Public Watchdog.org

A Few More Thoughts On Mayor’s Veto Of 104 Main Street Special Use

07.11.18

What do Andrew Duff, Owen Hayes II, John Bennett and Ellen Upton have in common?

All four of them showed up at last week’s Park Ridge City Council meeting to speak against Mayor Marty Maloney’s veto of Pusheen, Inc’s special use for the ground-floor space in 104 Main Street. That veto came after a (4-2) majority of aldermen voted on June 4 to grant the special use, which was approved 7-0 by the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission (“P&Z”) back on April 24.

You can read our take on Maloney’s veto in our June 28, 2018 post.

That Duff and Hayes would show up and argue in support of the special use was expected.

Duff is the owner of Pusheen Corp. and his company already occupies the upper floor of 104 Main. He claims he wants the ground floor of the building so that deliverymen don’t have to hall boxes up to the second-floor.

How thoughtful.

When Hayes addressed the Council last week he initially introduced himself as just the “manager” of the 104 Main building. But beginning at the 27:56 mark of that Council meeting video he reveals himself as “not the owner but a part owner” of the property – as well as both a manager and an owner of other Park Ridge property.

That’s a bit curious because, according to Page 3 of the minutes of the April 24 P&Z meeting, Hayes identified himself as the “real estate agent representing the owner of the [104 Main] property,” as he also did in an April 13, 2018 e-mail to the City’s Senior Planner, Jon Branham. Compare that to the special use “Applicant Disclosure Statement” dated March 15, 2018, in which he lists 104 Main LLC as the property’s owner, while listing only himself in response to the request for “the name of every…[LLC] member.”

Should we just chalk that up as another one of those “Certs is a candy mint; Certs is a breath mint” moments in local government, or is there more to it than that?

For those who have been following City government for a decade or more, you might remember Hayes as the agent and…wait for it…undisclosed owner of the former Foot and Ankle Surgeons building at 515 Busse that he tried to flip to the City as the site of a new cop shop back in 2004. Had he succeeded, he would have netted a tidy $200,000 profit for only a few days of ownership, as you can read about in our 11.15.2007 post and our 08.14.2008 post

We also have heard rumors, seemingly corroborated by Hayes’ statement to the Council during last week’s meeting, that he is the agent and/or owner (full or part) of various other commercial properties in town. A cursory check of a random sampling of Uptown and vicinity properties shows that their ownership is often hidden – albeit legally, we might add – by title being held in the name of a partnership or LLC, like it is with 104 Main LLC. Consequently, some of the City’s property-related forms (like the special use “Applicant Disclosure Statement”) require disclosure of the “real” owners, not just the legal title holders.

But don’t get us wrong: We’ve got nothing against Hayes personally. He’s a nice enough guy who has been active in the community for many years. And there’s nothing wrong with making an honest buck, whether it be in real estate or any other business – even at the taxpayers’ expense – if fully disclosed. Hayes, however, seems more than a little preoccupied with keeping his (and others’) property ownership under the radar, even when he’s seeking special treatment from the City for one of those properties.

Although Hayes’ ownership of 104 Main explains his advocacy for the Council’s over-ride of Maloney’s veto of the special use, we must confess to being puzzled by Bennett’s appearance and the condescending tone he took from the very beginning of his comments at the 51:57 mark of the meeting video in lecturing/arguing for an over-ride of Maloney’s veto.

As a P&Z member he was one of seven at that commission’s April 24, 2018 meeting who voted – wrongly, as we pointed out in our 06.28.2018 post – in favor of Pusheen’s special use. At that point his work should have been finished. So his appearance before the Council was tantamount to a trial judge showing up before an appellate court panel and arguing that his decision should be affirmed.

That just doesn’t happen, even if nobody appears to have told Bennett.

But the most curious appearance was Upton’s, which immediately followed Bennett’s.

She introduced herself as a former 1st Ward alderman (from the late 1990s, as we recall) who chaired the Uptown Advisory Task Force that promoted the creation of the Uptown redevelopment project – although she conveniently left out her support of the City’s multi-million dollar bonded-debt “investment” in that project that is still on track to cost taxpayers millions of dollars because the revenue generated from that project has rarely come close to covering the debt service on the bonds the City issued to help out the developer. She also was a member of the City’s Ad Hoc Zoning Ordinance Re-Write Committee that made major revisions to the Zoning Code back in 2006, and also may have updated the Comprehensive Plan.

To the best of our knowledge and research, however, she has not addressed the Council on zoning issues ever since. At least not until now.

Is she that much of a Pusheen fan, or did she have other intentions?

If Hayes, Bennett and Upton are so committed to helping Park Ridge’s Zoning Code and/or the Comprehensive Plan move into the 21st Century, we encourage them to formally propose that the Council create another Ad Hoc Zoning Ordinance Re-Write Committee – and we encourage them to volunteer to become members of it.

But until that happens, the current Zoning Code and the current Comprehensive Plan provide the guidelines by which special uses are supposed to be measured. And as we’ve said about various other local ordinances, rules and plans: If you don’t like them, change them. Don’t just ignore them.

Or try to weasel your way around them.

To read or post comments, click on title.

 

July 4, 2018: 242 Years And Counting

07.04.18

On this day we honor the passage of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, which is generally considered the founding day of these United States of America.

