This ran in the 8/3/05 EDN

Newton Mayor calls EDN reporting “negative

Vows to be less forthcoming after story reveals he did not explain rate

By Alta Mayhugh

Newton -  Although Newton Mayor Mark Bolander admitted last month the
ordinance raising sewer rates in the city was not explained before passage
in order to avoid a possible outcry from the public, Tuesday he accused the
Effingham Daily News of sensationalizing the action in its July 21 report and
threatened to not be as cooperative in the future.
Bolander read a prepared statement regarding the EDN’s “negative”
reporting during Tuesday’s council meeting.
In that meeting, he said “I won’t be as willing to discuss city matters with an
area newspaper, having been quoted out of context twice now.”
During the July 19 meeting, the Newton City Council passed an amendment
to the sewer ordinance increasing minimum rates of users inside the city
limits from $ 15.74 to $17.07 and from $23.61 to $25.61 for users outside
the city limits. The new rates went into effect Aug 1.
In the past the city has either listed a brief explanation of an ordinance
designated by a specific number on the agenda or explained the purpose of
the ordinance during the meeting. However, on July 19, the council passed
the amendment to the ordinance, referred to only by its legal identification
number, without comment or explanation beyond the legal identification.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Bolander said the issue of raising the rates had
been discussed in committee meetings, which are open to the public.
Discussing the issue in committee allows the aldermen to keep the council
meetings at a reasonable length.
However, the city has a past precedent of giving a brief explanation of an
ordinance prior to passage during the council meeting.
City Attorney Max Tedford did indicate five items on the agenda, including
the one that raised the rates, were all related to the construction of a
wastewater treatment plant and must be passed in order to close a Rural
Development loan for building the sewer plant. But no explanation beyond
that was given at the meeting.
Bolander did explain the ordinance in detail during a phone interview the
following day, indicating at that time that the reason the rate increase
ordinance was not worded differently on the agenda was because the
council did not want to upset residents. During that conversation, Bolander
said the rates had to be raised in order to secure the loan.
“I believe five years worth of discussion is enough, and I do not appreciate
attempts to sensationalize this project by casting a  shadow or negative
spin on it.”
Raising sewer rates, however has not been discussed by the full council
within the last nine months.
Howard Riley, a Newton resident, told the council Tuesday the ordinance
along with another numbered ordinance that had been voted on July 5, was
not valid, according to the 1990 Illinois Municipal Handbook.
According to the handbook, “a municipality may not take final action without
first publicly disclosing the subject matter being considered.”
“Thus, voting on an ordinance that had been described only by its number is
insufficient,” Riley quoted from the handbook.
Council members said they’d check on the issue.
In his statement, Bolander said the headlines in the July 21 Daily News
should have read “ Newton sewer plant construction to begin soon - $3.4
million project will only raise minimum $1.33!”
“There is not on elected official at city hall who has an ax to grind. We are
all working together for the common good of the community,” Bolander said.
“If you want to sensationalize a story, do it in a positive manner,” he said in
the statement.
This ran in the July 21, 2005 Effingham daily News

Sewer rate hike may surprise residents

By Alta Mayhugh
Effingham daily news

Newton- Residential and commercial sewer rates inside and outside the city
limits of Newton will soon increase.

The hike in minimum rates for those inside city limits will be $1.33 a month; it
will go from $15.74 to $17.07. The increase in minimum rates for those
outside city limits will be $2, raising the rate from $23.61 to $25.61.

The new rates go into effect Aug 1, city clerk Jean Ghast said.
The Newton City Council Tuesday approved an ordinance that raised the
rates. According to Ghast, the rates are needed to repay a loan to the
USDA Rual Development that is funding construction of the new wastewater
treatment plant.

The city’s original loan was for $2 million, but that amount had to be raised
to  4.2 million because the cost of the new sewer plant exceeded the
estimate, Ghast said.
The higher sewer rates will ensure Rural Development its loan will be paid
back, Mayor Mark Bolander said; adding there was nothing the city could do
about the situation.

The increase in rates may come as a surprise to Newton residents and
business owners because the wording on the agenda regarding the sewer
rates was vague and the matter wasn’t discussed at Tuesday’s council
meeting before it was voted on.

The language on the agenda was as follows: “consider and act on ordinance
No.05-22 to amend sections 38-1-4(a) and 38-1-4(b) of chapter 38 of the
city code”.
Bolander said the agenda was worded as such because he didn’t want to
cause an uproar in the city.

If the agenda had mentioned the council may be voting on an increase in
sewer rates, people may have been up in arms about the issue when it’s
actually a minimal increase, he said.
Alta Mayhugh was the Effingham Daily news reporter who covered Newton back
in 2005. She earned the wrath of  Mayor Bolander by daring to ask him what
ordinance 05-22 actualy was, the council passed it with no explanation to hide a
very large sewer rate increase. She called him on it and published a story about
how he tried to hide the truth.

This caused Mayor Bolander to complain bitterly about the "negative story" and
told her that he would be less forthcoming in the future, Alta responded  with
another story exposing Mayor Bolanders bully side.

This was the last time that any actual reporting of the city council was done.

Sadly Alta has long ago moved on to bigger and better things.
This ran in the July 25, 2005 Effingham Daily News no author given


      Government officials must earn public’s trust

Trust is not something that is given freely but earned. That is a lesson
government officials need to learn in Newton.
Last week, the Newton City Council slipped sewer rate hikes through
without a discussion and disguised them on the agenda with an ordinance
number. Thus, before anyone knew what was happening, the rate increases
were enacted.

The mayor admitted the reason there was not prior discussion and the
ordinance was not clearly defined on the agenda was because he wanted to
avoid an outcry from the public. Instead, he created more controversy by
trying to slip something through behind his constituents’ backs.
It’s not easy being a government official. Sometimes you have to do things
that may not be popular, but voters elect officials believing those office
holders will act in the public’s best interest and will do so in the open.
Unfortunately, the city council decided it would be better to try to hide its
action, even though the rate hikes eventually would come out when
residents received bills with the new rates – too late to do anything about it
at that point, of course.

Aldermen did not think ahead to the possible fallout of passing sewer rate
increases without so much as a mention of it, nevertheless a discussion
about it. The public is much more apt to understand the need for a rate hike
if it is explained to them prior to the enactment of such an increase. The
council had some valid reasons for needing to up the rates, but sneaking an
increase through makes the public suspicious of its government officials –
and rightly so. What else will the council try to sneak through?
The behind – the – back action is likely to cause much more public
discontent that raising the rates with an explanation that considers the public
a partner in government. Trust is earned, and the council can gain the public’
s confidence by putting all the cards on the table whether they are favorable
or not.

Trust also is a two-way street. If the council wants the public to believe it is
acting in the best interest of the community, then it has to have enough
confidence in the public to understand that sometimes unpleasant action has
to be taken in order to keep the city on the right tract.
Although controversy makes everyone uncomfortable, it is a byproduct of
self – government and democracy, and it tests all aspects of an issue.
Public discussion – even about unpleasant subjects – always accomplishes
more than alienation of those you represent.
The Newton City Council should apologize to the city’s residents and vow to
do its business openly and with public partnership from this point on – even
when the issue may cause public discontent.