Charges fly at Rockton meeting

— Rockton Village Administrative Committee responds to citizen complaints, and Trustee Zach Baker presses village attorney on performance

By Jane Carrell
Coordinator, Northern IL Tea Party

The Monday, July 18, Rockton Village Board Administrative Committee meeting room was bursting at the seams, with 15 members of the public present, and only five seats for onlookers in the committee room.

The most contentious question of the July 5 Board of Trustees meeting arose once more. Gary Sands, owner of Sands Nursery, again made remarks in the public comment segment, reiterating his charge that he had been lied to by the mayor concerning his use of the property he purchased in December, adjoining the ballpark on Old River Road. Sands is owner of Sands Nursery, growing and selling his produce in Machesney Park.

After the public comment segment, Trustee Zach Baker clarified with the Village Attorney, Greg Cox of the Nicolosi & Associates law firm, sitting in for Village Attorney Gino Galluzzo, that trustees were free to comment about public statements made, provided they not vote on the topic at the same meeting.

Baker read from the agricultural zoning ordinance, which holds that the “sale of products produced on the premises” was permitted. Baker commented that the village board was “in dangerous territory” when it was “trying to make things difficult” for property owners.

Sands had stated earlier that he had been told by the mayor he could not drill a well, then that he had to get permission from Winnebago County Health Department. The Health Department told Sands it was not involved for properties located within village boundaries. Trustee Baker charged the village was “setting a dangerous precedent” and asked, “What’s next?”

Zach Baker reported to the board he had reviewed the e-mails that had passed between Mayor Dale Adams and the landowner. The mayor stated he and Sands had many conversations over a three-month period concerning the property. After the meeting, Sands told a few people who had attended the meeting that the mayor had urged him to purchase a lot next to the sand pit on McCurry Road, west of Highway 251, selling his Old River Road property to the village.

Baker reported no statements in e-mails he construed as “bullying,” but neither did he see any indication “the guy wanted to sell the property,” as Mayor Adams had described to the village board. Facing the mayor, Baker said, “You said that you didn’t want him to sell trees? What’s wrong with that?”

On Tuesday, July 19, Tea Party board member Cindy spoke with the mayor today on the hot topics of Monday night’s committee meeting. The mayor was pleasant and happy to have an opportunity to lay out his side of the debate. They spent about 15 minutes discussing the issues.

Concerning the matter of the nursery to be located on the site adjoining the Old River Road athletic field, the mayor said, “Working with Gary Sands, we told him when he bought this place about the zoning, and he may have a misunderstanding, and he may be taking one sentence out of there [out of context].”

“Since this site was zoned agricultural, he can take products grown on the site and sell them there.”

“Any business or residence within village boundaries must use the village water supply. It needs to stay on village water. If we move the well that feeds this area [as is slated to occur, given the pollution problem currently], the new well that is planned may be located at the athletic field area, which could drain his well dry.”

The mayor mentioned that it was a Health Department requirement that any site within village boundaries must be on village water.

Argument about the village attorneys demanding a raise after 12 years was not an issue for the board, since it has yet to come out of committee, according to Adams.

Mayor Adams said that Trustee Zach Baker has been asking for open agendas. The mayor pointed to the 3 board committees. “So it makes more sense to have things presented in committee before consideration by the board as a whole?” Cindy asked. The Mayor said that he favored open meetings, but using the committees properly to expedite board business. “I want to be sure we are not practicing censorship,” the mayor said.

Turning to the topic of Dean Mohring’s comments at the July 5 meeting, Baker reported that he had reviewed two years of the Minutes of the Board. Mohring had charged, in his statement July 5, that the village attorney, now asking for an increased rate for his services, had not performed well and should not get a raise. Baker pointed to an absence of recorded votes authorizing the village lawsuit against Rock Energy.

“Once you lose a lawsuit, doesn’t that require another vote (to continue the lawsuit)?” Baker asked. “So you’re telling me, when you vote to pursue legal action, and you lose, you don’t have to vote again to go forward on appeal?”

Attorney Cox stated that the April 2005 referendum had authorized acquisition of the gas and electric utilities, then owned by Alliant Energy. The lawsuit cost the village $500,000, and ended without success in May 2011.

Baker also raised the issue of the two Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts approved by the board for Fat Wallet and for Chemtool. Neither TIF included a “clawback” clause for recovery by the village of losses, should the property owner fail to keep his side of the contract. Fat Wallet moved their operation to Beloit, Wis., after Illinois raised its corporate income tax rate. Neither Fat Wallet nor Chemtool had hired the numbers of people they had promised in the TIF agreements.

According to Baker, the village attorney’s acceptance of those TIF contracts, drawn up by other attorneys, was a sign of poor performance on his part. Attorney Cox, in reference to the empty Fat Wallet building on the former site of the Wagon Wheel, said, “Better to have that there than a hole in the ground.”

Baker responded, “Don’t ask me for a raise!”

From the July 20-26, 2011 issue

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