Public Watchdog.org

4th Of July Is America’s Highest Civic Holy Day

07.04.15

The Republic given us by our Founders 239 years ago today is among a handful of the greatest governing documents the world has ever known.

But it seems as if those of us who are the beneficiaries of their work too often forget, and take for granted, the document that embodies it. So we think it’s time, once again, to remind ourselves and our readers of the giants who gave it to us, and the risks to their own and their families’ “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

As American historian Walter A. McDougall so well described the importance of this day:

“It is a day when Americans, especially young ones, must reflect on how absurdly implausible the birth of this nation was, how its survival hung by a thread on many occasions, and how its Founders were emboldened because – be they Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Deists, or Freemasons – they believed the Author of History meant this to happen.”

And we take this opportunity to remind our local elected officials that, as Jefferson wrote: “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.”

So whenever those elected officials intentionally hide from their constituents and hide what they’re doing from their constituents, those officials aren’t just disrespecting those constituents.

They are insulting the memory of the Founders and the spirit of their Declaration.

To read or post comments, click on title.

A Breath Of “Transparency” Becomes Just Another Charade At D-64

07.01.15

In 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to Edward Carrington in which Jefferson reminded him that:

“We have the greatest opportunity the world has ever seen, as long as we remain honest – which will be as long as we can keep the attention of our people alive. If they once become inattentive to public affairs, you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, judges and governors, would all become wolves.”

If a giant like Jefferson could be concerned about becoming a wolf due to his constituents’ inattention, our local public officials should be downright terrified.

Unfortunately, at least some of them seem to be so delighted by that prospect that they go out of their way to keep their constituents in the dark on anything important – at least until after it becomes a done-deal.

So when it comes to making and keeping the public inattentive, no local unit of government does it “better” than the Board of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64. And one of its principal techniques for putting the taxpayers and local media to sleep is holding numerous “closed session” meetings where the public and the press are excluded, no minutes or recordings are made available to the public and, consequently, the average taxpayer can’t make heads or tails out of what is actually going on over there.

By our unofficial count, the D-64 Board holds more closed session meetings than the Park Ridge City Council and the Park Ridge Park District Board combined. For a governmental unit that consumes a full third of our property taxes (versus the City’s roughly 10% and the Park District’s 5%), that’s far too much secrecy and far too little accountability that’s been going on for far too long.

But last week’s (June 22) D-64 Board meeting provided a rarity worth noting: for the first time in memory a D-64 Board actually voted not to go into a scheduled closed session.

Before you leap to the conclusion that this is a harbinger of some real winds of change blowing through the historically-opaque D-64, however, we strongly encourage you to watch at least a couple of segments of the meeting video, starting with the first 8 minutes 12 seconds. If you do, you very well may conclude – as we have – that the one vote against a closed session was but the faintest of breezes that barely even rippled D-64’s curtain of secrecy.

It also may have been a one-off aberration.

Start watching around the one-minute mark and you’ll see Board president Tony Borrelli announce that “we’re going to do something a little different tonight.” The little difference? Dividing the scheduled three-in-one combination motion of three closed-session action items into three individual motions for separate votes.

So far, so good.

But Borrelli immediately falls (jumps?) off the transparency wagon when he makes the motion for a closed session to discuss potential or pending litigation.

He stays pretty much on script by reading the particular section of the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”) that permits a “litigation” exception to IOMA’s open meeting requirements – although he does let slip that the pending or threatened litigation is about “residency.”

SIDEBAR: IOMA requires that all meetings be “open” to the public, but it permits closed meetings for discussions of certain limited topics or matters. However, closed sessions are not required for any of those topics or matters. And, even more significantly, IOMA does not require that the public officials participating in closed session meetings keep those discussions secret. An official could come out of one of those meetings and recount in minute detail everything that went on in the meeting, without any legal consequences under IOMA.

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If “transparency” actually meant anything to Borrelli, he could have proved it by immediately placing on the public record – legally and properly under IOMA – some basic information about that litigation, including: (1) the identity of the person(s) who have filed or are threatening the litigation; (2) the name(s) of any attorney(s) representing the person(s); (3) the names of any individuals (besides the District itself) who are or are threatened with being defendants; and (4) the reason(s) why the suit has been filed or threatened.

But that kind of transparency is to Borrelli what castor oil was to “Spanky” McFarland in those old-time “Little Rascals” short films: totally distasteful. And it’s no more palatable to Board members Bob Johnson, Vickie Lee, Dathan Paterno and Scott Zimmerman.

The meeting video shows the “litigation” closed-session motion quickly passing by a vote of 3 (Borrelli, Johnson and newcomer Tom Sotos) to 1 (newcomer Mark Eggemann), with Lee, Paterno and Zimmerman MIA at that point in the festivities.

Next comes Borrelli’s motion to go into closed session to discuss Supt. Laurie Heinz’s contract extension and raise, which he tries to justify as being “purely for getting our thoughts together.”

Yes, folks, he actually said that!

That’s because, in Borrelli’s faux-transparent, faux-accountable parallel civic universe, the process by which our elected officials get their thoughts together on things like extending, after only one year, the multi-year contract for the District’s top (and highest paid) bureaucrat – and throwing in a raise to boot – is so far beyond the ken of us simple-minded taxpayers that it cannot be shared with us. For our own good, of course.

