Four vying for three Joliet City Council seats
By Bob Okon firstname.lastname@example.org April 2, 2013 9:52PM
Joliet city council candidate Jim McFarland (left) speaks during a candidate forum Monday, April 1, 2013. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 4, 2013 6:38AM
Joliet votes Tuesday in a citywide council election.
The three spots up for election are at-large council seats, meaning those office holders represent the entire city. The Joliet council also has five district council members, who represent specific sections of the city.
All three incumbents are running for re-election: Don Fisher, Jan Quillman and Michael Turk.
The lone challenger is Jim McFarland, who is the Troy Township clerk and is a former part-time Joliet city employee.
Two other challengers were knocked off the ballot when an obscure Joliet resident successfully mounted a legal challenge to the validity of their nominating petitions.
Here’s a look at the candidates:
Elected office: Appointed to Joliet City Council in 2011; former board member at Joliet Township High School.
Employment: Senior development officer at University of St. Francis.
Community involvement: Board of directors of Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry and Joliet City Center Partnership; member of Joliet Exchange Club.
Fisher is running for his council seat for the first time after being appointed two years ago to fill the vacancy created when Thomas Giarrante, a former council member, was elected mayor.
He was Joliet’s director of planning and economic development until he took early retirement in 2009 at a time when the city was offering buyout packages in an effort to cut costs.
Keeping costs in line remains a top priority at city hall, Fisher said. But he notes that city finances have turned around from a projected $17 million deficit in the 2011 election year. The city ended 2012 with a $2 million annual surplus.
His goals for the next four years are focused on economic development.
Fisher believes the city can develop an industrial development zone in the massive CenterPoint Intermodal Park with incentives that can compete with other Midwestern states that otherwise enjoy tax advantages over Illinois.
“The site around the intermodal would be highly attractive to light manufacturers,” he said. “There’s no reason we can’t ship products all over the world from Joliet.”
He wants to see new tax increment financing districts established in other parts of the city, especially along Jefferson Street and in the area around Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center.
Tax incentives for the hospital district “is a priority,” Fisher said, “because it has the potential of creating high tech and medical industry jobs in our community.”
Elected office: Troy Township clerk; former Troy Township trustee; former Joliet Junior College board chairman and trustee.
Employment: Community partnerships manager at Will County Forest Preserve District.
Community involvement: Vice president at Forest Park Community Center; board member at Spanish Community Center; founding member of the Cantigny Post 367 Men’s Auxiliary and member of Sons of the American Legion Post 1080.
McFarland worked part time for the city as an aide to the late Mayor Arthur Schultz, but his spot was cut when Mayor Thomas Giarrante took office in 2011. His campaign slogan is “Rebuild Joliet,” and McFarland contends city government focuses too much on downtown Joliet and not enough on the rest of the city.
“The current administration has focused millions and millions of dollars on five square blocks of the city. We have to look at the entire city,” McFarland said. “We need to continue developing downtown, but we need to look at other areas of the city.”
The biggest issue facing Joliet, McFarland said, is the need for good jobs.
“A lot of people my age who graduate from college are not coming back home to work. They’re moving away,” he said. “We have to stop that.”
Joliet needs to do a better job of working with new business prospects, offering incentives to attract manufacturers, and looking for companies to bring into the city.
“I think we need to be more proactive,” he said. “When I’ve been knocking on doors and talking to people, people are tired of seeing temporary, low-paying jobs.”
McFarland also wants Joliet to adopt programs that have been successful in neighboring communities, such as incentives for homeowners to make repairs and additions to their houses.
Elected office: Joliet city council, two terms.
Employment: Registered nurse at Silver Cross Hospital.
Community involvement: Flight nurse with Honor Flight Chicago; member of Slovenian Women’s Union, National Hook-Up for Black Women and Senior Citizens Association.
Quillman served on the city’s zoning board of appeals for eight years before being elected to the city council. She also is a former member of the Rialto Square Theatre board.
She’s been known to be outspoken at council meetings, staking out positions at times without support from other council members.
“I think I’ve been on top of things,” Quillman said. “I’m not afraid to ask the tough questions. I’m not afraid to challenge the status quo.”
She recently was the lone vote against a small car lot going onto Jefferson Street, saying the commercial corridor has too many small auto businesses already and is in need of an economic development plan.
“What we need to start looking at is getting some new economic development back,” Quillman said. “We need to get more retail — not only in downtown Joliet. One of my priorities is to redevelop the Jefferson Street corridor.”
Another priority is restaffing the police department, which lost about 60 officers in recent years as the city reduced its work force to cut the budget. Budget constraints continue, she said, and hiring more police will be difficult. But, Quillman said, “Our police department really needs to be beefed up.”
At the same time, Quillman said the city needs to begin planning for the potential loss of $5 million in gambling taxes if the state allows gaming expansion: “We have to be proactive in planning for if and when the gaming bill is passed.”
Elected office: Joliet City Council, 26 years; former Joliet Park District commissioner.
Employment: Bookkeeper for Southwestern Will County Cooperative for Special Education.
Community involvement: Treasurer for the Will County Governmental League; board member with the Will County Old Timers Baseball Association; usher at Cathedral of St. Raymond’s.
Turk is the senior member of the Joliet City Council and long-time chairman of the council’s finance committee. He previously had worked as an auditor for the Illinois State Board of Education before retiring from that position.
He credits city management and employees with making sacrifices to get city government through challenging budgets and notes the turnaround that led to a $2 million surplus in 2012.
“It’s still going to be a little challenging to keep our budget balanced and build reserves while maintaining services,” Turk said.
Turk believes that the city is in a good position to attract companies in the coming years as the economy improves because of infrastructure work done in the past, especially improvements in the water and sewer systems.
“As the economy improves, I think Joliet is poised to develop more than some other communities because we have all the infrastructure in, and we have the land available,” he said.
Turk believes the city has managed finances effectively. He emphasizes that the city of Joliet’s share of local property taxes was 32 percent when he first took office in 1987. Now, Joliet city taxes are about 16 percent of the entire property tax bill for a homeowner.
“I can’t take credit for that alone,” Turk said, “but I’m part of a team that did it.”