The Sage of Sandholm Street and I were conversing many years ago about a local neighborhood issue. I remarked, “Well, Gordon, you know when the City gets involved, it makes winners and losers.” He gently corrected me. He said, “Doc, you are half right. But actually, when the City gets involved, it makes losers of everyone.” The Sage lives in Julius Alexander’s old house that was built across State Street from the Dunkin’ in about 1839. The Sage moved the Alexander house decades ago from State Street to Sandholm Street to a large lot. He also has close personal ties to the Mill Race Inn site that go beyond Julius Alexander. That is a story for another time.
The garish Dunkin’ spectacle on public display at the southeast corner of Crissey Avenue and E. State Street on Geneva’s east side tells a story of official municipally sponsored decline and decay. This descent into a blighted state is accelerating because of an illiteracy problem at Geneva City Hall. An example of this comprehension deficit can be found by examining two declarative sentences taken from Geneva’s Municipal Code that are written in the English language: 1) “The proposed building, other structures and use comply with any and all regulations, conditions or requirements of the city applicable to such building, structure or use;” and, 2) “It shall be unlawful for any person to erect or maintain any building or structure which encroaches upon any public street or other property.”
The first sentence is Standard Eight of the nine mandatory standards in Geneva’s Special Use provision, contained in Title 11, Zoning. The second sentence is a regulation drawn from the Geneva Municipal Code, Title Eight, Public Ways, and Property. No dispute can arise over whether the Green Wall of Crissey Avenue encroaches into the public right of way of Crissey Avenue. This encroachment is depicted in Geneva Special Use Ordinance 2018-36, which allowed a special use drive-through after the mayor, who only votes when a tie exists, voted to pass the ordinance. Now, “any person” commits an “unlawful” act when that person “maintain(s)” a wall that encroaches upon the public right of way of Crissey Avenue.
What would Forrest Crissey say about this? After all, he wrote the book “Tattlings of a Retired Politician.” Until recently, a Genevan ascending the East side Hill passed the first home where Forrest and Kate Shurtleff Crissey lived as renters. That home, also known as the Miller-Gully House, was allowed to deteriorate under the watchful eye of a Geneva code inspector and then was demolished. The next home up the hill to the east, the Widow Stokes Home, also recently destroyed, was where August Drahms grew up. Literate Genevans might know that Drahms wrote the first American textbook on criminology.
If the reader suspects that the two cited provisions of the Geneva Municipal Code have been cherry-picked, the reader is encouraged to read “Section 11-1-2: – Interpretation.” This section will explain which provisions “shall govern.” Also included in the Code is a definition of “shall:” “May/Shall: The word “may” is permissive; the word “shall” is mandatory.”
Nowhere is the honest enforcement of plain code language more critical than in older neighborhoods where diversity in home size, lot size, and affordability is coupled with substandard infrastructure and governmental mischief. When the property rights of this diverse group of owners are ignored in favor of large corporate recipients of public money gifts such as sales tax kickbacks, TIF, grants, and wink and nod gratuitous zoning “reliefs,” demolition follows. For example, the Dunkin green wall stands while unlawfully encroaching the Crissey right of way, but the historic affordable home in the picture does not. Over the past couple of decades, the City of Geneva’s slipshod wink and nod “bending” of zoning rules has nearly destroyed my neighborhood via demolition by neglect.
Reflections on the Destruction of Verbatim Records of Geneva City Council Closed Sessions – March Madness is Upon Us but Madness is Always in Season at Geneva City Hall
The legendary basketball coach John Wooden said: ” “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” Having been a high school basketball player (the poorest one on a poor (1-19) 1964 HS team), I followed the game devotedly. That same year (1964), Wooden’s UCLA Bruins were 30-0. Coach Wooden, an English teacher, gave sage advice on many topics. 103 Unforgettable John Wooden Quotes – Addicted 2 Success
In 1963, I followed the fortunes of Coach Mel Johnson’s Elite Eight Geneva Vikings. Coach Johnson was a friend of my father’s, and we attended some games in the Mack Olson Gym, built in the 1950s via collaboration between the Geneva Park District and School District 304 – imagine that. The project was completed without even a single closed-session meeting. The Mack Olson Gymnasium name came later. Mack Olson was a member of the Geneva HS Class of 1960 and was a standout basketball and baseball player. He was a founder of the Geneva Academic Foundation, and, like Gregg Nelson, was a banker.
The ’63 team was a pleasure to watch – they played as a team and were fundamentally sound. Bob Johansen, later an Illini starter, seemed like a superstar to me. Truth be told though, I thought the Viking teams of a couple of years earlier were better with Haskell Tison (he started at Duke and was drafted by the Celtics – see reference to “Hack Tison” in John Wooden’s Wiki Bio), Mack Olson, Gregg Nelson, and a younger Johansen.
For example, the ’61 Vikings won the Hinsdale Regional Championship by defeating Aurora West, Aurora East, and, in the title game, St. Procopius (73-50) (who had earlier beaten Naperville 50-48). Geneva’s balanced scoring was typical in the final game: Tison 20, Nelson 17, Johnson 15, Benson 12, Weeks 3, Arbizzani 2, Johansen 2, Junkins 2.
Geneva lost a heartbreaker in the Sectional.
WHEATON (84): Pfund 38, Hutchinson 13, Fitzsimmons 11, Jones 8, Kee 6, Tichava 6, Close 2.