We can almost hear Borrelli channeling Jack Nicholson’s “Col. Jessup”:

“The truth. You taxpayers can’t handle the truth!”

So, not surprisingly, Borrelli and Johnson quickly vote “yes” and Eggemann just as quickly votes “no,” dropping what could be the decisive vote in Sotos’ lap at the 2:35 mark of the video. And what we get for the next 2 minutes is Sotos Agonistes, grappling with the dilemma of running yet again into another closed-session discussion of Heinz’s performance and the reason(s) for rewarding it.

At one point Sotos actually suggests, mirabile dictu, deferring the vote to another meeting so that the Board could publish – sufficiently in advance of that next meeting– the basic terms of Heinz’s extension and raise, thereby giving the public a chance to learn those terms and perhaps comment on them before the vote is taken.

But Borrelli was having none of that. He promptly repels Sotos’ suggestion by insisting (with Heinz nodding her agreement) that “the stuff we’re going to be discussing has already been presented in open session” – without giving chapter and verse about when and where that was done, or where the taxpayers might find that information, or any video of it, or any written account of it.

SPOILER ALERT: From the videos we’ve watched and all the Board packets we’ve reviewed, Borrelli’s statement appears to have been nothing short of a complete lie – although we would love to be proved  wrong on this point.

Which may have been why Sotos wasn’t convinced and voted “no,” thereby creating a 2-2 tie that would have nuked the closed session – if not for the arrival of Lee (“at the right time,” according to Borrelli at approx. 5:25 of the video) who promptly broke the tie with her “yes” vote for the closed session.

That evil deed being done, the Board moves on to the last of those closed-session motions: a discussion of the new deals being given to the District’s secretaries, custodians, maintenance, exempt and administrative employees. Borrelli gives his assurances that, following the closed session, he has “every reason and every intent on providing as much documentation in summary as possible before we take that vote.” Meaning that they would come out of that closed-session discussion, put a smattering of information about the new deal on the record, and then vote on the deal seconds later.

Can you say: “The taxpayers be damned”?

But after Sotos and Eggemann announced they would be voting “no,” Borrelli apparently decided he could afford to look a bit magnanimous after having already locked in closed sessions on the two most important of the three closed-session motions. So he announced that Eggemann had persuaded him to change his mind, and he voted “no.”

Johnson, his moistened finger detecting Borrelli’s breeze, took his cue and joined what by then was clearly a majority – leaving the clueless Lee to cast the sole “yes” vote on the basis that no “consensus” (that’s what they call an unofficial “vote” taken in closed session to ensure they’ve got the necessary votes to do whatever it is they want before coming out into the sunlight and staging the official vote) had been reached in previous closed sessions, thereby requiring further discussions out of the taxpayers’ earshot.

Because at D-64, the curtain of secrecy barely ever ripples.

And in our next post, we’ll be addressing in greater detail the Board’s charade surrounding Heinz’s new deal.

To read or post comments, click on title

Is A Comprehensive Parking Study Really Needed?

06.25.15

We have been regular critics of our local governmental units’ almost reflexive hiring of a private consultant or the commissioning of a study whenever they face a difficult question.

So our own reflexive reaction to the Park Ridge City Council’s recent discussions about commissioning a long-range comprehensive parking study was a big dose of healthy skepticism.

With new businesses and restaurants opening, especially in the Uptown area, and numerous multi-family residences nearing completion nearby, it would appear to even the most inexpert eye that the demand for parking will be increasing. And from the remarks by the Council and City staff, it’s pretty clear that there is no in-house parking expertise on which to draw.

As reported in a Park Ridge Herald-Advocate story (“Park Ridge talks ‘long-range’ parking study,” June 16), such basic information as whether the City is charging the right amount of parking fees, or whether it’s getting enough parking spaces out of its existing lots, appears to be baffling staff. And, perhaps even more infuriatingly, as of April 2015 the City was reporting 4,749 unpaid parking tickets dating back to 2008 – SEVEN YEARS! – and representing $559,200 in fines.

At this point, whoever is allegedly in charge of that enforcement/collection effort should be publicly identified, placed in stocks in front of City Hall, and pelted with rotten tomatoes, cabbages and the occasional dead cat. Because, seriously, this is bleeping ridiculous.

If these fines aren’t collectable for legal or practical reasons, it’s time to make that determination, write them off, and institute a policy and process that ensures this kind of situation never repeats itself.

But we digress.

Just because the demands for parking will be increasing doesn’t mean that they will reach the critical mass necessary to support an economically viable parking business. And if we’ve learned anything from that economic black hole otherwise known as the Uptown TIF, it’s that the City has shown itself to be totally incapable of making sound business decisions in any way relating to private enterprise.

So before the City runs off and hands over $20,000-$40,000, or more, to some eager consultants who will tell us that (a) we have a parking problem, and (b) the only way to solve it is with one or more parking lots and/or garages, we’d first like to hear the Council and staff address and resolve the policy issues that any such study will almost certainly raise, starting with:

  • Is the City ready, willing and able to undertake the bonded debt necessary for it to acquire land and build the necessary lots or garages; and 

  • If not, is the City ready, willing and able to give any tax concessions to one or more private developers to spend their own money acquiring land and building the lots/garages?

