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State of the City Address
Monday, January 26, 2015
Mayor A. George Pradel

Mayor A. George Pradel presented his 20th annual and final State of the City address on Monday, January 26, 2015, at the Chicago Marriott Naperville Hotel, 1801 N. Naper Blvd.  


 Mayor George Pradel - small photoThank you, ladies and gentlemen. It is my absolute joy, privilege and honor to present my 20th and final State of the City address to you this afternoon. And what a 20 years it has been!

I want to thank the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce for giving me the opportunity to address all of you today, especially new Chamber CEO Nicki Anderson. Her approach to leading our business community is setting the stage for great things to come!

This is a bittersweet time for me. Twenty years ago this month I was still on the police force and campaigning for Mayor. 

It may be a surprise to you that I never had my heart set on being mayor. As a child, I probably couldn’t tell you who the mayor was. I just knew I wanted to help others, especially children. 

Life intervened, as it often does, and my desire to help others led me to become a police officer.

When I decided to retire from the police force, people started asking me to run for mayor. I decided to listen to them. I figured I could just say “I tried” when I lost the election. But then I won!

You’ve heard the saying that hindsight is 20/20. If I knew then what I know now about being the Mayor . . . it’s absolutely astounding and amazing. 

Our community has changed and grown by leaps and bounds. Our quality of life is what other communities strive toward. And together we have weathered the worst economic recession since the Great Depression.

We have become what we are today because we believe in working together. We believe that finding innovative solutions to problems is easier when we look beyond ourselves to our colleagues, community members, partners and friends.

On paper, the position of Mayor is part-time. During my time in office, I hope it has been clear that, no matter what any piece of paper says, I have held the position of Mayor in “my way.”

What’s that mean? I think back to one of my favorite songs by that old fedora-wearing crooner, Frank Sinatra, “My Way.” 

I knew when I became Mayor that it would be my life, my heart and my soul. It would not be my part-time job, but rather my “full-time joy.” When I do something, I put 1,000 percent into it! 

I also knew that “my way” would be about teamwork, partnerships, and facilitating growth, development and prosperity through working together.

My way is really OUR WAY. It’s Naperville’s way of moving forward, together. 

Through it all, my family has been at my side. I’d like to give Pat and all of my children - George, Carol, and Gary - a round of applause. Carol and Gary are here today, and I am so proud to be their father.

Being an elected official didn’t just change my life – it changed all of ours. We worked together to love the City just as much as we love each other. We did it our way – and I will always be grateful to have been blessed with the love and support of my wife and children.

Part of our way is the Naperville City Council collectively working together. 

I want to recognize the City Council for its partnership and dedication through the years. Please stand when you are recognized. 

I also want to give a special thanks to Grant Wehrli, our now former City Council member who was sworn in as the 41st District House Representative only a few weeks ago. I know Grant will do great things for our City in Springfield! 

Each Council member brings a unique perspective to our collective work of setting City policy. While our opinions can be as diverse as our backgrounds, the end goal is making decisions that benefit the health, welfare, safety and livelihoods of our taxpayers.

All of the Mayors that came before me paved the way for the accomplishments of the last 20 years. I have great respect for all of them, especially my good friend and former Mayor Chet Rybicki, who was instrumental in transforming our downtown through his support of the Riverwalk. I am grateful to have known him!

And, before I go further, this is a good time to honor former Mayor Peg Price, who played an important role in our City in the late twentieth century.

Former Mayor Price served from 1983 to 1991. A strong leader by nature, and our only female Mayor, she oversaw Naperville during the beginning of its tremendous growth. Let’s give her a round of applause.

So . . . let’s take a little trip down memory lane and see what life was like for a newly minted Mayor in 1995.

As you can see, the past 20 years have been nothing short of amazing. We’ve worked together to weather the inevitable tough times and thrive during the good times.

2014 was no exception. In fact, I believe 2014 was one of our best years yet. Let’s take a look at what made this year – my last full one as Mayor – so exceptional.

We started to bring our strategic plan to life. These goals are the foundation for many of our efforts. They also help us determine how to budget projects so we can meet these goals by 2018.

The goals are:

  • Setting the standard for community education and involvement
  • Embracing e-government approaches to improve customer convenience 
  • Improving traffic flow and congestion

What have we done so far? 

Almost 10,000 people have enrolled in our mass notification system Naper Notify. We’ve used it for everything from letting people know when the streets are being plowed to helping find missing individuals with Alzheimer’s. 

We completed a Strategic Technology Plan to set the course for our EGovernment accomplishments. This plan gives us guidance on implementing programs to allow residents and businesses to conduct business with the City all day, every day – not just during normal working hours.

And we’re a full year into the Route 59 Expansion Project. I know this project has been a pain point for businesses in the area, and we have worked hand-in-hand with the Illinois Department of Transportation to try and minimize the impact. 

The project is currently on track for completion in late 2015. The additional lanes from Ferry Road to Aurora Avenue, intersection improvements, and new diverging diamond interchange at I-88 WILL result in a smoother ride and improved access to businesses.