GENEVA (83): Tison 32, Nelson 21, Johnson 16, Benson 8, Cox 3, Junkins 2, Arbizzani 1.
Who was this villain Pfund who scored 38 points before the 3-point shot? His first name was John, and he was the son of Lee Pfund, the Wheaton College basketball and baseball coach. Some of us remember Lee (LeRoy Herbert Pfund died at 96 in 2017) as a pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1945. Leo Durocher, of the Cubs’ infamous 1969 collapse, was the Dodger manager who gave Pfund his first start. Lee was a teammate of Jackie Robinson. In the Sectional Final against Morton, John Pfund scored only 12 points, most late in the game when it was out of reach. The defense-oriented Morton Mustangs (my wife’s alma mater) crushed the run-and-gun Wheaton Tigers 64-46. Randy Pfund, John’s younger brother, went on to become the coach for the Los Angeles Lakers and general manager of the Miami Heat.
Haskell Tyson (6′ 10″) fouled out in the Sectional with 3:53 left in the fourth quarter and Wheaton leading 74-69. Geneva was vying to become only the second team to come out of an Illinois “small school” District Tournament (the “play-in” to the Regionals) to make it to Champaign and The Elite Eight. The Sweet Sixteen Tournament had been reduced to eight in 1956. With 37 seconds left, Geneva’s Bob Cox sank the first of two free throws to make the score 82-81, but he missed the second. Robert “Bob” Cox was another State Bank of Geneva executive and a founder of the Geneva Academic Foundation, among many other things. Geneva’s John Johnson snared Cox’s rebound. His potential game-winner put-back shot was partially blocked with no foul called, and the Tigers got possession. Wheaton’s Chuck Close hit a short jumper with less than 20 seconds left to make the score 84-81 Wheaton. Gregg Nelson countered with a long jumper that would have been a three in another era. But then, of course, Pfund would have scored 50+. Time ran out.
I’ve always felt some bitterness toward Wheaton. But then again, I remind myself that Wheaton’s Red Grange scored 10 points after a touchdown, i.e., PATs, against Batavia HS in 1920. This is Batavia’s only entry in that record book. Geneva is winning that competition with Batavia by a score of +1 to -1. Mike Ratay scored 47 touchdowns for Geneva in 2008. IHSA IHSA Boys Football All-Time Individual Records (Scoring Offense)
I knew both Mack and Gregg. Mack died in 1996 while still at the top of his game. He was a behind-the-scenes kind of person whose advice was sought by many, including me when I had the privilege to serve on the Geneva School Board many years ago. I played hoops against Gregg once in about 1961. My mother had purchased a square grand piano with two notable characteristics: 1) It was a piano tuner’s annuity (even I could tell it was always out of tune), and 2) the thing must have weighed over half a ton. “Nelson Movers” was located “out west” next to what is now Emma’s Landing and my father somehow conned Art, Gregg’s father, into picking up and delivering the monster piano.
So, Gregg and a couple of guys who closely resembled Charles Atlas showed up at our house on Army Trail Road one warm summer day with the piano. I was in the driveway shooting hoops, of course. I’d like to say I helped move the piano, and I did do so by staying well out of the way. After the heavy lifting was over, Gregg left the two guys inside to place the piano in its correct spot (which never changed thereafter). I challenged Gregg to a one-on-one contest to eleven, reasoning what better time to catch him than after he had just moved an immovable piano. He was up 9-0 (What can I say – he got lucky!) when he let me score a couple of times before he was off in the moving van.
Gregg was a banker, following in the footsteps of his father Art, and his grandfather Walter Nelson at the State Bank of Geneva. I am not related to these stalwarts with whom I share a surname that is especially common in Geneva.
Another Nelson was Oscar, one of the few Genevans whose obituary was published in the New York Times. April 3, 1951. 81772316.pdf (nytimes.com) Oscar was cashier at the State Bank of Geneva in 1920. Later Oscar and his wife Myrtle and his mother-in-law Alice Bennett Gates lived in the Bennett/Gates home at 223 East State just across from the Mayor Burns Dunkin’ at State and Crissey. Oscar, like Walter, Arthur, and Greg was a President of the State Bank of Geneva, though Oscar Nelson was not related to the other Nelsons.
Oscar was not the only Geneva Mayor to be indicted, though his indictment was thrown out by Forrest Crissey’s brother-in-law. Mayor James Herrington was a convicted felon (for assault on his one-armed business partner) when he died in 1839. His son, also Mayor James Herrington, was under investigation for arson-for-hire when he died. His accuser, former Geneva Mayor McChesney (for whom a Geneva HS Golf Tournament is named – he owned the farm that became the Geneva Golf Club) had his own barn go up in flames at about the same time Charles Mussey was accused of torching the Howell Foundry (which then moved to St. Charles). Willis Howell was a McChesney man. The Valley View environmental activist of the 1960s known as the Hot Fox was no relation to Charles Mussey.
Oscar Nelson never tried to hide his judgment calls as the Illinois State Auditor when he allowed borderline banks to stay open in the 1930s. His reports were never redacted or destroyed. He held no secret meetings. He was never accused of political favoritism for the benefit of friends or schoolmates.