If the City is not willing, as a public policy matter, to say “yes” to at least one of those questions, then any kind of meaningful “comprehensive” parking study is going to be a waste of time and money – because it can’t lead to any meaningful action by the City.

Make no mistake about it: we don’t believe the City should be in the parking business. As noted above, the City has so far proven itself incapable of even collecting its parking tickets. And the last time it dipped its toe into the parking garage water was (as we understand it) by borrowing and spending several million dollars to faux-“partner” with Uptown developer PRC Partners – a “deal” that has left the City violated in every available orifice and continuing to pay for that dubious “privilege.”

So let’s not even think of going there again.

But if the City isn’t going to throw a bundle of taxpayer money and/or debt at this problem, who will?

Basic capitalism would suggest that, if there truly were a commercially significant demand for parking anywhere in Park Ridge, some private operator would come forward with a project. But while we’ve got every Tom, Dick and Harry developer looking to throw up condos, townhouses or apartment buildings, we haven’t heard about anybody knocking on the door at City Hall inquiring about the permitting and licensing of parking lots and/or garages.

That lack of interest, however, won’t stop a limited (fortunately) contingent of knuckleheads from arguing that the City must “invest” in parking in order to prime the “retail” pump. Check out the Park Ridge Citizens Online and Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners Group Facebook pages and you’ll discover a few members of the knucklehead brigade actually advocating – in a total fantasyland way – for the City to somehow force private landlords to lower their rents in order to make their properties more “friendly to business.”

Even the former Soviet Union countries don’t seem to play that socialist game anymore.

So before the City Council spends one dime on any “comprehensive” parking study, it should do the intelligent, fiscally-responsible thing and formulate a City policy on public parking and the City’s role in providing, maintaining, creating and/or incentivizing it. Otherwise, the City will, once again, be putting the cart before the horse.

With the Uptown TIF albatross scheduled to hang around the City’s neck for another 12 years, we don’t need to waste any more scarce tax dollars on studying something the City has neither the money nor the political will to undertake.

To read or post comments, click on title.

H.I.T.A. Once Again M.I.A. At School District 64 (Updated)

06.22.15

Only a few weeks ago we wrote a post about how it sounded like the School Board of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 was cooking up a contract extension and raise for rookie superintendent Laurie Heinz (D-64 Supt. Contract Extension Just Another Non-Transparent Charade?”, May 31), all while hiding from the taxpayers their discussions of Heinz’s first year’s performance and whatever justification there might be for these additional financial perks.

Since then, however, the Board has held two more meetings and two more closed sessions – in each instance using generic language (“specific employees”) in the closed-session motion that did not even identify Heinz or mention that they would be discussing her contract extension and/or compensation.

So it should come as no surprise – even as it should infuriate every D-64 taxpayer – that two agenda items for tonight’s (June 22) D-64 Board meeting are “Action Item 15-06-15” to extend Heinz’s contract for some unspecified period, and “Action Item 15-06-16″ to approve some unspecified new compensation for her.  Nor could we find any description of the extension, the compensation, or the reason(s) for them on the District’s website.

In other words, not only has the D-64 Board conducted all its discussions of Heinz’s contract extension and compensation in “closed sessions” from which the taxpayers and the media are banned, but those Board members are now effectively spitting in the collective eye (the most polite metaphor we can think of) of those same taxpayers by not even revealing the details of both Action Items in advance of tonight’s meeting – the better to avoid any pre-meeting, pre-vote scrutiny, questions and/or complaints by the taxpayers who will, as always, be picking up the tab for this Board’s largesse.

At this juncture we should note a few important facts as context for the Board’s continuing insults: (1) D-64 spends about the same amount of money educating less than 5,000 students as the City of Park Ridge spends on all of the services it provides to over 37,000 residents; (2) Heinz already makes close to $250,000/year, all in, despite her having had no previous superintendent experience; and (3) as best as we can tell, Heinz has failed to move the needle of student/District achievement or rankings even one click upward during her first year on the job, unlike some professional sports rookie-of-the-year whose stellar performance earns a contract renegotiation.

So why is she getting new (presumably better) compensation and a contract extension beyond her original 3-year term?

If you guessed “for no reason that would pass the wink test, the smirk test, the LOL test or the LMAO test,” you’d be right. Which is why D-64 Board president Tony Borrelli has orchestrated this whole evaluation/extension/raise process in numerous closed sessions, rather than in open ones. And why perennial Board bobbleheads Scott Zimmerman, Dathan Paterno, Vicki Lee and Bob Johnson have served as Borrelli’s “Amen!” chorus for that effort.

To say that Borrelli’s and the Bobbleheads’ conduct in this regard is disappointing would be a gross understatement. Frankly, such secretive conduct about the District’s top administrator is reprehensible, as is such secretive conduct by every elected official who purports to represent the taxpayers of his/her respective governmental unit.  Unfortunately, these D-64 folks are adept (via the well-paid propaganda minister/spinmeistrix, Bernadette Tramm) at manipulating and bamboozling our sleepwalking local press, so the public rarely hears about the many ways it is being played by their “representatives.”

