Contervesy In Palos Heights Essay, Research Paper
CONTROVERSY IN PALOS HEIGHTS
On May 16, 2000, the Palos Heights City Council met to determine who would gain possession of the Reformed Church of Palos Heights. Seven months of meetings and controversy over the sale of the Reformed Church of Palos Heights had left church officials again unsure of who would buy the property and when. The Reformed Church, 6600 W. 127th St., had been for sale for approximately two years, as the growing congregation planned to build a larger church on Bell Road in Lemont Township. Church officials found themselves back where they were during the previous spring, when the Al Salam Mosque Foundation of Chicago announced that it would buy the Reformed Church for $2.1 million. The contract sparked a major controversy, with some Palos Heights residents opposing a mosque and some city officials trying to get the city to buy the church for use as a recreation center. The sale of the church to the Al Salam Mosque Foundation would mean a loss for the Recreation Department who had used the buildings and parking lot for some time. It would also produce a great increase in population and traffic in the area surrounding the church. The city wished to purchase the property, which had been on the market and vacant for an extended period of time. Aldermen of Palos
Heights approved offering the mosque foundation $200,000 to drop its plan to buy the church. Mosque officials agreed, however, Mayor Dean Koldenhoven vetoed the city council’s offer. The mosque foundation last month backed out of its contract and filed a $6.2 million civil rights lawsuit against the city.
The political coalition which was the major player in in favor of the city purchasing the Reformed Church of Palos Heights was the recreation committee headed by Alderman Julie Corsi. Alderman Corsi expressed strong agreement toward the City of Palos Heights purchasing the Reformed Church of Palos Heights. In the Palos Heights Summer 2000 newsletter she stated, “I strongly encourage the Palos Heights City Council to seriously consider the purchase of The Reformed Church of Palos Heights,” (http://www.palosheights.org). The major opposition to Alderman Corsi’s opinion were the citizens of Palos Heights. “NIMBY,” or “not in my back yard” played a very important role in the discussion of the sale of the church. One of the major points against the sale of the property to the city was the expectation for a great increase in traffic. One citizen voiced his concern by saying, “My biggest concern is the school that may be established. I am very much opposed to adding considerable traffic to an intersection that also handles traffic into and out of the Recreation Building and the Independence Middle School,”(Jim Davids, citizen of Palos Heights, http://www.palosheights.org)
The most significant institution in the issue was the executive branch, headed by the Mayor Dean Koldenhoven. Mayor Koldenhoven was opposed to purchasing the Reformed Church of Palos Heights from the beginning. The Aldermen made an offer to the Al Salam Mosque Foundation of Chicago of $200,000 to back out of its contract with the church was vetoed by the Mayor on July 18, 2000. The citizens of the community also supported the Mayor’s stance on this issue. The key actors in this issue were the Mayor, Omar Najib, President of the Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Aldermen, and the citizens. Mayor Koldenhoven was very much against paying the Mosque Foundation to back out of buying the church, as was quite evident in his vetoing the payment. He was also upset and showed regrets toward allowing politics into religion. The entire issue upset Mayor Koldenhoven greatly. Najib voiced his opinion in all of the meeting concerning the sale of the Reformed Church of Palos Heights. He thanked the Mayor for his position on the mosque issue and for acknowledging the mistake in putting politics into religion. The Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee accused the City of Palos Heights of discrimination, and accused its Aldermen and some citizens of being bigots. One citizen even called Islam a false religion, which infuriated the Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and helped spark the lawsuit. The Aldermen were very much in favor of the city’s purchasing of the Reformed Church of Palos Heights. The Aldermen, especially Alderman Corsi, expressed strong feelings in favor of purchasing the Reformed Church of Palos Heights. By the City Council meeting in May, Aldermen’s patience had been pushed to the limit. In a speech filled with anger and disgust toward the Mayor, Alderman Corsi asked to, “Let the mosque, church, and residents know the decision today,” (http://www.palosheights.org/gov/minutes.html). Citizens also expressed their feelings and concerns in many city council meetings and on May 16, 2000 over a hundred citizens attended the City Council meeting. The City Council heard many citizens speak both for and against the issue, however, the majority of the citizens spoke against the city‘s purchasing of the church. “Linda Schiappa spoke as a member of the community and member of the Recreation Advisory Board. The board has looked at the church and done a survey of the people. The church does not meet the recreational needs of the people. She cannot understand why the City would spend $200,000.00 of money we do not have and get nothing. In America people have freedom of religion and we should have open minds and open hearts. People should not be afraid of the mosque but of their own fear. To date, Ms. Schiappa has not seen a plan for renovation of the church. How can we commit $200,000.00 and more for a building we have no use for, one that is too small and will probably cost millions to renovate. This year, the recreation department could not even afford umbrellas for the pool.”(http://www.palosheights.org/gov/minutes.html).
Palos Heights’ advisory referendum on whether the city should buy a church for use as a recreation center was a close vote, causing those on both sides of the issue to interpret the outcome differently. November 7th’s ballot measure, “Shall the City of Palos Heights expand the City’s recreational facilities by purchasing the property located at 6600 W. 127th Street, Palos Heights, Illinois, commonly known as the Reformed Church of Palos Heights, for an amount not to exceed $2.1 million, exclusive of remodeling and renovation costs?” The votes cast in the City of Palos Heights were as follows:
IN FAVOR: 2,847
AGAINST:2,856”(http://www.palosheights.org/gov/minutes.html) — leading those favoring the purchase to say the result does not mean defeat, while opponents said the voters have spoken and the issue is closed. The referendum was intended to end a six-month-long debate, including charges of ethnic discrimination, over the city buying Christ Community Church, 6600 W. 127th St. But it appears that it hasn’t settled much, if anything. “An advisory referendum of this sort where residents aren’t really advising us in anything is really interesting,” said Ald. Julie Corsi, a proponent of the church purchase. “I am taking it as neither a win or a loss. I’m looking at it as a tie. Residents really want us to research this further.”(http://www.palosheights.org/) Corsi, who for months has been pushing for a formal study of the church’s feasibility as a recreation center, plans to renew her request at the November 21 City Council meeting. Ald. Bob Donnick, who was against the church purchase, stated that November 7th’s narrow vote has changed his mind about studying the church. He said he will no longer oppose a study similar to the one the city did on the sale of the privately owned Wimbledon Fitness and Racquet Club. Mayor Koldenhoven said the vote ends the issue of buying Christ Community Church. “There’s a lot of close votes, but no means no and the people have said no, we have to respect that. That’s the democratic process. We will proceed with plans for (more) recreation (space) without the church.” (http://www.palosheights.org/)
The issue of purchasing the Reformed Church of Palos Heights exemplified that the citizens are the ones who run the city. The citizens made their presence known in the City Council meetings as well as in the media. The Aldermen attempted to first bribe the Al Salam Mosque Foundation of Chicago with $200,000, and then to purchase the Reformed Church of Palos Heights. The Mayor sided with the people and vetoed the idea of paying $200,000 to the Al Salam Mosque Foundation of Chicago. In the end, the democratic policies on which our country was founded prevailed. The voices of the citizens were heard with a vote AGAINST: 2,856.