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 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 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 Mill Race Inn site is a brownfield, but no one wants to talk about it. Jabberwocky rules Geneva by stuff and nonsense.
Attendees of the City of Geneva Historic Preservation Commission meeting on Wednesday evening, January 18, 2023, were enlightened about a limited set of the controversies surrounding the ca1846 old rubblestone core of the Mill Race Inn, also known as the Alexander-Rystrom Blacksmith Shop.
The meeting started at 7 pm playing to a full house. The agenda had four items, with the public hearing over the Mill Race stone ruins at the top. Chairman Zellner, a dedicated volunteer to the cause of preservation, dutifully, if not eloquently, read the proforma ground rules. This recital took thirty minutes off the clock. Then we were told the hearing would end at 8:30. The “ground rule” that caused me to sigh (inaudibly, I hope) was Code, Section 10-6-10.A9: “the merit of any proposed replacement construction or improvement shall not be a standard of review for a demolition request.” The assembly gathered to weigh the destruction of a formally landmarked historical structure against an unknown. This felt akin to having the sheriff show up at my door to inform me that I had to decide whether to move out of my house by Tuesday next. However, any thought of where I would end up if I chose to leave is strictly prohibited and must not enter my mind.
Then, the congregation was informed that the HPC had already determined the question of landmarking based on historical significance affirmatively. So, tonight was not the night to drag history into the discussion. Here, verbatim, is the agenda item as it appears on the City’s website: “Demolition of a Historic Landmark and De- De-designation of the Property.” My first reaction when I read this was, “huh?” Was this a move to re-designate the entire site as a landmark (which should happen, IMHO)? Or was this a Freudian typo? First, demolish and then de-designate? Then I remembered my Alice:
‘No, no!’ said the Queen. ‘Sentence first—verdict afterwards.’
‘Stuff and nonsense!’ said Alice loudly. ‘The idea of having the sentence first!’
‘Hold your tongue!’ said the Queen, turning purple.
‘I won’t!’ said Alice.
Off with her head!’ the Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved.
‘Who cares for you?’ said Alice, (she had grown to her full size by this time.) ‘You’re nothing but a pack of cards!’
Mr. Patzelt, the Shodeen representative, spent most of the remaining allotted time shredding the Geneva professional staff’s work into confetti. (OK, I admit it, this brought a smile, if not a grin, to my face.) In summary, the meeting was somewhere between a hog-calling contest and a Masonic ritual.
Based on the complete lack of information about the development plan, I had planned to speak in favor of preserving the ruins. After all, the Sandborn Map of 1891 “designated” the structure with only the word “ruins.” Yet the “ruins” became Geneva’s most identifying structure for most of the following century. Anyone who ever dined in the Stone Room knows of what I speak. January 2011 was our last meal there. The Grecian chicken was superb (matched in Geneva only by Munchie P’s.) The first time I ate in the Stone Room was in 1953.
Plus, one of the contexts that determine historical significance is what happened at the site. In this case, the ruins mark the spot where a small gap between Big Woods and Little Woods coincides with an island refuge in the river and a natural limestone ford at the head of the island. Our national mammal, the American Bison, discovered that ford as early as 400,000 years ago, give or take. 15 Facts About Our National Mammal: The American Bison | U.S. Department of the Interior (doi.gov) The ford was the river crossing of an interstate highway, a buffalo trace, that took the buffalo “over the river and through the woods” on their way from the tall grass prairies of Illinois to the salt licks of Kentucky and back. As the American Bison went, so did America’s indigenous peoples.
Daniel Shaw Haight knew the Geneva site in Sandusky Precinct was valuable for precisely the same reasons that the Alexander brothers did. Haight sold out to Herrington because he found nearby an even more promising river and ford with hydropower. He founded Rockford. He and his legendary oxen built the first structures both here and there.
The MRI saga will air another episode on about the Ides of March. Stay tuned; maybe the band from Berwyn will play then.
Reports on social media that the CVS pharmacy at State Street and Bricher Road (1500 Lincoln Hwy. Saint Charles) is closing on February 1, 2023, have not yet been confirmed by a press release. CVS announced in 2021 a plan to close about 10% of its stores over the following three years, so the reports are ominous. CVS Closing Hundreds Of Stores: Will IL Locations Survive? | Chicago, IL Patch
For background on the Geneva pharmacy situation, please see:
“Geneva Pharmacy” at 501 E. State St. in Geneva failed in less than a year despite a $100K gift of Geneva taxpayer TIF money, plus the usual “Geneva Way” rewards of spot zoning, etc. The cash was not subject to a claw-back provision. Stand-alone pharmacies do not generate much local sales tax revenue, as prescription medicines are not subject to local sales tax. Companies like CVS derive most of their revenue and about two-thirds of their profits from prescription medicines. CVS has partnered with Target to house its prescription services. St. Charles, for example, is listed as having two CVS stores and Batavia and Geneva one each. Soon, if the reports are true about the west side CVS closure, only Geneva will have a non-Target housed CVS.
This may be a classic example of the adage “It’s better to be lucky than smart” when it comes to the Geneva City Council’s decision to provide taxpayer-funded subsidized competition for its CVS. Geneva’s east side CVS may capture some store traffic because of the closure of the west side store.