Closing The Book On TIF Litigation

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By John Hubbuch

Like World War I, the litgation between Oak Park's two school boards and the Village just ended one  day. Hostilities ceased and everyone shut their mouths and briefcases and went home.   Now to be sure no one died, but both this litigation and the Great War share the similiarities of wasting lots of time and treasure to achieve a murky ending that the public never really understood.                                                                            

Now I don't pretend to know what this contremps was all about. I think District 200 claimed that the Village breached some deal whereby the Village was to pay over more TIF moneys than it had agreed to pay. For the longest time I thought the amount in dispute was $3,000.000, but the final settlement seemed considerably more.  Whatever.

The story here is not the result, but how is a community can  possibly evaluate whether or not our elected officials achieved a fair result,  and whether the expenditure of $650, 000 to achieve that result was justified.                                                      

No one will ever know. First of all the matter was very complex involving legislative interpretation and history,  taxatin complexities , arcane law and reviewing a long history of agreements between and among various lawyers and individual Board members who left their positions ,if not town ,long ago.  Board members are volunteers and I doubt have the time, interest or background to have anything other than a cursory understanding of the facts and law , forcing them to rely on the lawyers. Never a good idea.                     

Even worse the litigants all entered into a conspiracy of silence to keep the public from knowing what the dispute was really about or why it was resolved as it was. The poor press was no better off left to repeating vanilla press releases and the blah/blah of Board public comment. The parties seemed quite smug and pleased with themselves at the end of all this. I couldn't tell if that was because they achieved a fantastic result, or they  had pulled it off without giving the people who elected them  a clue about how they did it.                                                                                                 

As a result of this confluence of complexity and secrecy no one knows anything. It could be a great or a terrible settlement. Who knows?  No one will ever know and by next month all will be forgotten.                                                     

I wonder whether local government these days ever gets it right. The citizenry gets involved  when parking gets raised a buck or the snow doesn't get plowed. Those things are easy to understand because they are personally experienced. But the more complex the issue, the more random , uncertain the evaluation of the result. The failure to get anything built on the Colt Building spot and other prime commercial locations with the significant loss of tax revenues, the pollution removal from Barrie Park, closing and opening Lake Street, rescheduling at District 97--- are all examples of issues that no one other than  maybe a few ever really understood. As a result, our part-time elected officials grow less and less accountable as the public grows less and less knowledgeable. The likelihood that even with the best of intentions these elected few  will make collosal mistakes increases.                                     

So I guess I would ask all the public officials: please work hard and try to make  wise decisions. Oh, and please don't screw us. Thanks. 









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John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: January 20th, 2012 11:52 PM

Hi Transparency - Thanks for the kind thought, but my days of running or occupying elected office are behind me. I prefer to observe and comment. That is a lifetime avocation. My background was as a market and planning analyst and business forecaster for General Motors for 35 years. We were expected (on request) to comment pro or con on all automotive issues globally. Now retired, I get to comment even if no one requests it. My life hobby has been politics and its impact on real people.


Posted: January 20th, 2012 3:18 PM

John you wrote: "A big problem in OP is that the residents believe that their role is to vote (not many do) for candidates, and step back for two years, and let the boards take charge." Not really. I think its to vote and then watch you do all the leg work to keep the community informed. Maybe if you run we could all be so lucky to get the "right" full time person in there. Dont be afraid John. It seems you might have the time to do this. BTW, whats your background in again? Thanks .

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: January 20th, 2012 2:47 PM

John H. - you captured the condition of the village decision-making process exactly. A big problem in OP is that the residents believe that their role is to vote (not many do) for candidates, and step back for two years, and let the boards take charge. You identified a significant failure in the process when you wrote, "Board members are volunteers and I doubt have the time, interest or background to have anything other than a cursory understanding of the facts and law, forcing them to rely on the lawyers." I would add developers and financiers. Lawyers are not the sole problem. Oak Park is not a dumb town. It has one of the higher percentages of residents with advance degrees in the country. Yet our commissions have little power and the little they have is diluted by the criteria for service - loyalty and supplication to the board. When I was elected to a school board a few decades ago, the sage Board President and School Superintendent briefed me on my decision responsibilities. They said there were three - hiring the superintendent, setting goals for the residents and administration team, and ensuring that the goals were followed. That's it. Everything else is to represent the residents by approving or disapproving recommendations and proposal by the staff. The board occasionally had temporary committees or commissions but it was rare. Being a board member is not a casual part-time job. Time, effort, and good judgment are definitely needed, but even more important clarity of thought that leads to the use of community resources to support their effort. That requires confidence in its community, and recognition that a board members independence of thought is more important than avoidance of disagreements and 7-0 votes.


Posted: January 10th, 2012 4:38 PM

Silly like ha ha!

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