In order to guard against taking that event – and the principles of freedom embodied in the Declaration – for granted, we encourage you to watch this excerpt about that independence vote from the 2008 “John Adams” HBO mini-series – and to contemplate what it meant for those men in Philadelphia to pledge their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor in the cause of liberty 242 years ago.

That’s 242 years of Federalists, Whigs, Know Nothings, Democrats, Dixiecrats, Republicans, slavery, a Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan, the Weathermen, robber barons, a Trust Buster, two World Wars, terrorist attacks, liberal Supreme Courts, conservative Supreme Courts, Democratic Congressional and Senate majorities, Republican Congressional and Senate Majorities, presidential impeachments, MSNBC, CNN, FOX, and the imprisonment of 4 of the last 7 Illinois governors.

This country survived all of those and far more, and it prospered, because of adherence – albeit imperfect in various respects – to the enduring values embodied in that Declaration and in the Constitution that followed, along with its 27 Amendments.

In this editor’s lifetime this country survived Presidents Harry Truman (D), Dwight Eisenhower (R), Jack Kennedy (D), Lyndon Johnson (D), Richard Nixon (R), Gerald Ford (R), Jimmy Carter (D), Ronald Reagan (R), George H.W. Bush (R), Bill Clinton (D), George W. Bush (R) and Barack Obama (D). And it will survive President Donald Trump (R?).

Because of what those guys in Philadelphia started 242 years ago.

Robert J. Trizna

Editor & Publisher

To read or post comments, click on title.

Mayor’s Veto Of Pusheen Special Use: Right Decision, Right Time, Right Reasons (Updated)

06.28.18

If you check out any Facebook page discussions about Park Ridge you are likely to find people lamenting the lack of “retail” – and/or their favorite restaurants (e.g., Chick-fil-A) – in town. Often these laments bear a sarcastic “This is why can’t we have nice things?” tone.

So you might think that Mayor Marty Maloney’s recent veto of the City Council’s approval of a special use permit enabling Pusheen Corporation to expand its offices into the first floor of the former Wells Fargo Home Mortgage office at 104 Main Street would be greeted with an outpouring of support.

After all, his veto message correctly notes how that block of Main – home to the successful Harp & Fiddle and Beer on the Wall – is highly visible from the METRA tracks and has attracted train riders from outside Park Ridge to come and patronize not only those establishments but, also, our other local businesses in ways the proposed ground-floor Pusheen offices will not.

But judging by the negative comments (as of 06.27.2018 @ 9:30 p.m.) to a story about Maloney’s veto on the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate’s Facebook page, Pusheen apparently deserves “most-favored-tenant” status. And although those comments might be modest in number, they must be viewed in the context of the deafening silence coming from those allegedly pro-retail tub-thumpers at the Chamber of Commerce.

What gives?

Let’s start with the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission (“P&Z”) and the City Council, both of which seem to be falling over themselves to end-run the Zoning Code and Comprehensive Plan for Uptown in order to give Pusheen the special ground-floor office it wants – even if that means foregoing future opportunities to attract retail or restaurant/bar business to that space.

Remember, first and foremost, that a “special use” is a use not contemplated in our Zoning Code for that space. In other words, it legalizes – even if only temporarily, as in Pusheen’s case – what otherwise would be a prohibited non-conforming use. Consequently, the burden is on the applicant to demonstrate a good reason to grant the special use, not on the City to demonstrate a good reason to deny it.

Think back to when a Pearle Vision store tried to locate in the first floor of the Pickwick Building. P&Z Commissioner Jim Argionis pointedly noted (in the minutes of P&Z’s February 27, 2018 meeting) that such a use, albeit retail, “did not fulfill the spirit and intent of the Comprehensive Plan” – an observation in which Commissioners Chris Zamaites, Jim Coogan and Lou Arrigoni concurred; and which produced a 7-0 rejection (Commissioners Baldi and Hanlon MIA) of the special use needed by Pearle.

But a funny thing happened on the way to P&Z’s consideration of the Pusheen special use application on April 24, 2018, a mere two months later.

The City’s Senior Planner, Jon Branham, issued a memo of that same date acknowledging (at pages 2-3) the existing zoning requirements for 104 Main and the Comprehensive Plan’s recommendations of “retail, restaurant, entertainment [and]…[p]edestrian-oriented commercial service and office uses” for the ground floor of that building. He further noted (also on page 3) that a special use should not be recommended unless evidence presented at a public hearing supports “each of the [three] following conclusions” – one of which being that “[t]he special use in the specific location proposed is consistent with the spirit and intent of the Zoning Ordinance and the Comprehensive Plan.”

But when you get to Branham’s proposed “Findings of Fact” (as page 6 of the memo), there is no mention of the “retail, restaurant, [and] entertainment” requirement for a special use permit. Instead, one of the findings is that Pusheen’s proposed use of the ground floor would be for “a pedestrian-oriented business.”

Can you (in the infamous words of the late Illinois Secretary of State Paul Powell) “smell the meat a-cookin’” yet?

If not, check out page 2 of the minutes of the April 24, 2018 P&Z meeting, where Chairman Joe Baldi asks Pusheen owner Andrew Duff “if there will be any walk-in business” on the ground floor of104 Main, to which Mr. Duff responds that “there would be no walk-in business.”

Translation: Pusheen don’t need no stinking “pedestrian-oriented business” to get its special use for that ground-floor space.

