On the Endangered List

Speaking at a press conference in Springfield on April 6th with Ryan Messner.

Speaking at a press conference in Springfield on April 6th with Ryan Messner.

Every year, the nonprofit organization Landmarks Illinois creates a list of the Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois. This is done to provide a focus for the organization’s statewide advocacy efforts. Over the last 22 years, a third of all properties and sites included on the annual Most Endangered list have been saved. This year the spotlight involved Long Grove, as our covered bridge was featured as one of the historic bridges on the list to be saved. Landmarks Illinois made the announcement of the list during a press conference in Springfield earlier this week, and a group of nine residents and merchants traveled to our state capital to participate. Ryan Messner, President of the Historic Downtown Long Grove Business Association, and I were both asked to speak at the press conference about our local efforts to save the bridge. We are grateful for the public awareness that being on this annual list generates, as well as the help provided by Landmarks Illinois going forward as we advocate together for national historic register status and restoration funds.

While in town, I met with our State Representative Nick Sauer in his Springfield office to discuss the covered bridge and other local issues. After the press conference our group of nine visited with State Senator Dan McConchie, who graciously gave us a personal tour of the senate floor and posed for pictures. I even had the opportunity to stand at the podium in the senate chamber, hold the gavel, and pretend to break a tie. Personally, I was dreaming of bringing down the gavel to accept an Illinois budget, but alas….not my jurisdiction.

With only two weeks to go in my term, this trip to Springfield will be remembered as one of my last and best experiences as Village President. We even caught a glimpse of Governor Rauner as he passed across the rotunda in front of us! At dinner the night before, I had the chance to talk with State Senator Melinda Bush about a bill that I am following, and she offered to introduce me, Village Clerk Amy Gayton, and Amy’s two daughters Alex and Nikki to the sponsor of the bill (who happened to be eating in the same restaurant) so that we could thank her. The female legislators took the opportunity to encourage the young girls to run for office themselves one day. Truly, it was inspiring.

Our Long Grove contingent surrounding State Senator Dan McConchie in the senate chamber (L to R): Jim Unzler, Aaron and Angie Underwood, Dana and Ryan Messner, Amy, Alex, Nikki and David Gayton.

Our Long Grove contingent surrounding State Senator Dan McConchie in the senate chamber (L to R): Jim Uszler, Aaron and Angie Underwood, Dana and Ryan Messner, Amy, Alex, Nikki and David Gayton.

Election Day is Here

Long Grove Historical Society members (L to R) Gerri Campbell, Diane Trickey, and Aaron Underwood wearing the stars and stripes and reminding us to do our patriotic duty today by voting!

Long Grove Historical Society members (L to R) Gerri Campbell, Diane Trickey, and Aaron Underwood wear the stars and stripes and remind us to do our patriotic duty today by voting!

After listening to months of contentious campaigning, the end of our 2016 election season is now in sight. Finally, the American people are able to come together and make a decision today, and I hope that you will be among those casting a vote. I know it has been ugly…really ugly…but as I’ve said before, Democracy is Messy. Even if you are disappointed in some of the choices we are asked to make, I urge you to exercise your power at the polls and be part of the direction our country takes.

Many of our local, state, and county races are hotly contested as well, and your input is needed. As Village President, I am in the incredibly fortunate position of having been able to meet and get to know personally many of the state and county individuals running for office on my ballot. And still, some of the choices are difficult. But I have great faith in our American system of government. If we all do our part and vote, then we all enable our elected leaders to come together and work towards making progress on needed changes. Today is the day…let your voice be heard!

Such a Financial State

(L to R) Long Grove Village President Angie Underwood, Hawthorn Woods Mayor Joe Mancino, and Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger at the July 14th Lake County Municipal League Meeting.

(L to R) Long Grove Village President Angie Underwood, Hawthorn Woods Mayor Joe Mancino, and Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger at the July 14th Lake County Municipal League Meeting.

Last month I attended the quarterly Lake County Municipal League meeting and had the opportunity to hear our State Comptroller, Leslie Munger, speak in her hometown of Lincolnshire. What resonated with me the most is the precarious financial state we find ourselves in at the moment. Let’s just say that the news was not comforting to hear.

