Wayne's Words: Welcome to the new City Manager

The City Council has hired a new Joliet City Manager. The buzzword in local government today is TRANSPARENCY. Its talked about a lot and always promised by our elected officials. It helps prevent surprises when the process is open.

The recent hiring of new City Manager David Hales has sparked some controversy because the process unfolded behind closed doors. Hales will take his new position as City Manager for Joliet in late November. Until then, he remains in that capacity for the City of Bloomington.

The flap over his hiring comes from the fact that a criminal investigation that resulted in indictments of five members from Central Illinois Arena Management for alleged embezzlement of funds from Bloomington’s city-owned facility they managed. According to public comments from several Joliet City Council members, no one was aware of the pending investigation into the matter until after Hales had been hired as the new Joliet City Manager.

According to Hales, he had been advised not to disclose any information regarding the investigation during the interview process for the Joliet City Manager title. He was not a target of the investigation. No harm, no foul, according to a city press release. Transparency aside, one would think that the mismanagement of a city-owned facility would be relevant to the hiring process. It may not have mattered in the final decision to hire Hales, but it would have been nice to know before the final decision to hire.

The hiring process of the Joliet City Manager is done behind closed doors and is not a transparent procedure. It’s not a legal requirement that it be secret, mind you, but it is done in this manner, we are told, to protect the privacy of the individual interviewee. Really? That’s the reason? Does anyone really believe his current employer, the City of Bloomington, didn’t know he was looking? The City Manager works for the residents. The City Manager is in charge of administering the entire city government of Joliet with a $300 million budget.

“Water under the bridge” as the saying goes - he’s hired! Perhaps one of the reasons he was the council’s choice is because of the Coliseum in Bloomington that sparked the investigation. The Grossinger Motors Arena, as it is now known, has almost the same footprint as our own money pit, formerly known as Silver Cross Field. After Bloomington didn’t renew the contract with the management firm for the Coliseum (the one being investigated), they hired VenuWorks, the current manager of our own Rialto Theatre.

VenuWorks negotiated naming rights for the Coliseum to the tune of $175,000 per year for the next five years. Our stadium doesn’t generate any naming rights revenue to date and it was substantially less than that amount when the naming rights contract expired last year.

Back in 2005 the City of Bloomington had an advisory referendum that resulted in 66 percent of voters being opposed to using public money to build the arena. Joliet built our baseball stadium with $28 million of gaming revenue and no public input. According to a Bloomington public radio station, WGLT, the Coliseum has posted operating losses four out of the last five years. However, Coliseum revenue streams to the city since it opened have amounted to several million dollars. The total amount allegedly stolen by the prior management firm exceed $1 million.