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Fireworks—and a Little Aldermanic Browbeating—at City Hall Over Spending for a Dump Truck

Mayor Kevin Burns reads a prepared statement and takes Third Ward Alderman Ray Pawlak to task for voting against spending on a utility vehicle and other line items already in the budget.

Probably with all the pre-election ballyhoo you didn't hear the controlled anger in voices at City Hall on Monday night.

But it was there.

On an agenda item for the purchase of a one-ton utility truck for the Water and Sewer Department, Third Ward Alderman Ray Pawlak, Fifth Ward Alderman Ralph Dantino and Second Ward Alderman Richard Marks said they would vote against the proposal. A "yes" vote would give the thumbs up for staff to replace a 14-year-old truck that has 75,000 miles on it.

Mayor Kevin Burns heard statements from Pawlak and Dantino, then read a prepared statement that accused some aldermen of "chest pounding" and nitpicking on items that already have been included in budget planning.

Burns said he was away on spring break with one of his daughters but did hear the previous Monday's Committee of the Whole discussion through a sound hookup as he was driving. He didn't like the tone of the aldermen who questioned city staff.

"What I heard was 'How can we screw the Water Department?' And that’s shameful," he said.

Burns said the role of the City Council is to act as a group of policy-makers, and he wondered "if the contention was more about scoring points."

"That will really give us a chance to pound our chest and say, 'Look how fiscally conservative we are,' " he said.

Pawlak said city staff described the dump truck as a "want" rather than a "need." He said many residents were struggling with their budgets and deciding against buying a new car when the old one still had some miles left in it.

"If this were my truck and my household, that’s what I would do," Pawlak said.

On at least two occasions, Burns pressed Pawlak to explain the reasoning of his vote—a cross-examination he did not make to other council members. At one point, when Pawlak attempted to respond, Burns cut him off, saying, "I have the floor."

After Burns' read his prepared statement, Dantino reiterated his position.

"I heard what I heard about a want versus a need," he said. "What is wrong with saving money? That’s all I have to say."

Marks later said he would vote against the motion because, from his reading of the materials, the purchase did not appear to meet the threshold criteria of the replacement schedule.

Other aldermen supported Burns' position, saying that staff members provide the expertise to make decisions about what items need to be replaced, and aldermen should not call staff members on the carpet every time a replacement purchase is requested. 

"It’s like a dare—it’s like, 'Prove it that it’s a need,' " Third Ward Alderman Dawn Vogelsberg said. "We have to remember that our job is as policymakers. We create the policy; we should listen to it. How rude is it that we don’t follow it?"

Fifth Ward Alderman Craig Maladra said "we’re making a big deal about squeezing the nickel until the buffalo does something."

"We know it (the truck) is going to have to be replaced at some point," he said. "Basically, you’re hoping that someone tomorrow will live up to the policy decisions we need to make today. Trying to push this off to some uncertain future is counterintuitive, folks."

The truck will cost the city more than $30,000. The vote passed 7-3.

After the meeting, Pawlak said his questioning of city staff spending has been respectful, but Burns' demeanor Monday night was not.

"I think the mayor needed to be present last week to be involved in the dialogue and discussion," Pawlak said. "There's a lot you miss when you only hear it over the radio."

Guy Fawkes April 06, 2011 at 04:03 PM
If the maintenance records and the sound of the transmission going or a piston about ready to go through the block indicates it is time to get rid of it, I am for it. But if they are thinking about something that is 14 years old and has 75,000 miles; and maybe some rust wouldn't look good in the Swedish Days parade well then the priorities are all messed up at City Hall.

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