Councilmen Stand Their Ground Over Dissents

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The tension was real in Hillsboro’s city council chambers when the group met Tuesday evening, Aug. 11; it came on two different fronts from two different council members during the commissioners’ and mayor’s reports that fall early in the agenda.

Public Properties and Streets Commissioner Dan Robbins went off-script after reporting the routine mowing, pickleball court work at Central Park, and dirt moving work by the parks department; he also said the street department was busy with blacktopping, sidewalk repairs, helping fix a sewer force main behind Paris Frozen Foods, and in a bit of comic relief, the dead animal report–a dead skunk had to be picked up from City Lake Road.

He added to his typical report by addressing the “flags-at-half-staff” issue that has been discussed informally around town. 

Earlier this year Governor Pritzker issued an executive order stating flags under the control of government officials be flown at half-staff to pay respect to the COVID-19 virus victims until further notice. 

Fellow councilman Don Downs was upset when the flags were at half-staff after 30 days and asked that they be raised (particularly the flags at city hall and Triangle Park). Robbins, as the councilman in charge of flags, had them lowered again after consultation with city attorney Kit Hantla, who said he spent two hours on the phone with Springfield and Chicago before he received an answer–the executive order has the standing of law.

Robbins said anyone doubting his patriotism doesn’t know him very well. His family has a long history of military service, and, “I have the utmost respect for the flag. However, I took an oath as an elected official to follow the law.”

Downs too had done research. In his view, the governor’s edict is contrary to the United States Flag Code, which states only the President can order flags to be flown at half-staff, and then the order is limited to 30 days.

Hantla concluded the discussion by saying that although an individual might not agree with a governor’s order, it does have the standing of law and is to be obeyed. He said Commissioner Downs’ position may be popular and even justified, but it’s a philosophical, not a legal, distinction and thus has to be addressed at the ballot box.

Next in the order of reports was that of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Murphy, who first asked for citizens’ effort in helping the town put forth a tidy appearance –mowed lawns, trimmed bushes, and garbage out of sight. Then he addressed unidentified-by-name opponents to that position (the opposing viewpoint appears in Facebook postings). “For the last five years, this council and other town leaders have had Hillsboro headed in one direction. We don’t need others to be working against that direction. If community policing is not your agenda, don’t associate your name or the name of your business with Hillsboro. Go somewhere else.”

Murphy said another walkthrough of the Corner Block Building (aka Sherman’s) would be held Friday, Aug. 14, to unofficially determine its structural soundness. Also, he expects firefighters to have access and a tour soon so they will know what to expect if a fire begins there.

Commissioner (and temporary mayor) Katie Duncan read a thank you note from those who play pickleball. That group is also paying for the fencing project in process around the refurbished courts. As Finance Commissioner Duncan reported that S&P Global Ratings had lowered Hillsboro’s bond rating from A to A-minus because, although budgets are balanced when presented, the council has not been consistently good at following budget constraints.

Utilities Commissioner Downs reported on work at the forced feed main at the Helston Place lift station behind Paris Frozen Foods; the main was fixed on July 31 but diagnosed with a thin wall problem, and that wall split again at the point where the main had been repaired, so the suspect section had to be replaced. Downs said the water department continues to install new meters.

Community Planner Jonathon Weyer presented the council with a preliminary strategic plan, asking for approval of the plan and permission to spend as much as $500 to have a graphic designer put the plan into a more appealing format. Once the product is finished, a public hearing about its contents will take place before the council takes a final vote. The financial request was granted later in the agenda.

Weyer also reported the often delayed business incubator effort is back on track. “The Coop” will be located in the former Montgomery County News building (more recently the home of Books and Moore) on Courthouse Square. Those interested in opening a small business can begin in a part of that building with mentoring available. Renovation of the building, now owned by Kyle Andrews, has begun.

City Engineer Scott Hunt provided the perfect introduction for the only public commentator of the evening, Richard “Dick” James. Hunt said the only thing left for the contracting firm that did the work on the Rountree and Summer Streets intersection just north of the junior high is striping. The seeding of disturbed dirt is complete and both streets are now open. James asked about drainage of the area, stating he feels a drain is necessary at the northwest corner to eliminate icing when winter comes.

Hunt told him the original plan had been to lower the storm drain inlet and line, but when the road surface was removed, a “spaghetti bowl” of pipes and lines prevented that. A second option was to run a line to the south, but the expense to do that was prohibitive. Thus the decision was made to allow water to “sheet flow” across the intersection. He said the natural fall would prevent puddling.

James said, “I hope I’m wrong, but wait to see what happens.” He predicts a dangerous intersection will result from the flow freezing.

Commissioner Downs also had a public comment, saying he had received a nice letter from a citizen who walks her dog on Beckemeyer School grounds and who doesn’t want to lose that outlet. She lives in the neighborhood and can’t travel to the dog park.

Downs said he sympathizes and is sure she picks up after her dog. The issue is with people who don’t use a pooper scooper or other means of policing the area.

Murphy said citizens had come forward wanting the dog park, but now that it’s available, they abuse it by leaving their dogs’ business behind.

His message was, “You wanted the facilities, now take care of them.”

A public hearing about the budget was held before the regular meeting; none of the half-dozen people in the room had anything to say about the proposed budget, and it was accepted unanimously as the first action item in the regular meeting agenda. Estimated revenue for the General Fund for 2021 is $3,554,375 while estimated expenses are $3,551,627, so a balance of $2,748 shows if the estimates hold true. The budget passed 4-0

Next came the appropriation ordinance for the fiscal year (May 1, 2020, until April 30, 2021). Money for funds besides the general fund are included in this ordinance. The total is $9,000,492.50. It too passed 4-0

July bills were approved; the total was $396,850.56. Duncan again reminded her fellow council members that expenses have to be limited this year so the bond rating isn’t reduced even more.

The council voted unanimously to award a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) grant to Tom Compagni for work to be done at Paris Frozen Foods. Compagni submitted plans to install retaining walls at both ends of his property in order to provide more parking and facade work. The estimated cost of the project is $46,000. The grant, to be paid when the work is completed, is for $15,000.

Commissioner Murphy moved to prohibit parking on Senator Miller Drive (the entrance to the former Alco building). It passed unanimously, as did another Murphy motion to spend $19,104 on a police vehicle computer system that will be an update to the current system. According to police chief Randy Leetham, the county’s EMS group will also kick in $19,100 so that all municipal police systems will be compatible with the county and state systems.

The Hillsboro Fire Department needs OSHA required testing of equipment as mandated by the state to stay in compliance with regulations; the approved cost is not to exceed $7,495.

Tabled for more research was a request by Downs to amend the ordinance regarding the road bonds plumbing and other contractors have to pay before removing a sidewalk or part of a road surface as part of a project. Downs feels the bonds currently required are often refunded before the replaced sidewalk sinks, causing the city to bear the cost of repairs. He wants the ordinance to require sidewalk portions to be pinned at each end to reduce tripping hazards. Robbins felt the new language was too restrictive, too specific.

Hantla asked Hunt and Tim Ferguson to share their expertise based on their more extensive engineering experiences. Both said it’s hard to make one ordinance fit all situations fairly. Given the dilemma, the council voted 3-1 to table the motion.

The council then voted to go into closed session to discuss possible litigation and questions concerning personnel. No action resulted from either discussion; the meeting adjourned at 8:58 p.m.

The council will reconvene Tuesday evening, Aug. 25, at 7:30 p.m. in city hall.

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