Naperville City Council quarrels over social service grant recommendations

Naperville City Councilman Benny White at Tuesday's meeting. He was allocation toward the Career & Networking Center
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During Tuesday’s Naperville City Council meeting, two council members argued about one of their city funding recommendations to a local organization.

The quarrel centered around Councilman Benny White’s allocation for the Career & Networking Center.

White’s recommendation challenged by Bruzan Taylor

The city council’s agenda included a final vote on the proposed CY2024 Social Service Grant funding allocations.

The city’s social service application review team allocates $400,000, and city council members receive a combined $100,000 to spread between different organizations as they see fit. Those council distributions are determined by combining each council member’s recommendation and calculating the average.

48 organizations around the city requested a total of $1,394,463 for 2024.

In his recommendations, Councilman Benny White allocated $10,000 for the Career & Networking Center. White’s spouse is Kim White, executive director at the organization.

The council’s average recommended allotment for the Career & Networking Center was $1,750.

Before Tuesday’s discussions and final vote on the social services grant allocations, White recused himself from the vote.

Once White left the room, Councilwoman Jennifer Bruzan Taylor introduced a motion to remove White’s $10,000 recommended allocation from the 2024 social services grant. That would reduce the total funding for the Career & Networking Center from $1,750 to $500 after the numbers were recalculated.

She took issue with White allocating funds toward his wife’s organization, saying that a small portion of those funds would become “household income.” Bruzan Taylor said she believed it was an “unintentional mistake” on his part.

“Though I appreciate his recognition of his mistake and his willingness to recuse himself on the actual social services grant vote, that does not cure the appearance of impropriety that has occurred,” said Bruzan Taylor.

Naperville dais reacts to the motion

Councilman Ian Holzhauer said he received no heads-up about the motion from Bruzan Taylor before the meeting, and thought it was the wrong forum to address the issue.

“I think this could have been handled in a totally different fashion, perhaps ahead of time, perhaps behind closed doors, not with those publicly here on the dais,” said Holzhauer. “I’m really disappointed about the look this has for the City of Naperville.”

During new business, White pointed out most on the council have connections with area groups.

“All of us are members or have some association with many nonprofit organizations here in the City of Naperville,” said White. “We got to a point where we wanted to make the decision whether we should recuse ourselves or not.”

He then called the motion from Bruzan Taylor “totally inappropriate.”

“Councilwoman, if you had an issue with any of this, it baffles me that you couldn’t pick up a phone and talk to me about it,” said White. “You said it’s not political, and I call B.S. on that. You got here in a public forum to talk about me and my wife and my family.”

Bruzan Taylor responded with an accusation against White.

“Not one time I have ever called Councilman White has he ever returned a phone call to me,” said Bruzan Taylor. “And unfortunately, that’s a refrain I’ve heard from a couple (of) other people as well.”

Councilman Patrick Kelly and Mayor Scott Wehrli then moved to end the discussion.

“We’ve heard from different councilmen up here,” said Wehrli. “We understand the issue. I think the process needs to be further evaluated on how we prevent issues like this going forward.”

City council passed the rest of the proposed social services grant allocations, with the adjusted amount for the Career & Networking Center by a 6-2 vote.

Councilwoman Allison Longenbaugh and Councilman Holzhauer were the two no-votes.

Current standards for disclosure 

According to the Naperville Municipal Code, city council members must provide a written disclosure of interest to the city manager before any meeting where there is a vote on a contract, business, or transaction where they have a “prohibited interest.”

During the vote, council members are required to leave the chamber and not contribute to any of the discussion on the dais.

Director of Communications Linda LaCloche said the city currently has no plans to alter the requirements for disclosure.

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