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American Dream Betrayed

How A Country Club Hills Eminent Domain Tax District Bill Turned Into Navy Pier Inc.

After reading the Sun-Times piece on Navy Pier that was the subject of last Monday's Papers column, I was curious to see who in our esteemed General Assembly voted for this massive change in how the largest tourist attraction in Illinois and our massive convention center is managed. It took a while to find it because I was looking for something with a title referencing Navy Pier, Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, McCormick Place or similar. Turns out the title I should have been looking for is "SB0028 QUICK-TAKE-COUNTRY CLUB HILLS."

What the what?!

In the end I found out much more than just who voted for the bill. I'm willing to put this forward as Exhibit 1 in how the Illinois General Assembly is subverting democracy and failing the citizens of Illinois.

The original bill when introduced was a run-of-the-mill eminent domain tax district change for Country Club Hills. You can read the entire text in less than two minutes as it was about half a page long when introduced in the Senate in January 2009.

It bounced around there for a while in committee with a few revisions and then, in April 2009, passed overwhelming in the Senate. Once in the House nothing really happened for over a year, and then this lowly one-page bill passed out of committee and went to the full House on May 5, 2010. The very next day Mike Madigan introduced a floor amendment to the bill.

What possibly could need to be changed on the floor by Mike Madigan after being held for over a year in a committee that Mike Madigan sits on?

Before you answer, remember that floor amendments are supposed to be for hashing out minor things like adding a comma or fixing typos [see comments]. Committees are where the meat of a bill is chewed through and public comment is given.

So what was his "amendment?" Just the wholesale deletion of every single word in the bill and the insertion of 187 pages of dense legalese changing how McCormick Place and Navy Pier are managed, hundreds of millions of dollars in bonds are issued, and oversight implemented. The good folks of Country Club Hills would have to wait for another day.

At this point I'm sure you are thinking that after such a drastic change to a Senate bill by the House speaker there would be more committee hearings, time for public comment, a chance for members to read 187 pages of dense legalese, and journalists to journal on these changes. Right? Seriously, I know you are thinking that.

WRONG! The House voted on and overwhelmingly passed SB87 on May 6, 2010 (the same day as Madigan's 187-page floor amendment). The Senate reconciled the changes with their vote on May 7, 2010, one day later. My what an efficient legislature we have.

Postscript: Gov. Pat Quinn actually used an amendatory veto on this bill on May 26th. I'd like to think that his veto stemmed from shame and disgust over the subversion of the democratic process, but in the end he took issue with procurement procedures and an airport tax increase (apparently O'Hare and Midway got in on the McPier party as well) in the bill as passed. Both the Senate and the House voted on May 27th, the next day, to override the veto.

Given how everything that has real consequences in this sordid affair happens within 24 hours, I suppose it is fitting that the company chosen to run Navy Pier was only a day old when selected. We are so fucked.

*

Addendum 1:

I found another one where Madigan created another shapeshifting bill.

Second verse is same as the first. Blow up an unrelated long suffering senate bill, put whatever the heck he wants to in it, vote immediately.

This one was suppose to fix the errors in SB28, shocking due to all of the careful process used in passing that bill.

*

Addendum 2:

I've extending my search into the House rules to see if they allow for what Madigan did. If not a violation of the letter of the rules it certainly breaks the spirit. Rule 9 states that the Speaker sets a deadline for the introduction of new substantive legislation (presumably to allow for a period of public review and comment).

In the Journal of Proceedings (page 5) the last day for the introduction of substantive legislation was Feb 11, 2010. Madigan is allowed to change the calendar which he could have done and introduced the Navy Pier bill on its own. Someone was obviously putting in some looong hours on this as 187 pages of law don't magically appear on May 6 and I'm sure Madigan knew it was coming for a long time. The reality is totally clear to me: he purposely subverted the prescriptive and public process of creating a law while no one in the legislature even bothered to say a word (silly me, it was an election year).

*

Editor's Note: Just to provide further context, I didn't want to leave readers with the impression that this maneuver was done totally in the dark. Well, Madigan's legislative maneuver was done in the dark. But there was some semblance of public debate. Here is a sampling of media coverage at the time. - Steve Rhodes

Tribune, May 1, 2010: Adviser: Privatize McCormick Place: State-Appointed Interim Czar Would Replace CEO.

"The legislature's chief adviser [Jim Reilly] on McCormick Place unveiled a sweeping blueprint for change Friday, calling for privatization of management and a state-imposed easing of restrictive show-floor work rules that run up customers' bills. A state-appointed interim czar would oversee the transformation for 18 months . . . Sources have said Reilly, who chairs the Regional Transportation Authority and formerly was chief executive at McPier, would be a likely candidate for the position."

Sun-Times, May 7, 2010: McPier Reforms OKd By House.

"The bill says the trustee will be James Reilly, a former chief executive of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority. Usually called McPier, the agency runs McCormick Place and Navy Pier. The bill sets his salary at $185,250 a year.