Thank you for your patience so far! We know it’s tough, but we promise the end result is worth the wait. 

The City Manager’s Office has done an excellent job of making sure the strategic plan is a critical component of all we do. City Manager Doug Krieger and Deputy City Manager Marcie Schatz are our fearless leaders, and I’d like to have them stand. 

Our continued focus on safety was evident when Movoto Real Estate named Naperville the fourth safest mid-sized city in the nation. Our police force, led by Chief Bob Marshall, is committed to innovative policing and forming relationships with community partners.

We also saw the installation of in-car video cameras in all patrol cars, which results in more effective evidence in courtrooms.

The Police continued their emphasis on combating the rising heroin epidemic by partnering with community organizations, like KidsMatter and the ParentsMatter Too initiative. 

Regional efforts, like those of DuPage County Coroner Richard Jorgensen, also helped educate our residents on this drug. Effective policing resulted in the arrest and removal of 12 heroin dealers from our streets.

Chief Marshall, please stand and be recognized. 

Together, our Police and Fire Departments launched a first-of-its-kind in the state Prescription Drug Drop Box Program. Residents can safely and anonymously get rid of expired or unwanted prescription medications at all 10 Fire Stations and the Police Department. 

To date, more than 1,000 pounds of medication have been collected.

The Fire Department also began providing on-site training to businesses and groups that purchase AEDs.

Let’s give Fire Chief Mark Puknaitis, who unfortunately was unable to attend this event today, a round of applause for his accomplishments.

2014 was the year of white and green for our Department of Public Works. Led by Director Dick Dublinski, Public Works handled 80 inches of snow in a winter known for the “polar vortex.”

Construction began on the new Environmental Collection Center along Fort Hill Drive that will house our Household Hazardous Waste facility starting this year. 

This center is known for long lines, and the new facility will provide more convenient access to this vital service for our region.

Perhaps the biggest accomplishment was the delivery of over 40,000 recycling carts to those residents who receive curbside recycling service. These 32, 64 and 96 gallon blue wheeled carts replaced small recycling bins. 

Now our residents have an easier time recycling, which keeps more trash out of our landfills – what a great way to go green!

One of my favorite moments was when I delivered the first recycling carts with four of our youngest residents who won a contest by telling us how recycling makes Naperville a better place.

Dick Dublinski, please stand. 

Green is also a main concern of our Finance Department, which saw a new addition this year in Finance Director Rachel Mayer.

We have recovered from the economic recession of the recent past and are in a stable financial environment. 

And the strong economic policies the Council set in motion years ago have given us a solid foundation to maintain our City over time. 

In our current fiscal year, we have a $447 million budget. The Council and I take the oversight of this budget very seriously. 

We have always committed to reducing spending internally, levying only the dollars that were needed and always returning money to the taxpayers when possible.

We also used our cash reserves wisely so that we could keep our property tax rates low.

During the recessionary years, we were able to lower our property tax levy each year. We estimate we saved taxpayers $12.1 million over the past five years.

Our philosophy has been finding innovative and long-term funding solutions that make sure our property taxpayers do not shoulder the burden of tough economic times.

This has included attracting new businesses to town and focusing on economic development.

The amount of retail sales tax we’ve collected is the highest it’s ever been. We ended fiscal year 2014 with $32.1 million in tax revenues collected. One component of these revenues that continues to grow is our auto sales.

I’m also proud to say our unemployment rate continues to plummet. We stand at a 4.9 percent unemployment rate as of September 2014, which is a notable decrease from the 6.7 percent rate we had in September 2013. 

And through it all, we’ve maintained a AAA bond rating from Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s. This rating was achieved in my first year as Mayor, and keeping it is one of the accomplishments I am most proud of. 

With Rachel at the helm, I am confident we will achieve our financial goals with as minimal an impact as possible on our taxpayers. Rachel, please stand and be recognized.

It was also a big year for our Transportation, Engineering and Development Business Group, led by Bill Novack. The 95th Street Bridge opened in late October, which provides a more direct connection from Naperville to Bolingbrook. Have any of you driven on it yet?

This Will County-led project will have a big impact on our residents. We estimate motorists will save an average of 15,400 travel miles per day, or 5.6 million miles per year. It will also provide relief to other north/south routes through the City, such as Washington Street.

On the development side, we saw the Main Street Promenade East open in early autumn. This beautiful building has transformed our downtown. It’s also home to many fine retailers and office space.

Also in the downtown we added Sephora and Pure Barre to Main Place.

We also welcomed the Walmart Supercenter, Granite City restaurant, the Fiat and Maserati auto dealerships, Standard Market, iFly, Gerald Kia, and more.

Our housing market continues to improve post-recession. Mayfair and Ashwood Pointe are two developments that are now growing daily.

Swedish-based industrial manufacturer SKF Group ceremonially broke ground on its new North American research and development facility, choosing Naperville over several other Midwest locations.

The Water Street District went through another round of reviews and is poised to become reality in the near future.

