Emails confirm South Barrington parks commissioners were threatened, insulted over land deal

South Barrington Park District officials were threatened, insulted and accused of unethical behavior by opponents of a now-scrapped land deal with a religious group, a review of emails confirmed.

"Your reputation will be destroyed," one person wrote to a commissioner. The same person called the commissioner "unscrupulous trash."

Another writer accused commissioners of receiving "improper benefits" in exchange for approving the sale.

The inflammatory messages stemmed from the proposed sale of a 34-acre, undeveloped property to Schaumburg-based Fourth Avenue Gospel Building Inc. The nonprofit group is owned and operated by a suburban congregation of a relatively small organization called the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church.

The Daily Herald examined more than 300 pages of emails to and from parks commissioners and Executive Director Jay Morgan obtained through the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

Former Commissioner Shelby Elias cited the emails as the reason for her resignation last month, calling them "ludicrous allegations, malicious threats on my reputation and lies."

"I expected more from my neighbors," Elias wrote. "My expectation was clearly too high."

The proposed deal

Fourth Avenue intended to build a house of worship and a school on the land, which is at Bartlett Road and Route 59. The group was the lone bidder at a May auction, offering to pay about $1.7 million.

Voters authorized an auction in April. The money generated would go toward improving local parks, officials have said.

However, dozens of residents protested once the potential buyer was identified this summer.

In interviews and public comments, opponents listed the proposed use of the land and some of the Plymouth Brethren's practices - including a doctrine of separation that forbids eating or drinking with nonmembers - among their concerns.

Supporters and opponents of the proposed sale also emailed district officials about the plan.

The emails

Nearly all the emails reviewed by the Daily Herald were polite - but there were exceptions.

In one, dated Aug. 28, resident Sage Fattahian alleged park district officials "lied to the voters" before the April referendum. Fattahian also accused park district officials of acting in "bad faith," and she said she and her allies would pursue "all social, media and legal avenues" to publicize the district's actions.

When asked about that email, Fattahian insisted district officials lied because selling the land to a nonprofit group contradicts a statement on the district website that claimed a sale would increase the village's tax base.

In response, Morgan shared a copy of a flyer sent to voters before the April referendum that said development after a sale "could" increase the tax base.

"Most homeowners understand churches don't pay real estate taxes," Morgan told the Daily Herald.

Fattahian said her "bad faith" allegation referred to the parks board's decision to schedule the closing of the real estate deal on Aug. 29, the day before a parks board meeting at which residents were expected to express opposition to the deal. The closing ultimately was canceled.

In an Aug. 28 email to Fattahian, Morgan said Fourth Avenue requested a late-August closing "as is its right under the contract."

A different email to district officials, sent Sept. 21 by someone whose name was censored by park district officials, accused commissioners of accepting "improper benefits" in exchange for selling the land.

"How could we NOT believe there is something happening under the table?" the person wrote.

And in separate emails containing identical sections that all were sent Sept. 22, three people whose names were blacked out by the park district told Commissioner Alpna Yousfi that her "reputation will be destroyed and you will forever be known as unscrupulous trash by the community and your neighbors" if the sale went through.

Yousfi couldn't be reached for comment - but Elias quoted those emails in her resignation letter.

"This is over the line and completely unacceptable," Elias wrote. "Those responsible should be ashamed of themselves."

On the same day Elias resigned, the parks board voted 4-0 to scrap the tentative agreement with Fourth Avenue. While acknowledging the significant opposition prompted the change, officials were unhappy with how some residents communicated their displeasure.

"It was very disheartening that our neighbors acted the way they acted," board President Pete Perisin said in a recent interview. "They were not pleasant. They were personal. They were vindictive."

The referendum allowed parks officials to hold up to three auctions in one year for the property, Morgan has said. Officials are considering scheduling a second one.

Parks officials also are considering asking voters to approve a tax-rate increase to pay for parks improvements. A decision hasn't been made and would depend on whether the board can sell "Area N," Morgan said.

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  In an email acquired by the Daily Herald through the Freedom of Information Act, a South Barrington resident accused local parks officials of lying to voters ahead of an April referendum about a possible auction of public land. Russell Lissau/
  Someone upset about the proposed sale of land to a religious group alleged in an email to South Barrington Park District Commissioner Alpna Yousfi that she and her fellow board members stood to personally benefit from the deal. No evidence of that has been brought forward. Russell Lissau/
The South Barrington Park District wants to sell 34 acres of undeveloped land sometimes called "Area N." Courtesy of South Barrington
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