Illinois has not had a budget in place for over a year now. In June of 2016 some “stopgap funding” was passed that will be in place until December. Some of the groups receiving this temporary funding are: K-12 schools, Universities & Colleges, nonprofits providing human services, Veterans homes, Lottery winners, 911 call centers, road construction, and local governments. While the stopgap funds are allowing these organizations and projects to continue until the end of the year and through the fall elections, Comptroller Munger described these measures as a “band-aid.” Right now Illinois has a backlog of $8 Billion in unpaid bills, which is estimated to grow to $10 Billion by December. Currently our state has accrued $116 Billion in unfunded pension obligations. Sobering statistics, indeed.

Long term, Illinois needs a plan. Comptroller Munger feels that just raising taxes is not a solution, as we already are burdened with high property taxes, particularly in Lake County. Some of the ideas she put forward to improve the situation include:

  • Reducing Costs–through consolidation, and also being more efficient in our state government
  • Raising Revenues–by growing our economy and expanding our tax base
  • Lowering the Cost of Doing Business in Illinois–including eliminating burdensome unfunded mandates
  • Holding the Line on Property Taxes–very little increase
  • Constitutional Pension Reform–must be achieved to curb the rapidly escalating financial obligations

So with all of this doom and gloom, how do we all remain hopeful that things can and will change? Leslie left us on a positive note with her view that the financial challenges of Illinois can be overcome with state legislators who are willing to work together to reach a consensus and compromise. Illinois is blessed with many assets such as:  transportation, a skilled work force, high quality education, abundant water, rich farmland, and a strong IT and advanced industry.

I am keeping my fingers crossed that the November elections will spark some positive change, one that will result in a workable plan to get our state back on track financially. It is possible. And it is up to all of us to let those in Springfield know that we expect nothing less. Hearing Comptroller Munger speak motivated me to call and email my state senator with my thoughts and concerns, and ask what I can do to help. You can do the same. Like it or not, we are all in this together!

In Defense of the Flower

The White Fringed Prairie Orchid

The White Fringed Prairie Orchid

It is a testament to our ecological stewardship in Long Grove that we still have many varieties of native wildflowers that bloom in public and private woodlands and open spaces. In fact, we even have one variety that is a federally protected endangered species. I have never seen the white fringed prairie orchid, but State officials assure us it is here and have kept the site location confidential. Just one more way in which our Village is rare and special.

This flower has been recently under attack in our boardroom, as the private property owners try to rally Village support against the State’s attempts to further protect this endangered species. Do we side with the residents or the flower? Should the Village be involved at all? Some on the Board are critical of the State and dismissive of the ecological concerns. Emotions are high and accusations have been made. It has gotten so ridiculous that at the recent Village Board meeting one Trustee suggested that if it were his property, he might just take care of the problem with the use of some “agent orange.” Seriously?

I am in solidarity with the environmentalists, and spoke up in defense of the flower. After all,  isn’t it a resident too? This species has been blooming in Long Grove for more years than I have, and has been protected by the State at this location for decades. The experts at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Illinois Nature Preserve Agency have studied the situation for many years and determined the best course of action for the collective greater good. The owners of the piece of property where the orchid lives beg to differ.

There are other factors at play in this; for brevity and confidentiality I have simplified the issue. But in the end, it all comes down to money. And if that doesn’t work, well, the State has something as a last resort called eminent domain. Never underestimate the power of a flower.

Eggs and Issues

State Legislators answer questions at the February 6, 2016 Lake County Municipal League Event.

State Legislators answer questions at the February 6, 2016 Lake County Municipal League Event.

Yesterday I attended the Lake County Municipal League Legislative Breakfast in Round Lake. This annual event was an opportunity to hear directly from our local State Senators and Representatives, who spoke about what is happening (or not) in Springfield. Eleven legislators sat on the panel, and responded to questions on many diverse topics such as:  state funding for our schools, corporate flight out of Illinois, and reasons pro or con on the need to raise our state income taxes. One topic that all could agree on was the urgent necessity of getting a state budget passed, and the desire that they should all be in session until this is accomplished. The need to work together was acknowledged again and again, despite strong opinions on positions expressed individually. Another attendee used the word intransigence (confession–I had to look this up later, it means: refusing to compromise or to abandon an extreme position or attitude) as a descriptor of what was heard. Several legislators asked the municipalities present to pass resolutions demanding that the state pass a budget. If Long Grove demands that they simply do their jobs and find a way to compromise, will that work? If so, I’m willing to try.

