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One Year Later: How Has the Mayor Done?

From the power outages to the theater closure, Ed Brill examines Nancy Rotering's first year as mayor of Highland Park.

Just over a year ago, 52 percent of Highland Park voters

As I wrote about extensively at the time, the mayor's race was starkly political and rhetorical. With her term one-quarter complete, I felt like it was time to measure Rotering's progress, including a check on those vocal campaign promises.

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Overall, I believe Rotering is doing a good job as Mayor. She has clearly embraced the leadership aspect of the office. I see the mayor frequently at events and activities around town, everything from the HP Fashion Week to . She is chief cheerleader for Highland Park--on her Facebook page, Twitter and in the city newsletters. She seems attentive to issues, has worked on making the city activities more open and transparent, and is starting to partner with other government officials on Highland Park issues.

Rotering has championed a few obvious causes during her first year in office. Until events of the last week, the most notable has been the city's response to last spring's frequent power outage issues. At first, it seemed like Mayor Rotering was merely politicizing the obvious, letting residents who have suffered for years vent steam with no impact. However, the back page of last month's Highlander Newsletter lists ComEd projects planned in Highland Park this year. It seems that the pressure has worked, at least to get some actions underway. It of course remains to be seen if they are the right ones, but at least it is more than talk. The city also passed a referendum to lower electric bill rates, though the power itself will still be delivered by ComEd.

Another issue that Rotering campaigned on is streamlining city operations. Thus far, I haven't seen much in the way of a difference in how Highland Park runs. During a mayoral candidate , Rotering opined that requiring dog owners to sign an affidavit regarding responsible pet ownership was unnecessary. Yet that law is still on the books a year later, with no discussion of changing it. Clearly, there are opportunities that remain to deliver on this campaign promise.

One surprise for me was Rotering's endorsement in the 2012 budget of using city reserves to cover standard city projects. During the campaign season, she steadfastly objected to this approach, with frequent emails titled "It's Your Money!". More recently, a headline in the Highland Park News, highlighted by Rotering in her email newsletter, trumpeted how the "Mild winter saves $300,000 for city’s taxpayers." With all this focus on city finance, I would have expected a 2012 budget that lowered my taxes. Instead, Highland Park reached deeper into our wallets by raising water and sewer rates, with substantial sewer increases planned for years ahead; and for many of us, the Lake County equalization of Moraine Township real estate taxes has resulted in paying more actual dollars to Highland Park in 2012 than 2011.

Further, the budget allocations are different. In 2011, the City budget covered road repairs for 11.4 "lane miles" of streets, but in 2012 only 4 lane miles of street work is planned. All of this is down from a statement in the proposed 2011 budget that planned for 28 lane miles of repairs annually, out of the 400 lane miles in Highland Park. In other words, the 2012 budget streamlined road repairs by cutting them to only 1 percent of the overall city street surfaces. 

At the time I started writing this column, my second surprise was regarding the Highland Park Theatre. The in September, 2011, looking for buyers or other approaches to the theater's future. Until last week, nothing further had been said about the future of the theater in public. This didn't speak well to the supposed-transparency goal of the Mayor and Council, letting over seven months go by with no update or progress, or to the politics of the campaign trail that called the theater a liability on the city balance sheet.

In the crisis that has developed over fire safety at the theater and Port Clinton parking garage, Mayor Rotering has won a lot of respect, even from harsh critics . I, too, find myself impressed with her leadership and decisiveness , and more importantly, that she and the council have not spent much time looking to point fingers or politicize how the situation developed. I am disappointed that Deputy City Manager Patrick Brennan has departed in the wake of these safety issues, especially with the recent exits of City Manager Dave Limardi, the City Finance Director and the City Public Works Director. Highland Park has lost a lot of talent and historical knowledge. 

We will lose more in the next year, too. Councilman Steve Mandel is likely to vacate his position in favor of the Lake County Board, and Councilman Jim Kirsch's term also expires at the next election. A potential scenario has all seven City Council members with two years or less experience in office after the 2013 election.

A year into Rotering's term, the City of Highland Park seems to be running solidly, managing challenges and developing new opportunities. Downtown retail is filling up, home prices are starting to stabilize. Still, not that much has fundamentally changed about Highland Park in the last twelve months. 

While and still at times am not, comfortable with Rotering the politician, Rotering the mayor has earned my respect. Perhaps through the recent fire safety crisis Rotering will recognize that her leadership will buy political currency in Highland Park more than her sound bites. If so, I look forward to writing the mid-term status report a year from now.

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irving drobny May 16, 2012 at 10:22 AM
the mayor is coming to the h.p. senior ctr. current events class on may 25 at 10 am. all those who are sr. ctr.. members are invited. her brief talk will be followed by a question-answer period. all those interested should contact laura at the ctr. so arrangements can be made to accommodate those choosing to be there.
mike belsky May 17, 2012 at 02:46 AM
Ed Nice article but I respectfully disagree Rotering the politician and Rotering the Mayor are two in the same. Staff should be credited with most of what has been done even the energy aggregation project as it was an initiative they told us was coming with a change in the law. What I get from the Council is that it remains fractured with no leadership, save for Jim- but as you sadi he is leaving. Rotering may appear to be doing well but I assure you it is driven by politics. Believe I was there first hand when she at the first pre session asked that we re open the ethics ordinance, which had just been approved. I agreed as any Council Member is entitled to have a say and can revisit any ordinance. Guess what the next morning I get a call from Ken Patchen asking me who this Nancy Rotering is saying she is cleaning up City Hall. Ironically her request to open the ethics ordinance related to fomer Councilman Brenner appearing before the Council with a construction matter just after he left office- then she sought and had his support in the Mayoral race- still curious as to how that happened. The way she tried to draw the City into the Park Districts downright pension debacle was reprehensible and down right inaccurate and dishonest. Anyway again nice article but I simply disagree. Mike
Jack Straw May 17, 2012 at 04:01 AM
Mike grow up.
Deerfield Resident May 17, 2012 at 10:16 AM
I heard that Patrick Brennan was asked to resign. Any truth to that?
Jack Straw May 17, 2012 at 02:06 PM
Patrick Brennan gone gone gone!
Jack Straw May 17, 2012 at 02:26 PM
Mike has a strange abnormal hatred for Nancy from even before she ran for counsel he did everything possible to harm her, in the mayoral race he spread lies and innuendo that were harmful to her and her families reputation. Mike even went as far as calling her a bitch in public, Mike you are sick seek help!
Jack October 13, 2012 at 07:29 PM
Mayor Rotering is squandering the resources of Highland Park in frivolous litigation on some minor issues of fencing and issues relating to minority housing in the City. Highland & Knight law firm is handsomely benefiting from the lawsuits, costing City hundreds of thousand of dollars so far. Lawsuits could have been settled for pennies on the dollar. Shows lack of leadership.

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