Despite no retail, no restaurant, no entertainment, and the tenant’s admission of no walk-in business, a 7-0 majority of P&Z Commissioners (Arrigoni, Baldi, Bennett, Coogan, Hanlon, Mills and Zamaitas – Argionis and Giannetti MIA) approved the special use.

Can you smell it now?

Not yet? Then listen to the City Council discussion of the Pusheen special use before it was approved by a 4 (Alds. Wilkening, Shubert, Melidosian and Mazzuca) to 2 (Alds. Moran and Milissis – Ald. Joyce MIA) vote at the Council’s June 4, 2018 meeting, starting at the 17:20 mark of the meeting video and running through the 26:00 mark.

Seemingly looking for some way to justify the special deal for Pusheen, Melidosian tried to get Pusheen’s Duff to commit to putting a Pusheen store on the first floor of 104 Main. To his credit, Duff would not – leaving Melidosian with nothing but an “empty storefronts” faux-justification for approving the special use, even though “empty storefronts” is not one of the considerations for granting a special use.

Wilkening and Mazzuca also copped to that easy-but-irrelevant “vacant storefronts” alibi before they, along with Shubert, voted to give Pusheen its special deal.

Can you smell it now?

FWIW, we dislike empty storefronts as much as the next person. But we believe in the need for a Zoning Code and a Comprehensive Plan, as well as the need for the predictability of precedent in how zoning issues are treated by the City.

P&Z’s rejection of the Pearle Vision “pedestrian-oriented business” should have been precedent for its rejection of the Pusheen non-“pedestrian-oriented business.” But it wasn’t, even though the still-empty storefront at six corners could be viewed as much more problematic than the vacant ground floor of 104 Main.

Perhaps those P&Z members and that Council majority forgot that the building that now houses a successful Holt’s was vacant for several years after Pine’s men’s shop moved out. Or that the building that now houses a successful Harp & Fiddle was vacant for a couple of years after the drug store moved out. Or that the building that now houses a successful Shakou was vacant for several years after the Pioneer Press moved out. Or that even the building that now houses a successful Beer on the Wall was vacant for several years.

The City wisely stayed the course and held true to both the Zoning Code and to the spirit and intent of the Comprehensive Plan. And because those storefronts were allowed to remain vacant rather than sold out to boring office space, we now have a much more vibrant and thriving Uptown, especially adjacent to the METRA tracks.

Maloney’s veto shows that he sees and understands how this works. And so do Alds. Moran and Milissis. The other five aldermen: Not so much.

If the Council over-rides Maloney’s veto at the July 2 meeting, 104 Main Street will continue to contribute no entertainment value toward that newly-vibrant dining/drinking/entertainment area.

What an over-ride will do, however, is feed the suspicion that if you know the right people in the right places, you can get a special deal/special use, irrespective of the Zoning Code and the Comprehensive Plan.

Just like Pusheen is on the verge of doing.

Update 07.03.18. Last night three aldermen – John Moran (1st), Nick Milissis (2nd) and Charlie Melidosian (5th) – prevented the over-ride of Mayor Marty Maloney’s veto of the City Council’s approval of the Planning & Zoning Commission’s award of the special use to Pusheen Corp.

Moran and Milissis had previously voted to reject the special use, but it was Melidosian’s conversion that carried the day.

Now let’s see if Pusheen’s owner takes his ball and leaves. Or what 104 Main’s owner, Owen Hayes II, does, or doesn’t.

Meanwhile, if City Staff (Jon Branham), the P&Z Commissioners, and certain aldermen don’t want to enforce the Zoning Code as written and/or wish to disregard certain elements of the Comprehensive Plan in order to hand out special deals (e.g., special uses), let them start the process for changing those Code and Plan provisions –with the appropriate notice and publicity so that the public and existing business owners can meaningfully participate – instead of arbitrarily enforcing or disregarding them.

To read or post comments, click on title.

D-64 Neglects SPED Students, Pushes SROs

06.22.18

After spending the first 21 days of this month doing the real-world work that keeps the editor of this blog employed, it’s finally time to write about the May 21, 2018 report by Lisa Harrod of LMT Consulting about the special education (“SPED”) program run by Park Ridge-Niles School District 64.

That report, available on the District’s website, concludes that – among other things – the District’s SPED “[p]rogramming options and the continuum of services have declined over the past two years.”

SPED students tend to be the District’s most vulnerable and needy, so a two-year decline should be disturbing and unacceptable not only to the parents of SPED students but, also, to D-64 taxpayers who are footing the bills for what should be improving rather than declining educational services, especially for SPED kids.

In addition to that finding of decline, the Harrod Report contains other findings and conclusions that should be troubling to anybody concerned with the quality of education our children are receiving, including:

“Lack of trust in district administration was a consistent theme discussed by staff and parent groups involved in the [SPED] review process.”

“There is an adversarial environment reported with many staff members hesitant to provide feedback and ideas for students in special education meetings.”

“IEPs [Individualized Education Plans/Programs] are not consistently written in a clear and comprehensive format.”

“Lack of Trust.” “[A]dversarial environment.” IEPs not “clear and comprehensive.” Those are far from glowing endorsements of the current D-64 Administration and its SPED program.

Predictably, however, Board president Tony “Who’s The Boss?” Borrelli dismissed the finding of that decline as “nothing but semantics.” And his queen, Supt. Laurie “I’m The Boss!” Heinz, said that the use of such a term “doesn’t sit well with [her].”

