Too close for comfort in New Athens

December 11, 2013 

The stars sure aligned nicely for Gary Kearns during his one term as mayor of New Athens.

He helped bring a Dollar General store to the village -- and a company he co-owns profited by selling Dollar General the land for its building. That wouldn't be a big deal in a small town except at the same time the village was promising Dollar General $300,000 in tax incentives.

Kearns said he didn't run for mayor to create a TIF district and sell that piece of property. Maybe not, but he certainly didn't take a hands-off approach.

* August 2011. The Village Board promised Dollar General tax increment financing incentives. Kearns signed the resolution.

* October 2011. Kearns' company sold Dollar General land for $150,000; the assessed value of that parcel was $1,749.

* November 2011. The City Council created the TIF district. Kearns approved and signed that ordinance.

The mayor should have distanced himself from the Dollar General deal to avoid the appearance of impropriety. His brother, Trustee Robert Kearns, also a co-owner of the company that owned the land, resigned from the board before the sale took place.

Maybe the Village Board still would have given the tax incentives to Dollar General and the land sale still would have proceeded if Gary Kearns had stayed out of it. It just wouldn't feel so slimy.

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