This op-ed ran in the Sunday, Feb. 17 edition of The Naperville Sun:
Business Voice: Chamber supports at-large referendum
On the April ballot residents of Naperville will have the opportunity to retain the at-large system of electing individuals to the city council, or allow the scheduled implementation of a hybrid aldermanic-ward system in 2015.
The Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce recommends to our membership to vote yes on the referendum question, keeping the system of at-large elections and governance that has helped our community grow and prosper.
This question isn’t just an esoteric political science question; it has important financial impact to every taxpayer in our community. In making our recommendation the Chamber reviewed academic research that found that aldermanic-ward based government leads to increased taxes and higher debt, when compared to at-large communities.
Our officials at city hall face tough decisions on a host of issues. There are always competing needs, and “the wants” must be weighed against what the city can afford. Based on the community’s collective feedback, over the years the council has demonstrated the ability to reach reasonable consensus.
At a time when every level of government continues to face difficult budget decisions, engineering an environment for increased spending, higher taxes and more debt through aldermanic-ward governance is the wrong approach.
Aside from the important fiscal issues, the Chamber does not believe that dividing the city into five wards will create better relationships between constituents and the city council. While the threat of higher taxes is important, denying the ability of every voter of Naperville to hold officials accountable for their actions and decisions is also an important consideration.
You do not make elected officials more attentive and responsive to the needs of businesses and residents by making them less accountable at polling places. Instead the switch increases the influence of narrow parochial interests and the prevalence of “horse-trading” votes.
At city hall, the Chamber has been on the winning side of decisions, and we’ve lost our share of votes too. That’s democracy and how our system is intended to work. Under an all at-large system, the entire community judges an individual official’s actions and decisions.
We appreciate some feel passionately that ward representation will provide neighborhoods with better influence over decision-making. The Chamber respectfully disagrees and believes the ward-based governance will impair our economic and fiscal climate, while negatively affecting our quality of life.
The Chamber believes the community has a good track record of evaluating, retaining and electing our municipal officials based on their time in public service. We should keep it that way.
You can access our research and papers on this topic from our homepage at www.naperville.net. If you have questions, comments or feedback, please let me know. More than anything, the Chamber hopes that our recommendation will spark continued discussion leading up to the April election.
However the vote in April goes, let’s remember that we, the citizens, are responsible for the government we have.
Michael A. Evans is the president & CEO of the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce, a 1,400-member business advocacy organization. He can be reached at 630-544-3382.