The current Burnsian administration designated me as a “recurrent requester” under the authority of the Illinois Freedom of Information statute. This designation permitted the City of Geneva to embargo my requests for a month. Nothing required the administration to do this. Upon whose authority it was done, I have been unable to learn (in spite of a FOIA request!). I would have thought that the City Council would have had to be involved since I can find no blanket authority in Geneva’s ordinances that grants such powers to the mayor and/or his minions. Of course, in the Burnsian era, secret meetings abound, so one can never be sure of the origin of any city action.
I wear the “recurrent requester” badge with great honor. Yes, I made about fifty requests over a year’s time. I endeavored to make my requests focused and sequential so that I could minimize the City’s inconvenience. Now I understand that my strategy was flawed. I was trying to emulate the Cincinnati Bearcats by employing a methodical process to get to the goal of understanding the ins and outs of how the Geneva city government operates.
The city administration, obviously under the direction of Burns, has made it clear that it does not deign to answer citizen questions. In fact, Burns directed his minions to not even answer aldermanic inquiries.
Mayor Burns couples a policy of forcing cloaked deliberation and then forcing Council decisions “by consensus” on critical issues in secret (with his handpicked staff providing all the Council’s information selectively, while blocking aldermanic access). Then Burns ambushes the victims of these governmental improprieties before those affected (often very few people or an individual) know what is afoot. This has become known as the “Geneva Way.”
I will have to modify my FOIA strategy. The Bearcats led the Loyola Ramblers 48-36 heading into the final 8 minutes in the 1963 NCAA Championship Basketball Game. There was no shot clock in 1963, and no three-point shot – game over, right? Cincinnati had its third straight championship in the bag. Not so fast. Loyola put on a ferocious full-court press and won the game on a Vic Rouse shot at the over-time buzzer.
I had repeatedly asked for the verbatim records (recordings) of several secret City Council sessions. I never received these verbatim records. I have the task now to study the released summary minutes and press on with more FOIA requests, ala George Ireland. I’ll try to become more like a Rambler than a Bearcat when dealing with the City Hall polecats.
Duke beat Oregon State (83-62) in the 1963 third-place game. Sophomore “Hack” Tison of Geneva (freshmen could not play in 1963) was Duke’s fourth-leading scorer with four baskets and three free throws. He was Duke’s leading rebounder with 11. In 1964, after beating Michigan 91-80 in the semi-final Duke met UCLA in the NCAA Championship Game. The Duke Blue Devils coached by Vic Bubas lost to John Wooden’s Bruins 98-83. Wooden won his first NCAA Tournament. Duke had won the East Regional over Connecticut 101-54! Tison, the Duke starting center, was Duke’s third highest scorer in the final game with 14 points plus 8 rebounds and 2 assists in 27 minutes. Jeff Mullins had 30 points. Drafted by the Celtics, Tison chose a higher-paying job with IBM. He said at the time he was tired of all the traveling and wanted to get on with his life.
About 30 years ago a local reporter for the Geneva Republican waited around the parking lot of the Kane County Government Center for a closed session of the County Board to end. The young beat reporter interviewed the Batavia representative who told him that the County Board was informed that night by the Kane County States Attorney in a secret session that it was sitting on a “gold mine.” The landfill “enterprise funds” were being used as slush funds for pet projects from canoe shoots to baseball stadiums. The County Board Chairman Warren Kammerer was outraged that the “leak” occurred. His henchmen called for the head of the Batavian (who is one of my heroes). Then someone realized that transparency is a virtue, not a crime.
I read that Republican piece and asked an attorney friend to ask the circuit court to order the release of the tape of that meeting, which the judge did. I went to Lorraine Sava’s office where I was welcomed (Lorraine even entertained my four-year-old daughter and vice versa) while I made a copy of the tape. It took many more years and the efforts of many people, such as County Board Chairman Mike McCoy and Geneva School Superintendent Dr. John Murphy, but the landfill was permanently closed in 2006 instead of 2020, as it was set during the 90s. Geneva District 304 received $5.5 million, and the Geneva Parks got proportionately less in unpaid taxes due. The City of Geneva and Geneva Public Library got nothing as they refused to be parties to the litigation. (I received no money but got priceless satisfaction.)
Oscar Nelson’s frugal “square dealing” of a century ago sharply contrasts with the Burnsian “Geneva Way” of secret sessions and prevarications. Just one example: remember the Burnsian “fact sheet” on Emma’s Landing from July 2020 that claimed that the Burton Foundation was the only applicant for the Eamma’s Landing site in 2019?
The truth is that there was another and better July 2019 offer, submitted by MVAH. MVAH is a LIHTC developer of Senior Housing, a much better fit with Geneva, where District 304 is in Tier 4 for State Funding and 90% of 304’s funding is from local sources. I only know about this offer because I am a “recurrent requester” of the truth. During the flurry of improper secret communications by City staff with the Burton Foundation in the spring of 2020, how many of Mayor Burns’ “overly curious” aldermen even knew about this MVAH offer? How did the Illinois Housing Development Authority conclude that Geneva donated the Emma’s Landing site which resulted in “padding” Burton’s QAP score? The answer is simple, IHDA used email communications between City staff and Burton as the evidence. Now the tapes have been destroyed that “authorized” by a secret City Council “consensus” the improper communications.
Where was square-dealing Oscar Nelson when we needed him most?
What the Geneva City Council does under the direction of the mayor when no one is looking has too often not passed the smell test. And it speaks volumes about John Wooden’s character test. I shall continue to poke at these stench weasels to discover their latest stinker.
