Problems at the Woodstock Square Aired at City Council

Looking at the minutes of the June 3rd meeting of the Woodstock City Council, I was impressed with the detail about those making public comments.

Six of nine pages of minutes are devoted to what members of the public said.  The Woodstock City Clerk is Dianne Mitchell.

Most of the discussion was about problems in and around the Square, as you can see below:

Public Comments

Don Frick, 334 S. Jefferson, Woodstock stated that his family owns The Backdrop and reported that they have had quite a few issues with complaints about some of the characters on the Square.
Wdstk Sq Revolution Youth Center
He stated that there have been a lot of issues with Revolution [Center] over by Swiss Maid, noting that they have put their business up for sale. He stated that he understands why they are in the community and wants to honor that but their mission can’t be just within their doors.

He reported that when the kids are outside using all kinds of language discouraging customers from coming into the businesses, it is difficult. He stated that through their efforts, which took a long time to get responses from, the police have made a difference there.

D. Frick stated that one of their biggest concerns was the response of the Council getting back to them. He reported that the City was involved with setting up a meeting with the business owners and the Police Department, which went well except that there was no representation from the City. He stated that they understand the role of the Police Department is enforcement but he questioned where the planning aspects of things are to makes it a better community overall.

D. Frick reported that they don’t feel like there is a good avenue for communication. He stated that they sent letters to some of the Council people and it took some of them 7-10 days and even up until today to respond to the inquiries for assistance. He stated that it was discouraging because they would like to see Council as advocates for leading the community and for them to be very proactive.

He advised that dialog should take place within the City about supporting the businesses on the Square and having a better understanding and dialog regarding the issues. He stated that customer service is a huge issue from his perspective across the board within the City of Woodstock.

D. Frick stated that they are in the community trying to address these issues, be proactive, and make the downtown a better place. He reported that they have lived here 14-15 years and it hasn’t gotten better; the rental properties are an issue. He advised that he was in Mayor Sager’s office seven years ago talking about programs very similar to the one that was passed recently but he noted that it was passed as a result of being reactive to the issues when people were so frustrated that they were threatening law suits. He reported that he talked about programs that are cost neutral where landlords have to pay fees and be inspected. He gave examples of issues he has experienced with rental properties. He questioned what is going to be done strategically to make it work. He advised that Section 8 housing requires inspection of homes, but the City doesn’t require inspections for the rental properties. He stated that many of the code enforcements don’t have the teeth. He stated that we have to make people move and we have to have action.

D. Frick stated that we are now faced with the Square itself and we are investing big money into the Courthouse and he asked Council to ask themselves why. He stated that if the downtown is not a place where people can go and feel safe and businesses aren’t able to thrive then don’t put the money into the Courthouse. He reported that they have customers come in and say they can’t believe what a person on the Square just said to them. He stated that they watch people going in the bushes, they have people defecating in the back alleys and they see people all day long sitting idle.

Wdstk Sq Fair Didly sign western sideD. Frick questioned what can be done to make it a better experience for visitors and how can we make it expand to the outer community to make young families move here. He stated that our Square is starting to corrode and putting some copper on top of the Courthouse is not going to make that experience any better. He stated that visitors are going home and questioning why they would go back if they are going to be accosted by somebody who is asking for money or drug sales. He stated that it is happening and advised that if they don’t know that then they are out of the loop. He advised that it takes hard work on their behalf and it is going to take even more work to turn this around. He stated that we have been standing idle way too many times.

D. Frick stated that when Woodstock got money for the Main Street Program it didn’t jump on it but Crystal Lake did and look at their downtown noting that it is a fraction of the cost of what the City is spending to take care of the Courthouse. He believes if the City had invested more money it would have received more bidders and questioned if they would have lost the landlord initially. He stated that if we aren’t proactive, it is going to continue to go down. He advised that he wants dialog and is willing to throw himself out there to do whatever we have to do. He encouraged Council that if they can’t step up to meet the demands then they should step down; we need leadership big time.

Lisa Hansen, one of the owners of The Backdrop, 106 Cass St., Woodstock stated that she is the one that emailed Council members about some of the things occurring on the Square. She stated that her brother-in-law has taken the battle on himself but noted that we all need to do that because Woodstock has some serious problems that aren’t being addressed.

