Thoughts about Openness

Archived

I’ve been thinking lately about the progression of this site, and of the ultimate goals that I had in starting it and maintaining it.  I know that there are some who don’t believe that my reasons are as lofty as I have suggested they are, and who were concerned with my decisions to remain anonymous in the beginning stages of putting this information and my thoughts online for our community to view.

However, i’d like to take a moment to ensure that my readers know why I’ve taken such a keen interest in my local government and why I chose to speak out.  I feel that in order to call for openness and honesty out of my own government officials, that I too must also follow the same principles.

I stayed relatively anonymous initially because, as all people who tend to speak up, I am acutely aware of the potential for backlash by those that have authority over me and my ability to have prosperous and happy work life.  And, as time has progressed and I have gotten to know the Director of Public Safety a little better from when he took over the position, I’ve come to learn and understand that this is a person who simply wouldn’t let his own integrity be defiled by resorting to such tactics as a result of a political disagreement.  In addition to that, since unfounded concern, I’ve always hoped that this wouldn’t become a simple discussion about the fire department in Carpentersville, and that instead every department in our village could receive an honest and open look into what issues  might be effecting them, and consequently, us as residents.  I am quite a firm believer that public employees should live in the areas that they serve – because local governments should be intensely personal to make sure that every resident and citizen gets what they pay for and decisions are made for the good of the community.  But frankly, I believe that the number of employees that live in their town tends to show how well the local government is doing in providing services.  After all public safety employees typically won’t move their family into or keep their family in a town that they know can’t provide adequate service.

With that being said – and in holding to the utmost openness – here is a quick bio:  I grew up in downtown Barrington, and because of my friendships, spent quite a bit of time here in Carpentersville and in Elgin growing up.  I went through the Carpentersville Fire Department’s recruit academy that was held in 1997/1998 and was subsequently hired as a part-time firefighter/emt-basic in the summer of 1999.  I spent 6 years as a part time member of the fire department.  (So I do have quite a good understanding of what the role of a part-time member is)  During that time I also worked as a private ambulance employee, a Dispatcher at our local dispatch center and as a cabinetmaker/furniture maker for a small business that my family owned.  I was first licensed as an EMT-Paramedic in 2003, and hired Full-Time after placing 5th on the list for full-time eligibility in 2005.  I’ve lived on Wakefield with my family of 5 (I have 3 kids in district 300 schools, well, I sent my youngest to Immanuel Lutheran this year as a result of the quality of my local school – that’s an entirely different discussion!  I’m sure parents in my area know exactly what i’m talking about!) since 2008, and lived on Arrow Street between 2006-2008.  Before that I lived in Algonquin and West Dundee.  I’ve dedicated the entirety of my adult life to my friends, my family, and to protecting the citizens of Carpentersville.  Why is this important?  Well, for starters, to watch (as a resident and someone who is sworn to protect this town) my elected officials, through blatantly misleading statements and opinions, impugn the honor and integrity of a group of men and women who, like me, dedicated their adult lives to the service of this community (quite a few of us who are ALSO residents in this town) is infuriating beyond belief!  And secondly, to watch leaders make decisions without truly understanding their impact to the community is frustrating, and lastly to experience how much authority Villages have to hide information they don’t want the residents to know about puts my trust in my local government in the gutter.

Politically, and philosophically, I’m a true moderate/independent.  I believe that taxes are a necessary evil, much in the same way that we pay for services that we receive.  I liken this to finding a contractor for installing a new roof – I can pay the cheapest amount, and get the cheapest roof.  I can pay a moderate amount and get a decent roof, or I can pay the highest amount and get the best roof.  I have to decide what level of quality I want for the service I think I need, and then pay accordingly.  Same holds true for taxes, I can pay the least amount and get the least amount of services while the inverse is also true.  It’s my responsibility as a tax-payer to tell my representatives what level of service I want, and to convince my fellow residents to support that.  I believe that our government should extensively support the businesses within their jurisdiction – after all, my taxes cannot pay for government alone, and the more businesses there are AND the more prosperous they are, the less of a tax burden my property has.  In my view, consistently increasing taxes is an indication of poor business policies.  Government, especially local government should work interactively with businesses to help them, with property owners to ensure the spaces are filled, and have policies that support growth.  I believe that some social entitlement programs are inherently flawed and should be eliminated, that some are inherently necessary and that some are a promise to the public that need to be upheld.  Most of all though, I am an idealist when it comes to government – that everything should be properly evaluated without regard to political philosophy and determined based upon what’s best for the community, state, country, etc.  And I believe the only way to accomplish that is through completely open government.  I’m against closed meetings for that reason – why talk about something if you don’t want the people that pay for it to know about it?  The only legitimate reason I can see a closed meeting used for is to discuss strategy on litigation – after all, it’s not in the people’s best interest if the other side knows what strategy the village will use.  If the people know what, why, how and when, I believe they could lead their representatives in the proper direction through political action AND I believe that any increase or decrease in taxes and services will be better explained and supported by the people.  I believe that elected representatives are in a position of trust – that their personal philosophies and thoughts should not override the will of the people they represent, and that if they chose to run for an office, they agree to leave their personal ambitions at the door in order to conduct non-biased level-headed leadership to their community, and that they should perform those duties whether they personally enjoy it or not. (like contacting one of their constituents when asked to!)  Otherwise, they should have the fortitude to resign and let someone else represent the community members.