The Full Story of the Emma’s Landing Grift Will Never Be Known, But What Is Known is Ugly
On November 7, 2022, the Geneva City Council finally released partial minutes of its April 20th, 2020, secret session. Although a FOIA request had been made for the minutes and tape of that secret meeting, the tape was destroyed anyway. The released minutes were redacted, so the release was only partial. The OMA exemption from transparency cited by the City Council does not exist for several of the closed sessions. The Council often invented an exemption by combining two provisions into one. The fragment of the April 2020 minutes made public reveals the council discussed a donation of the Emma’s Landing site, not the “sale or lease” of the property. No OMA exemption exists for discussion of the donation of public property. The Council on April 20 also discussed “pending litigation” but failed to cite the legal action that was pending.
The nuances of the Illinois Open Meetings Act (OMA) are many, and judicial case law is sparse. OMA_Reference_Guide.pdf (champaign.il.us) Given that no duty or requirement exists that closed secret session minutes be redacted or that verbatim recordings be destroyed, why is the City of Geneva so zealous in covering its Emma’s Landing tracks? The Geneva administration and City Council claim this: “The City of Geneva’s mission is to conduct government business in an open and transparent manner for all of our community stakeholders.” Government Transparency | Geneva, IL – Official Website
The City of Geneva talks the virtuous talk, but does it walk the straight and narrow path to transparency? Presented here is an example of one closed secret session, that of April 20th, 2020. The subject matter was both contentious and emotionally charged. The context is important. The meeting took place during the darkest days of a novel pandemic: Sars CoV-2 (Covid-19). The governor claimed emergency powers (some still “in force” today) that, among other things, suspended the Open Meeting Act. The legislature voluntarily disbanded. The governor did not call the legislature into an emergency session. The governor urged and advised but never ordered that only “emergency” measures be addressed by local governments during the crisis. On March 20, 2020, the governor ordered, without any due process, that citizens be detained by issuing a universal “stay at home” decree. (The mayor introduced an ordinance that would have the Geneva police cite and fine Genevans who “violated” this decree.) Pritzker also banned gatherings of ten or more people. The time was ripe for Rahm Emanuel’s “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.” Quote by Rahm Emanuel: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste….” (goodreads.com)
Please note that the land donation was discussed secretly several times, including on February 10, February 24, and April 20, 2020. Here are copies of the minutes of the three secret sessions minutes (the other minutes refer to an unrelated land matter):
The document below was also acquired via FOIA from IHDA. “11831” was Emma’s Landing file number of its application for federal and state grants. “Site Control” was mandatory and “land donation” garnered the application extra points.
Below is the State of Illinois Press Release (see page 2) that Emma’s Landing was a “winner” of IHDA approval for funding and that wrongfully claims that the site was donated by the City of Geneva. after the Press Release is another improper communication with the Burton Foundation providing it with information unavailable to Geneva citizens. The Mayor and Council were obsessed with the delusion that they could tax and spend Geneva into affordability.
The Geneva City Council on April 20, 2020, did not deliberate on the sale price for the Emma’s Landing site. Rather the Council schemed on how to waive permitting fees and gifting the site to the Fellhaurs, AKA, Burton Foundation. The Posse Comitatus night riders even went so far as to discuss how to darkly grease the deal past their own constituents. Is fraud too strong of a term when the City attorney secretly corresponds with an outside party and provides “the form” of a document not even yet seen by the City Council? From where in the Municipal Code does the City Administrator get the authority to set the Council’s agenda? Or does a wink and nod from the mayor suffice?
If the City of Geneva lasts a thousand years, people will look back and declare “This was their darkest hour.”
The Sudden Dominance of the Diversity Industrial Complex | RealClearInvestigations
Geneva City Council Agenda Item 4b for February 21, 2023: Consider Draft Resolution Authorizing the Acceptance of a Proposal from Ethos in an Amount Not to Exceed $20,000 for Stakeholder Facilitation to Create a Community Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Plan.
Does every person, family, organization, church, school, small business, and corporation need a DEI plan? Is any federal, state, county, or local government required by law to have such a plan? Does every entity need paid staff to implement/enforce such a plan? Unless all plans are identical, each of us may fall under the guidance of dozens of plans. Was the Geneva DEI expenditure in the budget?
Given that hundreds of thousands of causes are deemed worthy by at least some people, how does an ultralocal political micro-municipality of 20,000 people prioritize its funding? Does the City of Geneva have a policy on this DEI issue and a plan to audit the effectiveness of the tax money spent? Recently funding for the Geneva History Museum was held up by the lack of such a policy. The “feel good” test was decried as insufficient.
Affordability is a necessary, but not sufficient, characteristic of inclusive communities. But without affordability, all ethical questions are moot for those who cannot afford to enter and for those who cannot afford to stay in Geneva. How does this $20,000, plus the future expenditures needed to implement the resulting plan, advance Geneva’s affordability?
The Geneva History Museum Cash Was Under the Shell Marked “Covid” All Along
“The schism created at the Feb. 6 council meeting was not about the respect and appreciation we have for the museum’s work, but the sudden abandonment of good governance principles – witnessed by the attempt to codify funding beyond the current fiscal year for one organization – without a comprehensive discussion on the parameters and protocols of a funding mechanism that addresses potential requests by outside organizations in an equitable fashion,” Burns said.
