Freeport, Illinois — George Washington is respected and revered in American history for his service and wisdom in both military and civilian leadership. Many times in his career, Washington’s decisions went against his own self-interest and put the long-term benefits of his men and our country ahead of his own. There was no greater example of this then when, as President, Washington declined to seek a third term in office. Against the wishes of a country at a crossroads that yearned for his leadership, Washington knew that the difficult change to a new administration was necessary to demonstrate the peaceful transition of power. With this selfless act, Washington solidified the uniquely American heritage of governance in service to the people, above one’s own self-interest.
Today, Freeport is at a crossroads. After the voters spoke last November and called on the City Council to change its form of governance, we are now prepared to elect our first part-time mayor on April 4th. The Transition Committee, which included every member of the Freeport City Council, the mayor, and three community leaders—Gary Quinn, Chris Schneiderman, and Todd Weegens, led the efforts to redesign city administration according to the best practices of a city-manager system. They were purposeful and careful to limit the power of the new mayor, placing day-to-day responsibilities in the hands of a professional city manager. The duties of the mayor are explicit, limited by design and state statute, and reflect known best practices and the will of Freeport voters.
I am writing this letter today to acknowledge the uncertainty that some feel about what’s to come. I want to stress, however, that the changes coming are more about the behind-the-scenes administration, than about community interface or city services. Most residents will not notice operational differences, but will reap the rewards of a more efficient decision-making process and improved administration of our shared resources.
For our new system to work as intended, we must resist the well-intentioned but statutorily prohibited “full-time” mayor. The mayor’s role is diminished in procedure and responsibility by design. The residents of Freeport asked the City Council to chart a course that included a full-time professional city manager to streamline city processes and save money, while eliminating petty politics from daily decisions. The mayor will remain an important part of oversight and planning as well as the public face of Freeport, but their time and influence over city decisions will be limited.
One of the biggest concerns rightly expressed by members of the Transition Committee was the fear that a person wishing to rebuild mayoral power would pursue the reestablishment of a full-time mayor position within City Hall. This would create a direct conflict with the city manager, could interfere with the management of city operations and direction, and effect the loyalty of City Hall staff and employees—a role exclusively, and now legally, the responsibility of the city manager.
The Committee intentionally adopted the part-time mayor position after exhaustive research on how best to structure Freeport. The Committee, incorporating the expressed will of the voters, purposely created a mayor’s position that greatly reduced the responsibilities of the mayor’s office and therefore expressly limited the number of hours an elected mayor will be called upon to work. Our intention was to get this right for Freeport, and we feel we did.
As chairman of the Transition Committee, I believe that returning the new politically elected mayor’s position to full-time status, while continuing to place the actual and legal responsibilities of managing the city on a city manager, will harm our city manager position and be a prescription for failure.
Our concerns of an uncertain future should not override the will of the voters by returning to the familiar path of our past. We must adhere to the wisdom of Washington in this case; and have faith in our system that, with the support of honorable men and woman, we will take the first step of transition into a very bright future.
Andrew Chesney currently serves as Alderman at Large for the city of Freeport, Illinois