Jeff Ward: What Happens When FACTS Doesn't Attack!

Did I just see a pig fly?

It’s funny. The thing that scared me the most about writing those two columns on the heavy handed tactics of Bob McQuillan and the Geneva taxFACTS group (For Accountable and Controlled Tax Spending) wasn’t that he might come after me with a sledgehammer—though that did occur to me.

Nope! The scenario that struck fear deep within my soul was the possibility that the School Board would significantly raise property taxes—again—while Bob and FACTS made a real effort toward moderating their approach to reining in District 304 school spending.

Because if that deadly combination ever came to pass, considering the School Board’s history of questionable decisions, it would not bode well for them. Of course, I didn’t think they had anything to worry about because who ever listens to me?

But as one of the punchlines in comedian Ron White’s bit on getting thrown out of a New York City bar goes, “I was wrong!”

You see, I’ve been nagging friend and Kane County Chronicle columnist Rick Holinger to come up with some hard-hitting pieces. Though we all know Rick doesn’t write nearly as well as I do, and I’m much better looking, when it comes to saving the world—or at least, Geneva—it’s always better to have a partner in crime.

Perhaps taking my advice, that shift toward a more moderate School Board approach might have started with his excellent Jan. 13 Kane County Chronicle column titled “A Tragedy in the Making.”

Holinger, a FACTS co-founder who’s stepped back from a leadership role, certainly hasn’t spared the School Board in the past, but the tone of this piece was unemotional, clear and succinct. Instead of bashing us over the head with a baseball bat, which can be effective in short, well-timed bursts, his column invited the reader to come to his or her own conclusion.

And that’s something I’ve been trying to tell McQuillan . I don’t need you to make up my mind about runaway property taxes.

Holinger pointed out that District 304 spends six times what school districts of similar size spend, poor decisions can have dire consequences like District 304’s massive debt, and the School Board, facing a mounting taxpayer rebellion, refuses to appoint a financial task force to brainstorm solutions.

Even more ominous than the column was McQuillan’s online response. Instead of taking the obvious opportunity to employ the sledgehammer so boldly depicted in his Patch profile, he did something I wasn’t even sure he was capable of doing. He simply stated that District 304 has put taxpayer on the hook for $325 million and, in a somewhat reasonable tone, invited all Genevans to get involved.

No recrimination, minimal bluster (especially for Bob), and no in-your-face posturing.

The truth is, if we face up to the facts (pun intended), despite his generally poor delivery, McQuillan is frequently right.

As for me, I’m so tired of elected officials whining, “No one could’ve seen the real estate crash coming.” Baloney! Maybe your average Joe can get away with something like that, but I expect more from folks who choose to take a leadership role—even one as thankless as a school board seat.

Readers question my mental capacity all the time, but even I managed to warn them that the housing market was in peril. I’m not asking for perfection, but we do expect you to catch the big ones.

Raising property taxes by another $288 at a time when Genevans are tapped out, their home values are plummeting, and foreclosures are still commonplace is unconscionable. Even the Geneva City Council found religion and held the tax levy line.

The District 304 board’s Rolls Royce mentality, which I lay at the feet of former School Board President Mary Stith, has finally caught up with them and us. never should have been built, we’ve seen too many bloated budgets borne of luxuries most schools do just fine without, and a “we can always go back to the taxpayer” mentality are the three main chickens that have come home to roost.

Given that track record and the debt, FACTS was not off base when it asked the board to seek some expert input.

As you know, , for the most part because I never played the game. So, to make the experience better for the boys, I’ve created a support network of former college soccer players and coaches with decades of experience. And it’s worked pretty well.

The fact that only one board member, Kelly Nowak, has a professional financial background means it couldn’t possibly hurt to ask for help. It’s arrogant to think you have all the answers. A set of fresh eyes couldn’t possibly be a bad thing.

And it’s one of those rare win-win situation.

If, in the end, this task force says, “Hey! You guys are doing a great job! Keep it up,” as Ron White said in another bit, “That oughtta shut ‘em up.” FACTS wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.