In February, the Geneva City Council defeated a resolution (the tally was 5 yeas and 5 nays) to fund the Geneva History Museum with $50K of local tax money. Remember, this is the same group that last year gave $75K to a private lobbying outfit in a failed attempt to buy political leverage for their failed Prairie State Energy Campus, a coal-fired earth warmer. But that $75K was based on “good governance principles.”
The Geneva City Council continues down its well-worn path known as the “Geneva Way.” Burns took his ruler and rapped the knuckles of the five aldermen who, in February, wanted to pass a resolution to fund the Geneva History Museum with $50,000 for one year from recurring locally collected tax sources. The resolution would not and could not make the $50K a yearly stipend, as it would have to be budgeted every year. But the resolution made a recurring revenue stream possible. What the resolution would not have done is to require the recipient to kiss the mayor’s ring annually.
The Mayor and his five night-riders, citing “good governance principles,” shut that insurrection down instantly. The Mayor even invoked his only power: voting in the case of Council ties. He brought the hammer down hard on the fingertips of the gang of five mutineers who dared to question his authority. He boldly voted “nay.” Of course, his vote was a free kick at the can. The resolution had already failed since only a majority vote could pass a funding resolution. But while we are on the subject of character, the book of good government principles includes this, “recusal is ethically required when a reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts would question his impartiality in the matter.”
The Geneva City Council invokes formal rules such as FOIA, OMA, and even its own ordinances whenever convenient. Of course, the posse comitatus ignores these same rules when necessary to suit their purposes. Then they invoke their first principle of governance: “the ends justify the means.”
Now, in March, the City administration will roll out its favorite tactical manoeuver: the ambuscade. Miraculously, “Covid” (rhymes with covert) non-recurring funds of $51,000 has been found in the back of the small change drawer at City Hall. Federal money is free. The royal ring has been kissed. Crisis averted.
The Venture Park proposal (Venture Park | Geneva, IL – Official Website) is within the area where the groundwater has been contaminated by 1-4 Dioxane. City of Geneva water is now being provided to residents in this area. These residents will now be subjected to another health threat: PM2.5 air pollution from the heavy influx of truck traffic, plus idling diesel engines. The location within the 1-4 Dioxane area could not be worse since the whole area will be downwind, as the wind rose shows prevailing winds blow from the SW. Poor land planning inflicted the well water disaster on these residents – the siting of two landfills. One of these landfills is not engineered and received waste before the segregation of industrial waste from residential. The landfill time bomb continues to tick.
Now, the City of Geneva wants to encourage more development in a brownfield area. The groundwater in the area seeps from west to east. Contaminant plumes move at various speeds. 1-4 Dioxane is one of the racehorses in the stable of cancer-causing landfill toxic plumes. 1-4 Dioxane is considered a “forever” chemical.
The City of Geneva, under the current administration, was duped into signing a disastrous long-term contract with Prairie State Power, a coal-fired generator owned by Peabody Coal (which subsequently declared bankruptcy). Prairie State Energy Campus – Global Energy Monitor (gem.wiki) The $1.2 million Geneva investment in an electric transformer to service growth in a brownfield could help modestly to lower average electric rates in Geneva. At the same time, Geneva awaits the expiration of the long-term Praire State disaster many years from now. But the transformer is a speculative investment from both a fiscal and environmental perspective. In some ways, the transformer investment doubles down on the Prairie State Power lousy bet.
As Usual, More Questions than Answers about the Rules of the Shell Game: The Dunkin’ Shuffle and The Emma’s Landing Grift
The City of Geneva’s annual budget document is not an audited financial report. The budget is a planning document. Still, it provides insight into the City’s priorities and planning prowess. The 148-page document contains not a single explanatory footnote, and the puzzling entries and ommissions are plentiful.
A recent Brenda Shory report in the Kane County Chronicle correctly highlights capital spending as a significant component ($14 million) of the FY 2024 total budget, which is 13% higher ($128mil) than FY2023’s $113mil total. And renowned economists debate where inflation comes from? So, an examination of the Capital Projects Funds is in order. “The budget plan proposes more than $14 million in capital projects.” 
First, please raise your hand if you understand the ~$75K in the “Foreign Fire Insurance” revenue line. This is a classic Illinois “where’s the peanut” tax. A non-elected “Board” is empowered to expend Foreign Fire Insurance Tax proceeds for the “maintenance, benefit, and use of the Fire Department.” This Board cannot expend tax proceeds for projects not given budget approval by the City Council. The City Council cannot authorize the expenditures of tax proceeds for projects not approved by the Board.
Consequently, the system requires the City Council and the Board to mutually agree on the expenditures. A more transparent line-item title would be “Firemen’s Slush Fund.” Some municipalities have declined to levy this tax because of the “shared” power with a non-elected board. Geneva keeps its snout in the Fire Insurance trough.
As seen in FIGURE 1, Geneva’s Tax Increment Finance districts’ budgets and actual revenues are mystifying. Take TIF #2, for example. The payments for FY years 2021, 2022, and 2023 are $258K, $251K, and $266K  are pretty much in line. The 2022 budget called for $992K in TIF2 revenue. The superficial explanation for this is simple if you understand that the East State Street [Capital] Improvement Project has been slated to begin “next year” every year for almost a decade. Of course, the start did not happen again. And about $1.5MIL in Federal CMAQ grant money is sloshing around in the TIF #2 slush bucket. That money appears and disappears like a rabbit in a hat.