We also moved a step further in the transformation of the property at 430 S. Washington. Purchased by North Central College, the North Central College Washington Street Riverwalk Park will become a gateway for the south part of downtown. 

Former Governor Quinn stopped by in late October to announce a $1.1 million state grant that we will use to begin fixing up the property.

In 2015 we’ll see even more growth, including long desired banquet and conference space.

We’ll welcome Empire by Ballydoyle in the old Rosebud building, Mariano’s grocery store near 75th Street and Naper Boulevard, and the Embassy Suites hotel and conference center.

The conference center will let us hold events up to 1,000 people. A facility of this size is something we’ve been working on for most of the time I’ve been Mayor! 

We’ll say hello to Iron Gate Motor Condos, the iMed 72,000 square foot medical office opening this spring, Top Golf, and Noah’s of Naperville, which will also provide more than 10,000 square feet of conference center and banquet space. 

Bill Novack, please stand so we can thank you for your accomplishments. 

Our water and electric utilities continued to keep the lights on and clean water flowing thanks to the efforts of Electric Director Mark Curran and Water/Wastewater Director Jim Holzapfel. 

Following the April 2013 floods, our water department lined over 57,000 feet of sanitary sewer in the Cress Creek subdivision to help keep that area dry.

Our electric department was busy with relocating equipment along Route 59, and, thanks to the uptick in the housing market, made sure the lights would work in the Carillon Club, Ashwood Park, Mayfair, Tapestry Naperville Apartments and more.

Mark and Jim, please stand and let us say thanks.

And a big thank you to the leaders of our internal departments that keep things running smoothly behind the scenes. City Clerk and IT Director Pam LaFeber and new additions Human Resources Director Jim Sheehan and City Attorney Jill Wilger are true assets to our team. Would you all please stand?

All of our City employees also deserve a round of applause. Our employees are the greatest asset we have. Thank you to them for all of their hard work!

I’d like to give a special thank you to my executive assistant Emy Trotz and former assistant Cheryl Johnson. Emy and Cheryl kept me organized and on track for many years! Thanks to them, I got where I needed to go on time. Thank you both for all of your hard work and support. I am grateful to you and for you!

Of course, our team is bigger than just the City. It also includes our partner organizations and social service agencies.

Last year we saw our outstanding quality of life maintained by our world-class Park District when it opened the new Knoch Knolls Nature Center in October. It has already received an Outstanding Facility and Park Award from the Illinois Park and Recreation Association. 

The excitement continues when the groundbreaking for the Park District’s new Activity Center near the corner of Quincy Avenue and Fort Hill Drive takes place this spring. Construction will continue through the summer of 2016, with the building opening in fall of that year.

Naper Settlement’s new President and CEO Rena Tamayo-Calabrese started in July as only the second full-time President and CEO of the museum in its 45-year history. 

The Settlement opened the Rita (Fredenhagen) and John Harvard Early Learning Playscape this summer, and it also received the Outstanding Facility and Park Award from the Illinois Park and Recreation Association. 

The Settlement is also looking forward to Naperville’s bicentennial and making sure the story of our twentieth century residents is preserved.

Sarah Orleans, the new CEO of the DuPage Children’s Museum, started in her role last February. The Museum provides high-quality experiences for our community’s children to grow through play and learning.

And the entire community supports the efforts of the Museum to recover and re-open from the flood it suffered earlier this month. We know the Museum will be back and better than ever very shortly!

Loaves and Fishes Community Pantry became Loaves and Fishes Community Services and started its Power of Community campaign. It also said goodbye to President/CEO Charles McLimans and hello to interim president/CEO Megan Selck.

And our outstanding school districts – 203 and 204 – continue to be a focal point for families moving here. 

District 204 saw Dr. Karen Sullivan join its family as superintendent last year. And we can’t forget our parochial schools and their excellence.

In fact, our entire faith-based community has continually been a source of support and guidance for all of us. I know I have relied on my faith during my time as Mayor.

As you can tell, our community – and team – had quite a year. But I’m not surprised. 

In my very first State of the City speech I said the following: “We will continue to maintain the quality of life you expect by providing the highest level of service through a spirit of teamwork.”

We’ve lived those words every single day for the past 7,211 days.

When I leave you in May, I leave you with the assurance that all the tools are in place for this community’s continued success. My legacy is not my own – it is the collective sum of our time spent together. 

My way? It was always OUR way. It was realizing that together, we were better than anything we could accomplish alone. It was realizing our love for Naperville that unites us was far stronger than anything that divides us.

In my first State of the City speech, I mentioned that the City was poised for the 21st century. Well, in 2015, I believe we’re ready for success no matter what changes come in the next 20 or 200 years. 

It has been my life’s blessing and privilege to be the Mayor of Naperville. And it has been equally a blessing to stand before you this afternoon to share the news of our City.

I cannot thank you enough for the privilege of being your Mayor since 1995. You allowed my way of teamwork, cooperation, and partnership to become our way – the Naperville way.

God bless you all, God bless Naperville, and God bless the USA!