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Leave the Geneva Mental Health Board Alone!

Is this really on our top 10 priorities list?

Really?

With our state boasting the third-highest foreclosure rate, a downtown on the brink of extinction, property taxes rising despite home values declining, a sometimes bitter fight over the fate of an iconic State Street building, the continuing fallout from a $24,000 city employee theft, and the installation of a new half-million-dollar city software system (with a $100,000 a year maintenance contract, no less), the only thing Genevans are haranguing the mayor about is the Mental Health Board?

And, apparently, these folks are getting very specific about this non-issue. Maybe I have more readers than I thought!

Yes! During last Monday’s (April 30) policy-only City Council meeting, the mayor told the aldermen that we regular folks had questioned whether Geneva benefits from the social service agencies that receive those tax-dollar-driven stipends. He said he had heard community comments that the organizations’ services overlapped, the grants were too small to do real good, and some taxpayers didn’t think that kind of thing should fall under the auspices of municipal government.

But if you believe any of that, then I have a slightly used Route 38 bridge I’d be willing to part with for just 10 bucks.

And ain’t it fascinating how every time this subject rears its ugly head, it comes in the form of former alderman and staunch Burns ally Jim Radecki? C’mon, if you’re going to try to pull the wool over my eyes, please don’t insult my intelligence in the process.

Radecki dutifully told the council that the GMHB small-grant methodology was flawed, that a county or state board could do a better job, and he asked why we were funding nonprofit groups that already have state contracts in the first place.

So, let me get this straight! Illinois, the state that’s already $13 billion in the hole and $9 billion behind on payments, will somehow manage to manage this charitable endeavor more efficiently than a locally appointed board?

Mr. Radecki probably still believes in the Tooth Fairy, too!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a cash-strapped social service agency return a $5 check because it’s just not worth their time.

For review purposes, in 2011, the GMHB passed out $139,000 of our tax dollars to 14 agencies that serve Genevans, including Suicide Prevention Services, TriCity Family Services, Casa Kane County, Lazarus House and the Renz Addiction Center. They also set aside another 14 grand for a group home which seems to be an underlying bone of contention between city staff and the board.

As far as I’m concerned, they could triple the GMHB budget because, as any reasonable businessman implicitly knows, every dollar sent to a social service agency saves us nine long-run dollars. Not only is it good karma, but it’s a sound investments to keep our less-fortunate neighbors from falling through the cracks.

Thankfully, though the fate of the board wasn’t up for a vote, the aldermen at that meeting impressed me with their foresight. Perhaps a few of them actually do have some imagination.

“I wouldn’t want to send it (the money) to the county, and I sure wouldn’t want to send it to the state,” 3rd Ward Alderman Dawn Vogelsberg cogently countered.

First Ward Alderman Sam Hill must be reading my columns because, leaving nothing to the imagination, he said if that cash were sent to the state “too great a percentage would go to the crooks that have dominated our state politics over the last 30 to 40 years!”

Take that, Mike Madigan!

“If we prevent one suicide this year, it’s worth all the money we can give,” noted 5th Ward Alderman and sitting GMHB member Ralph Dantino. In these dire economic times, I couldn’t agree more.

In fact, I would encourage all of you to dig as deep as you can to support these amazing causes who work miracles on our behalf.

But now, it’s my turn!

I don’t believe for a single second that a single citizen complained about our tax dollars going to non-Genevans because, until this news story broke, no Genevan beyond that board could name one agency that received funds if his or her life depended on it.

Even if they had complained, it’s not true.

Grant applicants are required to document the number of Geneva citizens they serve before they get a solitary cent. AID Chairman Chuck Miles told the council that 68 Geneva residents are currently on their waiting list, a dozen of whom are ineligible for state support.

In their own words, AID strives to, “empower individuals with disabilities, mental illness and special needs to achieve independence and community inclusion.” If those people aren’t the “least of our brothers and sisters,” then I don’t know who is.

Some folks oughtta really be embarrassed for even bringing this up.

With all the first-paragraph challenges Geneva is facing, why are we wasting our time on this? The city manager’s salary and benefits alone come out to significantly more that the sum total of those well-earned grants. But as you all know, when this administration gets an idea, it’s Katie bar the door.

You know what? I think I’ll go write a check to Lazarus House, and then I’ll try to persuade Alderman Rich Marks to run for mayor. And if he won’t do it …

Jeff Ward May 09, 2012 at 04:41 PM
Terry, I don't disagree with anything you said. I just think in the long line of issues the city council should be discussing, this one's number 372. Jeff
Ken S May 09, 2012 at 08:15 PM
Rick, thanks for the plug of the Geneva Community Chest. The donations we collect go to 21 local not for profits that assist Geneva residents in need and the entire board of directors are volunteers http://www.genevacommunitychest.org/?page_id=9
Rod Nelson May 10, 2012 at 10:47 AM
Those who have framed the debate as a question over the role of municipal government have the right focus. If the money saves one lfe it is worth it. But what if the same money administered differently could save two? Is this not a question worth asking?
Jeff Ward May 10, 2012 at 11:32 AM
Rod, As usual, you are correct...well...mostly correct. The question wasn't as much could someone else do it better as it was should we be doing it at all. Though I now understand Jim Radecki had some real concerns, there's friction between the GMHB and the city which I believe is at the heart of all this. On those rare 5th Mondays, instead of talking about $159,000, why not tackle challenges like how to foster downtown growth? The current economic development needs much more direction. Let's talk about bringing employee benefits and pensions back within reality and possibly privatizing elements if necessary. Let's discuss reforming an ethics committee that contributed to the mayor's county chair campaign. Let's ask the question as to why a $500,000 computer system with a $100,000 service contract doesn't mean we can phase some city positions out. We haven't heard a single word as to specifically how they will prevent future employee theft. The GMHB is something you tackle when you have nothing else to discuss. Jeff
Jay Moffat May 11, 2012 at 01:01 PM
If the concern is about money being handed out that Geneva lacks control over, perhaps the answer lies in buying and outfitting another group home in Geneva. Home values are down so purchasing power should get us a better value. Trade people need work so a small amount of local jobs would be created to retrofit the home. Granted this home is managed by AID but with a number of families in Geneva needing this kind of assistance perhaps this can address any issues about giving our tax dollars to "outsiders". If the City fathers embrace this taxing body, and this taxing body is receiving pressure about its charitable work, keeping all the dollars in Geneva for a few years could only help the families of Geneva that have challenged adult children by housing them within our community. Granted that would decrease the Mental Health Board's ability to help other deserving social service agencies but given the current housing value situation this could be a great opportunity for long term needs within Geneva.

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