In an unprecedented decision this past October, the executive committee of Chicago’s Northcenter Chamber of Commerce bypassed its own bylaws and procedures to ram through a proposal funding a new, independent company designed to profiteer from taxpayers, possibly at the expense of children.
Eyeing an opportunity to expand their political footprint beyond the Chamber’s boundaries, members of the Executive Committee plotted behind the backs of their own board of directors to set up the new company. Cleverly sharing the same “NCC” moniker as the Northcenter Chamber of Commerce, the new Northwest Community Corporation, (“NCC”) plans to utilize a paid board of directors and staff to carry out the dubious mission of becoming a clearinghouse for lucrative Special Service Area (“SSA”) contracts throughout the city. These SSAs are financed with a tax assessed to local business owners for the procurement of service contracts, like snow plowing.
And the new Company has already landed its first deal with none other than neighboring 33rd Ward Alderman Richard Mell known internationally as father-in-law to the infamous Rod Blagojevich.
The CEO of the new Northwest Community Corporation is also Northcenter Chamber of Commerce executive director Garrett FitzGerald, a Chicago insider, who ironically is a resident of Alderman Mell’s ward, not to mention a past aide to former 47th Ward Ald. Gene Schulter.
Observers note that among the problems with the scheme is that some of the biggest charitable groups in Northcenter, like the local Neighborhood Boys and Girls Club, Coonley, Bell and St. Ben’s Schools, rely on the over $30,000 in grants doled out by the Chamber’s philanthropy committee each year. While only a fraction of the over $300,000 annual haul is from the Northcenter Chamber’s successful Ribfest community event, the $50,000 already at risk with the new Company, almost double the annual philanthropy committee allocation, is leaving some to wonder if these local charities will get anything at all this year.
And it says nothing of the travesty that this new independent company was simply given the startup money by the executive committee in the form of a blank check, no strings attached, and with no benefit of the harrowing grant application and review process to hurdle for the “average” charities in our neighborhood. What’s more is that the new “NCC” board of directors was selected and money spent for its formation without any oversight from the Chamber’s general board.
Yet again, as is so palpably common in the City of Chicago, local insiders have created an uneven playing field to line their own pockets at the expense of hardworking people. Any and all of the legitimate Northcenter charities, not to mention the citizens they serve, have cause to be outraged.
The new stealth “NCC” never made an application for a grant like these charities, and it is so stingy that as of this writing it’s not even a member of the Northcenter Chamber of Commerce, a fact sure to change lightening fast after the previous is read by the right people.
And what about the dubious mission of profiteering from taxpayers? Some call it privatization. Anybody in Chicago reading the newspapers while chucking away quarters into LAZ parking meters knows that code. The premise of the Northcenter Chamber’s new stealth company is to command a profit from taxpayers by managing numerous SSA’s. They figure that by managing more than one SSA, they can realize greater efficiencies of scale and then take home the remainder of the tax money in the form of a paycheck.
At the end of the day, the scheme really just puts more money in the lap of the new Company’s CEO FitzGerald, already making over $90,000 a year plus benefits as executive director of the Chamber, a fact that Ald. Mell must be jealous of, since his meager aldermanic base salary is slightly over $104,000. With the new company, Mr. FitzGerald is on track to get even more money. He already makes over one and half times the pay of the 47th’s own Ald. Ameya Pawar, who has pledged to do far more for far less.
The whole concept begs the question, however, that if greater efficiencies could be had, shouldn’t these savings be passed back to the taxpayers in the form of lower taxes? On the contrary, the leaders sitting on the Northcenter Chamber’s executive committee see it fit to stick it to the taxpayer and grab that money for their own purposes. With local mom and pop businesses and the common, unconnected citizens struggling to even pay taxes in the first place, haven’t we had enough of that?
Rob Engel is a
current former board member of the Northcenter Chamber of Commerce and was board president from 2008-2010. He is also president and founder of Angel Sales, Inc.