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Commissioners disagree on progress of Downers Grove strategic plan

DOWNERS GROVE – A workshop meeting designed to bring Downers Grove commissioners up to speed on the village’s strategic plan turned into what Mayor Martin Tully described as a “therapy session” as Village Council members offered disparate opinions on the speed at which the plan is proceeding.

“I think everything is on track,” commissioner Bill White said following a June 19 presentation from Village Manager Dave Fieldman. “I’m quite content. Obviously, we’d like to get things done faster, but there’s constraints, and within the scope of the constraints, I think this is going quite well.”

Commissioner Bob Barnett disagreed with White’s favorable assessment.

“I feel completely the opposite of the way Bill does here,” Barnett said. “We can’t get out of our own way of some of these things. We can’t seem to decide much.”

He said the downtown zoning plan, which has undergone several versions, is one example.

“We should be doing more, I think,” Barnett said. “The stuff that we’re doing is good stuff, but the list should be longer, and the things that are not yet started should be accelerated."

White said Barnett’s remarks ran “contrary to the council-manager form of government.”

“It’s not our job to run the village,” White said. “It’s our job to give staff a 30-, 40,000-foot direction and let the paid professionals run the village.”

He credited village staff for providing an “extraordinarily elegant solution” for downtown zoning that meets most of the original goal in a timely fashion.

“That’s an enormous accomplishment by staff,” White said.

Barnett agreed village staff are doing a good job executing the master plan, but “they’re trying to help us get past ourselves,” he said.

“I think we’re missing opportunities to get more work done because we drag these out," Barnett said.

Tully said the village historically has moved slowly to accomplish big projects.

“If it was just me, we’d be on five different white boards from now,” he said, pointing to the conference room white board that displayed the elements of the strategic plan.

Tully added some other communities make decisions more quickly but often at the expense of public input.

“That’s never the way Downers Grove has rolled,” he said.

Tully added he shares and empathizes with Barnett’s frustrations. However, projects aren’t accelerated because “there’s not complete agreement within the community about how to do it.”

“This community has always been very engaged, and it’s always had very informed people who have disparate opinions about things,” he said.

Commissioners' inability to coalesce behind a plan also has slowed progress on some projects, Tully said.

“If all of us were better at bringing our colleagues along, we’d have a lot more done," he said. "I think we all could do better in that regard."

Commissioner William Waldack described the village’s progress as purposeful.

“You move too fast and you wind up paying for it for a very, very long time, and you can’t get out of things,” Waldack said.

He agreed progress is slow when committees and ad hoc groups are involved, but “that’s what makes what we do better,” he said.

“There’s a difference between being purposeful and deliberate and being indecisive and missing opportunities," commissioner Greg Hose said.

For example, Hose said, the decision to hold off on building a new village complex was a mistake, and as a result, the village is going to end up paying more.

“It’s not a race, and we want to do our due diligence," commissioner Marge Earl said.

Barnett disagreed.

“I see us in a major race driven entirely by finance," he said. “I feel that we are in a race to end up in a good position.”

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