When does 'public use' become abuse of power?
The (Central IL) Pantagraph, 10/5/04

Editorial Opinion

Tried and proven methods that have helped redevelopment of cities are being tested because some people think government officials are "abusing" their authority.

A case before the U.S. Supreme Court sounds similar to one the town of Normal is facing now. And across Division Street in Bloomington, a group of residents wants to throw out home-rule because the City Council used that to approve construction of a downtown arena that was rejected 2-to-1 in an advisory referendum.

The Supreme Court case involves homeowners in a neighborhood of New London, Conn. The city wants to raze their homes and relocate them so a river-front hotel, health club and offices can be built.

New London is using the power of eminent domain to acquire the properties through negotiations or a price agreed upon in court, or determined by a court, at a later date. The argument is that the city is using a "public use" acquisition law for a purpose not intended by the law.

For years, governmental units have used eminent domain laws to acquire needed private land for such things as streets, sewers public buildings and intersection expansions. Such actions are for "public use." But when cities seize unblighted property merely to allow redevelopment that will produce a better looking area or additional tax revenues, opponents argue that is not for "public use" and should not be allowed.

Normal has four court cases pending as it tries to acquire land that will become part of a hotel/convention center/parking deck financed by the town and a private developer.

The Supreme Court hasn't dealt with this issue in 20 years, but the last time it did it favored the governmental body.

The local arguments have not been about what is best for the communities as a whole, but whether elected city officials have the right to circumvent people with a financial stake in the outcome.

The Pantagraph: www.pantagraph.com