Where was the extra $750K that was budgeted stashed? TIF #2 expires this year, yet $852K is budgeted in 2024 and forecasted at $746K in 2025. How does an expired TIF generate $746K? The two TIFs combined had a $2,419,650 revenue “miss” for FY2022. What happened? Where is the footnote that explains this smoke and mirror exercise?
Before leaving page one of the budget, another question is, where is the revenue from SSA #34? This is the Special Service Area for Emma’s Landing. Remember the non-factual “Fact Sheet” the City of Geneva promulgated, which stated that the property tax on Emma’s Landing would be paid:
“Question: Do affordable housing developments pay real estate taxes? If so, are affordable housing developments assessed at the same rate as market-rate developments? Answer: Affordable and market-rate developments are taxed at the same rate as determined by the Geneva Township Assessor.”  FACT: LIHTC projects like Emma’s Landing are taxed under an income-based algorithm that results in the actual tax rate of about 1/3rd of the normal” “EAV” assessed valuation algorithm rate. Emma’s Landing passes two-thirds of its EAV along to the rest of the township taxpayers. Of course, zero rates (see Figures 2 and 3) are 100% lower than your property tax rate.
Another example is the Dunkin site at the corner of Crissey and Route 38. The Dunkin owner paid $715,000 for the two PIN number property in 2019. In 2018 the two parcels were assessed at a value of $336049+$103, 411, or $439,460. In 2021 the assessed fair market value was $390,343+97,717, or $488,060, after spending at least $150,000 on remodeling, equipping, repaving, lights, etc. The $850,000 investment was assessed at less than $500,000. The tax bill went from $10,532 to $10,972.60 on the parcel with the building. About 20% of the tax money went into the TIF #3 slush fund bucket. The property was sold for unpaid taxes and then redeemed. This is a mess of Burnsian proportions and will only worsen. Here is a copy of the latest tax bill for one of the Dunkin parcels:
I suspect that none of the ten Geneva City Council Members understood what they were doing when they passed the Ordinance that created Emma’s Landing. At least, I’d like to believe this was the case. The alternative assumption is almost unthinkable. According to records in the public domain cited here, Emma’s Landing did not receive a property tax bill for 2022. The City sold the property in July 2020 for $576,000. The Illinois Housing Development Authority was duped by the City and Burton Foundation into believing the property was donated. (11831 was the IHDA file for Emma’s Landing application – see document below obtained via FOIA from IHDA.) This “donation” ruse raised Emma’s QAP Score in the competition for IHDA grant money. I’d like to believe that the motto “If You Are Not Cheating, You Are Not Trying” is not Geneva’s.
With apologies to the Scottish Bard: “Politicians’ inhumanity to taxpayers makes countless thousands mourn.”
The Short-Term Solution to PM2.5 Particle Pollution is Dilution
The City of Geneva received several years ago a $1+ Million Federal CMAQ Grant to help fund the East State Street rebuild that has been in the planning stage for about two decades. Every year Geneva announces that “next year” is when the project will start. The goal of the grant is to improve diesel fuel efficiency and to dilute diesel emissions as semi-trailer trucks traverse the east side. Route 38 is an Illinois State Designated Class 2 Truck Route. Hundreds of thousands of square feet of warehouses are popping up just to the east. Some of these have been approved by the City of Geneva. Others are in the Geneva system for approval. The PM2.5 pollution problem will increase.
In the 1926 case of Ambler Realty v. Village of Euclid, the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed the legal basis of zoning. The Court recognized that public health protection is the basis of zoning authority, i.e., municipal zoning police power. Am J Prev Med 2005;28(2S2): doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2004.10.028 (activelivingresearch.org)
Geneva’s East State Street Corridor is primarily residential. The parcels that abut the right of way are zoned mostly for mixed uses, but people live in these one-lot deep ribbon zones, such as B3E. Residential zoning is directly adjacent.
What has the City of Geneva done to protect East Side corridor residents? The answer is that the City has repeatedly and consistently made the wrong decisions. The Burns Dunkin at the top of the east side hill is Exhibit A.
No place exists within the City of Geneva that is more ill-suited for high intensity use during peak traffic hours than the corner of Crissey and East State. The mayor snatched defeat from the jaws of victory when he broke the 5-5 tie that would have doomed the project. Fortunately, the ineptness of the applicant and the mayor’s handpicked staff has now delayed the opening for about five years. No one thought to get an IDOT permit that was required before the construction could legally begin. Or did both parties simply hope that would get away with the “mistake”? Mayoral addiction to TIF spending was the root of the problem.
Harry Chapin’s proverbial “thirty thousand pounds of bananas” were terrifying going down the hill into Scranton, PA, in 1974. Stopping the bananas halfway up the east side hill in 2023 and then having to begin the climb anew in first gear is even more terrifying.
Then another high-intensity use (written into the zoning ordinance for the benefit of one applicant) that generates congestion and PM2.5 pollution was spot-zoned for the Geneva Pharmacy so that TIF money could be again squandered. That business folded in less than a year.
