[BCNnet] Tribune Editorial on Split Proposal
Randi Doeker - Chicago
rbdoeker at yahoo.com
Wed Apr 2 07:19:20 CDT 2008
Kudos to Benjamin, et al, for the Tribune editorial supporting the split.
Preserving treasured land
April 2, 2008
You've encountered the notion on this page and elsewhere: Other cities have
renowned architecture, diverse economies, good universities, world-class
cultural institutions and so on. Most do not, though, have such long
histories of so aggressively protecting their most treasured public lands.
High on the list: the 68,000 acres owned by the Forest Preserve District of
Cook County. That emerald necklace wouldn't exist if generations of
conservationists-some of them public officials, many of them ordinary but
devoted citizens-hadn't fought to protect it from influential people who had
their own plans for the land.
But the Forest Preserve District, a distinct unit of government that turns
95 this year, often has had to survive abuse and neglect from members of the
Cook County Board
ard-ORGOV000084.topic> . Those 17 commissioners by law oversee the district
in addition to their (often equally abusive and neglectful) oversight of
Two respected civic groups, the Civic Federation and the Friends of the
Forest Preserves, now propose the creation-at no additional cost-of a
separate board with the sole responsibility of running the Forest Preserve
District. Good idea.
This is more than a snoozy exercise in promoting good government. The two
groups' 20-page proposal chronicles a chilling litany of threats to the
forest preserves-threats that trace to the County Board's conflicts of
interests. It's unwise to have the same board members responsible for
protecting the preserves from developers and promoting economic development
in Cook County. Since its creation, the Forest Preserve District has had an
intentionally narrow mission: to acquire, preserve and protect natural
As former county Commissioner Carl Hansen famously (in conservation circles)
argued during an attempted land grab of "just a little" district property in
the 1990s: Preservation of our diminishing open lands can't be justified on
grounds of economic benefit or most-visitors-per-square-foot. If the goal
were to exploit the dollar potential of spaces our ancestors set aside
permanently, then the district would have to sell every acre it owns.
County Board members have, though, at times treated the district as both a
land bank and a piggy bank. One example of each: In 1999 they explicitly
violated the district's sacrosanct land policy to sell a 2.4-acre parcel to
the Village of Rosemont
001005011220000.topic> for a convention center expansion. And in 2007, they
concocted a dead-wrong revision of history to justify a $13 million rip-off.
The same County Board members who supposedly protect the Forest Preserve
District's interests essentially stole district money to balance the county
The current proposal for changing governance-that is, for preserving the
forest preserves-isn't the first. Financial scandals so plagued the district
in 2002 that folding it into county government seemed to make sense.
That idea foundered with the realization that then-County Board President
John Stronger saw a merger as part of an elaborate plan to evade tax caps.
One traditional and cynical scam: County Board members and presidents like
to boast of not having raised Cook County property taxes in recent years.
What they don't admit is that, instead, they've raised revenue by hiking
Forest Preserve District property taxes. Once again, think Forest Preserve
Creating a separate board to oversee the district makes better sense: That
would eliminate the County Board's conflicts of interests. The Civic
Committee and Friends of the Forest Preserves suggest five unpaid
commissioners elected countywide. We'd prefer choosing commissioners from
five separate districts. The proposal notes that this wouldn't involve
hiring any employees; the Forest Preserve District, as a distinct
government, already has its own office staff.
A separate board paying closer attention to the preserves might have avoided
the County Board's mismanagement and also expanded the district's holdings.
Creating that new board is a job for state legislators; their predecessors
created the district in 1913.
The sooner they do so, the better for the forest preserves and the citizens
who should be able to enjoy them in perpetuity.
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