A longtime resident of Evanston recently observed, “Evanston has lost its balance.” The reference was to recent county and city actions to support the establishment of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility on county lands near the Bear River State Park. On Tuesday, the county commissioners continued on their quest to make this a reality by entering into a “confidential” agreement for the sale of these lands to CoreCivic.
A few of the terms in this agreement were made public only a few hours before the commissioners approved a resolution authorizing the agreement. Members of the public, without knowledge of the specific terms of the agreement, were allowed to voice their opinions for and against this agreement before the commissioners voted on the resolution — this was the commissioners’ bow to transparency.
Much like the public forum back on Dec. 2, 2019, opinions were voiced — no minds were changed. In fact, no public official’s mind has been changed since they were approached years ago about this proposal — in the name of jobs and economic development, the soul of Evanston is being sold to the private prison/ICE immigration detention complex. No further attempt will be made here to recount the moral and economic arguments opposing this decision.
We used to act together as a community toward the betterment of Evanston. That apparently is no longer the case, as we face a division among our residents the likes of which we have not seen in the past 40 years — a town out of balance.
Questions must still be asked of our public officials. In addition to a land sale, what are the other parts of this transaction that have not yet seen the light of day (CoreCivic had no answers at the public forum)? What deals are being discussed with our law enforcement officials? What deals are being discussed with regard to the planning and zoning process that will need to be followed in order to allow this facility next to our state park?
Who did the land appraisals, and will they be made public at some point? How much is being paid for the 80-foot easement requested by CoreCivic? In reaching a purchase price, what consideration was given to the diminution in value of the 900 acres adjacent to the sale parcel? What guarantees, as opposed to unsecured promises, are CoreCivic providing?
All of these questions lead to a larger question: Why is the county allowed to sell public lands without going through a public competitive bidding process? I have read the applicable statutes and understand that counties, unlike the state and municipalities, do not have this statutory obligation. But that begs the question. Why, as a matter of policy, do county transactions involving the sale of public lands occur behind closed doors?
Why are other business entrepreneurs and developers precluded from participating in this process? Perhaps we would have had a more acceptable development proposal that could have been embraced by the whole community, instead of one that is tearing our community apart.