Public Watchdog.org

Why There’s No Need For “Secret” Discussions Of Property Deals

08.18.08

Last week we wrote about how Park Ridge Mayor Howard Frimark was again characteristically off-base in his view of the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”) because IOMA does not require that anything discussed in closed session be treated as “confidential” or kept secret. (Frimark’s Secret Land Deals No Bargain For Taxpayers, August 14) 

Today we discuss why there is no need for confidential dealings with property owners when the City needs to acquire private property.

The State of Illinois’ eminent domain laws give municipalities like Park Ridge the power to buy private property necessary for a legitimate public purpose at its fair market value (“FMV”) – defined as what a purchaser “willing, but not obligated, to buy the property, would pay to an owner willing, but not obliged, to sell in a voluntary sale.” 735 ILCS 30/10-5-60.  Before a city can use eminent domain, however, it has to make a good-faith attempt to negotiate with the property owner by offering to pay the property’s appraised value.  

So if the City has the right, by state law, to force the owner of any private property necessary for the public’s purpose to sell it to the City at the property’s FMV, why do Frimark and his Alderpuppets keep running into closed sessions to discuss those purchases in secret? 

The first excuse is that the City must act secretly to keep the price from being jacked up.  As Frimark wrote in his letter to the Herald-Advocate last week: “Once the marketplace learns that a government entity is even interested in acquiring a particular property, the price is driven upward.”  In other words, our mayor is claiming – without any supporting data, or course – that someone who was not even interested in the property or who was unwilling to pay FMV for it, will run right out and offer the owner of that property more than the FMV the minute the City’s interest becomes known.

For that theory to work, however, the property owner would have to be willing to accept less than FMV for his property from the City, while at the same time knowing that he can get more than FMV from private buyers.  That’s just plain goofy to us, but if you think it makes sense then you probably are qualified to be a Park Ridge alderpuppet…or even the mayor! 

The other excuse kept at the ready by Culture of Secrecy schemers is that the people of Park Ridge don’t like eminent domain.  But we checked around and nobody seems to remember the last time the City actually used eminent domain to acquire land for a public necessity.  So we suspect that what people may be remembering are the times the City talked about using eminent domain to help out a favored/connected developer acquire property for its own private purposes and profit.

For example, the public rallied against the City’s talk of condemning the Shell gas station at Greenwood and Dempster so that Bredemann Auto Group could redevelop that property.  It also objected to the City’s threat to condemn Fair Play Sports and the Happy House restaurant at Meacham and Northwest Hwy. in order to get that parcel into the hands of Uptown developer PRC.  There were also complaints when Joseph Freed & Associates was trying to redevelop Summit Mall and sought the City’s help to acquire the Pancake House because Freed wasn’t making enough headway with the owner.

In each of those cases, however, the public’s concerns appear to have been about losing those established businesses to redevelopment, not about the use of eminent domain to acquire them. 

But when the city negotiates private deals, FMV seems to be more like a starting point for negotiations instead of the end point.  The City sold the reservoir block – without even getting a formal appraisal – to PRC for what’s been suggested as at least $5 million below that property’s FMV.  Just last year, Frimark requested a new appraisal on 720 Garden when the City’s appraisal (after being adjusted upwards to compensate for a square footage error) came back at a few hundred thousand dollars less than the owner was asking for.  And let’s not forget how the City was eager to pay Owen Hayes II a full $200,000 more for the Foot and Ankle Surgeons building on Busse Hwy. than Hayes himself had just paid for it.

The history of City real estate “deals” negotiated in closed session suggests that while the City might get to “yes” quicker through a private deal than through eminent domain, it will almost certainly pay more (or in the case of the reservoir block, receive less) than the FMV for the property, thereby wasting a good chunk of the public purse to fatten the wallets of the owners/sellers.  

Anyone who says that government bureaucrats can bargain effectively against private property owners or developers is either delusional or an outright liar.  And the sooner the folks at 505 Butler Place figure that out, the better off the taxpayers of Park Ridge will be.

6 comments so far

Thank you for your comments. I’m guessing that only a minority of the voters in PR read these postings, so can someone please submit this essay to the Herald Advocate as a rebuttal to Frimark’s letter?

Does any alderman besides Schmidt ever object to closed sessions or let the public know the sneaky business that goes on in them?

I thought Frank Wsol wasn’t one of Frimark’s guys, but he always votes to go hide in closed sessions, so maybe he’s a lot closer to the “alderpuppets” than he is to the taxpayers who are getting fleeced.

Wsol is a big time supporter of closed sessions and has been known to say “people speak more freely in closed session”. You do the math.

Anybody who speaks more freely in closed sessions is saying things they don’t want the voters or taxpayers to hear.

I second the first post. Pubdog how about a rebuttal for the Herald Advocate? If my micro-neighborhood poll is any indication, the senior element of PR loves Frimark. I am guessing they are not regularly reading these blogs so a HA article calling Frimark out might help unseat the jerk.

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