When the first principle (dilution) of short-term mitigation of PM2.5 exposure demands more setback from the source, not less, the City granted a variance for Malone funeral home’s new parking lot that reduced the required ROW setback from thirty feet to eight feet. Then the Special Use Ordinance 2021-13 required mandate for asphalt was switched to concrete without the Municipal Code required City Council approval. Due to the localized thermal inversion created by the high albedo (colder/heat reflecting) cement, the PM2.5 particles will be trapped and transmitted to nearby homes and yards. The low albedo (warmer/heat absorbing) black asphalt would have had the opposite effect of diluting and dispersing the PM2.5 particles away from the ground.
Recently the Geneva City Council approved a plan to gift $1.5 million in TIF funds to the Mayor of Naperville to build a retail outlet/high-density multistory affordable residential building with the only access/egress being Crissey directly across a substandard width street from the Dunkin exit. This, too, will require spot zoning and setback variances to move the future residents even closer to the PM2.5 source just outside their open windows. And it will add even more congestion at Crissey and E. State. Absurdly, the City will give away more money to exacerbate air pollution exposure than it received from the Feds to mitigate that same air pollution.
Other examples of bonehead aldermanic and mayoral decisions largely driven by Tax Increment Financing Addiction Syndrome (TIFAS) could be raised.
Longer term, the promise of electric vehicles could reduce PM2.5 particle pollution. But young children are particularly vulnerable, as are older people and those with chronic illnesses. For now, the City of Geneva needs to stop trying to injure those whose health and welfare it has sworn to protect through its zoning police power.
The Geneva Public Library District (GLPD) placed a referendum on the ballot in April of 2017 asking voters to approve a new $21.8 million bond issue to build a new library on the site of the old Sixth Street School. The referendum passed by 96 votes with a 32.5% voter turnout of 7705. No one asked for a recount.
The purchase of the Sixth Street School had its share of drama. The Library Board initially said it would hold a referendum on the purchase. Then the board had enough spare change lying around to offer the County $1.5 million plus $300,000 for demolition. The price “drifted” up to $1.8million and the demolition cost to $450,000 because of asbestos and an underground storage tank (both problems were known to be present for at least a decade). https://www.dailyherald.com/article/20150327/news/150329040/
The cost of the new 57,000-square-foot library was substantially north of the $21.8 million in bond receipts (not to mention the interest on the bonds). The GPLD wants to “transfer” the old library at 127 James Street to the City of Geneva for $450,000. The City of Geneva has not proffered a budget for remodeling and maintaining the new 30,000-square-foot space. Apparently, the $450K will come from spare change the City has found lying around.
But is the transfer ethical or even legal? Three Illinois statutes seem important: one authorizes transfers between municipalities but does not mention payments, another Act creates the statutory basis for the existence of Library Districts such as the Geneva Public Library District, and a third act sets out the general rules for the sale of publicly owned real estate.
The Act that authorizes Public Library Districts in Illinois ((75 ILCS 16/) Public Library District Act of 1991) contains these definitions for the purposes of the Act:
“District” means a public library district established under this Act and includes a proposed public library district.
“Library” means a public library, including one privately endowed or tax-supported or one established under this Act. “Municipality” means a city, village, or incorporated town.
The Act that authorizes local government property transfers (50 ILCS 605/) Local Government Property Transfer Act contains this definition:
The term “municipality” whether used by itself or in conjunction with other words, as in (a) or (b) above, shall mean and include any municipal corporation or political subdivision organized and existing under the laws of the State of Illinois and including, but without limitation, any city, village, or incorporated town, whether organized under a special charter or under the General Act, or whether operating under the commission or managerial form of government, county, school districts, trustees of schools, boards of education, 2 or more school districts operating a cooperative or joint educational program pursuant to Section 10-22.31 of the School Code, sanitary district or sanitary district trustees, forest preserve district or forest preserve district commissioner, park district or park commissioners, airport authority and township.
Notice that the Library statute does not define a Library District as a “municipality” and for “purposes of the act” the act narrowly defines “municipality.” By its plain language, the Library Act does not give Library Districts municipality standing to participate in transactions permitted by the Government Property Transfer Act. The Transfer Act contains a very lengthy list of eligible “municipalities,” including Park Districts. But the list does not contain “Library Districts.” The Loophole-Louey at City Hall employed by Mayor Burns will point to the phrase “but without limitation” as their loophole. But the City Code requires that when two provisions apply to a given matter, the more restrictive provision “shall [defined in the code as “must”] govern.”
A couple of other library districts in Illinois have taken a bite out of the property transfer apple. Has anyone challenged their action? Does the applicable city code in those cases contain the “most restrictive shall govern” clause?
A two-party political system is ugly and difficult to watch, very much like professional wrestling. Geneva’s Burns’ single-party system is even less attractive and much more expensive to watch than the WWE. And, just like the WWE, the fix is in. What about a referendum? Or, at the very least, a public auction of the old library and let Mr. Fritz send the new owner a property tax bill?
Rules for a Public Auction of the 127 James Street Old Library
The Transfer Act is silent on the price of the parcel being transferred, so it will be asserted, perhaps correctly, that the City is not required to pay anything. If so, how did the $450K come into play? I do not recall the GPLD divulging during the referendum campaign that the gifting (or selling for a nominal sum) the old library was part of the plan. Who negotiated the $450K, and on what authority? By voting for the library referendum, Geneva taxpayers may have forfeited the property tax income from the old library. And the “yes” voters may have unknowingly granted the City a blank annual check to remodel and carry the expenses of a “new” City Hall that is three times bigger than the current City Hall. The Library Board (unwittingly) snuck in a perpetual tax liability as a reward for (narrowly) passing its $21.8 million request.
