Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Ethics In a Nutshell -OR- Slimy Yet Satisfying

I've firmly established the fact that I live in one of the beast's many bellies. The Drill. Baby. Drill of it reads thusly.

  • State of Illinois: pop. 12,901,563 (2008 est.) Pay to Play Party Central 57,918 sq mi
  • Chicago Metro Area: (MSA) pop. 9,524,673; Third largest MSA in the USA, 7,214 sq mi
  • Cook (Crook) County: pop. 5,285,107; 19th LARGEST Government in the USA, 1,635 sq mi, 42% of which is WATER.
  • Proviso Township: pop. 155,831; Proviso Township covers an area of 29.68 square miles (6.32 sq. mi. having somehow detached from the original 36.)
  • Forest Park: pop. 15,688; 2.4 sq mi. , Inner inner-ring suburb of Chicago. Terminus of Green and Blue Line `L' trains.
Several anomalies stand out of that set of stats. The most jarring of which is that only 1/4 of Illinoisians DO NOT live in the Chicago Metro area. More than half of that quarter live in Smaller Cities like Springfield, Rockford, Decatur, Bloomington, Quad Cities, and the Illinois side of the Big Muddy suburbs of St. Louis. It is clearly a cosmopolitan demographic, yet its residents are extremely RURAL in their thinking.

Does it play in Peoria?

So where do 15,688 people stand in the grander schemes? For almost a century they were an unobtrusive afterthought. Like many of the bedroom communities, they were content to be invisible. Reaping the benefits of the World Class Cosmo life Chicago offered, Beaches, Museums, Nightlife, Sports, Media then scurrying home to Brigadoon.

Then came the 80's. That's when the gritty downsides of urban living began the assault.
That's when living in and around Chicago became a bizarre amalgam of twisted game and DIY show thinking. Let's Make a Deal? Win, Lose or Draw? Wheel of Fortune? Tradin' Spaces,
Video Village... Interspersed with "reality" show concepts. Looking back to the 80's, nostalgically, we tend to forget that it was fueled by junk food, artificial sweeteners, cocaine and Reaganomics.
AND it gave us the bank breaking 90's and today's harshing of that mellow.

Sleepy little `burbs were infected with a serious case of pretense. If you weren't hot on trendy development, redevelopment and upward mobility you were missing out on the Gold Rush of modern life. Ignoring the fact that what made places unique, quaint, attractive was being homogenized, replicated and replaced by facade.

Ethical lines were blurred by "Everybody's Doing IT" thinking. And if you weren't, you were
destined for obscurity. Suburbs had to compete? Elected Leaders needed to be movers and shakers who followed the script from Glengarry Glenross. The slippery slope was in full slide pandemic mode. Top to bottom it rejected conventional thinking and wisdom in favor of the quick fix, the big deal and the suspended disbelief required to "Keep It Going".

Oh yeah, the ethics in a nutshell part... (too late?)
My little town was late to the party. Opting out of the madness until it was almost too late.
In 1998 the wave finally arrived in earnest. Heady times. Brigadoon was ready to make its mark.
A local election brought fresh from the Disco Era youth and vitality to the fore. People voted for change and got it good and hard.

Not completely void of its senses, the electorate almost immediately rejected an attempt to give
the new Centurions Home-rule powers. Unfazed by the stinging defeat, the new PTB broke the piggy-bank, enhanced revenues via every available avenue and spent our way to prosperity.
After turning a million dollar repaving project into a $7 million dollar transformation of the six block long downtown shopping (drinking) strip we had arrived! No less, The Chicago Tribune, tagged us as the New Wicker Park. Whoopee! We were IN the bubble!

Damn, digressed again... Our mayor (think male Sarah Palin) faced a tough challenge in the 2007 election. He amassed and spent unprecendented campaign funds but was still neck and neck with a candidate who was questioning the spending, thinking (or lack thereof) and new direction. The election was decided in his favor by 195 votes. That means if 100 people had voted the other way, it's a very different election. Call it sour grapes or spilt milk, but that's the factual reality.

He outspent his opponent 4-1 through "legitimate" campaign funds, he out-signed and direct-mailed her by an order of magnitude. Still too close for comfort. So he got clever. A contentious property owner on the south end of town passed away. This created a window of opportunity through which a building, that the village had refused to let the owner fix-up/repair/RENT out for more than a decade, became available. The mayor swooped in and bought the troublesome eyesore for $330,000 mentioning (promising) that it would be turned into a community resource/police sub-station. The purchase was quickly approved and became the campaign banner in the final weeks before the election. It's impossible to know for sure how many voters
were swayed by taking over this "problem building", but my informal inquiries and scuttlebutt indicate it was enough.

Fast forward to today. Two years and ZERO plans, discussions or much mention of the building's use, later...
The 10 unit+ 1 storefront brick building on its 25x125 lot is to be RAZED. It will either become a "Park" or parking. Off the tax roles, in such disrepair, in such a sucky economy, our $330K plus carrying charges will now incur demolition costs and the costs of whichever "plan" is determined to be the property's future use.

Half a million $$$? For 100 votes? By utilizing the powers of office? If it's neither unethical or illegal, it oughta be.

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