'You're wasting our time': Arlington Heights board votes 9-0 against bid to stop Bears incentives
After assailing Americans for Prosperity's anti-corporate welfare ordinance at their last meeting, Arlington Heights' mayor and trustees Monday night took their first formal vote to double down on their position.
The 9-0 tally in opposition to the conservative political advocacy group's legislation -- which would ban the municipality from "offering or extending any financial incentive to any business or corporation to operate in the village," including the Chicago Bears -- came after the group turned in additional petition signatures to compel the elected panel to consider its proposal.
The organization's first petition to village hall nearly a month ago contained 677 names, but Village Clerk Becky Hume found only 544 to be valid -- 13 short of what is required to have the board consider any resident-driven ordinance under an antiquated and rarely, if ever, used part of municipal code.
Hume's office said 70 weren't registered to vote, 8 didn't live in town and 55 had other disqualifying factors.
Brian Costin, Americans for Prosperity's deputy state director, questioned the village's methodology to invalidate signatures, but he collected and submitted 30 more names to village hall on Sept. 22. A subsequent check tossed 9 of those out.
But this time there were enough valid signatures -- for a total of 565, just above the required 557 threshold, per village code.
Monday night's board meeting discussion lasted about half the time of the last session of nearly two hours on Sept. 19, when Village Manager Randy Recklaus gave a lengthy PowerPoint presentation about the village's development incentive process and programs -- which number around a dozen, from tax increment financing districts steering property taxes into development to Cook County Class 6b and 7c property tax abatements.
Again Monday, nearly every board member one by one criticized the ordinance while defending the use of public financing as tools in their economic development toolbox.
"It's been our obligation to make sure that we accurately educate our citizens, our residents about the big-picture implications of this proposed ordinance and the severe negative economic impact it will have on our community," Mayor Tom Hayes said.
Hayes, Recklaus and village trustees said some residents told them they were misled about the intent of the petition and want their names removed.
Trustee John Scaletta accused the interest group of using the Bears proposal as an "opportunity for 15 minutes of fame," amid its large request for village emails and documents related to public financing programs.
"I'm sure that there's municipalities out there that do not use incentives properly, and I would urge you to start going and talking to those municipalities," Scaletta told Costin. "Because we have a lot of work to do, and there's a possibility of a new NFL stadium in our town, and you're wasting our time."
Though Costin's ordinance doesn't mention the Bears specifically, the possibility of a public handout for the NFL franchise's proposed Arlington Park redevelopment has drawn the anti-tax interest group's ire. Costin said the aim of the proposal is to make all businesses, areas of town and residents equal before the law, while reducing taxes.
"Our ordinance doesn't ban construction of public parking lots, but it would prevent taxpayers from being forced to subsidize parking lots or parking garages for the benefit of private companies such as the Chicago Bears, who need parking lots for their facility and could cost tens of millions of dollars," Costin said.
He added that his group shouldn't have to file a Freedom of Information Act request for the village to be transparent about the costs of its programs on its website.
Now that the measure has been voted down, village code allows for Costin's group to gather signatures of 12% of registered voters -- about 6,500 -- to get a binding referendum at the ballot box.
Costin said he would begin collecting signatures again, albeit for an ordinance with amended language.
But there are a lot of caveats. The board could reject the proposal if the village attorney finds it "is in conflict with any Constitutional provision, existing statutes or ordinances of other preempting jurisdictions," according to the municipal code. And any ordinance adopted through the petition mechanism can be repealed by the board or another ballot initiative, the code states.