Most of us are hardly aware of our local Chamber of Commerce or Community Council, or any of the other business development and community advocacy organizations, and when they do intrude on our awareness, we wonder just what do they do, exactly, to justify a business allocating a few hundred scarce dollars to membership dues,and valuable time to attending meetings and events.
Well, for starters, they take taxpayer's money in order to lobby for more taxpayers' money to fund massive projects that may or may not be advantageous for their communities and are often opposed by the bulk of the citizens. These organizations are considered "delegate" organizations by the City of Chicago, and are eligible for funding by the City, as are other non-profit organizations that exist for "community" purposes. At this time, there are well over 100 such organizations, and many neighborhoods have two or three, for oftentimes, another organization will be founded by those opposing the plans and policies of the original group, and they exert an unseemly degree of control over local affairs, including major public works and community developments. Rogers Park's infamous DevCorp North, now known as the Rogers Park Business Alliance, is notorious for its involvement in and partial ownership of the disastrous Gateway Mall, which was funded by the Howard/Pauline TIF, and the Edgewater Intelligencer has detailed the role of the Edgewater Community Council in advocating for the outer drive extension and landfill, in spite of overwhelming and vehement opposition to this project by the bulk of Edgewater, Rogers Park, and Evanston voters. Additionally, the organization is promoting the construction of a large wind farm at Edgewater Beach, a massively expensive and unsightly "greenwash" boondoggle to be financed by the taxpayers, as part of their Edgewater Environmental Sustainability Plan.
They also possess power over member and non-member businesses and development alike in their respective communities, and often do not hesitate to exert themselves to obstruct and harass businesses whose owners are not in their club, and have a tendency to reserve control of their organizations to a handful of powerful members.
Worse, these organizations have a voice in decisions affecting the entire city, such as the Outer Drive extension and park landfill, that was not granted them by the citizens of this city, and is often inimical to their interests and bank accounts. I don't remember electing any of the members of the ECC nor did I deputize them to speak for me on the matter of the Outer Drive extension.I did not vote to support them and other community organizations with my taxes, nor did I vote to support their positions on other issues, such as labor laws, zoning, the proper business mix for an area, and who shall be allowed to do business in the area and who should not.
Yet the City of Chicago has granted these organizations not only a significant chunk of our tax revenues when these groups are considered together, but a considerable degree of power over their respective communities, and a significant voice in major local affairs. It is not encouraging that the U.S. Supreme Court has voted to accord corporations the status of "person", thus granting corporate organizations additional power without the accountability of a live, human person.
Should a 503(c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit organization be permitted to lobby for legislation favorable to their members, or for anything at all? Should an organization with defined, limited membership, existing for the benefit of that membership, be permitted to rule the entire community and foist unwanted public works projects on it, and decide which businesses will live or die?
This is not meant to disparage the many fine community organizations and Chambers of Commerce that play a major role in improving their communities and building solid, desirable businesses in them. These organizations are often very beneficial.They often beautify the community by voluntary efforts, with plantings, banners, and other small enhancements, and they often are of real assistance to businesses starting up in their area. Some even provide valuable assistance to individual members in the form of business and legal advice, and access to financing. However, no matter how positive a role in the community a particular organization may play, it exists to serve its own members or a small constituency, and it should be supported strictly by voluntary contributions.
Most of all, these organizations should not be able to wield power not granted them by the citizenry, nor claim to represent us in matters that affect the entire community. They should not be permitted to hound a harmless little business out of existence, and they should not be able to use taxpayers' funds to lobby for legislation and projects that involve the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues and the disruption of tens of thousands of lives. The members of the ECC and other community organizations are surely entitled to their personal views and are entitled to voice them, but not with our money, nor should they be given authority in these matters not granted them by the voters.