Criticism never does “sit well” with bureaucrats, or with the elected officials who are supposed to be holding them accountable but who, too often, spend most of their time and effort propping up the bureaucrats and concealing their failures. In Borrelli’s case, that includes shameless cheerleading.

At D-64, any evidence of failure and incompetence is treated as little more than a source of temporary embarrassment to be ignored, or spun and smoothed over by D-64’s chief propagandist, Bernadette Tramm, until it’s forgotten.

Which is why SPED parents are concerned not only about how their kids were not educated for the past two years and how they will be educated going forward but, also, whether their SPED kids might disproportionately suffer from the ill-conceived School Resource Officer (“SRO”) program that Heinz and the Board continue to diddle themselves silly over – to the point of holding a “special” meeting last Thursday night solely to discuss that SRO program.

Of the 14 parents addressing the Board on that program, most of them identified themselves as parents of SPED students. And all but two – Tracy Fregassi and Greg Bublitz, both D-63 teachers who live in D-64 and have kids in our schools – either opposed the SROs or had significant reservations about the role(s) of SROs in the proposed 4 hours/day, 2 days/week “pilot” program.

Having listened to the Board’s discussions of the SROs over the past months, we are dismayed that the police, the Board and the administration still sound schizophrenic as to whether the SRO program is supposed to be nothing more than an “Officer Friendly” public relations exercise, or whether it is to bring discipline and order to the District’s middle schools where it is rumored to be sorely lacking.

Kind of like that old commercial: “Certs is a candy mint; Certs is a breath mint” before concluding that Certs is really “two, two, two mints in one.”

Rather than portray SROs as merely two-dimensional Certs, however, Park Ridge Police Chief Frank Kaminski, Heinz and the Board are touting SROs as all things to all people – the better to garner support for that deeply-flawed program.

In peddling the SRO program Heinz and a Board majority of Borrelli, “Tilted Kilt Tommy” Sotos, Mark Eggemann and Larry Ryles have shown no difficulty in blithely ignoring the well-researched, well-reasoned report (Cost: $15,000) by the District’s SRO consultants, the Ekl, Williams & Provenzale law firm, that was critical not only of SRO programs generally but also the District’s half-baked pilot program in particular.

Of course, none of the supporters of the SRO pilot program have produced any comparable report in support of it. Instead they rely on warm-and-fuzzy, data-lite anecdotes – like Kaminski’s unsubstantiated claim that “there’s been positive feedback” from the SROs in the Maine Twp. high schools; and Ms. Fregassi’s equally unsubstantiated claim that the SRO’s in D-63 schools “have had nothing but a positive impact on students in District 63.”

Fortunately, Board members Rick Biagi, Fred Sanchez and Eastman Tiu have recently displayed the insight and courage to reject the go-along-to-get-along mentality of the Board majority while raising serious questions about the program.

Whether they can sway even one member of the majority from their lemming status remains to be seen. But just slowing down a boondoggle like the SRO is a refreshing change from D-64’s S.O.P.

As would be speeding up the improvement of the SPED program to make up for the last two years.

To read or post comments, click on title.

D-207’s “Public Opinion Survey” Yet Another Con Job

05.30.18

In our posts of 05.07.2018 and 05.08.2018 we wrote about what a “con job” the Maine Township High School District 207’s proposed $240.7 million building project appears to be.

Today we’re addressing the District’s “Public Opinion Survey” – which we’re calling the “POS” for reasons that should become obvious.

The May 18, 2018 deadline for responses to the POS has come and gone. Now we are looking forward to seeing when, and how, the results are presented and publicized (i.e., spun) by the District.

Despite what it said on the survey form itself, the POS responses will not – repeat, WILL NOT – be used to actually “shape how District 207 moves forward in extending the useful lives of our existing facilities.” The District already has its plans, and it has no intention of departing from them.

What those POS results WILL “shape,” however, is the sales pitch D-207 (and, presumably, its marketing consultants) will use in order to brainwash enough likely voters into saying “Yes” to the project; i.e., what buttons it needs to push in order to hold onto early supporters while winning over the undecideds.

That’s why the POS features questions like:

Q5. Following are some of the arguments people have made in favor of the facility improvements and funding proposal being considered by District 207. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “Not at All Convincing” and 5 being “Very Convincing,” how would you rate each of the following arguments as a reason to vote FOR the proposal?

Or, conversely:

Q6. Following are some of the arguments people have made against the facility improvements being considered by District 207. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “Not at All Convincing” and 5 being “Very Convincing,” how would you rate each of the following arguments as a reason to vote AGAINST the proposal?

In other words, the POS wants taxpayers to tell the District’s propagandists why they might vote for, or against, the proposal so the propagandists can shape their future elevator pitches to reinforce whatever favorable opinions taxpayers currently have, and to change any unfavorable or undecided ones.

What the answers to the POS also will “shape” is D-207’s decision of WHEN to hold the referendum vote – November 2018, or April 2019 – based upon whether the responses to the POS are sufficiently favorable that the D-207 Board is willing to risk a November 2018 referendum.

What’s the risk?

Historically, November election turnouts involve either a presidential or gubernatorial race and generate much higher voter turnouts than April local elections. So if you’re the proponent or a supporter of a boondoggle referendum you will much prefer an April election, where the lower turnout means that fewer votes are needed for passage.