(65 ILCS 5/11-76-4.1)(from Ch. 24, par. 11-76-4.1) Sec. 11-76-4.1. Sale of surplus real estate. The corporate authorities of a municipality by resolution may authorize the sale or public auction of surplus public real estate. The value of the real estate shall be determined by a written MAI certified appraisal or by a written certified appraisal of a State certified or licensed real estate appraiser. The appraisal shall be available for public inspection. The resolution may direct the sale to be conducted by the staff of the municipality; by listing with local licensed real estate agencies, in which case the terms of the agent's compensation shall be included in the resolution; or by public auction. The resolution shall be published at the first opportunity following its passage in a newspaper published in the municipality or, if none, then in a newspaper published in the county where the municipality is located. The resolution shall also contain pertinent information concerning the size, use, and zoning of the real estate and the terms of sale. The corporate authorities may accept any contract proposal determined by them to be in the best interest of the municipality by a vote of two-thirds of the corporate authorities then holding office, but in no event at a price less than 80% of the appraised value. (Source: P.A. 88-355; 89-78, eff. 6-30-95.)
Does the GPLD have a valid appraisal of $562,000 for the 127 James Street property? This is the lowest appraisal that would make a sale of price $450,000 comport with the above statute. Proper notice is mandatory, and a 2/3’s yes vote of the Library Board is required (5 yes votes). Has an appraisal been done? Where is the required resolution? How would a “yes” vote be fair and ethical to those library district taxpayers who do not live in the City of Geneva?
The Last (August 2019) Certified MAI Appraisal of the 127 James Street Old Library Property was $1,500,000
In 2018, The City of Geneva had No Interest in the Old Library
Slow down! Thursday night, the Library Board is to vote to “sell” the old library to the City of Geneva for $450K. This will put the City of Geneva taxpayers on the hook for renovations and expenses and potentially take $1.5 million off the tax rolls. The 2018 Burns letter claims “no further interest” in the building, but a secret last-minute deal is about to be cut. Why is the Library Board donating $1 mil to Geneva City Council? This is madness that begs for a more complete and transparent public vetting. A public auction of the property or a referendum are both paths to open, honest government. The current path is the Geneva Way – ambush the taxpayers.
The City of Geneva will buy the old Library for half its advertised value, but don’t get excited. The Geneva Public Library (GPLD) taxpayers are the sellers.
Ambuscade: a high-sounding political tactic that is employed by elected bushwhackers. Example: “The Geneva City Council will stage an ambuscade on Monday evening.” See also: Charette.
Geneva’s population in 2020 (21,393) was slightly down from 2010 (21,495) per the U.S. census. The Geneva City Council is poised to add half an acre of land and over 30,000 square feet of building for city government tax-exempt use. https://www.geneva.il.us/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_01232023-2079 This will come in the form of a purchase of the Geneva Library District’s abandoned property at 127 James Street.
The price is set at $450,000, going from the City of Geneva’s taxpayers’ pockets into the Geneva Library District’s taxpayers’ pockets. The asking “retail” price for the old Library is $925,000. https://www.cbre.com/resources/fileassets/US-SMPL-78947/ba029964/80f7262f-9cea-4c2e-812d-6465b62e2a4a.pdf As always, winners and losers will be created when politicians act. Library District taxpayers who do not live in the City of Geneva will be modest winners because the money that goes into their pocket does not come out of their other pocket. For City of Geneva taxpayers, there will be off-setting effects since they also live in the Library District.
But what if the property is actually worth ~$900,000? Answer: everyone loses.
Over a decade ago, the City agreed with the Library that it could purchase the 127 James Street building after the Library moved to the Cetron Building. Icons for Sale: https://patch.com/illinois/geneva/icons-for-sale-future-of-city-hall-is-anyones-guess The Cetron deal never happened. But at that time, the City estimated that its requirements could be met with 20,000 square feet. The current City Hall was said then (2011) to be 10,000 square feet. It has not changed. (The City’s Finance Department is domiciled with the Police Department across the street from City Hall at 15 S. First Street.)
The new GPLD library is 57,000 square feet, about twice the size of the James Street building. One cannot help but notice a complete set of the Encyclopedia Brittanica (32 volumes in the last print version of 2013) is 4.75 gigabytes. Two hundred complete sets will easily fit on a 1TB thumb drive ($30.00 on Amazon now). The moral of this might be that if you need to know how extensive a library you need, don’t ask a librarian.
If the City of Geneva purchases the 127 James Street Library, the City will have 40,000 square feet. With the same population over a decade ago, the City estimated its need at 20,000 square feet. Geneva had ten alderpersons then and ten alderpersons now. In 2021 the City of Geneva had 121 employees. Eight years ago, the City had 128 employees. City of Geneva Salaries – Illinois – 2021 (govsalaries.com)
Why does the City of Geneva need 40,000 square feet of buildings? Why should 30,000 square feet in the heart of downtown with a $925,000 asking price be taken off the tax rolls? Why does the proposed transaction show up on Friday, January 20, 2023, with the vote to come in a Special (unscheduled) session on Monday, January 23, 2023?
Why doesn’t the $450,000 go towards cleaning up the old MRI site at 4E State?
PS: As part of its series on “concepts in government,” the next GPLD board meeting will start with a brief presentation on “Fiduciary Responsibility.”