If they came back with, “You guys could do a better job here, here and here,” then the people of Geneva would be that much better off for their skilled intervention and the board members would look good for their wisdom.

If, as I believe is the case, the board is saying no to this offer because they’re mired in an anti-FACTS bunker mentality, then you’re doing the people of Geneva a disservice and, I hate to say it, you’re no better than FACTS.

The irony is, McQuillan’s insistent attacks that have provided the School Board’s best defense by generating so much sympathy. (Bob, if you use this column to beat the board over the head, I will come after you with a verbal sledgehammer.)

But if McQuillan and FACTS have seen the light and are willing to adjust their tactics to more than a shadow of reasonability, look out Geneva School Board. As Bette Davis said in All About Eve, “Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy [ride].”

We’re all really tired of property tax hikes.

Jim MacRunnels January 18, 2012 at 01:08 PM
Ok Jeff, if you write a love fest article about the chairman I will know that you have lost it. I do like this article, it hits the mark.
Jeff Ward January 18, 2012 at 01:29 PM
Jim, People can change! I just hope that FACTS doesn't disappoint me. And not to worry. KC Animal Control has been naughty again and I lay it squarely at the feet of the chairman in Sunday's Beacon column. Then we'll be moving on to pay-to-play! Jeff
Kate January 18, 2012 at 03:31 PM
Jeff, Good column! I was certainly surprised several weeks ago to see the Geneva High School video linked through the Patch. Although I congratulate the kids, a very talented bunch, I did not like the revelation that the high school has its own television broadcast unit. What does it cost to maintain that equipment and pay the salary of the faculty member in charge? It seems that the school board should be looking at the bottom line and at programs to cut or suspend until the state can support funding. Geneva residents are tightening belts; it is time that we see the school board following suit. Katherine
Bob McQuillan January 18, 2012 at 07:15 PM
Bear with me, I have been waiting for this day for 4 years. I never attacked any individual school board member, I "attacked" them as a group. They are a group of 7. I don't despise any school board member, most are great individuals and love the town of Geneva. They will have to answer if they depise me. I do know I have been called every name in the book. The President of the All-Sports Boosters was told that our group was going to publicly oppose the turf field. Not true, we supported them raising the funds on their own. A neighbor at a book club meeting accused me of "wanting to slash and burn the Geneva educational system." Look at my, my wife's and our three children's educational backgrounds. Nothing can be further from the truth. I'm proud of my education. The GenevaTaxFACTS group wants to make education affordable so that we can continue to live in this lovely town. The past is the past and we need to move on knowing what we know today. Look for our new website on February 1st, www.GenevaTaxFACTS.org It will contain information on every taxing body. As of last night, it will also include info on the MillCreek Water Reclamation District. I have publicly invited city staff or any alderman to post information on our site. It's not about Bob McQuillan, Jeff Ward, Rick Holinger or Mayor Kevin Burns, it's about doing what is right for every single taxpayer. Go to our (your) website on February 1st and join us in trying to solve our debt.
Jeff Ward January 18, 2012 at 07:39 PM
Bob, You just can't be gracious in the face of a minor victory either. You say it isn't about you? Prove it! Step back and shut up! Jeff
Jim J January 18, 2012 at 07:39 PM
Jeff- If you don't want to see pigs fly, stay away from shiny, reflective surfaces. Bob, keep up the good work. Looking forward to the website launch. Let's face it Geneva, if it weren't for Bob and his group, there would have been very little done to curb (or even notice) the increased spending (and resultant tax increases) in the last decade. Former 304 member, Sue Shivers, was the only thorn in the side of the runaway 304 train prior to FACTS taking up the laboring oar. Thanks again, Bob. Every watchdog needs a sledgehammer once in awhile. Jim James
Karen Moore January 18, 2012 at 08:09 PM
Bob, What happened at the Mill Creek Water Rec. District meeting. I had to teach RE last night so I couldn't make it. I'd appreciate any info. Thanks, Karen
Bob McQuillan January 18, 2012 at 10:01 PM