For example, since April 2005 – the first contested Park Ridge mayoral election in decades – turnouts for those April mayoral elections have been 8,114 voters in 2005, 8,698 in 2009, 9,019 in 2013, and 8,098 in 2017. Meanwhile, the Park Ridge turnout for November elections has not fallen below 14,000 voters,

So do the math: You could have passed a referendum in any of the last four mayoral election years with no more than 4,510 votes, while you would have needed at least 7,001 votes to pass that same referendum in any of those November elections.

Which is why you can bet your First Communion money (if you’re Catholic, Lutheran, or Greek Orthodox) Supt. Wallace, the D-207 Board, and all the special interests who want to saddle D-207 taxpayers with almost $300 million ($190 million of principal plus $105 million in interest) of long-term (20 year) debt liability are already contriving ways to push off the referendum to next April – when there won’t even be a mayoral election to spur both interest and turnout – without being obvious about what they are doing.

Maybe they’ll delay disclosing the results of the POS for awhile, claiming they’re analyzing the data in order to present it in understandable form. They also might decide to hold some “focus group” meetings to supplement or clarify the POS data. That probably could buy them June and July, which would then require only a short additional stall until they blow the August 20 deadline for the District to get one or more referendum questions on the November ballot.

Oh snap!

Plus, waiting until April: (a) gives Wallace and the Board an extra five months of propagandizing; (b) gives whatever citizens’ committee is being formed to shill for the project an extra five months of campaigning; and (c) gives the District’s neglected buildings an extra five months of school-year usage to further deteriorate, thereby underscoring the alleged necessity and urgency of the “Moving Maine Forward” project.

As Rahm Emanuel infamously said: “You never let a serious crisis go to waste.”

At District 207, Wallace and the Board appear to be going Rahm one better by never letting a serious crisis – that they created by years of their own mismanagement – go to waste.

Especially if one-third of a BILLION dollars of public contracts hangs in the balance.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Memorial Day 2018

05.28.18

Maybe you like President Trump. Or maybe you don’t.

Irrespective of which opinion you hold, however, neither one – without more – will get you arrested, indicted or imprisoned, unlike elsewhere in the world where criticism of the government or the current leader(s) might cause you to vanish without a trace.

Today is the one day each year set aside to remember why that is.

Not the 4th of July: The 4th is a day to celebrate the principles on which this country was founded.

Today is the day we remember the men and women who laid down their lives defending those principles.

Approximately 658,000 lives lost in battle, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Approximately 658,000 individual futures sacrificed for this country’s future. And for ours.

Today is the day for remembering that.

And for being grateful.

To read or post comments, click on title.

IL AG Spanks Maine Twp.’s Morask, Jones And Gialamas

05.25.18

It wasn’t until January 24 of this year that we published our first-ever post about Maine Township government. Since then, we’ve published several more, on 02.08.2018, 02.13.2018, 04.02.2018, and on 04.24.2018.

Why did we ignore this backwater unit of local government for so long? Because the area it serves is primarily outside Park Ridge, the unofficial boundary of this blog’s focus. And because its budget is barely more than the Park Ridge Library’s.

But when the voters elected a bi-partisan group of Trustees – Dave Carrabotta (R), Claire McKenzie (D) and Susan Sweeney (R), whom we have labeled “The Reformers” – our curiosity overwhelmed our common sense. Soon we found ourselves ensnared by the institutionalized bad government administered by Supervisor Laura Morask and her puppet-Trustee Kim Jones; the non-Assessor Susan Moylan-Krey; Clerk Peter Gialamas, Road (& Track) Superintendent Wally Kazmierczak and various others drawing public paychecks from a unit of government time forgot.

This post is about a recent decision by the Public Access Bureau of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office that Morask, Jones and Gialamas “did not follow the proper procedure for approving the destruction of a closed session verbatim recording during its November 28, 2017 meeting.”

The Cliff’s Notes version of this goat rodeo is that on November 28, 2017 Morask – rarely right but never in doubt – insisted that The Reformers must abstain from the vote on destroying the verbatim audio recording of the March 22, 2016 closed session meeting because they weren’t trustees back in March 2016; and that Gialamas got to vote because he (along with Morask and Jones) was a trustee back then.

The Reformers had been trustees for only six months at that point and clearly weren’t yet ready for prime time: Even though Carrabotta and McKenzie are attorneys, and Sweeney has been active in local government for quite a while, they meekly acceded to Morask’s demand that they abstain.

Meanwhile, Gialamas – who should have known better and probably did – went along with the charade and became the ostensible third vote in what purported to be the majority of Trustees needed to authorize the destruction of the verbatim recording of those March 22, 2016 closed-session proceedings.

The Attorney General’s Office, however, disagreed.

“Accordingly, this office concludes that the Board violated OMA by destroying the recording without three of the five Board members affirmatively voting to approve the motion to authorize the destruction of the recording.”

Because the recording already had been destroyed, however, whatever evidence of dreaming or scheming it may have contained has been lost to the ages.

Since that time, The Reformers appear to have raised their games sufficiently to challenge Morask’s attempts at iron-fisted rule. Hopefully they have learned from this episode – and from Morask’s and Moylan-Krey’s secret appeal of The Reformers’ refusal to certify that the non-Assessor position requires the 1,000 hours of work annually to qualify it for a public pension – to just say “No!” to everything Morask says or proposes, at least until they can independently verify that it’s true and accurate.

