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COVID-19 fails to curtail controversy at City Hall

Interim City Manager Steve Jones (right) and former City Attorney Marty Shanahan attend a City Council meeting Dec. 11 in Joliet.
Interim City Manager Steve Jones (right) and former City Attorney Marty Shanahan attend a City Council meeting Dec. 11 in Joliet.

City Hall may still be closed to the public, but there has not been much of a break in the action when it comes to city business and politics during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The NorthPoint public hearing went on, and one of the big projects in Joliet growth and development, the Compass Business Park (like it or not), got approved.

Now, we have the developments of the past week.

City Attorney Martin Shanahan, who was has been one City Council vote away from becoming the city manager for about a year now, got fired.

Even before Shanahan’s dismissal Tuesday night, the political spirits in City Hall were getting restless.

Council member Larry Hug, always one to keep things lively, has been scolding (council member Michael Turk’s word) his colleagues for weeks for approving vehicle purchases while the city sees tax revenue begin to plummet because of the pandemic.

“I’m concerned that we’ll have guaranteed money on those trucks, but are we going to have guaranteed money on the butts that go into those truck seats?” Hug asked at the council meeting Tuesday, as 14 trucks and a car carrier costing about $1.8 million total were approved.

The vehicle purchases were the latest in a replacement program that has been in the works since last summer and which interim City Manager Steve Jones said would be covered by a bond issue and the gas tax increase that went into effect in February.

What’s next?

Now Jones, who fired Shanahan, is meeting with city unions seeking pay concessions of 3.85% that would be spread among all city employees if enacted.

Jones told the council that he will meet with union leaders Friday to find out if they agree.

If not?

Jones mentioned June 5.

“That’s when we would implement,” he said.

Implement what? Mayor Bob O’Dekirk asked.

Jones kept up the euphemisms, but the implication was layoffs or furloughs.

City administration is seeking $3.9 million in reduced labor costs on top of $9.1 million in other budget cuts to prepare for at least $13 million in projected revenue reduction.

After that?

Jones, now a retired Joliet employee working on contract for the city, told council members in March that he would be willing to stick around another year while the council sorts out its city manager problem.

But the city manager problem resurfaced at the Tuesday council meeting when Hug and council member Jan Quillman questioned whether the city would go a full year with Jones in the job.

The council’s city manager search committee will start meeting again.

The city manager controversy, which faded because of shelter in place the past couple of months, is opening up again.

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