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.