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Officials say Joliet city manager is still learning the job

At nearly one year on the job, officials say City Manager David Hales is still learning and the city of Joliet is facing many challenges.

Hales started his tenure working for the city the week after Thanksgiving last year. He said he feels good about his time spent managing Joliet’s day-to-day operations to this point.

“It’s an honor to serve as the city manager of the third largest city in Illinois,” Hales said. “I’ve been impressed with the people I’ve worked with outside and inside the organization. I know there’s been a lot that’s been accomplished, to date. It’s exhilarating to be part of it.”

Mayor Bob O’Dekirk told The Times Weekly that during an executive session held earlier this month, officials spoke of a need to evaluate Hales’ job performance.

“We’re working on an evaluation,” he said. “It’s not required at all. At our last executive session, we talked about it. It’s something we’re going to be doing.”

When asked how they feel the city manager is doing to this point, several elected officials said Hales is still learning and has a lot to get ahold of.

“It’s an ongoing process,” O’Dekirk said. “We’re the third largest city in the state, and there are a lot of major projects. It’s a lot to get acclimated to, and he’s getting acclimated.”

Unlike previous city managers Marty Shanahan and Tom Thanas, Hales was hired outside the organization to fulfill Joliet’s day-to-day management. The same holds true for the city’s experience with former City Manger James Hock.

Councilman Mike Turk likened Hales’ job performance to this point similar to the way Hock started managing the city’s day-to-day operations and said they both had to get caught up to speed with community members and the departmental heads.

“It’s a difficult job, and it’s more difficult when coming from outside the community,” he said. “He has to learn the staff, which is huge. He has to learn the county, the township and the park district officials. Based on all he had to learn, I think he’s doing a good job.”

Turk has served the Joliet City Council since 1987. During his time, four city managers have come and gone.

“The one thing I like that Hales has done is he introduced himself to the neighborhood groups,” Turk said. “He likes to hear what people have to say.”

Councilman Larry Hug said out of everything he wanted the city manager to accomplish to this point, his biggest desire is for a balanced budget and acknowledged that Hales can’t do that alone.

“We haven’t gotten a midyear report on the state of the finances,” he said, noting that it should become available soon. “Another report will come at the top of the next year. We started with a $5.5 million deficit, and I want to see us reduce that.”

Hug clashed with Hales at a July meeting of the Joliet City Council over how it should handle a vote on the city’s annual allotment of federal Community Development Block Grant funds.

Hug wanted to split up his vote on the matter to make it clear to the public which projects he supports and opposes. He has long served as a critic of the city’s acquisition of Evergreen Terrace, an apartment complex that was slated to benefit from the allotment.

At the meeting, Hug demanded an apology out of Hales for chuckling at his request and questioned how appropriate it may be for him to voice his objections as he voted.

No other council member expressed a desire for the allotment to be restructured before voting on it.

Hales apologized at the time, saying in defense that his refusal to restructure the vote is meant to help Hug and the Joliet City Council be efficient in their operation.

The meeting in question is not the first time in which Hales has clashed with elected officials.

Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner told The Times Weekly that Hales “was good with finances, but was a controversial figure” during his previous stint as city manger for Bloomington.

The city of Joliet is currently grappling with a number of major projects, including the revitalization of the downtown and redevelopment plans for Riverwalk Homes.

Turk said he likes the way Hales makes it a priority to meet one on one with elected officials to discuss how things are handled.

Hales meets with the mayor regularly, staff is in contact with the city manager daily and he attends neighborhood meetings throughout the city.

“During the first few months, I have been doing a lot of listening and trying to learn about the city’s organization,” Hales said. “There’s no doubt I’ve identified positive things about where we are and challenges we have. The city is fortunate as a county seat to have a lot of assets.”

Turk said he looks forward to seeing what Hales does for Joliet moving forward.

Hales said one of area of opportunity and growth is the city’s economic development efforts.

“We’re looking at how we vet organizations,” he said, prefacing his comments by saying that Joliet has seen phenomenal growth in economic development. “One of the biggest disappointments has been Innovation Pavilion. We need to do careful research on what they’re asking for, do cost-benefit analysis, and hold them accountable.”

Part of Hales’ job performance review will involve the city looking at his total body of work and talking to department heads.

Hales envisions himself continuing to work for the city in the next 1 to 5 years.

“There’s not only great excitement [working for the city of Joliet] but so many major projects and initiatives,” Hales said. “It’s exciting and enjoyable to be part of the organization. We have challenges, and I want to provide strong leadership to meet those challenges to enhance our efforts to make the city a better place to live and do business.”

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