Lakewood policy wonk Steve Willson took fingers to keys, writing the following lament about the lack of candidates in most municipal elections and, especially, his own Village of Lakewood.
I am disappointed in how many local races are not contested, especially here in my home town of Lakewood.
The Lakewood Village Board just demonstrated that they do not care about the democratic process, that they are perfectly willing to bend or ignore the rules to get their way.
In short, that, in their minds, the end justifies the means.
Let me be clear.
I think the SportsPlex is unlikely to succeed, but that is NOT my point.
And I think TIFs in general are a bad idea, but THAT is not my point either.
My point is about how the democratic process is supposed to work and about violating the principles on which this government is founded.
With the exception of Ken Santowski, every member of the board had decided the TIF district is a good idea for Lakewood and they were determined to find a legalistic, technical way to get the deal done, even though the evidence was overwhelming that, in substance, they did not meet the laws’ tests.
The law says TIF districts are for blighted areas.
The agricultural land at 47 & 176 is not blighted by any substantial definition.
Neither is a beautiful golf course.
But the Board had no problem ignoring the facts and finding a consultant and an attorney willing to say those properties technically meet the law’s requirements.
And TIF districts are to be used only if they meet the “but for” test, meaning that “but for” the TIF district, development would not occur.
The purpose of this test is to prevent municipalities from giving away the taxpayers’ money unnecessarily.
We know this area does not meet the “but for” test.
[Trustee] Gene Furey said explicitly at the last meeting that development would come to that corridor.
And we have seen other property along Route 47 develop, so there is no reason to suspect this property won’t develop in the proper time.
We have seen three different academic studies that prove that TIF districts in Illinois have been singularly ineffective in promoting development that would not have occurred anyway.
And we know that the consultant the Village hired has approved every single TIF district he was hired to approve, and has never examined whether the TIF districts he approved actually generated additional growth.
It’s almost as if the consultant had an obvious incentive to give an affirmative answer.
But the Village board had no problem approving the TIF district anyway.
If any other board had approved a project that these same people opposed, these same people would have been aghast at the abuse of the process.
But because they themselves violated the principles and the purpose for which the law was written, and because they did it for a project they like, they can’t seem to see that breaking the rules to get their way is a violation of democratic principles, and that that is more important than winning.
They cannot seem to see that the end does not justify the means.
I would like to see them try to explain their actions to a freshman civics class.
I would like to see how they would react if their children came home and bragged about how they’d used technicalities to avoid telling a customer the whole truth, but they made the sale! Would they be proud of the children they had raised?
And I can tell you one other thing: I’d be very cautious about ever doing business with any of these board members.
They’ve already demonstrated their willingness to cut corners to get their way.
Would you trust them if they were your accountant, your realtor, or your accountant?
That they pushed this project through shortly after the deadline for opponents to file for election does not surprise me.
It’s bad enough when you see this kind of abuse in Cook County.
But in our little village of 4,000?
The fact that the stakes are so petty almost makes the violation worse.
The board members should be ashamed of themselves.