On the lack of local government prescience

On the lack of local government prescience

Given their particular penchant for flights of fancy, for specific reference purposes, we’ll focus on various Geneva, Illinois, mayor and city council. Though this mien could easily apply to any one of our shortsighted Kane County city councils or boards, including the Elgin and Aurora iterations.

We all have that friend who, whether it’s politics, sports, or social trends, displays an uncannily consistent capacity to back the wrong horse. They’re incorrect so often that the second they make any kind of predictive pronouncement, you want to immediately place a bet on the other possibility. And that “friend,” my friends, is the City of Geneva.

Please allow me to explain!

Despite the declining shopping mall fortunes handwriting on the wall, including but not nearly limited to a massive failure at Rt. 38 and Randall Road in St. Charles, Mayor Burns and his 2002 ilk were convinced the Geneva Commons would bring in untold billions and take the tax heat off those constantly kvetching Third Street merchants. So, Geneva outbid their municipal competitors in tax perks and the Commons has never come close to projections.

None of the mall’s four or five owners have made money, forcing a couple of those management companies to default on their loans. So, now it’s only a matter of time before the whole thing collapses and Geneva will be left with yet another vacant and blighted mall.

We’re not talking about correctly picking next year’s Super Bowl teams, either. Any Internet savvy high school junior could’ve made that mall call.

Let’s jump to 2012 when, convinced they could outwit the energy markets, the same Mayor Kevin Burns and a slightly different set of city council minions bought into the clean coal boondoggle known as the Prairie State Energy Campus. They were so sure they were onto something that they signed up for three decades, which is longer than dog years in the futures market.

To be fair, Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke and his aldermen were even worse in the Prairie State regard to the point where they had to tap into reserves to bring their ridiculous power rates down and stave off an armed rebellion.

Considering those councils couldn’t accurately predict whether the sun will rise tomorrow, So, instead of locking in low rates Genevans and Batavians are paying an absurd power premium. Mayors Burns and Schielke became so desperate over their dire prognosticative failure that they’ve repeatedly begged the governor to save them from themselves. But J.B.’s final answer has always been, “That sounds like a you problem,” proving that, on occasion, even he can get it right.

Then we have those infamous TIF districts that never seem to work out as planned – in any Illinois municipality – but particularly in Geneva.  

For the uninitiated, TIF stands for Tax Increment Financing district, described by the Illinois Department of Commerce thusly:

These districts dedicate sales tax revenues and additional property tax revenues generated within the TIF for improvements within the district to encourage new economic development and job creation.  Funds may be used for costs associated with the development or redevelopment of property within the TIF, allowing blighted, declining, and underperforming areas to again become viable..

On rare occasion TIF’s can work, particularly in the aftermath of a natural disaster or to lure a builder into developing land where the required improvement would otherwise be cost prohibitive. But as my former radio partner and South Elgin village manager Larry Jones used to say, “If the market could bear the city council’s proposal, it would already be there.”

And the developers are under no obligation to keep their TIF word, either. St. Charles conceded all manner of tax breaks to the fine firm that purchased the now-shuttered Charlestowne Mall, but then duplicitous developers completely changed their tune the second the ink dried on the deal.

Those persistent TIF failures are another perfect example of how city councils can’t beat the market. If they could, they wouldn’t be aldermen. They’d be trading on the CME floor making seven figures a year.

So, let’s get to the irony. After all of those prophetic failures, there is one blitheringly predictable event that an amped up ADHD third grader could’ve called correctly, but the Geneva Mayor and city council did not.

Despite my best 15-year Bayer systemic efforts, we just lost our two ash trees. And when you’ve worked so hard and spent so much money to keep them alive, it was like a punch in the gut when they finally succumbed to those infernal borers.

As I watched those stately trees come down, I couldn’t help but curse Burns and his city council minions for their resoundingly blatant boneheaded-ness.

Back when they planted in 2000, all sorts of Ash borer reports were coming out of Canada, and since insects tend to ignore passports, anyone with two connected brain cells knew where they were headed.

And the various Geneva council iterations just LOVE to statutorily direct the citizenry to do what they inevitably believe is best for us. They LOVE initiatives like Pride fire hydrants, DEI programs, no mow Mays, solar power (except if it cuts into their electric utility), and all manner of similar stupidity that self-strokes their already massive egos.

But when it comes to actually acting in the best interest of those same constituents, they fall flat, because those efforts aren’t sexy enough. They don’t make the mayor look nearly as good as hiring a diversity coordinator to obfuscate the fact that 98 percent of city staffers are still white. And why should they fix subdivision streets? We can drive around the crevasses, right?

The Geneva powers have absolutely no problem hitting developers – and homeowners – with endless lists of caveats in an effort to preserve “the greater good.” So, how difficult would it have been to insist that Kimball Hill refrain from planting ash trees in Fisher Farms?

But no! Because when it comes to the most basic elementary school predictions, Mayor Burns and Geneva city council can’t even get those right.


Author’s note:

It won’t exactly be a part two, but I’m convinced a large part of this predictive problem is our city councils and village boards no longer represent us, they represent themselves. Elgin and Aurora are perfect examples of this phenomenon, which we’ll cover in much greater detail in an upcoming column.

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