Referendum wins, Strong to form advisory council

Pam Monson

 There are going to be some changes around here, as voters last week selected a new mayor and agreed to allow the fire district to increase taxes to improve emergency services.

At the polls
    Although voter turnout here was better than it was in Will County as a whole, the election was not without its technological challenges.
    Three voters who visited Wilmington Precinct 1 had to submit provisional ballots when technical issues told judges that the individuals had already voted when in fact they had not.
    Election judge Mike Barbour said the printer had stopped working, and the judges didn’t know it. So when the judges entered the voter’s name to try again, they got the message that the individual had already cast their ballot.
    The election judges contacted their area technician, who contacted the county technician. But by the time a technician arrived, the judges had figured out that the printer was their problem and restarted it.
    Once it was back online, it printed receipts for each time the judges tried to check voters in. Each voter who experienced a problem cast a ballot that was submitted to the county clerk as a provisional ballot.
    “If we find that they are registered, those votes are going to count,” said Judy Wiedmeyer, chief deputy in the office of Will County Clerk Nancy Schultz Voots.
    More frequently, the technical problems at the polls last week had to do with the poll books that are loaded onto iPads used by the election judges to sign voters in. The voter registration information is uploaded to them a couple of weeks before the election. On election day they’re updated to show who cast an early voting ballot within that period of time. Sometimes the iPads don’t pick up a wi-fi signal, and can’t update, Wiedmeyer said.

    The Wilmington Fire Protection District had a plan for what would happen if its referendum didn’t pass, but the Board of Trustees hadn’t spent too much time talking about how to proceed if voters approved the district’s request for additional dollars.
    The district asked for a property tax increase that will last four years, and will allow it to add two positions on each of its 24-hour shifts to be a third ambulance crew. The referendum received widespread support, with 1,220 yes votes (61.83 percent) to 753 no votes (38.17 percent).
    “We were surprised at the number it did pass by. As much trouble as they had in the last [referendum] — it didn’t get through the first time and they had to come back again — and it didn’t pass that big,” said board President John Cairns Sr. “We were all surprised.”
    Cairns Sr. said Fire Chief Tim Zlomie will have to present a plan of action to the board, but anticipates that the district’s first steps would be starting the hiring process, followed by training the new hires.
    The property tax increase voters approved won’t generate new dollars until next year, since the levy for this year’s bill was set in December. Cairns anticipates that the board will permit the use of some reserve funds to increase staffing now rather than waiting until next year.
    Meanwhile, the board can tell Elion Partners that, “instead of pumping the brakes on [the construction of a second station] let’s put the accelerator down and get this thing moving fast,” Cairns added. Elion Partners has said the station at RidgePort Logistics Center can be constructed by the end of 2017, although the fire district is still waiting to see a final plan.
    The additional employees are not being hired to man the station, but having them based at the station gets emergency vehicles to the north and west sections of the three-township district — including incidents on Interstate 55 — much faster.
    Cairns predicted that Zlomie would be “hitting it hard” this week, to bring a proposal to the board at its regular meeting next week.
    He also couldn’t say enough about the firefighters and paramedics who pounded the pavement and knocked on doors during their off-duty hours, and contributed their personal funds to ensure voters knew why the district was asking for additional funds.
    “I hope we can get everything running, get a couple of other guys on shift, get station two up and look forward to the future,” Cairns concluded.

Strong takes the vote
    Roy Strong is a man without a plan — but that’s by design. The newly elected mayor is going to create an advisory council to help him make the big decisions so he doesn’t regret them later. Strong recognizes that what he does as mayor affect peoples’ lives and livelihoods, and much consideration has to be put into decision making.
    “I’m putting a group of business people and people in town together to make some of these decisions. I don’t feel one person can make that decision on his own. A lot of times you have emotions involved and I think the best decision can be made by a small group.”
    Mayor Marty Orr’s appointees will be happy to hear that. Since Orr was the first two-term mayor since Bob Weidling left office in the early 1990s, his appointees are long settled in their jobs. Strong doesn’t plan to come in and clean house, partly because that makes it harder to find good candidates for some of the city’s most important jobs.
    Strong felt Orr was wrong to remove the chief of police and administrator immediately after he took office, and he doesn’t plan to do the same just because they were somebody else’s appointees.
    “I’m not like that, so I wouldn’t do that,” he said.
    Strong thinks it’s important to have a good city administrator to help with day-to-day operations and keep track of city finances. He plans to keep interim administrator Frank Koehler in place for a while and see how it goes. Strong also feels the staff at city hall and the maintenance workers have always done a good job as well.
    He has two objectives coming in; working with his council and other groups, and building revenue.
    “We all talked about getting along with the other groups; the Park Board and the Fire Department and everybody, I’ll do my best to do that,” he said.
    “ ... I think it will be a good time for everybody, and I’ll do my best, which I always have ... to try to get everybody to work together and we’ll have a better town, and I think everybody knows that.”
    Strong will have to build consensus on the council; he doesn’t think that will be particularly difficult, because he feels he can work with everybody. If there was any dissension on the council in the recent past, he believes it was because the former administrator had too much autonomy and didn’t give the aldermen all the information they needed to make decisions.
    He’s already working on finding more money for the city’s coffers. Strong feels it’s his job, his objective, to get the city’s finances in the black.
        The incoming mayor appreciated the support he received at the polls, but was even more appreciative of the number of voters who exercised their right to vote. Much of his campaign effort was spent encouraging people to vote.
    I was happy with the turnout. Everybody did well, everybody got more votes, so that was good. I think that was the most important thing. I tried to get young kids to vote, everybody to vote,” he said.

Orr wraps things up
    Mayor Marty Orr will leave office next month with the assurance that the initiatives that are in development, such as the downtown plan, will continue toward completion.
    “They’re not solely Marty Orr’s  initiatives, they’re the council’s as well, and I hope they’ll continue to move forward with them,” he said.
    He noted that voter turnout was better than expected, but was still less than 40 percent in most precincts.
    “In a way you wish everyone would have voted so you could better understand what the will of the city is,” he commented.
    Although many of Orr’s supporters have inquired about a recount, he hasn’t made that decision yet. He’ll wait to see what the vote totals are after the final tally. If the uncounted ballots in Wilmington, Wesley and Florence townships included the mayoral election, there are still 21 votes out there.
    Recounts are reserved for close races, and Orr versus Strong is certainly that, with just 22 votes separating the winner from the runner up. But only 25 percent of the precincts in the district can be examined for starters in a recount, which for Wilmington means one of the three precincts, and few votes to examine.
    “It’s basically just fact finding, and that gives them the means, if they think they find anything, then they have to go before a judge to request a full recount,” chief deputy Wiedmeyer said.
    “Truthfully, our machines are so good that you have your paper trail as well as the tabulators and the applications. We haven’t had a recount — I don’t even remember the last time we did,” she added. “It’s been quite some time. The machines are pretty much accurate.”
    Candidates, and voters, have five days after the final election results are released to petition a recount.
    Orr has been involved in local politics since 1997, and isn’t sure if he’ll run again.
    “I’ll never say never,” he said.