated with CUinFP, and continue to reach voters through his campaign.
“I don’t know what I would have gained from going into the lion’s den,” Calderone said.”
Meanwhile, some 60 residents heard Doolin stress the need to wrest administrative power away from elected officials, and Steinbach’s push for financial responsibility. The candidates congratulated one another for forcing discussion on the council over the last four years and asked voters to choose an independent, ethical mayor for their community.
“One of the first things I’d like to do is remove administrative authority from elected officials,” Doolin said in outlining his priorities. “Elected officials should not have hands on, day-to-day authority in village business.”
Doolin stopped short of vowing to do away with the commission form of government, but said giving more authority to the village administrator will help define the roles of those in village hall. Taking personnel decisions out of the hands of politicians, for example, will level the playing field for municipal employees, Doolin said.
Steinbach emphasized the need for better management of the village’s resources, referring both to its employees and its finances. Poor communication between departments leads to lagging enforcement of local ordinances, ultimately wasting taxpayer money.
Part of the solution to these problems, Steinbach said, would be holding quarterly meetings between the public, department heads and council members.
“Just have a conversation,” Steinbach said. “Find out what’s going on.”
The candidates took turns fielding questions from the audience and offered similar positions in calling for better enforcement of parking ordinances, and the need to examine the village’s building and zoning codes. Doolin offered a moratorium on large-scale residential development while the ordinances are reviewed.
Both pointed to the need for dialogue in balancing residential needs with the needs of the business community, and neither said they agreed with recent proposals to acquire private property.
“I don’t think the three who voted for it know what they’re going to do with it,” Steinbach said of a recent 3-2 vote to purchase a mixed-use property at 1000 Beloit. Steinbach and Doolin cast the minority votes.
On the issue of taxes, the candidates offered different approaches to mitigating the burden to property owners.
Steinbach argued for smarter management of the village’s money and said financial discipline must be returned to the mayor’s office. The village is lacking a set of clear goals for the short and long term, which leads to unplanned spending, Steinbach said. There is a dire need to restore the village’s cash reserve fund to pre-Calderone levels, she said.
Because the village collects only about 15 percent of a total property tax bill, Doolin said the mayor needs to flex more muscle with state legislators and make sure the community’s interests are represented at the state and county levels.
“A mayor holds a lot of influence over state legislators,” Doolin said.
The standing room only crowd included several candidates for commissioner, who will be invited to a similar CUinFP event scheduled for March 15.