It is January 28, 2013, and the Lemont Village Board votes 6 to nothing to borrow $21 million to build a rental sports complex on polluted acreage rented from the Water Reclamation District and guaranteed by village revenues.
Now comes January 6, 2014, and on the coldest night in decades the same members of the Lemont Village Board (all but the one trustee connected by phone while vacationing in a sunny clime) drag themselves down to the village hall to a special meeting called only a few days earlier. The purpose of their rendezvous; to reverse themselves with another vote of 6 to zip withdrawing the original proposal.
What happened? What could have caused them to completely change their minds? Did Trustees Blatzer, Chialdikas, Miklos, Sniegowski, Stapleton and Virgilio have a revelation? Had they come to the realization that their scheme came at too great a cost and posed too big a risk to Lemont tax payers? Did they regret the haste with which they had acted, the feeble charade of a public hearing that they had conducted, the over exuberance and unfettered optimism with which they had camouflaged the obvious short-comings and pitfalls that their plan presented.
In one year nothing had changed from their perspective. Funding for the plan was still available through the alternate revenue bonds that they had already voted to support. Mayor Brian Reaves had previously boasted that he was ready to break ground in March of 2013, earning for him forever the priceless sobriquet of “Fast Track”.
The fact is the only difference between January of one year and that of the next was that the board had heard from the people, and the people had loudly proclaimed, “Slow down and look where you’re taking us”.
In the best of American traditions, like a posse of modern day Paul Reveres, volunteers from “Let Us Vote” spread out through the community to warn the citizens, “The big debt is coming!” And the citizens responded, grabbing their pens and signing the petition to have a choice, to have a voice, to demand a vote. More than 1,700 of them signed their names on the dotted line.
But in the most sinister and unscrupulous fashion and at the last minute our village leaders snatched back our right to be heard. They abused the public trust, circumventing the most basic of democratic principles by cancelling a referendum vote on the bonds that would have paid for their scheme.
Not wanting to be exposed to the opinion of Lemont citizens, they acted in the most cowardly fashion to deprive the people of their vote. Lacking faith in their own ability to convince us of the merit of their plan, they stole back our chance to decide. A number of them offered lame justifications to defend their betrayal of our rights. They offered excuses ranging from scare tactics to complaints of bad manners on the part of the public as grounds for changing their votes. A few even cynically thanked the petition passers as they figuratively put the petitions through a shredder.
But nobody is fooled by their action. We know it was done in a desperate attempt to make sure that their grand plan survived, knowing full well that it would have withered under the antiseptic glare of public scrutiny and judgment.
Our village leaders, who do not trust the good sense of their own constituents, continue to plow ahead in their effort to borrow tens of millions of dollars to develop a plan that even the mayor has been forced to concede is currently only a “concept”. They have substituted a worse borrowing proposal for a bad one. Both plans put village tax revenue in jeopardy, but the new “debt certificate” approach doesn’t even provide for the public referendum option. They think they have us caged and muzzled. We shall see. It is a new year.