Dissolution and Restructuring of the Illinois International Port District
The Illinois International Port District was created by the Illinois General Assembly in 1951 to promote commerce at the Port of Chicago. Since the early 1980s, however, the District appears to have functioned primarily as the manager of a recreational facility: Harborside International Golf Center. While Harborside is a productive use of a former landfill site and appears to be a successful operation, the Civic Federation believes that management of a golf course should not be the primary activity of a port authority.
Furthermore, the Illinois International Port District has shown a serious lack of transparency, accountability, and strategic planning. In order to turn the Port of Chicago into a more vibrant center of maritime commerce and regional economic and industrial development, the Civic Federation believes that government restructuring and new management of the port is essential. For this reason, the Civic Federation recommends that the Illinois General Assembly make the necessary changes to State statute to allow the Illinois International Port District to be dissolved and the following transfers of assets and responsibilities to take place:
Transfer of port operations and related lands from the Illinois International Port District to the City of Chicago;
Transfer of open land on District property from the Illinois International Port District to the Forest Preserve District of Cook County; and
Transfer of Harborside International Golf Center from the Illinois International Port District to the Chicago Park District.
The Civic Federation has prepared a research report detailing why the District should be abolished, "A Call for the Dissolution and Restructuring of the Illinois International Port District."
Why the District Should Be Dissolved
The Civic Federation believes that the Port of Chicago and the regional economy would be better served if the Illinois International Port District were dissolved and the District’s assets and responsibilities absorbed by more responsive and accountable local government bodies.
The Federation considers the City of Chicago to be the government body best suited to assume control of port operations, as it has mechanisms of accountability and oversight in place, could provide the port access to greater financial resources and professional staff, and has a much more immediate stake in the public benefit arising from a successful Port of Chicago and Chicago-area shipping industry as well as from development of the regional economy.
The Illinois International Port District also owns roughly 360 acres of open land that is a major environmental asset. In its 2002 Calumet Area Land Use Plan and Calumet Open Space Reserve Plan, the City of Chicago recommended that this land be made open to the public. Local environmental organizations have also made similar recommendations. The Civic Federation believes this acreage should be transferred to the Forest Preserve District of Cook County for preservation and public use, an opinion seconded by Cook County Forest Preserve District Commissioner MIke Quigley in a 2002 report.
Operations of the Illinois International Port District's Harborside International Golf Center should be transferred to the Chicago Park District. Built upon a former landfill, the Harborside facility generates revenue and seems successful. However, the Chicago Park District would be better choice to manager of this facility because it has considerable experience operating golf facilties and organizing golf tournaments as owner of six golf courses, three driving ranges, and two miniature golf courses.
The Civic Federation offers the following key concerns about the Illinois International Port District:
District’s Mission and Financial Priorities
The Civic Federation is concerned that the Illinois International Port District has shifted its primary focus from port operations to management of the Harborside International Golf Center. The Civic Federation is also concerned that the District has not used the revenue from Harborside and its other resources to expand or improve port facilities and operations.
Harborside currently brings in over half of the District’s annual revenue, yet since 1981 the District has not used its resources to improve or expand port facilities and operations through substantial construction or renovation projects.
District’s Transparency and Openness to the Public
As a unit of government, the Illinois International Port District is seriously lacking in governmental transparency and openness to the public. The District does not fulfill a number of Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) recommended practices, and it does not publish on its website all of the information necessary to be a fully transparent government.
The District does not publicize its audited financial statements or other financial documents. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests are required before these documents can be accessed, and the District’s audited financial statements specifically state that they are not for public use. The District also does not publicize press releases about the port or any sort of annual report or projects update.However, it has taken the step of publicizing its board meeting minutes online.
District’s Accountability and Oversight of the District
The Civic Federation has found little evidence of accountability on the part of the Illinois International Port District or significant oversight of the District. Given the District’s failure to adhere to transparency and other good governance practices, the Civic Federation finds the lack of accountability and oversight of the District highly problematic.
The Civic Federation has found no evidence that the District sends its financial documents or reports to either the City of Chicago or the State of Illinois, the two governments that appoint District board members. Additionally, the Civic Federation has found no evidence that the City of Chicago or the State of Illinois carry out comprehensive reviews of the District’s budgets, financial statements, or project updates and activity reports.
District’s Strategic Planning and Vision for the Future
The Illinois International Port District does not produce a strategic plan and has indicated that it does not intend to produce one in the future. The District’s failure to produce a strategic plan contradicts GFOA recommended practices and hinders the District’s ability to expand maritime commerce and carry out regional economic and industrial development initiatives. The District also does not produce a mission statement, which is essential for the strategic planning process as well as for good governance.
The Port of Chicago has the potential to be one of the country's prime centers of maritime commerce owing to its location at the transportation hub of the United States. It also has the potential to be a leader in development initiatives for the Great Lakes and Chicago-area shipping industry and regional economy. However, there is no evidence that the Illinois International Port District has any plans to expand the shipping industry in the Chicago area or promote industrial and economic development in the Lake Calumet region.
The Joyce Foundation provided a generous grant to the Civic Federation to advocate for the dissolution of the Illinois International Port District and raise public awareness of the issue.
Based in Chicago, the Joyce Foundation supports efforts to protect the Great Lakes, to reduce poverty and violence in the region, and to ensure its residents good schools, decent jobs, a strong democracy, and a diverse and thriving culture. Learn more at www.joycefdn.org.