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River Town Chronicles: The best defense is sometimes no defense

Two recent Geneva-generated events I can’t let pass without comment.

The first highlights Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns’ best leadership qualities. At the Oct. 16 City Council meeting, he denounced the “cowards” anonymously posting anti-gay signage around town directed at the First Congregational Church’s “Got Love?” banner posted there and in homeowners’ yards.

The church has been harassed continually, including destruction of property, because of their pro-LGBT stance. Burns insisted, “Geneva respects all its citizens – whomever they love.”

When his constituents come under attack, Burns responds honorably, even courageously. However, if he or his council is questioned, he’ll sometimes take a different tack.

Recently the City Council proposed a 0.5 sales tax on the March 20 primary ballot to raise about $2 million; a Places for Eating Tax (or PET) would raise about $1.5 million a year and be implemented if the former tax failed to pass.

I watched the Oct. 23 video of the Committee of the Whole meeting, things heating up when residents offered commentary. First up was Tom Simonian, whom Burns introduced as “Alderman” Simonian because “you always refer to someone in the highest office once held.”

Oh, snap! Did Burns just rub Simonian’s face in the fact he lost the recent race for mayor to him?

With pleasantries over, Simonian questioned adding taxes without listing the needs for additional revenue. Second, he saw a $1.6 million reserve from last year’s budget. Third, since the former PET was scrapped, he asked rhetorically, “How many meetings have restaurant owners and the city had to discuss these two taxes?”

Burns replied he led the effort to repeal the last PET, adding, “A deafening silence followed,” inferring the onus was on restaurateurs to initiate a conversation.

Next up, Wildwood restaurant owner Patrick Neary. “Geneva needs proactive communication. ... One alderman reached out to me Saturday, too late to rally the troops. ... I believe it is the responsibility of organizations to reach out to its membership.”

Burns resorted to hyperbole; after citing numerous city expenses, he said, “If it’s expected we walk door to door,” Burns knocked on the dais, “and say, ‘Here’s the reality, please join us,’ that’s not going to happen.”

Neary cited the city taxes and bills he paid over the past decade, totaling more than $2.5 million, concluding, “I deserve a little better communication.”

As if rehearsed, Burn retorted: “I had coffee with you one night, and you said, ‘I don’t care about the 2 percent Places for Eating Tax, Kevin. I just want to know where the money is being invested.’”

Leaving the chamber, Neary called, “I can do without the lecture.”

“I just stated my opinion, sir,” Burns said. “It’s been a wonderful experience.”

Huh? Was that sarcasm? When I related the story to my wife, she said, “Trump-esque.”

“Same thing occurred to me,” I agreed, thinking the mayor would have shown some class by simply promising Simonian, Neary and other audience restaurateurs better future communication.

Sometimes it’s most courageous to say only, “Thank you,” the humblest, most giving of thanks imaginable.

Rick Holinger lives in Geneva, teaches English at Marmion Academy and facilitates a writing workshop. His fiction, essays and poetry have appeared in numerous literary journals. Contact him at

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