L. Hansen stated that her concern is that of the seven people that she emailed she heard from three; giving the Mayor a pass since he is out of town. She stated that of the six there, three responded which is 50% and a big, fat F. She believes they are failing as a City Council if only half of them are engaged in the business of Woodstock. She stated that her message to those that didn’t respond is that she is baffled. She can’t understand why somebody wouldn’t extend the professional courtesy of a response and it suggests that they have a lack of respect for their constituents. She stated as part of their job description they are supposed to engage with the people they serve.

L. Hansen stated that when she wrote the email, she suggested that people check out the Vision 2020 Plan to assess where Woodstock really is because she believes we are moving further and further from it. She read from the plan,

“Maintain strong, ethical professional leadership dedicated to the community vision and accountable for its accomplishment.”

She stated that given her experience “a big no.” She read from the plan,

“Maintain active citizen participation and engagement in the accomplishment of its vision.”

She stated that here is someone trying to make our community a better place and three Council members didn’t bother to respond. She wonders how people can check out; they are going through the motions but aren’t doing anything substantial. She stated that this is how she thinks of the City of Woodstock, City Administration and City Council. She feels that they are checked out and disconnected. They don’t know what is going on in their community.

L. Hansen stated that Council isn’t going to know what is going on by sitting in Council Chambers.

She advised that they have to get out and talk to the business owners and people that live outside their neighborhood. She stated that they can’t live and operate in a vacuum. She stated that for the three that didn’t bother to respond, she suggested that they step down because we need someone that is willing to actually work and improve Woodstock. She stated that they are the leaders of the community and she expects that they are enthusiastic and have the sense that there is a better possibility of what we are.

L. Hansen stated that when it comes to the ugly and the difficult they aren’t very good at addressing it and like to sweep under the rug. She advised that there are some serious issues and Council needs to take action otherwise a few years down the road they are going to ask what happened. She stated that they need to do better and they need to find out what is occurring. She stated that they need to talk to someone in city center because their experience is different than their experience in their suburbia neighborhood. She wants them to be engaged and committed and she wants them to actually do something that will make Woodstock better.

[Councilman] M[ichael] Turner stated that the things they are bringing up are serious enough to consider, with the Mayor’s input upon his return, whether this needs to be a more extensive discussion at another meeting. He stated that he isn’t putting it off but since it isn’t on the published agenda they can’t take action. He advised that they can discuss it but he thinks it requires more set-up and public notice. He stated that they are bringing up two different areas of concern, activities on the Square; noting that there has been some action on the part of Staff. He stated that it is his belief that we have just started to scratch the surface. He advised that they have to operate under a variety of things that influence them such as laws. He stated that it is Council’s responsibility to act upon assessment and understanding the concerns as to what is going on in the Square. He advised that Council shares a seriousness and understands the importance of the Square as the heart and soul of our town.

M. Turner stated that although they feel like they are a lone voice that is not the case. He stated that they maybe the squeaky wheel but that is a good place to be because they get people’s attention.

He stated that the Police, Administration and Council don’t know everything that is going on. He admitted it and stated that it is why he wants to know from the people who are out there. He agreed with L. Hansen and stated that Council needs to do what it can to be more involved but even doing that won’t give them the same level of understanding or knowledge. He stated that every store owner should be urged to let Police, Staff or Council know what is going on.

M. Turner advised that the other issue is holding them to a standard as public officials that they have an expectation to meet each in their own individual way. He stated that it is a responsibility that falls on Council. He advised that from a service perspective, [City Manager] Roscoe [Stelford], and his team have an absolute standard to maintain service to the needs of the citizens of the city. He stated that they know that and their jobs are on the line for it. He stated that we aren’t always perfect but we have to be good. He believes in our Staff’s ability to do that noting that they will always hold their feet to the fire with the expectation that they will meet the needs of our customers.

[Councilmen] J[oseph] Starzynski and RB Thomson advised that they didn’t receive the email. L. Hanson stated that three other people got it and responded.

RB Thompson stated that he is on the park regularly and reiterated an experience he had where he witnessed three young kids being approached by someone requesting money from each of them causing them to leave the park. He provided information on the altercation he then had with the man after advising him of the panhandling ordinance. He stated that is evidence of the obnoxiousness that happens that drives off people who should be on the Square. He stated that he is disappointed to hear about Swiss Maid and noted that a couple of weeks ago they repainted their sign. He questioned why they would be making that investment if they are deciding to leave.