And speaking of truth and accuracy, this post would not be complete without our giving a giant PublicWatchdog bark-out to the real hero of this situation: Kirk Allen, one (along with John Kraft) of the Edgar County Watchdogs who submitted the Request for Review of Morask’s/Jones’/Gialamas’ IOMA violation to the Illinois AG’s office.

Even though they are based down in Edgar County (located along the Indiana border south of Danville IL and just west of Terre Haute IN), those two retirees appear to be kicking butt and taking names well beyond their county’s borders, including investigating – along with OpenTheBooks.com’s Adam Andrzejewski – the since-discredited and fired College of DuPage president Robert Breuder; and looking into the mismanagement of the Algonquin Township Road District.

Changing Illinois’ culture of mismanagement, waste and corruption isn’t going to happen overnight, nor in a sweeping broad-brush manner. It will take a lot of people chipping away at the local level, electing and appointing officials committed to H.I.T.A. (Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability) and rejecting those who are not.

But it can be done.

And the Edgar County Watchdogs just showed Morask, Jones and Gialamas how.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Park District’s “Green Space” Fund: The Slush Beneath Our Feet?

05.23.18

In our 04.03.2017 post we endorsed the candidacy of Harmony Harrington – along with candidates Jim Janak, Rob Leach and Jim O’Donnell – for election to the Park Ridge Park District Board of Commissioners. One reason for that endorsement was her professed support of referendums “for major capital projects outside [the District’s] current means.”

Since then we have applauded – in our 07.07.2017, 08.16.2017 and 11.07.2017 posts – several of the things she and her colleagues have done, or refused to do, while in office.

So when Ms. Harrington proposes that the Park District create a “Green Space Acquisition Fund” for the tail-wagging-the-dog purpose of buying land for parks should land become available, we have to wonder what the heck she’s thinking – because building up a pool of money for green space acquisition is a bad solution looking for a non-existent problem.

Unfortunately, the most plausible explanation for her off-the-reservation proposal is that she is trying to create a “slush fund” to provide an ongoing “current means” for the District to fund land (i.e., “capital”) purchases without having to get taxpayer approval via referendum. In other words, the slush fund becomes a convenient way to end-run her pro-referendum campaign position.

Harrington’s proposal comes at the same time a bunch of vocal folks are pressuring the District to spend as much as $2.3 million (or maybe less, if one believes there’s a lower appraisal that the District continues to hide from the taxpayers for unknown and/or specious reasons ) to purchase a tiny 3/4 acre parcel of land along Busse Hwy. in a business-zoned district that they call “Shibley Oaks.” They say they want to save the old oak trees on the property and to have their own neighborhood park in which their kids can make snow forts in the winter.

$2.3 million sounds like a boatload of wampum for several old oak trees and snow forts.

Could it be that Harrington’s idea is shameless pandering to that Shibley Oaks constituency? Such a suspicion draws support from a May 8, 2018 article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Park Ridge park commissioner seeks creation of ‘green space’ fund to buy future land”) which reports that Harrington cited the interest in the Shibley Oaks purchase as one indication that residents of Park Ridge desire more green space.

No, Harmony, it indicates nothing more than that, at most, 700+ residents of Park Ridge – out of the Park District’s approximately 24,000 voters and 37,000 residents – were willing to sign a petition asking the District to buy that property using tax dollars confiscated almost entirely from their fellow taxpayers who may or may not want their money spent that way.

As we noted in our post critical of the Park Board’s secret Shibley Oaks discussions, the District doesn’t need a readily available slush fund in order to buy available land, or even land that’s not technically “available”: The District has the right of eminent domain and can acquire any property it wants at its fair market value via condemnation should the owner not want to sell it voluntarily. And the District can tie the exercise of that condemnation power to taxpayer approval via a referendum.

But that’s not as convenient to special interests – like the Shibley Oaks crowd – that disingenuously claim they speak for the majority of residents but who never seem to want to let those taxpayers actually speak for themselves through their referendum votes.

That got us thinking about an alternative to Harrington’s slush fund, at least as it applies to the postage-stamp Shibley Oaks parcel: Let 400 of those 700+ petition signers pony up $5,000 each to purchase that parcel, assuming that the owner would be willing to part with it for $300K less than its $2.3 million list price (We’d bet a crisp new $1 bill that the owner would).

Once The 400 buy Shibley Oaks, they can donate it to the Park District under certain contractual terms and conditions, such as:

(a) The 400 get naming rights to the new park, if they want them;

(b) they get their names on a bronze plaque affixed to a granite marker, if they want it;

(c) they get a priority for things like picnicking, snow fort making, squirrel watching and tree hugging; and

(d) should any of those oaks die or get struck by lightning, they get priority rights to the lumber.

Who knows, maybe there’s a wood-worker dad among The 400 who could produce a collection of “Wonderboy” bats from that lumber, either for the baseball/softball-playing children of The 400 or to sell on e-bay.

And if 700 petition-signers contribute equal shares, the cost per petitioner drops from $5,000 to a bargain-basement $2,860. At that price they could put the contributions on their Mastercards or Visas and earn some travel miles.

That’s all it would take to save the Shibley Oaks.