As I’ve eluded to in previous posts, like most people I think, I remained mostly silent on the issues that our local government faced.  For many years there have been others who have taken up the reigns of keeping our local government’s actions in the lime-light and ensured at least a minimum amount of open-ness occurred, and I was content to raise my family and focus my efforts at becoming the best I could be in my job, knowing that other concerned citizens were advocating for what I believe in.  But as times have changed, the level of focus and community involvement have decreased, and the events and cycles of service and staff cuts in the Village grabbed my attention.  Having a very basic understanding – no better than the average resident of how the Police and Public Works departments operated, I couldn’t see why those departments underwent cuts.  It seemed more than a mere coincidence that the Fire Department was spared cuts after the Full-Time members authorized significant concessions in the 2010-2013 contract, while the police and public works departments, having not given concessions during the same time saw significant cuts to their personnel.  And for those that hold fast to how Unions are so corrupt and bad for the public – I’d suggest that that is true – but no more so though than the employers and/or governments to which they are trying to protect their membership from.  (The inverse is also true – when the view between a union and the employer is that of a “partnership” the process is arguably more efficient and cost effective to everyone.)  And, while I’m on the subject – I also know there are those that have believed that I am somehow a pawn of the local firefighters union – but, as my friends and family could attest to, i’m not easily controlled.  In fact, I’m still here, doing what I set out to do, despite the “agreement” between the village and the union, and I’m still not a pawn.  I’m what I’ve always been – an idealist who believes that my government WILL get better as more voters are informed and involved.  (As a side note – for those that believe we residents are now “safer” because the staffing model has changed and the issues are settled – that’s only partly true – there is 1 additional vehicle in service 24 hours a day, but it’s still with 11 people, not the 12 that used to be.  That means we have 5 instead of the 6 vehicles and we residents are still experiencing a service reduction – so the area around Carpenter Park is now a Jump Company – meaning if one of the vehicles is out on a call – the rest of them sit there unmanned – and given that we have some pretty large commercial structures in that area, I can’t imagine those businesses or residents even would be pleased to learn that while the ambulance from that station is out on calls, there is no Fire Engine (ALS capable now!) available to respond to alarms in that area.)  With all that being said, being the idealist that I was/am, I watched but didn’t say anything publicly, instead choosing to bury my head in the sand and convince myself that cuts happened there because the Village simply couldn’t afford to maintain the same level of services OR that those departments were over-staffed to begin with.

However, when the Village decided to cut the Fire Department services because of the same old line of “cost” savings – I happened to know quite a bit more about how much the fire department cost the village (which at about 3.5 million of Carpentersville resident tax-payer dollars is extremely cheap compared to the towns surrounding us), and has remained largely the same for years, and I have been trained as a firefighter to know how much resources a fire department needs to carry out it’s basic mission.  Which can be said of any firefighter living in any community in the country.  So, my natural instinct to research kicked in – and sure enough, the economic downturn that the Village has faced – the need for yearly cuts to stave off the red ink – I just couldn’t find justification in any of the Village documents posted on the Village’s Website that indicated that was a reality, but mainly because the village has, without much fanfare, been raising my taxes and water/sewer bills to compensate.  And it made me some what angry that residents and employees a like have been told for years now that lay-offs and cuts are necessary to head off the 300k, 400k, sometimes 800k deficit the village claims to run year to year when really we the residents are paying to keep it the same virtually every year!  Essentially, I found enough things not adding up that It showed me that my local government wasn’t being very open or honest about it’s conduct, whether that’s because the Trustees have been far too trusting of the Village Manager, or because they have had some hidden agenda (and I honestly believe it’s the former).  So, this website was started, to raise awareness, to demand accountability, and partially as a personal experience in educating myself about my local government.

My goals aren’t as convoluted and there isn’t a hidden agenda as I think some of the Trustees believe they are – they are actually pretty simple (and I believe quite reasonable).  I want to see (for good reasons) the Fire Department have 15 people (5 in each station) on duty every day 24 hours and I believe I can successfully argue that with anyone that disagrees.  I want to see Public Works positions restored to their former levels so that the roads are maintained better, that snow removal is done more efficiently and so that the near yearly increase in my water bill can actually be justified by something that directly benefits me. I want my village to produce documents that are technically accurate between them – when the budget references actual numbers, they are the same numbers that the audited financial statements show.  I  want to see our Village Manager living in our town, so that his or her decisions have to effect his/her property and family as it does mine.  I want the department leaders to be hired because of they are THE best candidate for the open position – not because of where their loyalty lies (as it appears to be currently.)  I want my Village Board to ensure that ANY village related business is conducted in a transparent and visible manner.  I would like to see our Village create additional committees or start hosting monthly informal gatherings – one for residents and one for business owners to increase input and provide interaction with Village officials.  I really hope to see our Village embrace the internet, social media, and outspoken residents such as myself not as a detraction from normal business, but as a way to increase the Village’s outreach to the residents. And finally, the ultimate goal is to raise awareness in the community, and to get other people out of their shell and start participating in a right, a freedom, that we as Americans often take for granted – political action!

Hopefully soon our Village will get serious about community outreach, properly utilizing social media to keep it’s citizens informed, updating an aging and overly “busy” website, updating it’s well, not so great and sometimes buggy live-streaming of the Village Board Meetings, and educating the public about the mission of the Public Safety departments by holding regular citizen-academies throughout the year.  Until then, we can only continue to expose, to question, to suggest and to show.  We as residents can remind our trustees that they serve on our behalf – and at our Will.  That another election is coming up in a year and change is coming – either because they chose to change direction or we chose to put someone else there that will.

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