Two sitting council members who held office when the village agreed in January on a $4.3 million price tag for 7.7 acres of land said they may have misspoken during a pivotal discussion that centered on the property’s market value. This concession by Mayor Anthony Calderone and Commissioner Mark Hosty comes 11 months after the fact as another council member continues to raise questions about the deal.
Commissioner Marty Tellalian vehemently opposed selling 7.7 acres at 7824 Madison St. to the West Cook YMCA during a Nov. 13 council meeting and pointed to a pair of appraisals as his reason for doing so. Neither of those documents, Tellalian said, pinned the value of the parcel at $4.6 million, which was the basis for the selling price agreed to in January.
Tellalian contends the value of the land was likely much higher, at least $1 million more, and selling the land for $4.3 million may violate a state law that prohibits Forest Park from selling municipally owned property at less than 80 percent of market value. At the very least, he said, a discount of $300,000 on the purchase price doesn’t carry as much weight when negotiating other terms of the agreement with the YMCA.
Village officials have since denied that the property was ever appraised at $4.6 million and leaned on a July 2006 appraisal of $5.3 million as the basis for the selling price. Calderone, however, said the village attorney informed him the appraisal was “right at $4.6 million.” The mayor said he never saw any documentation to support that figure.
“I suppose I could have insisted that each elected official get a copy of the appraisal so that we could see it ourselves,” Calderone said.
Village Administrator Mike Sturino also said the council’s own written record of the January discussion in question–which outlines in detail that commissioners understood the appraised value to be $4.6 million–was perhaps a “mistranslated” document. Mistaken or not, the council unanimously approved this record as an accurate accounting of the Jan. 8 meeting later that month.
“Some people pay more attention to the minutes than others,” Hosty said recently of the approval process for recording the council’s actions. “I would probably be one of those who doesn’t pay very much attention to the minutes.”
Typically, the commissioner said, he “glances” at the record and votes to approve. “It’s certainly possible,” Hosty said, that the minutes from the Jan. 8 meeting were approved with flagrant errors.
But a video recording of that meeting taken by Citizens United in Forest Park, a local advocacy group that regularly tapes the council meetings, shows the adopted record to be consistent with the discussion. Perhaps more importantly, Tellalian said, at no point during the meeting did village staff or legal counsel correct the statements that were made.
“I don’t think there’s any question that those commissioners thought the value of that land was $4.6 million,” Tellalian said after reviewing the video. “Mike, the village administrator, is [now] saying the appraisal of $4.6 million never existed.”
Calderone acknowledges that in January he clearly stated the appraised value to be $4.6 million, but said he may have “misstated” the facts. He made the same concession for Hosty.
Calderone and Hosty are the only current council members who were in office in January.
As seen on the video, Hosty explained the $4.3 million to be a discount of 8 percent off the market value, or $300,000, as opposed to the maximum allowed under state law. Village Attorney Mike Durkin then offered that if the full 20 percent discount were allotted, the price would be reduced by $920,000.
Twenty percent of $4.6 million is $920,000.
“At this point I’m going to say he may have misspoken also,” Calderone said of Hosty’s math. “I don’t believe [the discount is] 8 percent, I believe it’s 20 percent.”
Hosty said he does not readily recall the details of the council’s discussion from 11 months ago, but said he wasn’t focused on the selling price to begin with. Having the YMCA build a new $20 million recreation facility in Forest Park is the more important goal.
Tellalian’s objections to the agreement are born from his dislike for the proposal, Hosty said, and have more to do with sour grapes than public interest. Tellalian cast the lone vote against the proposal on Nov. 13 and was the only commissioner to question the purchase price of the land.
“People might think it’s just a crusade or something, but it’s fundamental to how our government operates,” Tellalian said. “They very well may have been honest mistakes, I can’t gauge that. I’ll let them explain the circumstances that give rise to questions.”
Calderone said he intends to do just that at an upcoming council meeting. The lead attorney from the village’s contracted firm will be asked to give a presentation on the negotiations with the YMCA, explaining where certain terms and conditions originated.