Sure, two appearances before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Arlington Heights and Schaumburg have to be at the top when Jack M. Siegel lists the highlights of more than a half century as village attorney.
But Siegel also helped talk owner Marge Everett into annexing Arlington Park into Arlington Heights, negotiated with the Chicago Bears for two years over a never-executed move to that same property, drafted a home rule provision in the 1970 Illinois Constitution, and assisted with massive annexations for both villages.
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The Arlington Heights village board honored those accomplishments and others from Siegel's 50 years as village attorney Monday night before and during a regular meeting. Besides a proclamation, the village presented him with framed mementos, including a story from the Arlington Heights Herald announcing his appointment in 1961 and a photo of Siegel at the first board meeting in the then-new village hall in 1962.
Village President Arlene Mulder said she admires Siegel's expertise as well as his sense of humor.
"Mr. Siegel is the last of the three musketeers who basically made the community what it is today -- John Woods (mayor in the 1960s), Rudy Hanson (village manager) and Jack Siegel," she said. "I've heard him introduced many times as the most knowledgeable man in the state of Illinois about municipal law."
Now 85, Siegel's demeanor at village board meetings both in Arlington Heights and Schaumburg -- where he is also the longtime village attorney -- bears this out.
One longtime Schaumburg observer says people occasionally come to village board meetings angry about something and threatening to sue.
Siegel responds, cocking his head and instructing the would-be litigant how he could use the law to drag the issue out. "But I'd beat you in the end," he finishes.
"Now, if you use (another statute), I'll beat you much more quickly," Siegel would add.
Several former village trustees attended a reception for Siegel on Monday, including Michael Schroeder, who also served as village president.
Siegel was happy with the 1977 U.S. Supreme Court decision after Metropolitan Housing Development Corp. sued Arlington Heights to build low-income townhouses on a Euclid Avenue site owned by the order of St. Viator.
The area was zoned for single-family housing, and the village's policy was that multifamily housing belonged only in transition areas between single-family and commercial sites.
It was a bitter issue that divided Arlington Heights residents, but in the end the high court ruled the village had not racially discriminated in denying a zoning change that would have allowed the housing.
"All the village was interested in was keeping that particular project out of that location," said Siegel. "We were never interested in keeping black people or poor people out of the village.
"At that time, and still, the village is dedicated to maintaining the integrity of its zoning ordinance."
Eventually Linden Place apartments was built, north of Golf Road near Goebbert Road.
Siegel says the village's anti-discrimination claims are bolstered by the fact he wrote, and the village board adopted, the first Fair Housing ordinance in the Northwest suburbs in the 1960s.
Another housing case is playing out now in Arlington Heights over the village's rejection of Boeger Place, a proposed low-income apartment building for people with mental illness.
Siegel, arguing for Arlington Heights, said it is obvious the government is not discriminating in this case either, and he expects to win.
Not so auspicious from Siegel's point of view was the 1980 Supreme Court ruling that sprung from Schaumburg's decision to deny door-to-door solicitation privileges to anyone who couldn't show that no more than 25 percent of its donations funded administrative expenses.
William H. Rehnquist was the only justice who sided with Siegel. And 20 years later as chief justice, Rehnquist used the same arguments Siegel had put forth when the court ruled in a different case.
In the 1960s, Village President John Woods talked Marge Everett into annexing Arlington Park to Arlington Heights -- about 14 years after the track had gotten state law changed because its owners wanted it outside municipal boundaries. The previous law had been so loose that Siegel had been able to annex the track to Rolling Meadows when he wrote that city's incorporation in 1955.
"The track didn't want any municipal supervision," Siegel said. "They had no idea what Rolling Meadows was going to be like. They were doing fine in the county."
While Siegel credits Woods' charm for convincing Everett, he said she also needed water and other services for the large hotel she wanted to build. That is now the vacant Sheraton Chicago Northwest.
The plan to move the Bears from Chicago's Soldier Field to Arlington Park fell apart after two years of negotiations in the 1970s.
Despite reports showing the project would be lucrative, Siegel said he could not recommend the village put taxpayers on the hook with general obligation bonds. The Bears and Madison Square Garden, then owner of the track, would not guarantee revenue bonds, which financial experts said would not sell otherwise.
Woods served as vice president of the local government committee of the 1970 Illinois Constitutional Convention. He wanted home rule for local municipalities, so he turned to Siegel, who in the 1950s had written a chapter on home rule for a book.
Siegel gave Woods a draft of a home rule statute, which the former village president presented to the convention. Siegel insists it was changed considerably before going into the constitution.
The story in Arlington Heights and Schaumburg in postwar years was expansion through annexation. Mulder illustrated this Monday night with maps that showed the size of the village in different decades.
"Between Rudy and John and me, we took great pride in the growth of the village (Arlington Heights) between 1961 and 1970," said Siegel. "My job was to make certain we grabbed the land before the other cities grabbed it. We did it for several reasons: for the tax base and to protect the community."
At one point the village even stopped the incorporation of Prospect Heights, relenting later.
And when Schaumburg was annexing land, part of its purpose was to keep Hoffman Estates from spreading, Siegel said. In fact, in 1960 he defended a challenge to the incorporation of Schaumburg.
"That case might be even more important than the Supreme Court ones," he said. "If we had lost there wouldn't have been any Schaumburg."
For Siegel, Arlington Heights has become "more than just a client."
"Arlington Heights has been wonderful for me," he said. "It was my first job (on his own; he worked for another lawyer when he started in Schaumburg). The people have just been wonderful. The elected officials, with very, very few exceptions, have been outstanding people."
Siegel also is village attorney for Riverwoods and at one time or another has represented Barrington, Bartlett, Evanston, Lombard, Mount Prospect, Rolling Meadows, Rosemont and Skokie.
At 85, he has no plans for retirement.
"Frankly I'm enjoying what I do. Jeanne (his wife) thinks I should have retired about 20 years ago."