Note to readers: This is the first of three interviews with each of the Elmhurst mayoral candidates — Diane Gutenkauf, Steve Morley and Mark Mulliner — leading up to the April 9 election.
ELMHURST — Mayoral candidate Diane Gutenkauf says better transparency and communication from the city is key in keeping Elmhurst prosperous and helping it improve in the future.
Gutenkauf, who is halfway through her second term as 1st Ward alderman, said she was particularly bothered by the closed-session negotiations leading to the planned parking deck for Addison Avenue.
Discussions that have taken the four-story project in the direction of six stories were largely held behind closed doors, resulting in a nonbinding opinion from the Illinois Attorney General's Office that the City Council violated the Open Meetings Act.
"I think that we have typically operated on a communication plan that relies on residents looking to us for info," Gutenkauf said. "We haven't taken a strong approach of reaching out and telling people before (things) happen."
Gutenkauf also points to an ordinance she proposed four years ago that's been stuck in committee that would require any company doing business with the city to disclose who its owners are.
To improve transparency, Gutenkauf would like to see the city manager and next mayor host proactive town hall meetings and work sessions to hear community input before big decisions are made.
The website is another area where the city could improve its transparency, she said. Though it has received positive reviews from advocacy groups, Gutenkauf said it could be made easier to navigate, and the search function could be more precise.
She added that the city should upload all contracts, both accepted and rejected bids, online.
Gutenkauf further shared her ideas for financial planning and economic development, including wanting to see Elmhurst have a regular five-year plan for its general finances incorporating longterm strategy.
The city currently operates on a five-year capital spending plan for projects and large expenditures, Gutenkauf said.
As for city development, she said she's excited that Hahn Street has gotten a lot of attention. Last year, the city scrapped a years-old development agreement for Hahn Street with Morningside Group after the recession halted construction plans. Elmhurst is now getting set to request new proposals from developers.
"I think we ended up with the right timing by leaving it sit during the bad years," Gutenkauf said. "I think if we had started to build at that peak of the building boom, we'd have a half-finished, bankrupt building right now."
Gutenkauf said she's anxious to hear what different ideas developers generate, and is open to either rental units or condos for what likely will be a mixed-use building.
"I don't think rental automatically means bad, downscale or cheap," she said. "There are people who are looking to downsize and don't want to buy."
Gutenkauf also sees opportunity for increased development at York Street and Butterfield Road to capitalize on the new hospital.
"It doesn't necessarily mean we need to create a (tax increment financing district), because I really don't want to do that," she said. "But we can focus some of our economic development energy down there. We can talk about what kinds of businesses are there and what kinds of businesses should be there."