Former President Ronald Reagan once stated, “Facts are stupid things.” The New Leadership Coalition (NLC) and Village Citizens Alliance (VCA) trustees are apparently fervent students of our former president.

The NLC and VCA have consistently chastised more than 50 years of Village Manager Association (VMA) village boards, yet seek to take credit for all of their accomplishments. The most recent One View [The NLC wants development that considers character, Aug. 9] continued their pattern by listing purported NLC/VCA accomplishments.

While it is certainly healthy to have open and informative debates on the issues, those debates need to be grounded in factual accuracy. We respectfully submit that listed below are the facts-without the “spin.”

NLC/VCA Spin – This village board approved $5.8 million in new spending to support business districts along Harrison Street, Chicago Avenue, Roosevelt Road, North Avenue, and Lake Street.

Fact – The actual amount is $6 million ($1.2 million for engineering and $4.8 million for streetscape improvements, although Lake Street improvements are not included in this amount). While we believe the implementation of the various plans approved by previous VMA majority boards do need to move forward, the current board may need to borrow up to $6 million to implement these plans and our current debt load must be carefully managed.

The fact that the $6 million debt load could be handled within the current 2006 budget and beyond is in large measure possible because of the 2005 budget, approved by former VMA President Trapani’s board, which came in at 95 percent of budgeted expenses and 102 percent of projected revenues. That 7-percent difference allowed our fund balance to remain at the 20 percent target encouraged by our financial advisors, and ensured our bond rating remained high. For the NLC and VCA to take credit for 2006 infrastructure momentum gives short shrift to previous boards’ fiscal prudence.

The evidence suggests (for instance, the $5 million total cost to purchase the Colt building, plus interest costs of $1.5 million) that the current NLC and VCA board majority is not as fiscally prudent as past boards or as prudent as they would have us believe. Ask yourself a simple question-is it wise or even prudent to spend anywhere from $7.2 million to $10 million “saving” the Colt building, which is valued at only $5 million?

NLC/VCA Spin – This village board expanded the Retail Rehab Grant Program previously available only in downtown to all village business districts.

Fact – While technically correct, the previous VMA majority board put this into motion during 2004-05 so that funds could be allocated in the 2006 budget. This is yet another example of expansion of a program created by a VMA majority board where the costs associated with the program’s expansion could be absorbed into the budget without a tax increase, due to strong fiscal management of the 2004 and 2005 budgets. In addition, the many business district plans created by VMA majority boards allow for strategic and tactical investment with the goal in mind of expanding our sales-tax base, creating the potential for the village to reduce its share of your property tax. While past VMA boards have been credited with strong strategic investments and expansion of business retention/expansion programs by award-winning planning firms, progress appears to be stalled or worse-regressing. Ask yourself a simple question: Are vacancies in town going down or up? What was really behind the Lane Bryant fiasco? Why did the NLC/VCA board majority vote against filling vacant space in the Marshall Field building downtown-which continues to carry a 75-percent vacancy rate?

NLC/VCA Spin – This village board raised the caps on grant and loan amounts available from Oak Park Development Corporation (OPDC) to gateway businesses on Oak Park’s borders.

Fact – This is actually correct, and we agree this is a good enhancement to a program put in place in partnership between OPDC, the village and past VMA-majority boards. The fact that was conveniently omitted, however, was that NLC/VCA trustees Milstein and Brock voted against all partner-agency contracts, which included OPDC, as part of a sweeping “No” vote for a large consent agenda during a Dec. 5, 2005, board meeting. Ask yourself again-how can they take credit for something they are on record as voting against? Shouldn’t trustees explain their “No” votes with clear conviction rather than silence?

As was exemplified by the NLC/VCA campaign of 2005, just because someone repeats something often enough and loud enough for everyone to hear, doesn’t mean it’s a fact. And we urge you to review the village board’s minutes at www.oak-park.us and to watch TV-6 to see for yourself what the facts are.

And, while the recent NLC One View includes an awful lot of soundbites, we still await sound policies which address the real issues at stake in the community-issues like recent property tax bills which threaten the ability of many to remain in Oak Park and the consistent, high-volume, personal attacks against developers, investors and some in the business community that have emanated from time to time from specific NLC/VCA board members.

We look forward to sharing more facts versus spin, asking you to ponder these real questions. In the coming days and weeks, we invite you to discuss with us your perspectives by visiting www.vma-oakpark.org and sending us your thoughts. If you would prefer, please call us at 802-1905.

Another U.S. president also spoke about facts. As John Adams said, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

Bob Kane
VMA president

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