Discussion around appointment procedure became heated at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting. The debate centered on Mayor Steve Chirico’s appointment of former city councilwoman Judy Brodhead to the Special Events & Cultural Amenities (SECA) Commission.
Spirit of Term Limits
The SECA commission advises the council on matters related to public art and cultural programs, and Chirico said Brodhead was chosen for it in part due to her many years of experience in local government. Brodhead served three terms – 12 years – on the city council; the maximum amount a city councilor is allowed to serve.
But it was this same breadth of experience to which some councilors objected. Council members Jennifer Bruzan Taylor and Paul Hinterlong especially argued that Brodhead’s appointment would prevent new talent from joining local government, and ossify the political process. Taylor went so far as to call the appointment a violation of “the spirit of term limits.”
“This is something we need to think about; this is something that, we’re creating a precedent here,” Taylor said. “And so… what do we do when a former councilperson who’s termed out is to then immediately be appointed to a board of commission?”
“I really didn’t want to go through this tonight, but I felt the need for others to get involved and create those new leaders in Naperville,” Hinterlong said later.
Other council members, and Mayor Chirico, pushed back on this assertion. They argued that there was no good or legal reason to deny Brodhead, with her many years of experience, a chance to further serve Naperville.
“For the first time the public is tonight hearing of a proposed rule, an unwritten proposed rule, that [Brodhead] should be disqualified because of the length of her past distinguished tenure on council,” councilman Ian Holzhauer said. “Nothing in the municipal code nor any past precedent prohibits any prior council member from volunteering for a commission.”
“I’m not sure what this term limit thing has to do with anything… we’re talking about a commission and a board that’s an advisory to us,” councilman Dr. Benjamin White later added. “Why not take advantage of those years of experience serving on the council and other boards and commissions in this community?”
Unintentional and Unfortunate
Former councilwoman Brodhead herself said that the controversy surrounding her was unfortunate. Prior to speaking to council members who opposed her appointment, she said it was also unexpected.
“It was very unusual,” Brodhead said. “I certainly had no intention of becoming a controversial figure in something as innocuous as being put on a board of commission.”
Brodhead added that while she sympathized with some councilors’ desire to see fresh faces on the advisory boards, she thought their concerns were misplaced.
“When it was suggested that I was somehow taking the place of someone else, you know, there are 19 or 20 boards of commissions,” Brodhead said. “Some of them have nine positions on them… There are almost 200 spots for people.”
Ultimatey, Brodhead was confirmed to the SECA commission by a close 5 – 4 vote. Gustin, Hinterlong, Leong, and Bruzan Taylor voted NO; Holzhauer, Kelly, Sullivan, White, and Chirico voted YES.
Transparency & The City Website
Despite the controversy, the argument also revealed a consensus among many councilors that the city website could stand to be more accessible and transparent. Even councilman Patrick Kelly, who supported Brodhead, said that it could be difficult to find information regarding applicants to city government positions. This in turn fueled controversy regarding how easy – or difficult – it may be for Naperville citizens to see who wants to be a part of their local government. Ease of access, the council members agreed, was paramount.
“If you’re not familiar with the website, [Appointees’ names] are not really the easiest thing in the world to find,” Kelly said. “So that’s something I think we could take a look at.”
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