M. Larson thanked them for speaking up and advised that in their job they have multiple fronts and if they have been slipping on that front she apologizes and appreciates the opportunity to talk to them about it and for being brought up to speed. She stated that she would like to say that there is a simple, easy solution but she views it as a chipping away at kind of thing. She stated that there will be a community service officer coming and a few other steps that have been taken. She asked Staff to schedule another meeting with the business owners and the police and to have Administration in attendance. She thinks it should be a Council agenda item to evaluate in another week or two.

[Councilwoman] J[ulie] Dillon apologized and stated that she did not respond to the email noting that she read through it and didn’t have a rapid response. She stated that they brought a lot of issues and she then asked for any suggestions on what they would like to see which will help them. She reported that her husband has had issues with people on the Square as well. She questioned what would be beneficial to help make them feel safe and their customers feel safe and advised that their suggestions could help lead them towards the right form of action.

[Councilman] M[ark] Saladin sated that the thing he is hearing is it isn’t so much taking care of some of the issues on the Square, which might be simple fixes with police presence, but there is a bigger goal with respect to what the City’s vision is and how we are accomplishing those things. He feels that there have been positive steps taken but they won’t show up immediately. He stated that Council needs to direct Staff to have a vision for the City which is not a quick fix.

B. Batjes, 510 Leah Lane, Woodstock, suggested asking Pastor Len to come since he is the one that started the Revolution Center. M. Turner stated that it is a good idea and noted that they have already started dialog with them.

D. Frick responded to J. Dillon’s question and stated that a dialog with the business owners is the best idea because a lot of different solutions could come forward. He advised that some communities respond to loitering by having police officers ask them to move along. He stated that building and zoning issues are a big part of it. He questioned if having the Revolution right on the Square is the right decision and noted that he knows that the business community isn’t thriving to the point where building owners have many options.

D. Frick stated that not much is being done within the economic development program which is why he goes back to the huge capital investment being put in now which could have been put into a main street program that could have made a difference. He stated that building and zoning issues can make a difference not only on the Square but in the residential communities with rental properties.

He questioned how to step on many different fronts that hopefully won’t invade people’s rights but we have to make people accountable. J. Dillon stated that there should be rights for the people that want to visit the Square and not fear being accosted by someone; it’s a two-way street.

R. Stelford reported that last week he, C. Carlson and J. Starzynski met with L. Hansen and other various business owners with plans to talk to some more next week. He reported that actions that they have been working on are the community service officer position for afternoons and weekends which will bring a presence of a uniformed employee, not technically a police officer, but will have direct communication back to the Police Department. He advised that they will help with the parking issues in the downtown as well.

R. Stelford advised that they have two officers that have gone through the bike training program and there will be a bike patrol on the Square. He reported that they have been talking to the businesses about open communication and making sure they feel comfortable contacting the City when they see a problem. He stated that while we do want a better presence on the Square it always comes down to dollars and cents and you can’t post a police officer on every single corner every day so communication is crucial. He stated that they will go out and talk to the businesses more often. He advised that they can talk directly to the Chief, the Deputy Chief or call the City Manager’s office.

R. Stelford stated that they are opening communication with Revolution since they are a draw for the kids to come down to the Square. He reiterated having dialog with them so that they are engaged and policing the issues that they are being bringing there. He reported that talking to the owners, they are very supportive of the kids getting help however some think there could be a better location but they still want to see the help going out to the kids. He stated that a representative of Revolution advised that they are supportive and don’t want to harm the businesses.

R. Stelford stated that these are problems that can be solved but he doesn’t think they will go away permanently. He stated that transients have been in our society since day one and kids are going to be kids. He advised that we can always work to improve and get better. He stated that the City is taking some steps in that direction and getting the businesses input will always be helpful.

J. Dillon asked R. Stelford about the possibility of setting up meetings with Council, the merchants on the Square and the Chamber of Commerce such as a monthly breakfast meeting. R. Stelford thought it would be good and suggested using Stage Left. J. Dillon stated that it would be an opportunity to interact face to face.

J. Dillon asked if the City has cameras around the Square. R. Stelford advised that we don’t noting that they have talked about it and the pros and cons. He stated that the issue is privacy but advised that legally there is nothing that someone can do if a community decides to start using cameras as an enforcement tool. He advised that as long as it viewing public area, it isn’t violating anybody’s personal privacy. He stated that if it is something we want to look at down the road, he would want to invite the Square merchants and those that would be impacted by the decision. J. Dillon suggested that Revolution might want to install cameras on the outside of their building.