No slush fund to be squandered by this Board or its successors. No annoying referendum to prove that the 700+ petition signers don’t represent anything close to a majority of taxpayers. No muss, no fuss. Just a bunch of public-spirited citizens putting their own money where their mouths are.

If Frank Capra were alive he just might make a movie about it.

But don’t hold your breath.

To read or post comments, click on title.

D-64 SRO Duties And Responsibilities: When’s A Cop’s Not A Cop?

05.21.18

We apologize for the eleventh-hour nature of this post, but on the agenda for tonight’s meeting of the School Board for Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 (7:00 p.m. at Emerson Middle School) is a discussion of the “Mission Statement” and the “Intergovernmental Agreements” (the “IGA”s) for the proposed School Resource Officer (“SRO”) pilot program.

In classic Queen of Hearts fashion (“Sentence first–verdict afterward.” ), D-64 drafted the IGAs before it had approved (or even drafted?) the Mission Statement on which the IGAs were ostensibly to be based. But for a District overseen by a Board led by Tony “Who’s The Boss?” Borrelli and administered by Supt. Laurie “I’m The Boss!” Heinz, that kind of bass-ackwards approach is one of D-64’s lesser mistakes.

We’ve reviewed the drafts of those documents and have several questions, one of the more important ones of which requires a scenario such as the following: The SRO sees one Lincoln or Emerson student hand another one what looks like a bag of pot (or a handgun, if you prefer) which the recipient immediately places in his/her locker before locking it and walking away.

What can the SRO do?

As we read Paragraph 7 of the D-64/City of Park Ridge IGA, the SRO’s duties are strictly limited to those listed on Exhibit C, which expressly purports to be an “exhaustive” explanation of the SRO’s duties. Among the things it appears the SRO cannot do under Paragraph 7 and Exhibit C, however, are: (1) question either student about what the SRO saw; and (2) ask the locker-holder to open the locker – at least not unless and until the SRO first obtains the school principal’s consent and direction, “absent exigent circumstances.”

Is a bag of pot, or a handgun, sitting in a locked student locker an “exigent circumstance[ ]”? We don’t see that term defined in the IGA, so we assume it would be given its customary and ordinary meaning, which Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines as: “requiring immediate aid or action · exigent circumstances.”

And, taking it one step further, Exhibit C states that “absent exigent circumstances,” conduct such as one student’s transferring pot or a handgun to another who locks it in his /her locker, is not to be considered a “criminal law issue[ ]” but, instead, a “school discipline issue[ ] to be solely handled by School officials.”

Given Supt. Laurie Heinz’s repeated insistence that Lincoln’s and Emerson’s discipline issues are no different than those of schools in other suburban districts (per a 02.22.2018 Park Ridge Herald-Advocate article), we have to wonder just what kind of police-like conduct by the SRO – toward the pot (or the handgun) or toward the students involved with them – would the principals who kow-tow to Heinz consent to or direct.

If one wants to read Exhibit C literally – because, of course, it’s meant to be “exhaustive” in circumscribing what SROs can and cannot do – we see nothing that would authorize the SRO to actually defend students, teachers and administrators from the actions of an active-shooter student.

As if to play directly into Heinz’s “move along, nothing to see here” approach to discipline issues, as well as into Chief Kaminski’s approach to getting an extra officer or two on his Department’s payroll by having D-64’s taxpayers picking up part of the tab, check out the anti-transparency/anti-accountability provision in Exhibit C that requires the SRO to keep “an activity log documenting his/her education, resource and security activities” – BUT which the District will receive only “upon request”; and a summary of which the District “may, at its option,” share with the taxpayers.

Or not.

If this SRO program were totally legit, the SRO’s activity log would be sent to the District and published on the District’s website (with student names, if any, redacted for privacy reasons) on a weekly basis, so that parents of Lincoln and Emerson students, along with the taxpayers who are footing the bill for this seeming boondoggle, would know what the SROs are doing on an almost real-time basis.

But you can bet that kind of transparency and accountability for this half-baked (i.e., four hour/day, 2 day/week) initiative is the absolute last thing either Heinz or Kaminski want, which is why Borrelli and his Board bobbleheads won’t insist upon it; and which is why the District’s attorneys who want to remain in that role will gin-up an excuse on which Borrelli, Heinz and the Bobbleheads can fall back.

Because that’s the way things are done at D-64. And that’s why the serious business of education is taking a back seat to all this faux-security.

To read or post comments, click on title.

D-207’s Building Plan: Con Job Or Incompetent Management? (Part II) (Updated)

05.08.18

In yesterday’s post we questioned whether Maine Township High School District 207’s new District-wide construction project might be the product of an outright dishonest scam-a-rama by Supt. Ken Wallace and the D-207 School Board.

Today we’re going to explore the slightly more benign possibility that Wallace and the Board aren’t scammers and schemers but, instead, merely incompetent mopes who couldn’t manage their way out of a wet paper bag, yet are being entrusted each year with over $145 million of taxpayer money to educate our high school students.

And apparently not doing a very good job of it.

Let’s start with a question: What kind of incompetent leadership and/or management could have neglected the infrastructure of the District’s three high school buildings to the point where so much of it apparently has to be replaced or upgraded?

Or, alternatively: What kind of incompetent leadership and/or management didn’t budget enough money over the past nine (9) years for regular infrastructure maintenance, repair, renovation or replacement so that it all arguably has come due at once?

