Crossroads of Prosperity?
Most politicians like to brag when a trial verdict or settlement goes in their favor.
"Look what we've done for the people!" they boast. "See how much money we've added to our coffers!"
But Mayor Gail Mitchell of Fairview Heights--called "Crossroads of Prosperity"-- was strangely silent about his triumph in a four-year suit against 13 online travel companies accused of failing to pay taxes due on hotel and motel room rentals. He professed satisfaction with the outcome, but provided few details.
Why the sudden circumspection for an otherwise garrulous self-promoter?
We wondered and decided to investigate. The mayor and city officials were uncooperative, which only made us more curious and eventually forced us to resort to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request which was rejected on the flimsiest of grounds. But we persisted and three months after our initial inquiry the politicians finally spilled the beans.
The reason for reticence became obvious.
While the attorneys representing the city found prosperity at the crossroads, the city seems to have taken a wrong turn. Attorneys walked away with $226,000. Fairview Heights netted a paltry $56,000. The 13 defendants forked over "protection" money to settle without admitting guilt and probably felt ahead of the game.
What about the citizens of Fairview Heights? What did they find at the crossroads? It certainly wasn't prosperity.
Individually, they won the privilege of paying more for online travel services made needlessly more expensive by Mayor Mitchell's lust for a lawsuit payday. Collectively, the city's reputation was tarnished.
Is Fairview Heights, the town that forced a settlement with Travelocity, Priceline.com and others, the "Crossroads of Prosperity"? Is getting less than 20 percent of the settlement cash something to brag about? Is that where the town had hoped their prosperity would come from?
When Mayor Mitchell's fourth term ends in 2011, he may find himself at another crossroads. The citizens of Fairview Heights will then have a chance to thank him at the polls for his foolish leadership in reverse boosterism.