Borrelli’s got almost four full years remaining on his current term so, unless he has a St. Paul-style epiphany about the many errors of his ways very soon, we can expect more deals like this one for Heinz being cooked up outside the public’s view. And because all four of the Bobbleheads will be on the Board in 2016, there’s no telling what kind of damage they can do when it’s time to negotiate (a/k/a, ankle-grab) a new teachers union contract – especially with a  contractually-secure Heinz whispering sweet nothings in Borrelli’s and the Bobbleheads’ ears about how well the District is performing, and how a teacher strike would be nothing short of a nuclear disaster for the District, the community and, most of all, for its vulnerable children.

After all, Heinz has been laying the groundwork for that argument since she took over and began “signing” every piece of parent-directed correspondence: “For your children.”  Not just “for the children,” but “for your children.”

And you wonder why Tramm makes the big bucks?

The only sliver of good news is that newly-elected Board member Mark Eggemann has consistently voted against those closed sessions. And newly-elected Board member Tom Sotos has voted against most of them. While that’s better than monolithic 7-0 no-questions-asked votes for closed-door meetings, voting “no” isn’t such a profile in courage when you’re certain to be outvoted by more than 2-1.

Which is why it would appear that Eggemann’s and Sotos’ “Rubicon” moment has arrived.  As in “crossing the Rubicon”; i.e., taking a step that commits a person to a specific course of action, usually with significant risk and consequences.

Or to give it some local flavor, it could be called a “720 Garden” moment, in recognition of when the late Mayor Dave Schmidt – back in early 2008, when he was still just first-year Ald. Dave – exercised his legal rights under the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”) to publicly disclose then-mayor Howard Frimark’s closed-door attempts to enlist the then-City Council majority in finagling the City’s purchase of the 720 Garden property for a new police station.

That 720 Garden moment earned Schmidt a purely-political, non-binding public “condemnation” from Frimark, five of the seven sitting aldermen, and City Clerk Betty Henneman. But it showed the voting public that Schmidt stood for those principles that would become his “HITA” mayoral campaign platform less than a year later: Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability.

And it showed how Frimark and his Council lackeys didn’t.

Although Eggemann and Sotos are even newer to their offices than Schmidt was to his when he faced his Rubicon moment, Borrelli and the Bobbleheads appear to be providing such a Rubicon opportunity now.

Is it too late for Eggemann and Sotos to stand up at tonight’s meeting and demand a deferral of the votes on both Heinz’s contract extension and her new compensation until the details of both can be published on the District’s website so the taxpayers can reasonably be informed about them at least a week before any vote?  Are Borrelli and the Bobbleheads so far gone that they can’t even feel any shame for their HITA-bereft secretive dealings and their affronts to those taxpayers?

We should find out in about eight more hours.

UPDATED (06.25.15) The video from Monday night’s meeting can be found at http://www.d64.org/boe/BOE-Video-6-22-15.cfm, and it’s truly a revelation of what the addition of two new Board members (Mark Eggemann and Tom Sotos) and the departure of one old Board member (John Heyde) can do to add Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability to even an intransigent institution like D-64.

But after taking in the discussion about Heinz’s contract extension and raise, starting at 3:59:45 and continuing to 4:21:30, we’ve got to wonder why they didn’t vote to give her a THREE YEAR EXTENSION! Seriously, we haven’t heard that much gushing about any individual local public employee in at least 20 years – even though it all appears to have been based on those closed-session discussions and on reports that do not seem to have been made public (and clearly weren’t in Monday night’s meeting materials).

And for pure entertainment value, make sure you catch the tap-dancing about going into closed session that starts at the beginning of the video and continues to approximately the 0:08:15 point of the video. They actually severed the three closed-session matters (that they always used to vote on together) and conducted separate votes on them.

Gee, we wonder where they got THAT idea?

To read or post comments, click on title.

Alleys Are Where The Gravel Meets The Road

06.15.15

How many times have we heard some resident, when addressing a situation or condition that doesn’t meet his/her expectations, insist that “This is Park Ridge!” – with an almost palpable curl of the lip that adds the implicit rejoinder: “With the taxes we pay, this should be taken care of”?

That was one of the takeaways from the alley-paving portion of last Monday (June 7) City Council COW meeting, beginning at around the 2:01 mark of the meeting video.

The City has 53 gravel alleys remaining, which we understand to mean 53 blocks of such alleys. The City’s Public Works Dept. maintains those alleys by re-grading the gravel surfaces, generally without adding gravel so as not to build up the alley elevation.

For a number of years the City would pave 2 or 3 of these gravel alleys a year, with paving including a relief/storm sewer down the middle of the alley. That program was done via the creation of Special Service Areas (“SSA”s) voted on by the affected residents, with the City initially covering half the costs and the homeowner of the affected blocks paying the other half, over time, by an additional charge to their property taxes. That split later shifted to 75% City, 25% residents.

But the program was stopped altogether, along with a number of other non-essential expenses, once Mayor Dave Schmidt was elected and the City Council finally realized just how adversely the Uptown TIF albatross was affecting City finances.

But now some residents whose homes abut those alleys want them paved. And they are making variations of the “this is Park Ridge” argument in support of the City’s paving them – even though they bought their homes with the gravel alleys and, as best as we can tell, never received any firm commitment from the City to pave them.

And as is often the case with these long-delayed projects, some of the residents are now calling the paving of these alleys “needs” rather than wants.

Why are we not surprised?

