GENEVA – Incumbent Mayor Kevin Burns is seeking his fourth term in the April 9 consolidated election, running on a record of balanced budgets, expanded economic development and highlighting Geneva as a top community in the Fox Valley.
His challenger, Bob McQuillan, said he is running because Burns’ dozen years at the city’s helm is enough. McQuillan has called for more accessibility of the mayor and for the city to be more active in bringing business to the city’s historical downtown.
Burns, a professional fundraiser for nonprofit organizations, said his 12 years as mayor – preceded by four years as alderman – makes him “uniquely qualified” to continue serving in the city’s top spot.
“Is 12 years enough?” Burns asked. “I would agree 100 percent if no positive changes occurred during my tenure as mayor. But what I find surprising is either my opponent is unaware of significant positive changes … or he is unwilling to recognize the positive changes because he does not want to concede a key point on his own platform.”
McQuillan counters that he has life experiences that make him equally qualified to serve as mayor. These include working in sales, management and promotions as a Realtor and now being self-employed as a sales and marketing manager. McQuillan also is a co-founder of Geneva TaxFACTS – For Accountable Controlled Tax Spending – which educates homeowners about their property taxes. McQuillan also is known for his commentary about spending and policies at school board meetings.
Burns, 48, has lived in Geneva 40 years. He is divorced with three grown daughters.
McQuillan, 56, is a native of Levittown, Pa., and has lived in Geneva since 2006. He is married with two grown sons and a grown daughter.
Both men have run for other offices.
Burns sought the Republican nomination for the 14th Congressional District in 2007, but withdrew from the race when former Speaker Dennis Hastert endorsed Jim Oberweis. Last year, Burns sought the GOP nomination for County Board chairman, losing to former state Sen. Chris Lauzen.
McQuillan ran for the Geneva School District 304 board in 2005 and against state Rep. Kay Hatcher in 2010 in the Republican primary in the 50th District, but he did not win either race.
That is where the candidates’ similarities seem to end.
“It’s time for a nonpolitician to be mayor, the guy who is going to give you a straight answer as opposed to half of an answer,” McQuillan said. “Most of the things I’ve read that he has said don’t tell the full story. ... He takes credit for a lot of things and refuses to admit his mistakes.”
“I have a record to run on; he doesn’t,” Burns said. “Change for change’s sake is not a strategy, nor does it motivate anyone to give up or to risk moving forward. I have a 12-year record. The vast majority has been positive for the entire community. I’ve made my share of mistakes and learned from them.”
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To be specific about his criticisms of Burns, McQuillan looks to the incumbent stating the city’s tax rate has decreased.
“The mayor has nothing to do with the tax rate,” McQuillan said. “It’s all based on [equalized assessed valuation] of the area involved and the budget. And while the tax rate decreases, I don’t pay my taxes in rates, I pay them in dollars. ... There is a decrease in the tax rate, but an increase in your actual property tax bill.”
Although McQuillan urged the school board to support freezing the levy – it didn’t – he said he is not committed to support that in Geneva unless an analysis is done. Even freezing the levy, McQuillan said, can result in higher property taxes.
Less than 30 percent of the city’s budget revenue is from property taxes.
Burns said it would be irresponsible not to seek a modest levy increase for the city because it has a fiduciary responsibility to capture the value of new development.
“ ‘Zero levy’ – that might sound good politically in the short term, but it puts the city and taxpayers behind the eight ball,” Burns said. “If we get a federal grant and cannot match it ... we are behind the eight ball. When you freeze the levy, you’re sending out a feel-good statement, but it has an immediate and long-term effect on the future of the city.”
McQuillan also criticized Burns in light of $24,000 in thefts by a city employee, former Geneva Streets and Fleet Superintendent Stephen LeMaire, who used a city credit card to make online purchases. LeMaire pleaded guilty and has to make restitution.
“Do you think he was fiscally responsible when an employee stole money from the city?” McQuillan said. “They did not have proper checks and balances ... that is not being fiscally responsible. He has executive experience; the executive has to be at blame for that. You cannot say you have [executive experience] and then say, ‘It’s not my fault.’ “
Burns said when any employee is creative enough to steal, they’re going to steal.
“I understand his role as the challenger is to create problems where none exist,” Burns said of McQuillan. “But somehow to speak to his abilities – he is no fiscal Illuminati.”
McQuillan also took Burns to task for claiming credit for the work that has begun at Kautz Road and Route 38 and the Union Pacific Railroad to build an overpass to separate the grade over the railroad tracks. The project’s federal share is $30.7 million; the state’s share is $7.6 million, and DuPage County’s share is $25,000. Geneva’s share is $237,000, according to the intergovernmental agreement.
“What role did the city actually play in getting that overpass?” McQuillan asked. “Is it a couple of phone calls, a couple calls to the county and to the state? It’s not like the reason the overpass is done is because of the city of Geneva.”
Burns said the Kautz Road project was the result of eight years of working with chairmen of the boards of Kane and DuPage counties, the DuPage Airport Authority and private business owners along the affected corridor, the state and federal agencies.
“It is a collaborative effort among multiple government agencies and private landowners, which will spur economic development and reduce roadway inefficiencies,” Burns said. “My fear is if [McQuillan] is in the mayor’s office, he does not understand or get it.”
To which McQuillan said, “I have to believe any mayor in Geneva could have built those relationships over an eight-year period.”