“To the victor belong the spoils” said U.S. Senator William Marcy trying to justify the unprecedented corruption following the election of President Andrew Jackson. Marcy was referring to the scandalous political appointments made by Jackson to friends, relatives, and supporters without regard for their qualifications, giving birth to the term “spoils system.”
Lake Forest is undergoing its own “spoils system” scandal since the election of Dwight Robinson and Adam Nick to the City Council in 2012. Joining together with incumbent Scott Voigts, they dismissed the well regarded and long standing members of both the Planning Commission (PC) and the Parks and Recreation Commission (PRC), and inserted their own set of loyalists, many of whom had no prior experience in either area, and had never attended meetings of either group. What they did share was personal loyalty to Voigts and/or Robinson. Their first appointments included an employee of Robinson and a campaign worker for Voigts and the son-in-law of a big campaign contributor to both Robinson and Voigts. The most blatant and most egregious appointment was Jolene Fuentes, widow of long-time Republican old guard big wig Tom Fuentes, who confessed to no knowledge of the PC or of planning in general, and who upon appointment proceeded to miss two of her first three meetings.
Now more than 18 months after their “Kristallnacht”, we can view the results of political cronyism and the spoils system at work. With regard to the Planning Commission, since the Voigts cabal joined the PC –
- there have been more appeals of PC decisions than in the previous 20 year history of the City
- there have been more PC decisions overturned than in the previous 20 year history of the City
- there have been more resignations of PC Commissioners than in the previous 20 year history of the City, with one Commissioner specifically mentioning the disruption caused by the Voigts’ sycophants as a proximate cause.
The result of the turmoil at the PC led to even more Voigts appointments, so that the current PC consists of 4 out of 5 members appointed by Voigts et. al. How is this newly constituted group doing?
- At nearly half of their scheduled meetings not all 5 Commissioners are in attendance. On a percentage basis, the most absent (in order) are Fuentes, Hamilton and Brower – all Voigts’ appointees.
- In the past 12 months they canceled 12% of their meetings
- 25% of their meetings end in less than an hour.
- Under Hamilton, a Voigts’ appointee with higher aspirations, they postponed nearly twice as many issues as they did under the previous Chairpersons in the pre-Voigts era.
- Under Hamilton the length of the meetings averages twice as long as they did under the two previous Chairpersons, and the PC actually has much less on their agendas.
- Under Hamilton the cost of employing outside help has increased enormously.
- Under Hamilton, the PC has seen more flip-flops in less time by more people than in the history of the city on any Commission or any Council.
- Under Hamilton, more than 4,000 citizens created a grass roots “Save Lake Forest” movement to protest against the approval of sub-standard homes in a commercial area.
This is as grim a record as you will find, and very few of these factors are subjective assessments. The length of meetings, the number of items that are postponed, the absence from meetings, flip-flops, the costs of employing outside counsel, etc. are all objective criteria against which we can view the current PC.
No one objects to appointments of friends or personal acquaintances if the people are otherwise qualified. But in the case of the PC, more than a dozen eminently qualified people were overlooked in order for Voigts et. al. to install their surrogates in office, and the results have been disastrous. Not only has their performance been found wanting on all objective measures (see above), but in addition their radical “pro-business” stance has resulted in decisions that are going to hurt the future quality of life in the City. For example –
- They approved building an unmanned compressed natural gas station in the busiest and most congested part of the City, based on flawed research that did not provide an adequate assessment of the risks (from explosions) or the projected traffic to and from the station.
- They approved adding more stores selling alcohol into an area of the city that is already over-saturated (by State standards), despite the knowledge that more access to alcohol results in more DUIs, more violent crime, and more social and health problems.
- They approved adding more homes to the City when there are already 4,500 new homes scheduled to be built and no one is able to project what the impact of 40,000 new vehicles trips per day will cause on the existing traffic problems.
“To the victor belong the spoils” but in this case, it appears that what will be spoiled is the quality of life for the 80,000 people who live in Lake Forest.
Next time we’ll take a look at the impact of political cronyism on the Parks and Recreation Commission.
About Jim Gardner:
Jim Gardner is a Clinical Psychologist/Businessman who has been a Management Consultant to Global 500 companies, Police and DEA and is the Past President of the Lake 1 HOA, Co-founder Friends of Lake Forest Animals, Member of the Lake Forest Parade Committee and a Supporter of Breast Cancer Solutions, South County Outreach. He ran for the Lake Forest City Council in 2012, garnering 5,894 votes. He just missed getting elected to the Lake Forest City Council in 2008, by about 6% of the vote.