There are 8 people running for city council in Lake Forest – a new record. At face value, this indicates that people have never been more disappointed in what their Council is doing.
Previously we profiled the two incumbents – Scott Voigts and Kathy McCullough as well as the appointed Dave Bass who technically is not an incumbent since he wasn’t elected. Today’s profile is on Andrew Hamilton.
On paper, Andrew Hamilton looks pretty good. He’s a family man who’s lived in the City for 7 years. He’s a CPA and in his spare time he works with a few nonprofit organizations and helped coach soccer. Since 2013 he’s been on the City’s Planning Commission and for the past few months, he’s been the Chairperson.
Unfortunately Hamilton brings with him a dismal record of performance on the Planning Commission. He was first appointed right after Dwight Robinson and Adam Nick joined Scott Voigts on the Council in 2012. For much of the prior 20 years, the City had been controlled by Peter Herzog and Richard Dixon. There was a lot of resentment against the Herzog/Dixon regime and Voigts was determined to eliminate all vestiges of their reign. Once he assumed control, Voigts maneuvered to throw out all the sitting Commission members and put in his own group – people who had worked for him, campaigned for him, and/or contributed to his campaign. Hamilton was swept in with 3 other people, and they took their respective seats on the Commissions. Click here for a summary of what this did to the Planning Commission and to the Parks and Recreation Commission.
Hamilton’s orientation on the Planning Commission has been to be unabashedly pro-business, often to the exclusion of the wellbeing of the residents of the City. His favorite homily is “let the market decide”, never realizing that by extension the idea of a “planning” commission dissipates if the market is truly allowed to decide. Indeed, for many months after assuming office, Hamilton insisted that the Planning Commission could only obey the direct instructions of the City Council, which apparently really meant “Let the Council decide” rather than the market. Of course this is what Voigts counted on when he appointed Hamilton.
Hamilton has been careful to follow the path set out by the Council, and almost always supports their desires. The pro-business rationale and especially a pro-developer bias are based on simple math. Developers (and to a lesser extent the businesses that rely on developers such as contractors, construction companies, consultants, etc.) are the major contributors to election campaigns. Developer-backed candidates have won every election for the past 20 years, and developers have poured more than $150,000 into Lake Forest elections which is more than all other groups combined.
Hence, Hamilton was very supportive of the proposal from two developers to build 250 homes in a commercial area even though the City struggles with existing traffic problems and faces another 42,000+ new vehicle trips per day as a result of the homes already approved. It made no difference to Hamilton that the City staff opposed the project, nor that virtually every resident from the City voiced their opposition to the project. When cautioned by a knowledgeable resident with experience in building, that the project as designed might well turn into an urban blight area, Hamilton smugly replied “Let the market decide. Then the price will drop.” Indeed, if the market decides and the Brookfield homes turn into a suburban slum, the people who will suffer include the homeowners and the residents in surrounding areas who will see their own home prices drop. But with a radical pro-business orientation that would make Ayn Rand proud, Hamilton was supportive of the plan which was ultimately approved, causing 4,000 Lake Forest residents to sign a petition trying to stop the project.
When an unmanned natural gas fueling station was proposed for the busiest and most congested part of the City, Hamilton barely drew a breath. When informed that the data in the report was incorrect, and did not properly calculate the risks or the probable traffic, Hamilton focused on the lost revenue from the vacant land. In Hamilton’s mind the risks of more traffic, more congestion, and explosions were outweighed by the thought of a few thousands dollars in revenue by allowing the project to go forward.
As a leader, Hamilton’s congenial approach fails to deliver the goods. Under Hamilton they postponed nearly twice as many issues as they did under the previous Chairpersons in the pre-Voigts era. His meetings average twice as long as they did under the two previous Chairpersons, and the Planning Commission actually has much less on their plate. The Commission has seen more flip-flops in less time by more people than in the history of the city on any Commission or any Council and recently all it took was a brief bathroom break to completely reverse a decision made only minutes earlier. The cost of employing outside help has increased enormously as Hamilton seems unable to manage the group so that decisive decisions can be made.
If elected, Hamilton would fit securely under Voigts wing and give the Voigts-Robinson coalition complete control of the Council. Nothing could be worse for the City.
Next time we’ll profile Col. Tom Cagley.
About Jim Gardner: