By Jim Bowman
About the Dec. 11 meeting at the library, where President Anan Abu-Taleb and Trustee Peter Barber took on comers.
Yes, it got heated regarding the District 97 building situation, and Anan got pointed in his rebuttal, but he was not flustered by the detailed objections. Neither was Barber, who recalled his days on the D97 board and how parents and others get quite energetic at times, in the faces of board members, etc. That's a longstanding pattern. Heated commentary, finger-shaking, even once I recall, a board member being asked to step outside by a citizen, and not to grab a smoke and chat.
Anan apologized at one point. This was after the heated citizen pictured in the Wed. Journal story interrupted him from the back – he had been recognized and had the mike, Anan was adding to what he had said. Really, it was like old times, when men were men and women were women and you couldn't tell one from the other when it came to putting up (verbal) dukes.
When the dust settled at the library, it was nonetheless another historic gathering. The village board did not use to leave its chamber to go toe to toe with voters, except at election time. It's what Anan had in mind when he ran for office last spring – a first for him – and said he wanted more citizen involvement. As he said at the library a few days ago, to one of two energetic objectors, "I am more interested in making you engaged than you want to be engaged."
He means that. Why else would he put himself up there in a free-for-all situation, for voters to let loose on him this way? Same for his sidekick at this meeting, Barber.
They had been told: "You guys are acting as if it's a new thing," that is, District 97 spending and (probably) village spending in general. "That's why people are frustrated with you. You guys are good politicians, you avoided" the big issue.
Anan had been "disrespectful" with his "rant" to an ally of the speaker, he was told. The speaker hoped he'd be "more respectful" in Saturday morning's joint village-District 97 meeting at Village Hall.
"There's no proposal yet," Anan said. "As I said in your house" – he had gone to the man's house to talk about it – "District 97 is the largest employer in our community." And then he added the part about "making you engaged."
To which the man told him, "Stop saying there's no plan. There is a plan, and you know it."
So it went on that issue, which Anan explained as negotiation by the village with the school district over left-over TIF money, per a 1995 agreement that called for giving it back to the district in 2010. It's better to negotiate than sue, "with your money," he told the man to whom he was accused of being disrespectful.
This 1995 agreement does explain why these two taxing bodies are in conversation. TIF (tax increment financing) siphoned off revenue from the schools in order to finance business development, in this case on Madison Street. So the village owes the school district. If that 1995 agreement has been publicized, it hasn't been publicized lately or at least not much.
Another explanation came as to how the new development plan will work. The developer goes to the yet to be named director of economic development and his commission, where the development proposal is hashed out. Then the development director calls the newly named village hall manager with details to be permitted. This person deals with the permitters and gets back to the development director with the go-ahead or stop-action.
Finally, something else to show the meeting was not one battle: Anan gave a quite upbeat report on village council activities, in which he announced (early in the meeting) an "end of turmoil" at the village board, to whose presidency he was elected as a political outsider less than a year ago. "Please be optimistic," he said. "We've had a lot of changes already. We have probably the smartest board in a long time. We have developed relationships, can do a lot over the next three years."