Public Works director Wayne Zingsheim guestimates that each block of alley (with relief sewer) will cost around $400,000 to pave. That comes to around $21 million, which just happens to be one of the figures (albeit one of the lower ones) bandied about as the cost to provide flood relief for Mayfield Estates and the Northwest Park area. And that would be for paving those alleys with plain old non-permeable concrete. That new environmentally-friendlier permeable pavement that has been used in places like Chicago and Highland Park would be significantly more expensive.

Even if those alley residents approved SSAs for their respective blocks, the cost to the rest of the City’s taxpayers would be $15.75 million at a 75%-25% cost split; or $10.5 million if the split would be 50%-50%. With that 50/50 split, the average resident on those affected blocks could be expected to pay around $10,000, not including interest, as his/her share of the project, presumably over several years.

Fortunately, Acting-Mayor Marty Maloney asked the right questions: “How do we pay for it, and what does it do to the flooding problem we have in the City?”

The first of those questions should be asked about EVERY project, big and small. Because that’s the question that politicians and bureaucrats rarely ask. And when they do, they also often answer it with whatever they think they can sell to a gullible public.

We look forward to seeing what City Staff comes back to the Council with in August, when this matter returns to the Council’s agenda. And then we’ll also see how much the residents with those gravel alleys are willing to pay for their paving “needs.”

Or how quickly those “needs” become mere “wants.”

To read or post comments, click on title.

“Whole Truth” Goes Missing In Police Dept. Account Of Crash

06.10.15

The benchmark for honest and thorough factfinding in our society is the court-administered oath to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”  And if anyone ever needed an object lesson in the meaning of the three components of that oath, the Park Ridge Police Department’s reporting of the high-speed crash last Wednesday (June 3) night near the intersection of Cumberland and Devon provides it.

The “truth” piece of this story is pretty simple: four people were injured, two seriously, when a red 1996 Chevy SUV driven by a 20-year-old man, traveling east on Devon at a high rate of speed, ran a red light and struck a gray 2014 Audi driven by a 24-year-old Park Ridge woman traveling north on Cumberland. That basic truth was conveyed in three separate police department-issued press releases since June 4.

The “whole truth,” however, is that a Park Ridge police officer was chasing that SUV when it ran the red light.  That truth was not revealed to the public, despite three separate press releases about the incident issued by our police department, until June 7 – almost four days later.  And that revelation occurred only after somebody, reportedly from inside the police department and “angered” by the way the situation was being handled, tipped off the ABC News television investigative team of Chuck Goudie and Christine Tressel about both the police chase and the existence of a video of it recorded by the squad car’s dash camera.

As for the “nothing but the truth,” that part of the oath is intended to deter obfuscation of the whole truth by a clutter of irrelevant information and opinion. In this case, that clutter includes information like: the SUV had been driving around the suburbs for 30 minutes before the crash; the officer involved in the chase was at least a 10-year veteran of the force; he was treated at the hospital for high blood pressure and trauma from what he had seen; he has been relieved of street duty and placed in a desk job pending investigation; and that the driver of the SUV promptly lawyered up and isn’t talking to the police.

And let’s not forget Police Chief Frank Kaminski’s own admonition that the media focus shouldn’t be on the officer’s involvement in the crash or on his department’s concealment of that involvement, but on the driver of the SUV.

Look, there goes Elvis!

Ironically, the crash occurred the very same day that we published a post critical of the police department’s seeming cover-up of the two-police-calls prelude to last summer’s beating of a Park Ridge man in Hinkley Park, which most recently involved the department’s rejection of a Park Ridge Herald-Advocate FOIA request. Now, one week later, we’re writing about another cover-up completely unrelated to the first.

We believe Chief Kaminski is basically a good man. And we believe that the police officers under his command are basically good men and women. We also believe that the police department has generally done a fine job in serving and protecting our community.

But even basically good people can do bad and destructive things.  And, frankly, there seems to be some kind of dysfunction within the police department, one of the symptoms of which is these instances of subterfuge and manipulation of information that are as inexplicable as they are unacceptable.

From what ABC News has reported, there also may be some dissension in the ranks – as indicated not only by the angry leaker of the tip to ABC, but also by rumors we’ve heard of two “factions” or “cliques” within the department which, if true, could be contributing to some of these transparency issues.

Although Kaminski insisted  to those ABC investigators that “[t]here is no cover-up,” the only other explanation for the failure to include the police-chase element of the incident in those three separate press releases issued by the police department would appear to be that the person(s) issuing those releases is/are incredibly inept. And, frankly, we can’t give much credence to that alternative in light of the department’s pre-occupation with public relations – as reflected by things like the “Complimentary Letters and Awards” insert that shows up regularly in the City Council’s COW packets.

Whether or not the officer involved in this incident acted properly or improperly in chasing the SUV down Devon at high speed is a question that won’t be answered until the investigation is completed. And even if the outcome is unfavorable to the officer, it likely was more of an error in judgment than a premeditated breach of policy, protocol or procedure.

But once again we note that it’s way past time Chief K and his department learned that the cover-up is usually worse than the error. Because an error is correctable, while a loss of trust and confidence that comes with a cover-up is usually permanent.

Especially when it’s the trust and confidence of the people you have sworn to serve and protect.

To read or post comments, click on title.

 

Time For A Better Way To Negotiate Public-Sector Union Contracts

06.08.15

We’re a little late getting to a May 9 article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“City appeals Labor Board’s ruling on union health care violations”).  But because that article demonstrates one of the problems the City of Park Ridge causes for itself by the way it deals with the unions representing its employees, better late than never.

