Joliet economic development director and department chief out

Firings follow open complaints by City Council about economic development

Joliet Economic Development Director Cesar Suarez attends the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Harbor Freight distribution facility in Joliet. Harbor Freight opened a new 1.6 million square-foot distribution center in Joliet that is expected to bring 800 new jobs to the area. Thursday, June 9, 2022 in Joliet.

The city of Joliet’s economic development director and his boss were out of their jobs Thursday, just days after the City Council complained about the pace of economic development activity.

Economic Development Director Cesar Suarez and Director of Community Development Eva-Marie Tropper both left in what the city has termed resignations. Tropper headed the city department that includes economic development, planning, building inspections and other functions.

“They resigned,” said City Manager Beth Beatty, who would not comment on whether she asked for their resignations. “I’m not going to comment on personnel matters.”

Mayor Terry D’Arcy participated in the meetings with Beatty, Suarez and Tropper.

“We left amicably,” D’Arcy said. “I did not want them to leave and not know that I felt they were good people. I have a right to be there. But it was her (Beatty’s) decision.”

D’Arcy also said he “supported the decision that was made.”

Hirings and firings officially are done by the city manager.

Mayor Terry D’Arcy addresses the public saying he did not approve, agree to or sign a grant agreement to help asylum seekers at the Joliet City Council Meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023 in Joliet.

D’Arcy said the city is going to restructure operations to make economic development a stand-alone department.

“It’s that important,” he said.

“Beth wanted to start with a fresh team,” D’Arcy said. “That’s her team to develop.”

The departures of Suarez and Trotter come after a City Council meeting Monday when several council members voiced dissatisfaction with the city’s economic development efforts.

“Monday and Tuesday were definitely a tipping point. Not only for the council but also for the community,” council member Suzanna Ibarra said.

Ibarra said the departure of Suarez and Topper “definitely needed to happen. The city needs to move forward in a different direction.”

Ibarra said the community is looking for more diverse economic development, especially in the southeast side of the city that she represents.

“If the city is filled with vape shops, mattress stores, Starbucks, large warehouses and temp agencies, we’re not looking outside the box,” she said. “And by we, I mean staff.”

Candidate for Joliet City Council District 5 Suzanna Ibarra speaks at a forum for the candidates at the Joliet Public Library on Thursday, March 16th, 2023 in Joliet.

Council member Larry Hug, who heads the council’s Economic Development Committee, said the position of economic development director should not be left open long.

“We need to find a qualified economic development director,” Hug said. “We need to fill that position ASAP.”

The removal of Suarez leaves Joliet with no one working in its economic development division, which had a four-member staff until a series of departures last year.

“Right now, there is nobody working on economic development,” Hug said. “It’s completely empty now.”

The city is advertising for a senior economic development specialist and an economic development specialist. The division also had a communications specialist who left.

Beatty said she plans to fill three positions, including that of economic development director. In the meantime, staff is filling in to take care of economic development services, Beatty said. She would not say who is filling in.

Beth Beatty, Joliet City Manager, speaks at the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce Council for Working Women luncheon on Thursday Mar. 7th, 2024 in Joliet.

“City services will not be affected,” Beatty said.

Economic development “is a priority. We will not let anything slip,” she said.

No one answered the phone at the economic development division on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning. Suarez’s voicemail message was still active identifying him as the director as of Friday morning.

Tropper’s departure leaves open the head of the department overseeing two major projects in the city – development of the first comprehensive plan for Joliet since the 1950s and the creation of a new city square downtown.

Beatty said staff will bring the council recommendations for a consultant to develop the comprehensive plan “soon.”

The Monday discussion of economic development efforts was sparked by a pending vote on a U-Haul operation that will replace the Joliet Plaza Inn and Suites on West Jefferson Street near the Interstate 55 interchange.

Council member Sherri Reardon spurred the discussion on economic, saying she was disappointed that the entryway to Joliet was being developed with a U-Haul facility. Reardon then called for a discussion on economic development, which led to council comments critical of economic development activity.

Despite Reardon’s objections and the criticism about economic development efforts, the council voted 8-1 Tuesday to approve the U-Haul plan. A U-Haul representative said the company is investing $20 million to redevelop the 7.5-acre site with self-storage facilities along with a truck and trailer rental operation.

Beatty now has removed three top city officials hired by previous City Manager James Capparelli when Bob O’Dekirk was mayor. In January, Inspector General Sean Connolly was discharged from most duties although he was allowed to continue on one case now under court appeal. Connolly was a hired contractor, but has served as the city’s inspector general since 2022.

Capparelli resigned as city manager in June, less than two months after Terry D’Arcy took office as the city’s new mayor with plans to conduct a city manager search. Capparelli left when he was unable to negotiate terms for an agreement to remain as the city conducted its search.

Rod Tonelli was brought in as the interim city manager at the time. Tonelli also was brought in as an interim economic development director in 2022 before Suarez was hired.

Tropper was hired in May 2021.