As the River Forest board tees up its work on some critical economic development initiatives, one trustee says he’ll be absent from the discussions – Respicio Vazquez.
In conversations during his campaign run, he told Wednesday Journal that he was open to creating tax increment finance districts, but he probably would have to excuse himself from being engaged in working on those matters if he won.
With his election and swearing in, his non-participation went from a hypothetical to reality.
The reason? Vazquez is a partner with Franczek Radelet, a law firm that represents River Forest Elementary School District 90 and Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 in matters related to TIFs in both communities.
TIF districts — one just formed on Madison Street and another pending on North Avenue – are expected to strengthen commercial property values and improve the village’s economic picture in the coming months and years.
But Vazquez won’t take an active role in those discussions unless his firm steps away from doing business with the school districts. Since that’s not likely to happen, Vazquez has said he’ll disclose his relationship with the firm at the board table and abstain from participating in any District 90 or District 200 matter to avoid an appearance of a conflict of interest or impropriety.
“I would not leave the public session, but I would not participate, opine or vote,” Vazquez told Wednesday Journal after being sworn in earlier this month. “If there were discussions in closed session, I would not go in or participate. If a matter came up in closed session related to the district, I would leave.”
Recusal could be over something as simple as a minor amendment to a planned development at District 90 or something as substantive as tax increment finance districts, which have financial implications for both school districts.
Each taxing body within River Forest – including the local school districts — participates in the TIF district’s Joint Review Board, which provides input and votes on recommending TIF districts to village’s board of trustees. And that’s where things can get tricky.
For example, during formation of the Madison Street TIF in 2016, River Forest District 90 asked for an intergovernmental agreement that would spell out the payout of surplus TIF dollars. District 90 later rejected the agreement over the terms and timing of payouts.
In 2010, $1.9 million from the Lake Street Tax Increment Finance district was promised to Keystone Ventures for property acquisition and cleanup of toxic chemicals. In 2015, District 90 demanded its share of those funds. Nothing happened with that demand, and it is uncertain if it is still an issue.
“However, there may be more to it based on some history with some past discussions between the village and the school district regarding how those remaining funds should be used and/or redistributed,” Vazquez said. “In this case, it would seem that I would need to recuse myself.”
Vazquez said he discussed the potential conflicts with the partners at the firm.
“We check potential conflicts with all of our clients,” he said.