Residents question city’s transparency

Marney Simon
Staff writer

A breakdown of how local governments get their information out to the public has some folks in Braidwood scratching their head about transparency.

On March 28, a couple of citizens approached members of the Braidwood City Council, following a report in the Free Press Newspapers comparing transparency on local government websites. The story was printed in the Braidwood Journal, the Coal City Courant, and the Wilmington Free Press Advocate on March 8, and looked at the websites of all three communities.

The comparison showed the city of Braidwood’s website lags far behind those of its neighbor cities in terms of what information can be found, including important dates, employee salaries, contracts, agendas, and local ordinances. The comparison, compiled by Free Press staff, showed that very little information can be found on the city of Braidwood’s website, While the site has a lot of good information on recreational opportunities and links to other sites of local interest, it lacks the meat of city information, including contact information for city officials.

“The transparency thing… about the website for the city, are you guys going to address that so we can quit hearing it out on the streets about why, why, why?” asked Angie Hutton.

Local businessman and former mayor Bill Rulien also had a few comments on the lack of transparency on the city’s website.

“The other towns have passed us up in transparency by a long shot. We’ve went backwards, and I’m just wondering what you’re going to do about that,” Rulien said.

Mayor Jim Vehrs said it’s a problem the city is looking to solve, but it’s not an easy fix.

“We’re looking into opening up a new website for our communications, and putting our finances on the website,” Vehrs said. “Right now, we’re not doing anything until after our audit is approved in the next fiscal year.”

Rulien suggested that the city go back to the website that was utilized when he was mayor. That site included a list of bills paid each month. It was scrapped within the first six months of Vehrs’ administration for a new site designed by Cloud Nine Communications of Morris. The city’s current site, which went live in 2015, has a “contact us” feature and basic information, but lacks information on public policy, local laws, and how to reach specific officials at City Hall.

In other news before the full council on March 28:

• Mayor Vehrs said the city is gaining some real traction when it comes to possibly bringing a hotel to town.

“AmericInn was in, they gave a presentation on a hotel coming to Braidwood,” Vehrs said on a presentation given to some local stakeholders on a possible hotel near I-55 earlier in March. “She will be back in to present something to [the public].”

The city has been working to market land along its two Interstate 55 interchanges for the past several years, particularly along Reed Road, where more than 300 acres were annexed into Braidwood in 2010.

• Commissioner Jim Hutton said he was working on issues regarding water billing on properties that have been sold with a delinquent bill. Hutton said that according to current city codes, a delinquent bill is attached to a property when that parcel is sold. It’s an issue that’s come up with folks who have bought properties where the previous owners didn’t pay up on their water bills.

“The new owner is stuck with the bill,” Hutton said. “So, we’re looking into this transfer stamp. A lot of towns went to it and had pretty good luck with it. In other words, if you buy a piece of property in Braidwood, you’ll have to call City Hall here and get a transfer stamp before they can close on the property, which means the new owner cannot be stuck with the delinquent bills.”

Meanwhile, Hutton said other delinquent utility bills would be handed over to collections within the next month or so.

• The council approved the payment of bills in the amount of $124,261.

• The council approved the payroll in the amount of $89,337.