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.