Historically, the City – like our other local governmental units with unionized workers – treats collective bargaining as a mysterious process that requires a “strategy” devised and monitored in closed-session meetings because disclosure would fatally compromise it. So whenever employment matters are discussed, our elected officials run off into closed session meetings with the City’s legal beagles.

Invariably, the taxpayers remain in the dark. And, invariably. stuff goes wrong that costs those taxpayers money.

The latest screw up involves a collective bargaining agreement (i.e., a contract) ostensibly entered into between the City and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 representing our Public Works Dept. employees, which we wrote about in our 06.14.13, 03.14.14 and 12.05.14 posts. Local 150 represents approximately 23,000 members working in various industries throughout Northern Illinois, Northern Indiana, and Southeastern Iowa; and since 2006 it has become a sophisticated political player, throwing millions of dollars at politicians on both sides of the aisle.

Or, as we saw in the 2013 non-partisan Park Ridge mayoral election, at the candidate (unsuccessful challenger Larry Ryles) it felt it would provide a much more sympathetic ear than the late Mayor Dave Schmidt.

Long story short, the City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton and the City’s crack negotiators somehow had the City Council approve a contract with health care terms for its Public Works Department employees to which Local 150, on their behalf, never agreed.

So when the City started applying the new health care terms in that contract, Local 150 beefed to the Illinois Labor Relations Board (the “ILRB”), a sub-unit of state government dominated by political appointees and flunkies of Mike Madigan and his stooges. And to no one’s surprise, administrative law judge (and former ILRB ass’t. general counsel) Anna Hamburg-Gal, who has been an attorney only since 2010, found for Local 150.

We encourage readers to take a look at the 23-page written ruling online, especially pages 9 through 13, if only to see for themselves the kind of semi-incomprehensible goat rodeo just one small piece of those contract negotiations appears to have been – and how the City’s (H.R. Mgr. Mike Suppan and attorney Bob Smith) and Local 150’s (attorney Deanna Distacio) negotiators botched it so completely that the ALJ determined the contract the City began operating under in May 2013 wasn’t even a contract!

The City is appealing that decision, while Local 150 is calling on City taxpayers to pressure their aldermen into grabbing their ankles and meekly submitting to the union’s will rather than appeal.

That appears to be a Local 150 modus operandi: pick a fight with the City, then tell the taxpayers that their representatives are wasting their money fighting that fight – hoping to intimidate those representatives so that they fold up on their own, or that at least some taxpayers are dumb enough to believe the union’s “Shanghai Lil”-style propaganda.

What this kerfuffle illustrates, however, is the pitfalls of secretive negotiating “strategies” and non-public negotiating sessions which lead to these kinds of unnecessary and wasteful disputes, while also emboldening unions like Local 150 to make outrageous demands and negotiate in ways they might not want the public to see and hear. Conducting those negotiations in open, videotaped meetings would dispel the carefully-manicured, purely-politicial image of public-sector workers as Mother Teresa-types seeking just one more spot of gruel to sustain themselves and their families while they selflessly devote every waking hour to the welfare of the taxpayers.

But if any elected official wants to avoid future rodeos of this type while also leveling the playing field by making this process more transparent and accountable, there’s a pretty simple way of doing so.

Step one would be for the Council to decide, in open session as part of its annual budget process for any year in which a new union contract is to be negotiated, whether the City can afford to pay any additional compensation to the employees of that particular collective bargaining unit (e.g., Local 150, iCops, etc.). By conducting those deliberations over the whether, the how much and the why of any raises or bonuses in open session, interested members of the public could judge for themselves whether their elected officials are being fair and reasonable to the employees and to the taxpayers.

If the union wants to appear at those budget sessions and make its pitch for a higher budget number for its members, it could do so – but with the lights on, the camera running, and the reporters scribbling away. And once the City comes up with its fair-and-reasonable hard-dollar number, that number should be the City’s offer to the union.  Not 50%, or 75% or even 90%, but the whole 100% of that budget number.

No need for the City to play coy, or to stage some second-rate Kabuki just to make the City’s negotiators look like they’re clever negotiators who drive a hard bargain.

Oh yeah…and part of this process should be the City’s publishing of the current salary, benefits, and an updated pension calculation for every member of that bargaining unit, so that the taxpayers can know how much money, and what kind of benefits, those employees are already getting.

Any subsequent negotiations (i.e., the actual collective bargaining) about how the City’s dollar amount gets allocated can be done in open session, once again with the cameras running and the reporters scribbling away. Let the union state, on the record, whether it wants 3/4 to go to raises and 1/4 to benefits, or 2/3 and 1/3, etc.

And when the union decides, as it most certainly will, that the offered dollar amount isn’t big enough, the City Council’s response should be simple and straightforward:

“You’ve got our detailed budget. Tell us and the taxpayers what specific line items you want us to cut – and by how much – in order to come up with the extra money you want.”

That way the union and its member can go on record about where they think the extra money they want flowing into their pockets will be coming from. And what City infrastructure or services will get short-changed as a result.

