June 23, 2009 – Some Cook County Board members are questioning the ethics of Cook County paying millions of dollars for land co-owned by 15th District Commissioner Tim Schneider.
The Forest Preserve of Cook County has filed a petition to use eminent domain and buy the land now occupied by the Rolling Knolls Country Club, an 18-hole golf course in Elgin. A Republican colleague of Schneider’s is raising the issue of a conflict of interest, because Commissioner Schneider serves on the Forest Preserve Board and stands to make $11 million dollars in the deal, according to Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica.
Schneider said he has abstained from all votes involving the golf course purchase in an effort to avoid any appearance of ethical misconduct. Schneider also said that he has not been involved in the negotiations between the Forest Preserve and the country club.
“My two brothers are handling the negotiations,” Schneider said. “I have asked to be completely kept out of both sides of the equation.”
The land in question is co-owned by Schneider and his family.
The commisioner’s brother Tom has been in charge of the negotiations. Tim Schneider said his brother was not available for comment because he was in Mexico.
Peraica said it would be impossible for Schneider and the Forest Preserve Board to “avoid the appearance of impropriety.”
Aside from his resignation, Peraica said nothing can be done to settle the ethical questions raised by Schneider’s dual role. “I don’t think he can just close his ears and shut his eyes and pretend this isn’t happening,” he said.
Peraica questions how much the Forest Preserve District would be paying Schneider and his family. “They’re going to walk away with a large amount of money in their pockets,” he said.
The Forest Preserve position is that by handling the matter through eminent domain, it’s avoiding any potential conflict of interest because the court will decide on a purchase price.
Eminent domain allows the government the right to acquire and buy private property for public use.
“Everything that can be done has been done,” Forest Preserve District spokesman Steve Mayberry said of the District’s efforts to avoid any appearance of underhanded dealings.
The Forest Preserve District voted to acquire the golf course last September, three weeks after the Elgin Plan Commission rejected a Schneider family proposal to develop the land as single- and multi-family homes. Schneider did not vote on the Forest Preserve District’s decision to acquire the land.
Three months later, the Schneider family made a new proposal that included a nine-hole golf course with 92 single-family homes and 40 townhomes that the Plan Commission accepted.
The family’s development plan was interrupted when the Forest Preserve District decided to purchase the land, Schneider said.
The property will be maintained as open space by the Forest Preserve District and “absolutely won’t” be run as a golf course, according to Mayberry.
“That parcel has been an area that we have had interest in for literally years,” Mayberry said.