Closed Session Meeting Minutes in Wauconda, IL

We would like to congratulate the group of concerned residents we are working with in Wauconda, IL for a great first step. A little more than a week ago, I had an opportunity to meet and talk with the core members of the community group Of Wauconda For Wauconda. As part of our Local Government 101 program, we have been working with the residents in the community to research more fully how their local government system is structured, and how it can be improved and made more transparent.

One concern residents had involved the lack of closed session meeting minutes being released. To remedy this issue, we recommended the group file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the closed session minutes to obtain an official response from the village.

As a result of their FOIA request, the board of trustees are meeting this evening during the Committee of the Whole Meeting to discuss and review the closed session minutes for release to the public. Committee of the Whole Agenda

It will be great to review the closed session minutes once released to see what insight might be gained from the content.

The Open Meetings Act (OMA) in Illinois clearly outlines that closed session minutes must be reviewed on a regular basis. It is essential communities review and release their closed session meeting minutes regularly, and not wait for a FOIA request to compel them to do so.

Congratulations again to the residents in Wauconda for shining some sunlight on your local government, and we look forward to the next steps!

For the residents of Illinois,

Nick Gaudi, Director of Community and Government Relations, Open Local Illinois

Dropping the TIF Programs - Taking Precedent from California

In 1952, California instituted a revolutionary program to their state legislature - tax increment financing. The idea of re-appropriating certain revenues in order to develop urban communities is probably a good idea, and it sure seemed to work for a while. Like all things controlled by the government, certain features of the programs were soon extremely political, and these revenue re-appropriations got out of control. Finally, California saw fit to end the program that they introduced. One of the first acts that California governor Jerry Brown took to change in his second term was to abolish the urban redevelopment agencies throughout California. These agencies took funding from TIF and appropriated them as the agency saw fit. His idea was to take the five billion dollars that the agencies receive and appropriate the funding to deserving public services.

On December 29 2011, Assembly Bill 1X26 was upheld by the California Supreme Court. This bill effectively eliminated all redevelopment agencies. The bill was upheld on the terms that the California legislature has the authority to create and abolish all state and local governmental authoritative agencies. A related second bill, Assembly Bill 1x27, was also introduced, this one to regulate any existing redevelopment agencies. The bill contained language that would permit redevelopment agencies to exist, with a significant fee to be paid to the state. The bill was deemed unconstitutional on the grounds that a separate statute permitted these agencies to retain their revenues. Obviously, redevelopment agencies protested the bill and challenged it, but the bill was effectively upheld.

Why would Jerry Brown, reputed as a fiscal liberal, want to repeal such a generous program as TIF? Much of his reasoning was said to do with the revenue generated from incremental tax increases going to these redevelopment agencies. Generally, all tax increases are voter-approved. Yet, if these redevelopment agencies exist, all of that incremental tax revenue could be captured by the redevelopment agencies from TIF. That means that the funding that should be going to schools and civic services would now be distributed to public and private capital investments. At the surface, this idea for community investment does not seem entirely flawed. Of course like many municipal programs, that explanation would only represent the tip of the iceberg.

Many opinions have presented the argument that TIF only removes the funding that civic services and public education deserves. Instead of being furnished with their respective tax dollars, redevelopment agencies are granted the power to take the tax revenue and appropriate them as they see fit. Much of this re-appropriation is a political game, with tax dollars going to the private institutions that lobby with redevelopment agencies.

California is not the only state or jurisdiction to repeal TIF, and precedent may be taken from a number of different cases. For now, a solid foundation can be drawn from the state that first introduced TIF, and subsequently repealed its authority.

-Joseph Eliya

Volunteer Staff Member

It's Not Transparent Government, It's Open Government!

While we have continued to develop two important projects the past few months, there is a growing trend spreading from rural communities in the Great Plains to large cities on the coasts, and it is a new kind of government transparency taking shape, commonly described as open government. It is it is not about being transparent for the sake of transparency, but rather utilizing sets of open data to make transparency relevant to the residents in a community. A quick analysis of the data.Illinois portal shows that out of the 1,299 incorporated municipalities in the state of Illinois, roughly 47 municipalities are participating in the program. Most organizations in their current role as government watchdog or activist, have viewed transparency in local government as the posting of .pdf or Word documents online, such as the town's budget or expenditure list. The primary idea is that by posting this information online in such a format, residents or local community watchdogs will take the time to pour over the documents and hold their local officials accountable for the decisions they make. The result ideally is an increase in the level of civic engagement by the residents of a community.

While this traditional method of transparency may have been of a great significance just a short number of years ago and still enjoys a great deal of significance, it is becoming an outdated model for transparency in local communities. The next great step in creating a more open government for the 21st Century is using the power of web and mobile applications with the Open Government model to engage the citizenry. The Open Government model calls for local government data to be released in an open format and updated on a continuous basis. While the form of which this data is presented can vary, the general concept is that the data can be analyzed by local residents in a web based form, but those with the knowledge and skill-set to write code, can create amazing applications to take advantage of the large quantities of data to make it much more relevant and useful to residents in a community. The result brings the level of civic engagement in a community to an entire new level, and opens up government to the people in way that could never have previously been accomplished through the traditional means of transparency. It is no longer just about transparent government; it is about open government!

Nick Gaudi

-Director of Community & Government Relations

Village of Westmont, IL Meeting Follow Up

Following the public hearing for the proposed Southwest Business District TIF district in the Village of Westmont that took place this past Tuesday evening, little new information was gained. The information we reported earlier on the school districts coming to an agreement with the Village and the re-drawing of the TIF district southern boundary was confirmed during the hearing.

A concern we came away with from the meeting, is the lack of developers that have confirmed they would be developing in the TIF district, once it was approved.

Some residents addressed concerns about the TIF district and potential debt related issues for the Village. However, after receiving responses from the Village's consultant, many appeared pleased with the answers they received.

The Village Board appears set to move forward approving the TIF district.

It is clear that much more work needs to be done to educate citizens on TIF districts and the impact it can have on communities.

- Open Local Illinois Staff

Village of Westmont, IL Reaches Agreement with School Districts

A proposed TIF district in the Village of Westmont appears it will move to the next step in the process of being established. A phone conversation we had with Jill Ziegler the Village Planner for the Village of Westmont today, revealed that last week, the Village and the school districts met and reached an agreement on the proposed Southwest Business District TIF district. As a result of the discussions, the Village will amend the TIF boundaries to be north of 63rd street.

As a result of this agreement, the Village believes the school districts that serve the municipality will no longer oppose creating the TIF district.

At this evening's meeting of the Village Board, the public will have their opportunity to voice their opinions.

We will be in attendance to see if any further information comes from tonight's discussion.

-Open Local Illinois Staff

Comment to The State Journal-Register Editorial Board Opinion

The State Journal-Register Editorial Board Opinion Your call for real financial transparency and support for Senate Bill 3941 are welcomed and encouraging.  As your editorial indicates it is not a difficult task to inventory the list of questionable financial practices of public officials.  At the same time the state legislature has been certain to exempt themselves from oversight and transparency requirements.  What are citizens to make of all this?  I would encourage all citizens to become aware of the "good government" laws that are in effect and take the opportunity to work within those statutes to ensure their own district representatives are abiding by those laws.  Citizens should also take some solace by knowing that there are numerous grass-roots organizations committed to open, transparent and accountable governance in this state.  i would encourage all citizens to become familiar with such organizations.  While citizens' frustration and fatigue are understandable, they do not need to be accepted as default position.

-Lawrence DiRe Director of Civic Engagement and Research