And so the saga sort-of, maybe, kinda, possibly, ends.
Whether you agree with Ehrmann or not, you have to admire the fact that she’s not getting paid, she has no financial interest in the matter, and yet she’s been working diligently on this issue. That demonstrates a passion for the community and a strength and courage of local altruism which is definitely admirable. Agree with her or not, she deserves respect for her efforts.
As I’ve said with my interviews with all parties, and as tends to be the case with me, I see this far more as an issue of self-interest than I do of
Local developer Joe Lemon has been attempting to buy the courthouse for over a year.
altruism. As is usually the case, I am not Princess Leia trying to save Alderaan, I am Han Solo, looking out for what’s best for himself and fighting alongside the rebels as it suits my own interests. I suspect many of the board members who voted for the sale of the courthouse to Lemon are likewise “flying Solo,” especially given many of them are pro-business and privatization Republicans, standing politically at odds with Ehrmann and her group, which tend to run more Bernie-style progressive, yet are facing off against a largely establishment Democratic block against the courthouse sale. It’s a strange mix of alliances and antagonisms. But that’s politics, which lead to unorthodox alliances, and that’s how deals are made in the real world, between adults, who overlook the programmed superficial tribalism for their own interests and goals.
I have nothing personally for or against the courthouse. If I had to judge it upon my experiences within it, I don’t have a lot of misty memories. I think the courthouse is great and all, it’s a fantastic building, an example of stunning architecture and a testament to the brilliant craftsmanship of times gone by. But the building that means more to me is my own home, and what means more to me is the rising amount of county taxes I pay on that building I own.
As I’ve said to Ehrmann, I greatly admire her cause and energy in pursuing it, but the main thing that tips the scales for me towards her side is that from a financial standpoint, I felt the sale of the building to Lemon, the putting of money INTO the county coffers rather than taking it out for demolition and new development, was a better deal. I’ve said the same to Swanson, although he’s countered that he and his group feel that in the big picture, financially, the county demolishing it and repurposing the land, will be the wiser financial move.
Whoever was going to win, I was hoping was going to be right. Because when it comes down to it, I, and most people in the county, are sick and tired of rising taxes, and we want our tax bills to be reduced.
At this point, it looks like the ostensible winners are going to be Swanson and those on the board who support not selling it to Lemon.
Again, I disagree, I would’ve voted to sell it to Lemon. But, that’s what happened with the vote. Whether or not that changes, we’ll see.
But either way, here’s the thing, especially when you’re a public official: You’re rarely going to make everyone happy, and you’re often going to make people angry, but WHEN YOU MAKE A BIG DECISION, YOU’D BETTER HOPE TO HELL YOU GET IT RIGHT.
That’s how I feel about the Rock Island County board with this courthouse thing.
I thought they should’ve sold it to Joe Lemon, gotten some money out of it, let a reliable developer with local ties renovate it out of his pocket and using state and federal grants which weren’t going to reflect upon OUR property taxes. But, obviously, the majority of the board disagreed with me, and many other people in the county.
Ok, that happens. BUT… whatever you do with that space, you’d better damn well make sure it pays off. And given its location, right across the bridge, as the visual and aesthetic gateway to the city, you’d better damn well make sure you get the optics right as well.
Green space? Park? Something cool and aesthetically pleasing, as Swanson told me they were looking to do when we spoke on my podcast? YES. I’m fine with that. It doesn’t bring it tax revenue, BUT it also improves the city from an aesthetic standpoint, which could, ostensibly,
lead to a more positive environment in the downtown which could also lead to more business development, which does bring in tax revenue.
But if they build a juvenile detention center, as has been rumored? HELL NO.
The last thing the city needs is a kid jail welcoming visitors right off the bridge. Given that Rock Island is already struggling to overcome an undeserved negative reputation, we don’t need the sight of incarcerated children in the shadow of the WELCOME TO ROCK ISLAND sign.
The City of Rock Island has been doomed by bad decisions over the past 20 years (Walmart, anyone?), but now, the county board now has an opportunity to make a good one. I may not agree with them now, I may not agree with their decision not to sell to Lemon, BUT if they do something great to help the city and the county with this space and it’s both fiscally responsible and aesthetically pleasing, I’ll certainly admit I was wrong.
We’ll see what happens.
I hope I have to apologize, rather than saying “I told you so.”
Because the first is only going to cost me my pride.
The latter will be a much bigger hit to my taxes, and my checkbook — and to yours as well.
Sean Leary is an author, director, artist, musician, producer and entrepreneur who has been writing professionally since debuting at age 11 in the pages of the Comics Buyers Guide. An honors graduate of the University of Southern California masters program, he has written over 50 books including the best-sellers The Arimathean, Every Number is Lucky to Someone and We Are All Characters.