Or how much higher they want our taxes to rise.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Is Police Dept. Still Hiding Information About Hinkley Incident? (Updated)

06.03.15

Over the past two weeks the media has reported that three of the four perpetrators of last summer’s vicious attack on a 48-year-old Park Ridge man at Hinkley Park following the Taste of Park Ridge (“TOPR”) have pled guilty and been sentenced. The case against the final defendant is set to go to trial June 29 in juvenile court.

So we found it more than a little unusual to read in this week’s online Park Ridge Herald-Advocate that the Park Ridge Police Dept. had denied a Freedom of Information Act request from the H-A for copies of the official police reports from that incident (“Youngest teen charged in 2014 Park Ridge beating given probation,” June 2).

As we understand FOIA (courtesy of a “Citizen’s Guide” to FOIA published by the Paul Simon Institute of Southern Illinois University), arrest reports are subject to public disclosure under FOIA unless certain exceptions apply – the most common of which appears to be where disclosure would obstruct an ongoing criminal investigation. On the other hand, names and addresses of witnesses and/or minors are simply redacted from the reports produced.

Given the current posture of all four cases, we can’t begin even to imagine how the production of the police reports to the H-A could obstruct an ongoing investigation. By now those investigations should all be complete, and those reports would have already been produced to the attorneys for all four individuals. And the PD isn’t offering to produce the reports in redacted form.

So why is the Police Department balking?

Could it be the PD is concerned that the report(s) of not only the beating incident but also the two earlier police calls to Hinkley Park that evening might reveal merely perfunctory responses to those earlier calls? Or a delayed response to the beating call?

Up until now, the PD has kept a tight lid on what would seem to be critical information about the responses to those two earlier calls, including information we asked about in our 08.12.14 post re Chief Kaminski’s dog-and-pony show before the City Council:

  • If the exact time of the officers’ arrival was so important, why wasn’t the time of their departures also important? Could it be that those departure times might show that the responding officers who “checked the area” for fireworks, alcohol, drugs, etc. really weren’t all that thorough in performing that task?

 

  • Why didn’t the chief identify the time(s) and location(s) of those “other calls” the ROs supposedly had to run off to instead of staying at Hinkley and providing the kind of “police presence” central to the “community policing” the department claims to be practicing – especially on the second call, when the number of teens had inexplicably grown from 30-40 to around 75 in just 35 minutes?

 

  • Why didn’t the chief talk about the reported police dispersal of more than 50 teens from the Library grounds between 9:00 and 9:30 p.m. – the ones who supposedly migrated en masse the two blocks to Hinkley and further swelled those ranks?

Our limited experience with Chief K, a longtime Park Ridge resident, suggests to us that he’s basically an honest and decent guy who has run his Department creditably. But the way this whole Hinkley situation has been FUBARed makes it seem as if the Police Dept. was neither ready nor willing to deal in any meaningful way with the mass of youths at Hinkley that night.

And rejecting the H-A’s FOIA request does nothing to dispel that impression.

As this year’s TOPR quickly approaches, the residents deserve to finally know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about how the Police Department handled – or mishandled – the Hinkley situation last summer.  That starts with the release of the police reports.

And Chief K needs to remember that it’s not the screw-up but the cover up that presents the bigger problem.

UPDATED (06.05.15). This week’s Park Ridge Journal contains a letter by Chief Kaminiski about the sentencing of two of the perpetrators of last summer’s beating of a middle-aged Park Ridge man in Hinkley Park following that night’s Taste of Park Ridge festivities (“Park Incident, Outcome, Tough Lessons To Learn,” June 3). It makes several good points about vile incidents such as this serving as “teachable moments” for our youth.

We heartily concur.

That being said, this situation also presents an important “teachable moment” for Chief K and his department – who still seem determined to stonewall the disclosure of information about the events leading up to that incident that our citizens deserve to have. While we can’t say that better policing earlier that evening might have prevented the incident and its aftermath, it’s not much of a stretch to entertain that possibility.

Chief K’s message applies to himself and his department no less than to the average citizen: “[T]here are consequences for your decisions and…they can be rather significant.”

So if the department didn’t botch those first two calls to Hinkley, Chief, why not release the reports that will answer the questions we asked and prove your assertions?

To read or post comments, click on title.

D-64 Supt. Contract Extension Just Another Non-Transparent Charade?

05.31.15

A recent article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“District 64 postpones action on superintendent contract extension,” May 19, 2015) reports that a proposal to extend D-64 Supt. Laurie Heinz’s contract and compensation package was “deferred.”

Board president Tony Borrelli is quoted as saying that the D-64 Board “is not done deliberating” over the “factors to consider for administrators in general and the superintendent in specific.”

Hey, D-64 taxpayers! When you read something like that, reach for your wallets because there’s a good chance you’re being sold down the river by the elected representatives who are supposed to be protecting those wallets.

Why do we say that? Let’s review.

In February 2014 Heinz, who had NEVER been a superintendent before, was given a three-year contract to head D-64. You can read about all the secrecy surrounding that sweetheart deal in our 02.07.14 post.

According to the H-A article, Heinz this year received $201K in base salary, plus up to 9.4% of her pension contributions (in addition to D-64’s required pension contributions), medical, dental, life insurance coverage, travel reimbursement, 20 vacation days, and $1,320 toward her personal cell phone charges. And those terms apparently are guaranteed irrespective of how well she personally, or the entire District, performs.

Now the D-64 Board is planning on extending that deal after only one year of service.