The LCML also presented their 2016 Legislative Agenda, which details seven priority issues and four pieces of state legislation on the watch list. Priority issues of particular interest to Long Grove include:

  • Automatic Appropriation for Motor Fuel Tax & Video Gaming Funds
  • Protection of Electronics Recycling Program Funding
  • Protection of our Local Government Distributive Fund Revenues
  • Opposition to Unfunded Mandates
  • Support of Expanding Home Rule Eligibility to Communities in Excess of 5,000 Residents

Please attend our next Village Board meeting on February 9th at 7:00 pm to hear more about this as well as other important issues.

Meeting Governor Rauner

L to R: Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, me (looking very petite despite wearing 3 1/2 inch heels!) and my husband Aaron.

Last week Governor Rauner attended our Lake County Municipal League annual dinner at Kemper Lakes in Kildeer, and I finally had my opportunity to meet him in person. First impression–wow he is tall! He is also extremely gracious after what must have been a long and difficult day dealing with State budget issues and unrest over police brutality in Chicago. Governor Rauner thanked me for my service to Long Grove, but I cannot imagine the amount of pressure he must be under serving our State at this particular time. I asked him if he would enjoy sleeping in his own bed tonight (his home is nearby in Lake County) and that elicited a big smile.

Elected officials are under intense scrutiny in our world today, on the national, state, and even local levels. And for good reason, because we want those that represent us to be held to a high standard, and the work that they do for us to be transparent. But all that said, public figures are not to be put on a pedestal. Each and every one of us is flawed in some way, and it is my belief that a large part of the purpose of our human experience is learning to overcome those flaws. And equally importantly, excepting those flaws in others, and helping them to work through life’s lessons with patience and compassion.  Am I making excuses for illegal and immoral behavior or abuse of public trust? No way. But I can say that the vast majority of Trustees, Mayors, county and state officials that I have had the privilege to work with are genuinely trying their hardest to make the lives of their constituents better. It’s just that we can’t always agree on how that is best accomplished!

While I don’t agree with all of Governor Rauner’s policies, I am truly grateful for the gift of his personal time and talents to help the citizens of Illinois. I have faith and trust that he is working diligently to find ways to solve the numerous problems in our state that he has inherited. He rightfully deserves our respect, even if we don’t share the same position on every decision made. Despite disagreements on local issues, I feel the same sense of respect for my Lake County and Long Grove colleagues. With very few exceptions, we are all doing the best that we know how to do.

And even though I know Bruce Rauner is really just another Lake County resident (admittedly, a statuesque one!) who holds public office, it was still pretty cool to shake hands with the Governor!

Route 53: Fear and Loathing Part 2

Members of the Long Grove Village Board at the October 27, 2015 meeting.

Members of the Long Grove Village Board at the October 27, 2015 meeting.

I have never used my gavel more times in a meeting to maintain order and civility than I did last night. Things never truly got out of control, but emotions were high in the capacity crowd of Rt. 53 objectors. The mood of the room prevailed as the Trustees voted 5 to 1 in favor of a resolution declaring formal opposition to the extension of Route 53 by the Village of Long Grove. The Illinois Tollway Board is set to make a decision in December on whether or not to move forward with further engineering studies for this project. Time will tell if this action of taking a stand by Long Grove will have any effect.

For those of you who are interested, below is a link to the letter written to our Village Board from Lake County Chairman Aaron Lawlor, concerning the informational meeting held last week about Route 53. This was read aloud last night by our Village Clerk and entered into the public record. The letter also contains an additional link that takes you to the Route 53 website which features video, maps, and additional details on the project.

Letter from Chairman Lawlor

 

Route 53: Fear and Loathing Part 1

53-Mtg

Elected officials in attendance at the October 20th Route 53 Informational Meeting include (L to R) Long Grove Village President Angie Underwood, Lake County Treasurer David Stolman, Lake County Board President Aaron Lawlor, Lake County Board Representative Sid Mathias, and Hawthorn Woods Mayor Joe Mancino.

