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Tom Tresser

Tom Tresser

Posted: October 19, 2009 03:34 PM

Lessons Learned From the Olympic Fiasco

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As readers of the Huffington Post know, I was one of the lead organizers for No Games Chicago.

It’s been two weeks since the decision in Copenhagen by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to deny Chicago the 2016 Olympic games.

I was one member of the No Games Chicago delegation that was in Copenhagen and we were able to deliver our message and materials to the IOC.

It’s been an arduous and often lonely 10 months of organizing around stopping the 2016 games from ruining our finances, our parks and our neighborhoods.

I’ve had time to sort out the avalanche of experiences of the campaign and would like to share a few lessons from the battle of the bid.

(1) Accountability

Who is watching out for the taxpayers here? I would like to know how much money the city has spent to pursue the bid. I want to know what services were rendered and what properties were used by the bid effort. How much was spent on travel for city officials to promote the bid? Shouldn’t all work on the hospital site be frozen and shouldn’t we get a complete accounting of expenses and liabilities involved in the acquisition of the property? How much was spent on Chicago patrol officers to attend and "protect" all the 2016 summer meetings? How much did 2016 pay for the use of public spaces to hold those meetings? How much time and money was spent on 2016 related events in our public schools and on whose authority were those events conducted? How much money was given to the CTA for the 2016 audio ads and who authorized them? How much was spent on 2016 display advertising around the city and at our airports?

How are we going to prevent the mayor from ramming another hare-brained scheme down the taxpayers' throats while the aldermen rubber stamp the project and the media cheer him on?

(2) Recovery

Don’t we want any public funds spent by the city on behalf of or to advance the 2016 bid to be paid back to the city treasury by the 2016 leadership? The citizens are owed a full accounting of all such expenses and a binding agreement on the bid leadership to repay all such expenses would seem appropriate -- as 84% of the people of Chicago did not want or authorize such expenses. The work on the Michael Reese Hospital site must cease and the site must be returned to the private market. I should think that all contracts relating to that site are to be voided and any expenses incurred reimbursed to the city treasury by the 2016 Committee. Can we get a list of all obligations outstanding that the 2016 Committee has with any entity -- public or private -- in order to assure the taxpayers that no further public monies are in danger of being spent on this project? If any elected official has profited from work done for or on behalf of the 2016 Committee, that money should be reimbursed to the city treasury.

I feel like I’ve been ripped off and the thieves are in plain sight. And as if all this isn’t aggravating enough, in the past weeks the city council is handing United Airlines a total of $36 million in taxpayer dollars to move to the Sears Tower (I refuse to call it anything else), whose new owners also got about $4 million in our monies. And then the aldermen showered the Chicago Mercantile Exchange with 15 million of our dollars to help pay for building renovations. Don’t you have to be a millionaire to have a seat on the Exchange?

We need to stop the wholesale transfer of public assets to greedy, deep and private pockets.

(3) Prevention

I propose the following remedies to ensure that the city is not able to embark on new citizen rip-offs and unsanctioned mega-projects that benefit the few at the expense of the many:

  • The mayor of Chicago shall no longer be able to appoint replacements for aldermen who leave office before the end of their term. If an alderman leaves office before the expiration of their term, a special election shall be held 90 days from the date of the vacancy.
  • All Tax Increment Financing districts shall be frozen and collect no further funds from citizen's property taxes and no TIF district shall make any expenditure until the entire program is reviewed for effectiveness and efficiency by an independent citizens' commission (we suggest such a council be composed of equal number of leaders from local business schools and community economic development practitioners). Until such a commission renders its report all funds in all TIF accounts shall be returned to the city's treasury.
  • No public property shall be transferred, sold, leased or loaned to a private entity or corporation without the express permission of the people of Chicago via binding referendum.
  • All alderman shall cease working for companies that do business with the city, county or state. This means law work, consulting or rendering any fee for service. Alderman should have one job and one job alone, and that is to represent the people who elected them and who pay their salaries.
  • The mayor shall appoint representatives of community groups to all commissions, boards and entities that control or disburse public assets (Plan Commission, Community Development Commission, Park District Board, Board of Education, Cable Commission, etc). The number of community representatives shall equal the number of members who are from the business community.
  • All city meetings where public assets might be disbursed or diminished must be held at 6:00 p.m. and the agenda published online at least one month in advance. If these conditions are not met the relevant agenda item may not be discussed or voted upon.

(4) Citizen Action

Because our alderman and county commissioners are almost to a person in the pocket of the mayor and because the media more less was an echo chamber for the public relations fluff from the 2016 Committee and because the academic institutions forgot to ask critical questions and because most of our nonprofit so called “watchdog” organizations were silent and petrified we have no defense against bad policy and taxpayer rip-offs in our city or county.

It seems to me that if the citizens want to be protected from bad government and further rip-offs, we are going to have to rise to a new level of citizen involvement. We are going to have to start monitoring how these entities use and abuse our money and we’re going to have be smart enough to understand how they do it. And we’re going to have to work to fire them when we catch them doing it.

I know I don’t want to go through another No Games fight. I feel that the people of the region do not want to go through this again, and by “this,” I mean the betrayals, the astounding lack of due diligence by our elected officials, the blatant conflict of interest from project insiders and the arrogance of the mayor and his team in withholding vital information from the taxpayers of the city.

But I have little hope that our elected representatives will, truly, represent us.

It is for this reason that I have decided to seek the office of the president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners. If elected I will undertake a top-to-bottom financial review of all aspects of the county’s business and stop insider deals, ghost employee-ism and other longstanding taxpayer rip-offs.


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