"Deep in its 154 pages is a tax increase, albeit one to be paid heavily by out-of-towners. It would double the tax rates that taxi and bus operators pay for serving Chicago's airports (to $4 for taxis), with 75 percent of the money supporting marketing campaigns for McCormick Place and 25 percent for the convention center in Rosemont . . .

"The House Executive Committee passed the measure 11-0 earlier Thursday. The legislation is sponsored by House Speaker Michael Madigan. Reilly was an adviser on the legislation."

Tribune, May 8, 2010: Senate Follows House Lead, Passes McCormick Overhaul.

"By a vote of 51-6, the Illinois Senate on Friday approved legislation that puts an interim czar at the helm of Chicago's convention center, with orders to privatize management . . . During an 18-month transition period, Jim Reilly would serve as trustee, with extensive decision-making powers. The bill also provides debt restructuring and a four-year operating subsidy to the agency that runs the convention complex."

Tribune, May 20, 2010: Sign The McPier Bill.

"Reilly would become trustee of McPier with broad powers for the 18-month interim. This has raised questions because he once consulted for two trade show contractors, and he advised legislative leaders as they crafted the reform legislation.

"We don't see this as a conflict of interests. His consulting contract ended a year and a half ago. We do see this as an opportunity to put a decisive, experienced leader at the helm of McPier as it navigates tremendous change at a moment of crisis. Reilly is the right person for the job.

"Your choice, Governor. But let's be clear: You're going to save Illinois jobs - or kill them."

Tribune, May 25, 2010: McPier Pick Gives Quinn Pause: Governor Says Lack Of Checks, Balances Stalls Overhaul Bill.

"Gov. Pat Quinn took some oblique shots at political insider Jim Reilly Monday as he explained why he remains undecided on whether to sign the McCormick Place overhaul legislation.

"The bill would name Reilly, chairman of the Regional Transportation Authority, as trustee, with broad decision-making power to oversee restructuring the Chicago convention center. Quinn said he wanted to be sure the legislation had adequate checks and balances in place."

Tribune, May 28, 2010: McCormick Revamp In Books: General Assembly Rejects Governor's Bid For Control.

"Sweeping legislation aimed at making McCormick Place more competitive became law Thursday after the General Assembly trampled efforts by Gov. Pat Quinn to reshape key portions of the package.

"The House quickly joined the Senate in voting overwhelmingly to reject Quinn's amendatory veto, putting into place a law that aims to halt the exodus of trade shows that object to high costs in Chicago. The House vote of 93-19 followed a Senate vote of 51-2, with one lawmaker casting a present vote.

"The actions mean 'we can move forward with substantial progress at McCormick Place, which will greatly improve the commerce of the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois,' said House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, who championed the bipartisan plan.

"Jim Reilly, a former head of the agency that runs the convention center, will step down from his position as chairman of the Regional Transportation Authority to become interim trustee of McCormick Place. He'll serve during an 18-month restructuring that will usher in private management of the publicly owned facility.

"Quinn's veto sought to block that legislative appointment, saying it was unconstitutional, and would have given the governor the authority to appoint the trustee.

"Some union representatives had bristled at the selection of Reilly, both because he has done consulting work for the companies that employ union workers and because he locked horns with unions during past legislative attempts to restructure the convention hall."

*

E-mail exchange.

Markel:

To me the fact that there was public discussion about problems at McPier before May 6, 2010 is less important than how the details of MM's solution to that problem were obscured from public view and the normal legislative process. Those details are what allowed the insider deal for the private management of Navy Pier.

Rhodes:

Yup, you are absolutely right. If Madigan had followed the rules, the public discussion, whatever much it was, would have had to take place in a much different way.

*

In other words, the fix was in. And Jim Reilly is still there - far beyond the 18-month trusteeship he set up for himself with Madigan's help.

Note: "Jim Reilly, head of the agency that owns McCormick Place and Navy Pier, was awarded a 10.6 percent pay hike Tuesday morning," the Tribune reported in 2012.

"Reilly's salary was set at $205,000 a year, retroactive to March 27, when he was made chief executive of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority. For nearly two years before that, he was the state-appointed trustee who oversaw the massive revamp of the authority and its operations, at a salary of $185,250."

In fact, last November Reilly announced his intention to resign. Maybe next year.

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Previously by Jon Markel:
* One Chicagoan's Odyssey Through LSC Voting Districts.

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Comments welcome.

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1. From Jon Holtzee:

There is an argument to be made about whether the amendment is germane. What you got wrong is the process . . . you're just fundamentally incorrect that 2nd reading floor amendments are only for clerical corrections. For the entire history of this state (and for most legislative chambers around the world), the floor amendment process on 2nd reading is fair game. You've really just missed it here.

Reply from Steve Rhodes: Thank you, Jon. As editor of the piece, I take responsibility; it escaped me. Jon Markel has also replied in a lengthy thread on Capitol Fax resulting from his piece. I encourage everyone to read the whole post over there.



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Posted on July 1, 2014


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