The village of Sugar Grove held what turned into part one of at least a two-part public hearing regarding a proposed Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District on Aug. 16.
The public hearing drew so much interest from residents and government officials from the area that the meeting had to be moved to a larger venue to hold the 150 to 175 people in attendance. Not only was the turnout significant, but so was the overwhelming negative response to the proposed TIF District that would span 1,800 acres for 23 years. A TIF District is an economic tool that seeks to stimulate economic development by taking the incremental tax the village receives for improving a projected area. Those dollars are then used to fund the development costs.
The concerns from the hearing ranged from issues relating to the size of the proposed district, to the length of time the district would exist. Additional concerns were raised regarding the process undertaken so far, as well as the potential negative impacts on other taxing bodies in the area.
Regardless of the concern, all of the opinions shared during the public hearing expressed a negative view of the current plan. Most of the people expressing those opinions were given the freedom to speak without being interrupted by village officials—most, except for Big Rock Township Supervisor Sandy Carr. When Carr reiterated a question she said she has fielded in the past—raising the issue of a potential conflict of interest on the part of Village President Sean Michels—she was interrupted by the village president, and a shouting match ensued between multiple members of the Village Board and individuals in attendance. Thankfully, Carr was allowed to finish her prepared statement, but the underlying tension in the meeting had boiled over, and the tone for future interactions had been set.
We strongly urge individuals on both sides of the debate to keep their tempers in check. Carr certainly had the right to raise the question of a potential conflict of interest—during a public hearing—and she had the right to do so without being interrupted and nearly shouted down by village officials.
Michels, as village president, needs to demonstrate a measure of leadership and professionalism that were sadly absent for at least a portion of the public hearing. As a public figure who has run for office at both the local and state levels, he should be no stranger to differences of opinions, tension-filled meetings, or questions that he may disagree with. Given that, it was surprising for him to be the one to interrupt the proceedings and have to be told by members of the public—repeatedly and loudly—that he did not hold the floor.
The TIF District issue is contentious. There are a large amount of negative views about it. At the same time, there is a large amount of interest in a TIF District as a concept.
To bridge the gap between interest in the concept and opposition to this specific plan, a leader who has a cool head and a desire to really connect with those who both share and oppose his or her views needs to stand up. Michels, due to his position as village president, is that person by default. However, if he is unable or unwilling to do so, we hope someone else on the Village Board will fill that leadership role; a role that will be vital if Sugar Grove actually wants to create a TIF District that isn’t met with significant negativity.
If Michels still has an eye on the seat representing the 25th District in the Illinois State Senate—a seat he previously ran for and lost—then he needs to demonstrate an ability to hear questions he may object to without reacting in an inappropriate, emotional manner.
Part two of the public hearing will be held Tuesday, Sept. 6. Michels and the rest of the Village Board hava a second chance to demonstrate their willingness to be open to opposing viewpoints. Not everyone gets second chances like this, so we hope they take advantage of this one.