By Ted Schnell • BocaJump
Since he was sworn in as Elgin’s new mayor just a month ago, David Kaptain already is forging ahead with some changes in the format for City Council meetings.
A couple of those changes became apparent Wednesday night during the council’s committee of the whole meeting. Those meetings typically run from 6 to 7 p.m., but was extended to 7:30 on Wednesday.
It could have gone even later – there was an executive session on the agenda to discuss pending possible or probable litigation. Instead, Kaptain asked the council to delay that until after the council’s regular meeting so the public would not have to sit around waiting for the council to return from the closed-door session.
But there were other changes as well. The public comment period, which typically is held toward the start of the council’s regular meeting at 7 p.m., also is shifting.
In the past, residents who spoke to the council were barred from speaking about active agenda items – in other words, they could not discuss items the council was expected to act upon that night.
But Kaptain allowed some of that to go on Wednesday, and even allowed one resident to speak well past the three-minute limit that had been in place for years.
Kaptain said Thursday that he took some liberties with the council meeting format on Wednesday. “It’s not official yet,” he added.
But Kaptain is looking forward to the council’s daylong retreat on June 3 to flesh out changes the council wants to see in meeting formats, as well as direction for the coming year.
“My plan at the retreat it to take just a few minutes to talk about how the council does business,” Kaptain said. “Last night I wanted to skip the executive session so people wouldn’t have to sit” and wait for the council to return.
Kaptain said he believes longer committee of the whole meetings may be in order, noting that a report and discussion about the city’s master plan for water took 40 minutes. In the past, he said, such reports would have been relegated to just 10 or 15 minutes. But the council’s ability to ask questions after the report was presented was important, he said.
He also acknowledged that loosening the limits on public comment during meetings could mean for longer meeting nights, and that some limits will need to be in place.
“I want to make sure everyone who wants to speak gets a chance,” he said. “I think it’s healthy … I want the public to weigh in and have their say, their opportunity to have their voices heard by the council.”
But while he wants to encourage participation from the entire community, “I don’t want it to be the same group of people, week after week,” which would be an abuse of the privilege and likely curtail involvement by others. That an issue the council will have to consider.
Kaptain also believes the city staff, not the mayor, should head up the city’s economic development efforts. Once the Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce brings a prospect to the city, he said, the staff should be able to take the lead
Kaptain said he met Thursday with City Manager Sean Stegall and Assistant City Manager Rick Kozal to spell out what he envisions for their roles in this endeavor.
“They’ll take the lead … they’ll be the ones doing the negotiations,” Kaptain said. “That’s their job.”
At the same time, he said, the council has to set a policy on economic development incentives to avoid the kinds of concerns that prompted the council to table a deal with Sears Holdings Corp. on Wednesday night.
Kaptain said he does not fault the staff on the deal – without a firm policy in place, they were smart and followed past council actions as a guide. But he acknowledged that the council has not set a policy, and that raised concerns among members when the issue first came up for council consideration two weeks ago. It was no surprise that the Sears Holdings deal was tabled Wednesday night, he said.
“We need a policy on incentives, so we’ll be discussing that at the retreat as well,” Kaptain said. Having no set policy in place “leaves the staff afloat, so they rely on past council actions” as a guide.
The annual daylong City Council retreat will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, June 3, at Hawthorn Woods Nature Center in Elgin. The meeting is subject to the state’s Open Meetings Act
Assistant City Manager Rick Kozal said Monday the budget likely will be another focus of the session. He said a facilitator will be on hand for the first half of the meeting.
“There will be a facilitator who will be talking for the first half, then the second component will be more substantive issues that the council has expressed an interest in talking about,” Kozal said.
The city’s economic position includes a $4.5 million deficit that could mushroom as lawmakers spar over the state’s own financial woes. Kaptain said the council likely will receive an update on where the city stands so far with its budget this year.
Kaptain campaigned for change and greater transparency in city government leading up to his defeat of Ed Schock in Elgin’s mayoral election.Since taking office in late April, Kaptain already has implemented one change – he pushed through an ordinance revising the membership of the Elgin Liquor Control Commission from the mayor and two council members to the mayor and entire City Council.