Bill Nieman: 2021 candidate for Wheaton City Council, South District
Civic involvement: Wheaton Bicycle Advisory Commission; DuPage County Election Judge; Northwestern University Alumni Mentor; Northwestern University Alumni Admission Council
Q: How do you view your role in confronting the pandemic: provide leadership even if unpopular, give a voice to constituents -- even ones with whom you disagree, or defer to state and federal authorities?
A: Provide leadership, even if unpopular, consistent with the policy of local, state
Q: Did your town continue to adequately serve its constituents during the disruptions caused by the pandemic? If so, please cite an example of how it successfully adjusted to providing services. If not, please cite a specific example of what could have been done better.
A: Wheaton did a very good job of serving its constituent during the pandemic disruptions. Examples include A.) timely community update bulletins from city leadership regarding state COVID-19 restrictions and Tier mitigations, B.) timely community updates about COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites, C.) timely posts in social media (ex. Facebook) regarding Illinois Dept Public Health and DuPage County Dept Public Health notices, D.) timely posts in social media (ex. Facebook) regarding the need to follow state and federal coronavirus safety habits (ex. Mask-Up Wheaton), and E.) using Federal/County funds and working with Downtown Wheaton Assoc & Chamber of Commerce to support businesses, for example, to establish outside dining under tents on Hale St.
Q: In light of our experiences with COVID-19, what safeguards/guidelines should you put in place to address any future public health crises?
A: The Wheaton response to the current coronavirus was very appropriate. I would address a future public health crisis in essentially the same way, with modifications dictated by the nature of the specific crisis and by directions from the county and federal health authorities. Given that some businesses and residents had difficulty following the established guidelines, it might be appropriate to increase the amount of communication about public health safety measures during a future crisis.
Q: What cuts can local government make to reduce the burden of the pandemic on taxpayers?
A: Two responses Wheaton government has made are to eliminate parking fees at meters in the vicinity of downtown and to temporarily remove liquor license fees. If necessary, it could reduce or eliminate its General Merchandise and/or Food Consumption sales tax rates, I believe. Each of these reduces the near-term burden on residents and encourage residents to support local businesses and their owners.
Q: What do you see as the most important infrastructure project you must address? Why and how should it be paid for? Conversely, during these uncertain economic times, what infrastructure project can be put on the back burner?
A: Sanitary Service/Storm Sewer/Flooding projects are the most important infrastructure project for Wheaton to address. It should be paid for out of the General Fund because this is the normal mechanism, year over year.
While the current budget is in balance despite the challenges of the pandemic, if projects need to be delayed, I suspect the likely candidates the city manager would suggest would be to perform Sanitary Service/Storm Sewer/Flooding projects over a longer schedule in order to reduce annual costs. There are likely to be some Streetscape costs that can be deferred out, depending on contract requirements.
Q: Do you plan to address businesses that don't adhere to the governor's order to close or restrict business?
A: I would encourage all businesses to adhere to the governor's order to close or restrict business in order to manage coronavirus spread. I support the city's Mask Up Wheaton efforts, having modified my Facebook photo with the city's mask logo. Connecting with Wheaton residents to educate them about the health risks to the general community, and especially, to special activities like keeping kids in school and nursing homes safe is the most important thing the city can do. The governor's order is subject to county health guidelines and sheriff enforcement. Wheaton has worked directly with businesses that were not adhering to guidelines to educate them and it has provided signage throughout the city.
Q: Do you agree or disagree with the stance your board/council has taken on permitting recreational marijuana sales in the community? What would you change about that stance, if you could?
A: I believe the council has accurately judged the sentiment of the Wheaton community about local recreational marijuana sales. I wouldn't change this stance. The Council should keep an open mind about the possibility of changing its stance if community sentiment changes significantly going forward. This might be the case if neighboring communities that have permitted marijuana sales provide evidence that community acceptance grows with time, if predicted negative social effects fail to materialize and if the revenue case is attractive.
Q: What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?
A: A.) As candidate for the Wheaton-South District, I am concerned about the separation of south Wheaton from its north side, due to the physical barriers of Roosevelt road and the railroad tracks, as well as the physical barrier of Naperville Road. I would like to find ways to better unify the north and south areas and the southeast and southwest areas. A couple ideas for this are: Identify events that would normally be held in Memorial park or downtown and move one or two of them to a "pop-up" location in a south Wheaton park or the south Wheaton commercial area
B.) Take a bigger view of how walking and biking improvements can enhance living in Wheaton. Work with the state/county to establish five or more crossing points on Roosevelt road, and on Naperville Road, where traffic lights and crossing infrastructure would be much more walker/biker friendly, and especially, make them safe, safe, safe for kids. This would call for upgrading the walkways from neighborhoods to the city to make them attractive for walkers, strollers, skateboards and wheelchairs. There is no reason some routes should not be as friendly -- even more friendly -- to pedestrians and bikes as to automobiles.