Adjusting resident expectations among top issues for Bob Kiely
Lake Forest City Manager Bob Kiely. | Special to Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 16, 2012 8:53AM
LAKE FOREST — With April municipal elections approaching, we sat down with village managers to ask about issues facing their community. Bob Kiely has been Lake Forest’s city manager since 1990.
Q. What are the top three issues Lake Forest faces?
A. The first is the fiscal crisis and partisanship at the state and federal levels. I’m not sure if the election is going to change anything. I think what we’ve experienced over the last four-plus years is going to continue. Number two is aligning resident expectations with available resources. Lake Forest is no different than most communities and is cutting back. Most people intellectually understand we’re cutting back, but they don’t understand it’s going to affect their service. They still want a high level of service with fewer dollars and fewer people. Third is promoting trust and civility in public discourse. Lake Forest probably has this to a less extent than some other communities and certainly less than at the state and federal levels. I think there is a real lack of civility in public discourse. We can argue about ideas, but many times it gets emotional. In the recent election, 70 percent of the ads were negative. I don’t think that’s a good way for us to operate.
Q. Given the economy, how would you describe Lake Forest’s fiscal situation?
A. Lake Forest faces the same challenges every municipality in Illinois and across this country faces. But given the economy, the city is in a very good financial position. Because of the financial forecasting we’ve done and some other long-term decisions we’ve made, we’ve positioned ourselves well to weather this storm. The question is how long the storm will continue.
Q. How is the state’s pension crisis affecting Lake Forest?
A. It’s not affecting us directly. Illinois has 13 state-run pension funds. We have our own. Although we don’t have any control over benefit levels or investment decisions, we’re in a pretty good position and have been making our necessary and required contributions, unlike the state. I think the challenge is going to be more at the school level, if they indeed do push off some of these pension requirements to the local school districts. Then, I think, you’re going to see a lot more pressure on the property taxes at the local level for the school districts.
Q. What is Lake Forest doing to promote economic development?
A. We brought Economic Development Coordinator Susan Kelsey on board back in 2008. She reports that Lake Forest has only a 4 percent vacancy rate, which is pretty good in comparison to many other cities in Illinois and in this area. In the last 20 months, we’ve brought in 25 new businesses and we’ve got another half a dozen that hopefully are going to open before the end of year. She’s been very aggressive in going after new businesses and working with property owners. She also developed The Lake Forest Business & Technology Incubator at the Grove Cultural Campus to get some small businesses started right here in Lake Forest and is promoting the Live.Work.Play. app to make sure people know what our stores sell, what services they offer and to shop local. There also are a number of activities scheduled in Market Square to bring people to downtown Lake Forest.
Q. Do you think Lake Forest is doing a good job conducting its business transparently?
A. I think we are. The Illinois Policy Institute recently did a transparency report card and Lake Forest was in the top quartile against other municipalities in the state of Illinois. We try to put everything on the city website and really encourage everyone to go there. We try to be as transparent as possible, because that gets back to promoting trust and credibility so people don’t think that you’re hiding anything.