Last spring, the Des Plaines, Illinois Journal published a front page story stating that city officials were holding closed door meetings with a Home Depot developer, but that details were “sketchy”. City officials said the east side project involved Home Depot and other “major players” in the retail industry. The only problem was, residents and taxpayers were not considered major players by city officials, and residents started to hammer Home Depot. To make matters worse, officials let it be known that they were considering creation of a Tax Increment Finance District, or TIF, which, among other things, would give the city special eminent domain powers to buy properties in the TIF zone. It is also a form of corporate welfare offered to the largest home improvement corporation in the world. By September, as the temperature surrounding the project increased politically, Alderman Pat Beauvais went public with her concern that no more closed door sessions should be held.”People are upset,” she told The Journal, “and they should be. They find stakes in their yards and people taking pictures. Yes, it’s been in the papers, but no one wants to talk about it. My phone’s been off the hook, and we can’t talk about it. I don’t want to meet in executive session.” The developer, The Reliant Group, apparently was reliant on silence as the best way to deal with public concern. Acting Mayor Tony Arredia said his people had only had 2 meetings with the developer, and that Reliant was “not sure that it will go.” Residents were sure that the project wouldn’t go with them, especially since city staff were busy moving the TIF plan forward even as the Acting Mayor proclaimed his own confusion about where things stood. Residents organized a group called Citizens Against TIF #4. “We’re opposed to the Home Depot project,” said member Weslie Bellini, “or a project that will displace us from our homes. We feel like we’ve been given a bum’s rush.”
Alderman Pat Beauvais, whose ward is affected the most by the proposed Home Depot, told the media that she wants the city to reassess the way it deals with new development ideas, i.e., in secret. “People are upset and I can’t blame them. None of the people have been talked to at all.” The Mayor still insists that the developer has nothing to present, yet plans continue to tie down the TIF. The parcel Home Depot wants includes at least 20 homes and a number of small businesses. City officials excuse the need for executive sessions because the project involves possible land purchases. But in this case, the homeowners who might be dispossessed feel they are “major players” who ought to be in on any deal to try and buy them out. In Des Plaines, it seems like private developers have a lock on the public development process.