What has she accomplished in that first year that has earned her the extension the D-64 Board appears intent on giving her? The H-A article doesn’t say, and we can’t find any record of it – even though Borrelli positively gushed about Heinz’s “evaluations” at Page 4 of the Minutes of the May 4, 2015 meeting:

Board President Borrelli announced that the current Board had conducted an evaluation of Dr. Heinz’s first year as superintendent, including mid-term and year-end evaluations. He noted that she unanimously has hit her evaluations and benchmarks out of the park. Board President Borrelli stated that he could not say enough about how much the current Board appreciates her efforts and the sterling evaluations this Board can provide. He further stated that the current Board’s recommendation to the new Board is that her contract be rolled over and considerations be given for raises in benefits and salaries. He noted that the new Board would now have that conversation and make this decision.

Apparently, even allegedly “out of the park” achievements have to be kept under wraps – at least until Heinz’s new deal is finalized in yet another closed session and then approved perfunctorily in open session before D-64’s taxpayers have the information necessary to figure out whether and how they’re being bamboozled.

That kind of conduct makes a mockery of the Board’s “Operating Principles” at Pages 44-46 of the May 18, 2015 Board Report, assuming those principles were anything more than a public relations Tramm sham when approved in August 2013:

Operating Principle 6: Board and Committee Meetings

We choose to conduct our meetings in an open and orderly fashion and in a manner consistent with our operating principles.

*               *               *

Operating Principle 8: Accountability

The Board recognizes that it is accountable to the community and other stakeholders.

  • We will communicate the State of the District on an annual basis.
  • We will conduct open, transparent and frequent communications with the community.
  • We will encourage public engagement.

And if you believe the D-64 Board actually subscribes to these principles, there’s some swamp land in Florida with your name on it.

To read or make comments, click on title.

D-64 “Freeloaders” Have Legit Beef About Unexplained Fees

05.28.15

Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 is in near the end of the first go-round on its new proof-of-residency registration process. This process is intended to reduce, if not eliminate, the non-resident parasites who enroll and keep their kids in D-64 schools even though they don’t live in the District and pay taxes for its schools.

The process seems pretty straightforward and understandable, as demonstrated by the form employed.

Which may explain why we have yet to hear any of the wailing and gnashing of teeth about how such a process would be “too burdensome” and a “pain in the neck” for parents/guardians to prove the D-64 residency of their students. That was what former (Hallelujah!) Board member John Heyde and Scott (Mini-Heyde) Zimmerman predicted when arguing against the District’s implementing the residency check several months ago.

But while complaints about the residency checks seem to be missing, we are hearing the annoying call of that not-rare-enough species of D-64 resident whose scientific name is cheapskatias Park Ridgianis, which for shorthand purposes we have nicknamed “freeloader.”

The freeloader’s call is a piercing screech which it emits whenever it is charged for anything related to the “free” $14,000/year education to which it believes each of its kids is entitled by virtue of the payment of $3-4-5-6,000 a year in property taxes to D-64. And it is being heard earlier than usual because, as part of the new registration process, D-64 is requiring the payment of next year’s student fees by June 1 instead of by the customary July 31.

According to the District’s website and fee schedule, the fees “[f]or the 7th consecutive year…will remain unchanged” at $84 for Pre-K/K, $227 for Grades 1-5, and $315 for Grades 6, although for some undisclosed reason they will cover only about 52% of the District’s annual costs for instructional resources and technology – with the balance presumably being hung on the taxpayers. If you’re financially strapped, however, you can apply for a Student Fee Waiver by filling out this form, although the District’s legal counsel either wasn’t consulted or was asleep at the switch for not requiring it to be sworn and notarized like most commercial financial statements.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: only shameless freeloaders would beef about having to pay those relatively nominal fees for educations costing $14,000 per student per year.

As best as we can tell, even the owner of the most expensive house in town doesn’t pay $14,000 a year in property taxes to D-64, so he/she is money ahead even with only 1 kid in D-64 schools. And those residents who run multiple kids through the schools and pay considerably less than $14,000 a year in taxes to D-64 – anybody whose total tax bill is less than $21,000, of which less than $7,000 goes to D-64 – might be able to game the system for tens of thousands of dollars of subsidized education, especially if they pack up and move out of the District once they’ve used up all the free schooling.

Hence the term “freeloaders.”

But just because they’re freeloaders doesn’t mean they aren’t right about D-64 being tone deaf, inept, or just plain arrogant for continuing to ignore the freeloaders’ call for a “line item” description of the components of those fee amounts.

We can think of no justification whatsoever for the District’s continuing failure to provide such detailed information. Nor can we, frankly, think of any justification for the District’s charging parents only 52% of the total cost of whatever expenses those fees are supposed to cover, especially if the taxpayers are picking up 48% of those expenses.

So it’s time (actually, it’s well past the time) for Board president Tony Borrelli and a majority of the D-64 Board to demand that grossly-overpaid Finance czarina Becky Allard put together a line-item listing of exactly what charges comprise those annual student fees.  And once that mystery is solved, Borrelli and the Board should explain what particular public policy considerations demand that only 52% – and not 100%, or 90%, or even 20% – of those charges are assessed to the parents.

We’re confident that won’t shut up the most vocal freeloaders, but it’s still the right thing to do.

And the Board has put off doing it long enough.

To read or post comments, click on title.