Democracy on the Front Lines
City Administrator’s Blog
November 7, 2005
Sometimes it is necessary to step back and reflect. Last Friday afternoon, the City Council held its annual retreat. Retreats are important because it gives the aldermen an opportunity to discuss issues informally and to engage in long term goal setting.
Our retreat had three components. First, there was a presentation on our recent citizen survey compared with surveys conducted in 2002 and 1997. The survey indicated that people are generally favorable with City services and are particularly pleased with public safety and parks. The population is trending younger and a shorter length of residency. On questions of potential problems facing O’Fallon, survey respondents are most concerned with traffic, taxes, growth, and storm drainage.
The next presentation outlined the basics of Home Rule. We are in the process of conducting a Special Census for a current population count. In Illinois, a city automatically becomes Home Rule when it reaches 25,000 population and we estimate that O’Fallon is about 26,000. There have been several rumors and questions circulating about what it means to Home Rule, but the general fear is that Home Rule means they will be taxed more and the City Council will have overwhelming power. In actuality, studies have shown that property taxes do not increase in Home Rule cities and that taxing revenues shift more toward non-residents than residents.
To me, Home Rule authority is more about local control. I do not believe that the state legislators in Springfield know what’s better for O’Fallon than our residents and elected officials. Home Rule allows O’Fallon residents to determine what is best for our community and I consider that to be a great benefit for everyone.
The third component of the City Council Retreat was goal setting. Aldermen do not get many opportunities to meet in a casual environment where they are not expected to react to an urgent problem or vote on an issue. Retreats allow the aldermen to informally discuss long range issues and set goals for the future. Aldermen comments were diverse and ranged from neighborhood preservation to sustainable development to stormwater management to organizational professionalism.
From a staff perspective, City Council goal setting is incredibly important. We need their input on setting priorities. After all, the aldermen are the elected representatives of the citizens of O’Fallon and it essential to know where they want our community to be. Our job is to take their goals, translate them into action steps, and measure our performance against those goals.