Jeff Now who is being nasty and aggrogant. When someone writes about me in a column (multiple times), I am not going to step back and shut up. I and others have spent hundreds and hundreds of hours of OUR own personal time over the last 4 years to figure out what has been going on. Many have sat at school board meetings. Why did you call Rick Holinger and Rich Hayhurst but refused to call me when writing this column? Did you lose my cell number? It is not all about you, Jeff Ward. As to the other comments, thanks for recognizing the work that GenevaTaxFACTS has done.. I went to the MillCreek water meeting even though I don't live in MillCreek and didn't know the background, I do live in geneva. I believe the board cut the proposed increase in half. That board, from what I could gather, was left with a huge mess from decisions made previous to any of them being on the board. The audience wanted information on meeting minutes, operating budget, etc. The Board President said that they don't have a website and it is difficult to get things out to the community. I raised my hand and offered to post any information they would like on the new GenevaTaxFACTS website. The President accepted my offer. See Jeff, it isn't about me or even you. It is about doing what is right for the entire Geneva community. That is what OUR entire group will do from now on. The group is open to everyone, all e-mails are sent bcc'd. When the sledgehammer is needed, it will be used.
Jeff Ward January 18, 2012 at 11:22 PM
Bob, I take back everything positive I said about FACTS in that column. I didn't call you because I dread having to deal with you and I've dealt with some of the most difficult politicians on the planet. You've taken this thing to such an extreme, even if you add up all the good you've done, it's more than offset by the vast amount of damage you've left in your egotistical wake. I've actually gotten somewhere with the school board, but you've even managed to destroy that progress. Because of your massive ego - you do everything for self aggrandizement - the school board will spend more money to spite you and this entire situation will continue to get worse. You are the main reason the school board will not seek outside help. Matt Henry was dead on - you ARE a bully and it ain't gonna work with me. From this point on, I defend the school board. Jeff Ward
Bob McQuillan January 19, 2012 at 12:44 AM
I'm sure the Geneva taxpayers will appreciate your backing, what you yourself call, the overspending school board that refuses outside help. I'm glad you think you have gotten somewhere with the school board. Now you can take all the credit for their spending. I am thinking you would like to be removed from the group's e-mail distribution list. Good-bye and Good Luck Mr. Ward.
Rick Holinger January 19, 2012 at 12:52 AM
Boys, boys, boys. How about if we all admit that our egos sometime get in the way of doing what's best (or in the way that it's best) for our town, and get to work on working together to pull our community out of a dire situation? After all, the core of Jeff's column and one of the goals of GenevaTaxFACTS, as far I can tell, are the same: to convince the Geneva School Board to admit they could use some volunteered expertise. Given the impendig financial circumstances facing our hometown, I'm prone to echo MIck Jagger at Altamont: "What are we fightin' for?!"
Paul Hansen January 19, 2012 at 01:05 AM
Jeff, take some time off.
George Jackowiec January 19, 2012 at 07:21 PM
Jim, I agree that Bob has definitely done a great deal of the heavy lifting when it comes to getting the public to see the problems with the school budget. However, a few others have tried, only to be bullied by the board. Leslie Juby was usally the lone stand out when it came to standing up to the board. Then came Mark Grosso. Mark has done a wonderful job of adding intelligent suggestions on potential cost saving measures. Again, I think Mark is running into the same oposition. (Let's hope that Mark stays with the board long enough to get some help at the next election!!)Recently elected board member Mike McCormick, CPA/attorney is not on the financial task force. Wow, not adding Mike was really a missed opportunity, in my opinion. However, look at how the financial task force is organized. It is the "superintendent financial task force." It what company does the "board" take a backseat to the 'employee?" That is why I think having an independent financial advisory board, that advises the board, will be able to add realistic advise to the board and help keep our educational costs contained. Keep it up Bob. Keep the faith Mark and Mike. However, they cannot do it alone. People, please get involved. Please come to meetings, make your voices heard.
Mike Lansing January 19, 2012 at 07:30 PM
I think Ward and Nagel should pay everybody's taxes. They're the two with the biggest egos and least amount of power in the city.
Rick Nagel (Editor) January 21, 2012 at 11:03 PM
I deleted several comments to this article in accordance with our terms of use.


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