McHenry tensions result in restricted communication
McHENRY – A new policy limiting communicating between aldermen and staff is being enacted because of one alderman's "antagonizing" behavior, the mayor said.
The policy requires questions on City Council agenda items or the implementation of city policies to be sent via email to the mayor and the city administrator. It also bans unscheduled meetings between staff and City Council members.
An email outlining the new policy was sent to the city's seven aldermen Nov. 4 by Mayor Sue Low, who said she decided to enact the policy after discussing ongoing communication issues with the city attorney and city administrator.
"It had become a major issue at City Hall, at the municipal center, and I'm going to predicate this, that this is not everyone," she said. "It's one person. The day-to-day functions of the municipal center was being impeded by an alderman wanting to discuss philosophic differences on policy."
While Low declined to name the alderman, two other aldermen confirmed that the policy was designed because of Alderman Andy Glab, who also believes the policy is directed at him.
Glab endorsed Low's opponent, former Mayor Steve Cuda, in the April mayoral election.
"It's very interesting," Glab said. "A regular citizen can go in and talk to staff, but we can't. ... I'm a resident just like anyone else and I represent thousands of people in the city, and yet I have to email the mayor and the city administrator. I guess I just don't get it. Well, I guess I do get it: The less they have to tell us., the better."
The amount of communication between staff and council members varies depending on the week, City Administrator Derik Morefield said, adding that the problem is "multiple calls from city council members day after day after day about how operations are handled in the city."
"That's not appropriate," he said. "An elected official's job is to handle policy."
Glab disagrees, saying he calls city staff when he thinks things are "slipping" and ordinances aren't being enforced. He added that he contacts staff about three times a week and never expects them to drop what they're doing to answer his questions.
The communication issues aren't just between staff and aldermen.
Council meetings have gotten increasingly tense over the past year.
"Every time I come to a City Council meeting, it's like I'm gearing up for a battle," Alderman Geoffrey Blake said. "It shouldn't be that way. Everyone is entitled to vote yes or no, but he, he – I'll just say it, Andy Glab – the way he's doing it is ridiculous."
Alderman Richard Wimmer said it's reached the point where people have just stopped listening.
"By the time he's done, you're just so frustrated because of the rambling," he said. "There's been so much negativity out of that individual that it's not of any quality anymore."
As far as the new policy, Wimmer and Blake aren't thrilled but they both agreed it was necessary.
Alderman Victor Santi said he's withholding judgment until he sees how it works. He travels for business and finds it easier to talk to staff on the phone while he's on the road, especially because he doesn't always have access to email.
The new policy also should help with making sure all aldermen get the same information because responses can be sent to all of them, Morefield said.