Last week our Village Board hosted a public meeting to discuss the proposed extension of Route 53. An initiative of Trustees Stan Borys and Mike Sarlitto, this meeting was billed as “neither pro nor con” on the issue, but simply a presentation of facts to better inform our residents. I don’t think anyone walked out of the meeting feeling that it was a neutral discussion. I am on the record as having objected to the last-minute timing and organization of this meeting, and the Village Board as a whole had limited opportunity to vet or approve the materials being presented.

Since last Tuesday, the fallout from the meeting has been significant. County officials who were in attendance to observe (they were specifically asked not to present by Borys and Sarlitto) were treated in an unprofessional manner and have responded with a letter to “correct the false and/or misleading information that was shared in the official presentation.” Chairman Lawlor’s letter will be read tonight at our Village Board meeting and I will reprint it in my next blog entry (Route 53: Fear and Loathing Part 2).

Our communication and working relationships with County officials whom Long Grove is dependent on for critical services such as police and road maintenance (think Diamond Lake Road) are now strained.

My inbox has been filled with impassioned emails from residents opposing the project, many of whom live in the proposed path of the road. A few of these included threats.

Trustees Borys, Sarlitto, and Jacob have as of Friday, forced on to our agenda tonight a vote for our Village to take an official position opposing the Route 53 extension. This short-circuited the normal open process of having two weeks of public awareness in between a Board discussion and a Board vote. This process is in place to ensure consistency, fairness, and transparency. I will write tomorrow on the results of tonight’s meeting, to which we are expecting a large crowd (perhaps brandishing a few pitchforks and flaming torches?)

To better clarify my position on the matter, my opening remarks from the Oct. 20th meeting are reprinted below. Following that is the article that appeared in the Chicago Tribune describing the meeting.

I first learned of the proposed Rt. 53 extension 18 years ago when my husband and I were looking for a home in Long Grove. Over the years this project has surfaced again and again for study and debate, never advancing to fruition due to lack of funds and consensus. I have never been in favor of this project. If it were all up to me, I would preserve our beautiful open spaces and natural areas as they are today, and this road would never be built. However, I am also aware that many residents do support this project. I don’t believe that I was elected to advocate for my personal point of view, but rather to be a representative for ALL Long Grove residents.

Shortly after I took office, I was asked to participate in committees to further study the Route 53/120 Extension. In the past two years, I have attended over 15 of these meetings and I have witnessed firsthand the strong support this project has within both the County and State. At this time, the decision whether or not to advance the Route 53/120 extension rests with the Tollway and our State legislatures. If the road is eventually constructed, it will be dependent on many future decisions of which Long Grove’s active involvement will be crucial, particularly in safeguarding our environmental concerns.

I am ever mindful that what is done and said in the name of Long Grove has and will have consequences, good and bad. My role as Village President is to lead our residents into the years ahead maintaining the best quality of life possible. If that future must include a toll road, then my responsibility is to preserve Long Grove’s seat at the table, and work with other State and County officials to make sure our voice is heard. It is my belief that the best possible outcome for all can be achieved by collaboration and respect.  –Angie Underwood, Long Grove Village President

Audience “gangs up” on County Board Chair during Route 53 Meeting by Ronnie Wachter, Pioneer Press/Chicago Tribune

No new information–but a lot of old emotions–came out of Long Grove’s open-house meeting to discuss the possible extension of Illinois Route 53. Lake County Board President Aaron Lawlor responded to criticism by saying he would not be treated like a “punching bag,” and Long Grove Village President Angie Underwood asked the crowd to stop berating him. Two other members of the Long Grove Village Board spent about 90 minutes on Tuesday skewering aspects of the Illinois Tollway’s plan to extend Route 53 from its current terminus at Lake Cook Road up to Illinois Route 120 in Grayslake. The project would build an entirely new, likely four-lane highway near or through wetlands and neighborhoods. The 12 miles of new pavement, currently estimated to cost about $2.5 billion, would then join a renovated Route 120 in an attempt to ease traffic and spur economic development. In a recently published public-opinion survey that Long Grove Village Hall funded, 53 percent of respondents opposed the project, while 47 percent favored it. Only three members of the Village Board spoke at the session–Stan Borys, Michael Sarlitto, and Underwood. All three identified themselves as against the extension. Underwood said she wanted to keep an open mind to its possibilities, but Sarlitto and Borys spoke frankly about the flaws they see. “If there are any residents here who support this, I dare you to come up here and explain something positive about it,” Sarlitto told the audience of about 200. No one in the standing-room-only audience answered that challenge. At several points, crowd members called for Chairman Lawlor to answer questions, which he stood up and responded. Lawlor challenged nearly everything Sarlitto and Borys put into their presentation. No new information on the project itself came from the gathering. Lawlor said Long Grove invited him on the premise that he would not be asked to make a presentation. “I’m not going to be here, at a meeting that I was explicitly told I wouldn’t be speaking at, just to be a punching bag,” Lawlor told the crowd. Underwood admonished the visitors to respect Lake County’s top elected official. “This is not a meeting for everyone to gang up on Chairman Lawlor,” she said. But Sarlitto said some of Long Grove appears to be misinformed, saying that the 47 percent of survey respondents who want Route 53 needed to know what he knew. “If you had the facts that have been crammed up in this little noggin in the last month, it would be a hell of a lot higher opposition,” Sarlitto said. “Long Grove is Ground Zero for this project,” Sarlitto said. “It starts right here, in this gym.”

