Downtown superblock riddled with conflicts

Opinion

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After I'd written a letter to the editor on Sept. 21, Dan Haley interpreted my objections to the DTOP (Downtown Oak Park) Superblock hearings. He said, "Vernon is frustrated that the new process, invented by the people she helped put in office."

The new process and the newly elected are not the problem. The problem is inappropriate protocol and conflicts of interest set up and allowed by a committee consisting primarily of persons left over from past administrations who ought to know better.

The litany of real and potential conflicts of interest: 1)initially appointing Mike Fox to the Steering Committee (according the Illinois TIF Act, property owners cannot serve on an advisory commission within a TIF district.) 2) initially appointing property owner Seymour Taxman's architect, Joe Antunovich, to the Steering Committee. 3) President David Pope speaking up at an early meeting in violation of the Open Meetings act. 4) Lisa DiCheira, Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois (LPCI) serving on the Steering Committee as a nonresident. (Aren't all members of local advisory commissions supposed to be residents?) 5) Did anyone consider that Joe Antunovich is on the board of directors of LPCI; was the chair of the board until June 30, 2005? 6) or that LPCI is an organization that has purportedly received funding contributions from Antunovich, developer Sy Taxman, and Tim Anderson/Focus Development, principal players in these hearings? More: Sept. 20, six people presented master plans for DTOP. 7) One Steering Committee member, Plan Commissioner Colette Lueck, is a founding member of a group that presented one master plan. 8) Another Steering Committee member, Trustee Greg Marsey, is a director of another group that presented a master plan. These committee members need to recuse themselves not only from the voting but also from the deliberations so as not to prejudice or influence the outcomes. So much for objectivity and accountability in the DTOP hearings.

Dan Haley said, "Christine, don't blame those you call self-interested. Blame those who are non-interested." There is a clear difference between 'non-interested' (apathetic) and 'interested, but not available' or 'interested, but not welcome.' All people who are passionate about Oak Park are not available for meetings once a week for three months. They are not able to continue doing the jobs of trustees, staff, commissions, and local newspapers. Our job is to be the fabric of society, take care of our jobs, provide for our families, maintain our homes and apartments, provide the funding for good government through taxes, and, ideally, volunteer time to worthwhile causes when possible. Attending a planning session riddled with conflicts of interest is not a wise investment of a resident's time.

My perception of the Superblock and many of the out of town property owners is that TIF (Tax Increment Financing) money (abuse/funding) has created a welfare culture for the wealthy in downtown leadership. Major preoccupation recently focused and misdirected skills and efforts on extending the TIF for another 12 years and primarily blamed retail woes on a lack of parking. Extravagant gifts of our tax dollars have blunted initiative and creativity. There has been no public accounting of where millions of dollars of TIF money has been paid out since 1983, at least not to the public in the paper.

Is it true that recently there has been a pattern of diverting TIF funds from infrastructure improvements to outright subsidies to developers? This is disturbing if it is the case.

Does DTOP, with Mike Fox as President, really receive $300,000 a year in funding from the downtown TIF? That's quite a funding stream.

Is it also true that the Crandall Arambula Master Plan was actually a TIF redevelopment plan in disguise, required by the Illinois TIF Act to qualify for a 12 year TIF extension?

How do citizens learn the truth about all of this? Dan Haley said, "Vernon is frustrated..." In the past few years, and dramatically in recent weeks, we have seen examples of leadership lacking on every level of government. When you live in a community as rich in intellectual and practical resources as Oak Park is, and you have a public body ignoring conflicts of interest, some bordering on illegal, the emotion I feel is anger.

Dan Haley called me "a woman I have known for ... decades." True. I wrote for the Oak Park News before Haley became the editor and it evolved into the Wednesday Journal in the '70s. In those days, investigative journalism was common practice in your paper. It hasn't been that way for years. If it were, it would be your paper pointing out conflicts of interest and not a citizen. The free press should call government to task, expose corruption, report the unbiased truth and the facts, and be apolitical. Sadly, investigative journalism in Oak Park is a lost art.

Christine Vernon
Oak Park

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