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Tensions simmer on McHenry City Council

Published: Monday, Sept. 1, 2014 10:09 p.m. CDT

McHENRY – A city’s strategic plan lists its strengths and weaknesses and outlines its goals.

It’s not usually a controversial document, but the McHenry City Council’s discussion of a proposed – and subsequently passed – six-page plan resulted in accusations of a lack of transparency and revealed longstanding tensions among council members.

Alderman Andy Glab was the sole no vote in approving the strategic plan, pointing to some points, in particular transparency, that he felt the council espoused but didn’t live up to.

Glab criticized the city for no longer airing its City Council meetings on the area public access channel like it used to.

The city stopped because getting the meetings on the air required sending a staff member to go to the Comcast office in Waukegan, Mayor Sue Low responded, adding that the city has upped its communication to residents in different ways, including a weekly newsletter and social media.

“The council’s integrity was called into question,” Low said. “People want a variety of opinions on their council, and people are entitled to their opinion. But your opinion should be stated in a respectful way. I’ve tried to run the meetings in a respectful manner and give everyone a chance to speak.”

While multiple elected officials and City Administrator Derik Morefield agree that the tensions haven’t impacted city business or residents, they have led to some policy changes.

About 10 months ago, Low implemented a new communication policy, asking council members to contact Morefield with all questions and to send those via email.

The policy was designed to address two issues: First to make sure that all council members were getting the same information, which is easier when it’s handled through email, and the second to cut back on the lengthy conversations some council members were having with staff, which was affecting their ability to do their jobs, Morefield said at the time.

The council is spilt on how the policy is working out.

Some, including Low and aldermen Geoffrey Blake and Rich Wimmer, think communication is at its best.

Blake added that he likes getting answers to questions asked by aldermen.

Others, including Glab and Alderman Victor Santi, think it’s not working out.

Santi finds the email system hard to manage when he’s on the road for work.

As an extension of that policy, Morefield sent out an email in June concerning a conversation Glab had with the Northwest Herald.

“While Councilmembers are certainly able to express their opinions and to carry out these opinions by way of voting on issues during City Council meetings and, further, to provide justification when questioned by the public or the media, it is of serious concern when an individual Councilmember takes it upon himself or herself to contact the media to further his or her support or objection to an issue,” Morefield wrote in the email.

Morefield’s intent wasn’t to tell Glab or any of the council members that they couldn’t talk to the press but to make sure all the council members were on the same page, he said.

Glab, though, took the tone as “Andy Glab was out there trying to stir trouble and not getting the proper information out to the press,” he said.

And that’s what some aldermen think Glab was trying to do.

“I don’t know if I would use the word inappropriate, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that,” Blake said. “That’s not the way I would handle it. If I thought it was a serious issue, I would try to work it out before making it public.”

“He’s just trying to spur something,” Wimmer said. “It’s sour grapes. He didn’t get anybody to sway his way so that was his recourse.”

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