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TIF: Take It Fools May 6, 2015

TIF: Take It Fools

  Apparently, our village administration has grown so imperious that it has moved beyond its usual “Take it or leave it” arrogance to simply: “Take it.”

  The latest chapter in the ongoing downtown TIF district saga unfolded April 22, when a statutorily required Joint Review Board (JRB) convened to consider the village’s proposal to reprise its quarter-century-long downtown TIF boondoggle. Very briefly, the village administration has a perennial hunger for more tax money, and one sneaky—but legal—way to get tens of millions more is to set up a TIF, which redirects certain property tax revenue from the schools, fire prevention, library, etc. into village coffers. Then, as it did before, the village can draw from its pile of fun money to play favorites, enriching friendly contractors, consultants, lawyers, and businesses along the way.

  Meanwhile, the teachers, firefighters, librarians, and others will struggle to provide the same level of service as year-by-year the gaps in their revenue grow, as year-by-year more money is vacuumed up inside Village Hall. This power to financially hurt other units of government is the reason Illinois law provides for a check on villages, the JRB. Convening a JRB allows the pillaged taxing districts to opine on the wisdom of a TIF before such a plan is finally adopted by the village.

  The membership of the Bartlett Downtown JRB must include, by law, a representative of each district affected, a village representative, and a public member—the last of which is chosen by the other representatives. And here was where the village first and most flamboyantly showed its arrogance on April 22 (more to come in next week’s paper). Prior to calling to order the JRB, sitting on dais were, as expected, representatives of affected taxing districts, the village representative, and the village attorney. Curiously, another person was found sitting up there as well: Donna Weir.

  Now, let’s stem the flow of letters to the editor right here: We have never heard anything about Ms. Weir other than she is, personally, a very nice woman.

  But that has little to do with the issue of government integrity in the Village of Bartlett.

  Without the consent of, or even consultation with, the other JRB members, the village peremptorily sat Weir on the dais, offering her up as the public member. It was a classic Hobson’s choice: You may hire any horse in the barn, as long as it’s the one in the first stall by the door.

  Now, while it’s only mildly insulting to treat the other, sovereign governing bodies as children in this way, the specific choice of Ms. Weir was a high and scandalous insult to not only other taxing district officials, but to taxpayers as well. 

  First, Ms. Weir sits upon the village’s Economic Development Commission (EDC). The EDC is an advisory board to the village board. In theory, the EDC operates as a think tank, generating good ideas to spur…economic development. In reality, the EDC often simply serves to offer political cover to the village administration and board of trustees. Which explains why, according to published minutes, the very same person representing the village on the JRB showed up a the EDC’s January meeting, gave a pro-TIF sales pitch, and urged that “Staff is looking for a positive recommendation from the EDC to the Village Board in order to continue the process.”

  Compliant, Weir voted “Yes.” Though we think her EDC vote was wrongheaded, she had every right to cast it. But is there any wonder why the administration desires Weir to also sit on the JRB, to be the only person in town who gets two votes on the TIF?

  And our concerns about the choice of Ms. Weir do not end there. Ms. Weir is First Vice President and Branch Manager of American Chartered Bank, 388 S. Main Street, Bartlett (see her business card, below).

  Guess which bank received three separate cash grants totaling more than $23,000 in tax dollars under the last TIF? American Chartered. And guess which bank will again be within the proposed TIF and in a position to get more free money extracted from our schools, fire protection, and library? Yes, American Chartered, the one managed by the only person in town with two votes on the TIF. Better definitions of “conflict of interest” or “appearance of impropriety” cannot be found in any dictionary.

  Weir needs to go, immediately.

  The village owes the elected boards of the JRB’s various taxing districts and the residents of Bartlett an apology for trying to pull a fast one, for trying to stack the deck in favor of the TIF money grab. At the next JRB meeting, representatives of those districts need to accept Weir’s resignation (which we expect her to tender) and appoint a disinterested public member consistent with the spirit of the law. If no resignation is tendered, Weir must be forcibly removed by motion and vote of the JRB. It’s not personal: it’s a public integrity issue of the first order.

  Then, and only then, can the JRB have an honest discussion and vote on the merits and many, many demerits of the proposed TIF—the latter of which we will detail at great length next Wednesday.

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