J. Dillon stated that the other thing is location of Revolution and noted that in her mind she always thought the Square should be retail as much as possible on the bottom level. M. Turner asked if they had any decision on that going in there. R. Stelford advised that it is properly zoned for what they want to use it for and it wouldn’t come to Council because they have the proper zoning.

D. Frick referenced the idea of because of the zoning we can’t do anything. He stated that too many times we stop by saying we can’t do it. He encouraged them to take it a little bit further and discuss changing the zoning or doing something to make it better. J. Dillon suggested helping them find a location that works for them but works for the City too; don’t want to take it away from the kids but you also want to keep the focus of the Square the way we have intended it to be.

L. Hansen stated that she is one of the business owners on the Square and advised that there are a lot of different types of businesses. She stated that it isn’t just about stores or retail but all the people that are there not only on the Square but anywhere in Woodstock. She stated that it is worthwhile that they meet and talk to all of those people that are either on the Square or on Rt. 47. She doesn’t think they should just target the Square.

L. Hansen referred to the situation she emailed them about and advised that it has become more peaceful. She stated that she has seen the officers out and they are going into the Revolution. She stated that this is like a little part of the problem and advised that it is the entire tone and climate of the city. She stated that when you talk about zoning, Section 8 housing or other difficult things, the point is we never seem to address it, we talk about it but nothing ever comes of it. She advised that Council talks about housekeeping or maintenance things but they never address something that is hard which is what they need to do to make Woodstock better. She stated it has to be that they think they can do something that will make a difference.

M. Tuner stated that he liked the dialog and noted that the seriousness of the issue warranted this level of discussion. He advised that he wants consensus from Council and input from Mayor Sager and then stated that he thinks that the specifics of what has been brought forth as it relates to the Square both the problems and short and long term approaches warrant a Council level discussion public item. He stated that he is supportive of the informal Stage Left business owners meetings but he thinks it is once a year or every six month thing because monthly will fade out and becomes less attended. He would like to deal with strategic and specific issues in a formal public forum to get the hard questions from business owners thrown at Council and Staff so they can understand them and frame them and make recommendations on how to approach. He advised that he would recommend to Mayor Sager that this particular issue be put on as discussion in the next 2-3 meetings. Council conceded to his recommendation.

J. Dillon agreed and stated that she would like the people coming to bring their issues to also bring suggestions on what they would to see different. She stated that she would like to hear what is going to help them the most and what they think is a good solution.

M. Turner stated that Council feels the pressure and requirement to protect the City and support the business owners and the activities they think are good for the community. He advised that Council members may have different approaches and opinions but they all share the same passion and belief in the ultimate goal of what we are trying to do as a community. He stated that governmental pace and aggressive is way to low for him. He thinks L. Hansen is fair in saying that she has seen an improvement because Administration reacted. He stated that there is a need to be more proactive and advised that Council members should attempt to do that but questioned if they are perfectly suited because they don’t do this full time; it’s not an excuse but a statement of reality. He thinks that they can try to improve and noted that pace, aggressive and anticipating problems is what he puts on R. Stelford and asked R. Stelford to put on Staff.

M. Turner stated that he doesn’t think it is a police issue or criticism but thinks it has more to do with strategy. He stated that policing is part of the solution but noted that it goes beyond that as we need to give them the strategy and direction on what we want them to accomplish within the confines of the law. He stated that their comments tonight have far more impact than they realize and the willingness for them to come and lay it on the line and be very serious and blunt does have an impact. He stated that the Council members do care about their roles and jobs. He stated that if Mayor Sager concurs, they will look at putting this item on as a discussion item. He advised that they will look to business owners, Square or not, to show up to Council


Problems at the Woodstock Square Aired at City Council — 5 Comments

  1. Maybe with the end of Nygren’s reign as Sheriff, Mr. Sager will quit traveling to his ‘sister’ city in Mexico and spend more time on the issues affecting Woodstock, IL.

    Woodstock streets are of the same caliber as State Line Road in Alden Township.

    Maybe the Woodstock Police who spend time on ‘traffic’ duty on Hwy. 14 hiding in the bushes can be deployed to bicycle duty around the square.


    What is the distance around the square, a quarter mile?

  3. I feel it’s not the mayor’s fault.

    He’s got a lot on his plate and we should respect that.

    We should show him a gift of gratitude for what he did for us in the first place.

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