We Get By with a Little Help from Our Friends

 

My friends (L to R) Steve Lentz, Mayor of Mundelein, Joe Mancino, Mayor of Hawthorn Woods, and Tom Poynton, Mayor of Lake Zurich.

My friends (L to R) Steve Lentz, Mayor of Mundelein, Joe Mancino, Mayor of Hawthorn Woods, and Tom Poynton, Mayor of Lake Zurich at a recent Lake County Municipal League meeting.

Today, an article appeared in the Chicago Tribune on the topic of the proposed IL Route 53 extension and the recent concerns being voiced by the municipalities directly in the path of this road. As Village President, I joined with the Mayors of Hawthorn Woods, Mundelein, Kildeer, and Round Lake to sign a letter to the Tollway Board and CMAP to express our collective concerns over recommendations regarding land use in the highway corridor. We are asking for more information and specific details regarding a proposed oversight body, a Corridor Planning Council, which has the potential to override local municipal decisions on how land along this roadway could be zoned and utilized. Our voices have been heard, and I do believe that more information will be forthcoming in the months ahead. But this is just one example of the ways in which Long Grove works together with our neighbors to enable positive changes.

Recently our Village Board approved an intergovernmental agreement with the Village of Buffalo Grove to work cooperatively towards tightening up our code enforcement. Under a two year agreement, Buffalo Grove will assist us with property maintenance inspections, issuance of tickets, and administrative adjudication proceedings. Why is this needed? Because by partnering with our neighboring towns or agencies to get services done, we can increase efficiency and save both time and money.

You may have heard Governor Rauner talk about the need for our various units of government in Illinois to combine and share services. This is nothing new to Long Grove. We have partnered for many years with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office for our police protection. The Village currently contracts with both Ela and Cuba townships for various road maintenance services and use of their equipment. This summer, we have partnered with the Village of Kildeer to cooperatively bid road repair contracts to take advantage of volume pricing. Having a minimal government philosophy means that old Beatles tune is right on–we do “get by with a little help from our friends.”

Sharing in the Sacrifice

openpurseIn his inaugural speech on January 12th, Governor Bruce Rauner stated that, “Each person here today and all those throughout the state will be called upon to share in the sacrifice,” in reference to fixing our current state financial woes. On February 18th, we learned of his proposal for Long Grove (as well as every other municipality in Illinois) to share in the sacrifice. This proposal, if passed into the next Illinois budget by both the Senate and House would take effect on July 1st, 2015. And it would cut in half the state income taxes that Springfield hands down to its municipalities. To Long Grove, this means a loss of about $400,000, out of an operating budget of less than $3 million. Long Grove has never charged a property tax, and this state income revenue is our second-largest source of funding, behind only sales tax.

At our Village Board meeting last Tuesday, we discussed this proposal and the effects that it may have on our next fiscal budget, which is set to be approved in April. The Village Board will be adopting a resolution at our next meeting opposing the proposed reduction of distributive revenues by the State of Illinois. I have written letters to Governor Rauner and our state representatives expressing our opposition to this loss of revenue. In Long Grove, we have been forced to make tough decisions to keep our budget balanced every year, and now it seems we are asked to dig a little deeper into the reserves for the sake of the State of Illinois. I hope this is one sacrifice we will not have to make.