Op-ed: Bolingbrook United’s Response to the 2020 State of the Village (Non-fiction)

by Joe Giamanco, Jaime Olson and Village Trustee Robert Jaskiewicz

On Thursday, January 16, 2020, for the final time in his lengthy political career, Bolingbrook Mayor Roger Claar was the keynote speaker at the Bolingbrook Chamber of Commerce’s annual “State of the Village.” The annual event, which is part report and part political show for his supporters, drew a crowd limited to predominately business community members, politicians, and campaign donors. The event, which is $70 per person to attend and is scheduled in the middle of a workday, continues to be out of the reach for the average Bolingbrook resident.

Old Problems, Still No Solutions:

While the address centered on village growth over his 34 plus years in office, it lacked substantial focus on many of the problems our community continues to face.

At nearly 100% buildout of vacant land and with a retail tax base that is dropping year after year thanks to the growth of companies like Amazon, the Village has a mounting problem on its hands; its inability to create new taxable revenue. This has caused the village to resort to direct tax increases to its residents and hidden ones such as the “garbage tax.” Unfortunately, no effort was made to address this issue or even be honest about it.

Besides the Village’s inability to create new forms of taxable income, we are also concerned at the Village’s continued failure to properly address its debt. During the event, Mr. Claar asserted that the hundreds of millions of dollars of Village debt is being managed and that no additional debt will be needed. This is a misrepresentation of fact. For years the village has been in litigation with Illinois American Water as it attempts to take ownership of the water system. The process has cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, in costs and attorney’s fees. When it is completed the village will be paying for it with tens of millions if not over hundreds of millions in additional debt. Adding to the problem, it’s all a gamble, there is no guarantee that our water bills will actually go down.

With such financial pressures, one might think that Mr. Claar would want to reconsider his position on banning cannabis-based businesses from the Village. Instead, Mayor Claar doubled down and touted his focus on impressing his moral compass on the Village by excluding such businesses as well as other such as tattoo and massage businesses.

Out of Office but Still in Control:

As he has stated before, Mayor Claar confirmed that he will not be running for reelection. He added this time that this would be his last state of the village address. The timing of that comment makes it official; Mayor Claar will be stepping down from office before the next municipal election in April of 2021.

We believe Mr. Claar plans to step down in just over three months, following the passage of the annual budget around May 1, 2020. When he does so, pursuant to village code, the Village Board will be charged with the responsibility to appoint a new mayor to complete the term which will expire following the April 2021 election. With 5 of 6 votes controlled by Mr. Claar and his party, it is expected that Deputy Mayor Michael Lawler will be appointed to complete the term and he will subsequently run for election for the following term.

Mr. Claar made a point during his lengthy address to advise that while he would not be running again, he plans to stay “heavily involved” in the next election and that he will use his excessive financial war chest and his own political action committee to presumably finance Mr. Lawler’s campaign. The logical conclusion: while Mayor Claar will be stepping down, it appears that he will continue to control the board through his continued monetary contributions.

The Future of Bolingbrook:

We wish Mr. Claar well as he wraps up his political career within our Village; however, we hope that as he steps out of the spotlight he will not act like the wizard from the “Wizard of Oz”, continuing to control things from behind a curtain.

The diversity of our community continues to be one of our greatest assets. We have an outstanding community thanks in part to our businesses but most importantly the residents who make it function from one day to the next. We disagree with Mr. Claar’s assessment of the value of volunteerism within the community. Bolingbrook United believes that residents who step up to lead and teach the youth of Bolingbrook through programs such as youth sports and scouts, provide substantial benefit to our community. We are disappointed and quite frankly disgusted with the mayor’s inability to recognize the value that these volunteers provide.

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