That inquiry begins with Wallace, who became superintendent in 2009. As superintendent he is basically the District’s CEO, which means that his fingerprints are all over – or should be all over – every inch of mismanagement and neglect that has led to this situation.

Although the District brags in its “Facts” propaganda sheet and its April “Facilities Planning Update” propaganda brochure that “in just the past five years” it has spent “$33.6 million…to address building repairs and upgrades,” that dollar amount clearly hasn’t been close to enough, even as millions of dollars were being socked away into “reserves” (i.e., the D-207 slush fund) in order to reduce the amount of bonded debt the District needs/wants voters to approve.

If Wallace were a competent CEO – and the School Board members tasked with holding him accountable were competent stewards of the taxpayers’ money and the students’ education – he would have been doing more “repairs and upgrades” from the time he became superintendent. And if sufficient funds weren’t available, he would have said so in no uncertain terms…and asked for a funding referendum (or two) to address those problems before they grew to $240.7 million.

But that would have subjected Wallace, his fellow administrators, the School Board members, and the teachers to unwanted scrutiny. So, instead, he and they stuck band-aids on the problems, or neglected them entirely until they have reached today’s pseudo-crisis proportions.

For that, we’ll call him D-207 Taxpayers’ Public Enemy No. 1.

But if Wallace is D-207 Taxpayers’ Public Enemy No. 1, D-207 Taxpayers’ Public Enemy No. 2 must be Board member Sean O’Brien Sullivan, first elected way back in 2007.

From checking Sullivan’s record for the past 11 years we have to conclude that his next good idea for either the education of D-207’s students or the management of the taxpayers’ money will be his first. He has rubber-stamped so many things at D-207 that he must be on his third or fourth ink pad.

Carla Owen and Jin Lee have been on the Board since 2013, so they also must “wear the jacket” for this debacle because they knew, or reasonably should have known, that the $33.6 million of band-aids, rubber bands and paper clips wasn’t nearly enough for the past five years. At the very least they should have asked tough questions and demanded credible answers about maintenance, repairs, renovation and replacement of the District’s infrastructure, but they didn’t. The same goes for Paula Besler and Teri Collins – the former appointed to the Board in April 2014 before being elected in 2015, the latter having been elected in 2015.

Representing the taxpayers is not rocket science so long as the elected official has a functioning brain, a stiff spine, and a sense of public service which is loftier than merely having one’s head patted and tummy rubbed.

Which pretty much might explain why the tenures of Owen, Lee, Besler and Collins have been failures so far.

The only two current Board members who arguably have plausible deniability are Aurora Austriaco and Linda Coyle, both of whom have just completed their first year “honeymoon period” on the Board. With the honeymoon over, however, these two experienced litigators need to start doing a whole lot less rubber-stamping and a whole lot more cross-examining of Wallace and his subordinates on virtually everything they propose.

And as reputed proponents of the late Mayor Dave Schmidt’s H.I.T.A. (“Honesty. Integrity. Transparency. Accountability”) philosophy of government, the time has come for Austriaco and Coyle to demand that D-207 taxpayers get the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about everything D-207 – not the cock-eyed propaganda distributed by Wallace, et al. – like Schmidt would have demanded were he still alive and in their shoes.

You’ve got the ability, ladies: Don’t let yourselves get steamrolled by the Kool-Aid drinking rubber-stampers that surround you.

Unfortunately, lost in all this recent brick-and-mortar talk is the greatest failing of Wallace, his fellow administrators, and the School Board members past and present: The decline in the measurable educational achievement of the District’s students, especially those at flagship Maine South.

Wallace and his hucksters continue to bombard us with vacuous edu-babble about “flexible learning spaces that leverage instructional technology, enhance current teaching methods and promote collaboration.” If this were a “Seinfeld” episode, that kind of empty rhetoric would be met with dismissive choruses of “Yada, yada, yada.” And yawns.

According to the latest Niche.com report, “Park Ridge” high schools (meaning Maine South, Maine East and Maine West) ranked 64th, behind communities like Buffalo Grove (5th), Northbrook (7th), Wilmette (12th), Glenview (15th), Western Springs (22nd), Oak Park (32nd), Elmhurst (38th), Evanston (41st), Morton Grove (42nd), Palatine (45th), Arlington Heights (48th), Lincolnwood (51st), Rolling Meadows (52nd), Highland Park (57th), Mount Prospect (59th) and even Niles (61st).

That same Niche.com ranking places Maine South, by itself, as the 48th best public high school in Illinois.

Before anybody breaks out the Dom Perignon (or even the Martinelli Sparkling Cider) over that 48th-place ranking, it might help to know that back in 2009 – when Wallace took over as D-207 superintendent – the Chicago Tribune ranked Maine South as the 12th best high school in the state while the Sun-Times ranked it 13th, something we noted in our 10.30 2009 post

In 2012 (after the Tribune apparently stopped doing the rankings), U.S. News & World Report ranked Maine South as the 29th best public high school in Illinois, which we wrote about in our 04.01.2013 post. But by 2016, that ranking had plunged to 45th, a fact we bemoaned in our 04.22.2016 post. Worse yet, only 40.8% of its seniors were deemed to be “college ready” – based on (a) the percentage of seniors who took at least one AP class, and (b) how well those students performed on the AP tests.

And last year, Maine South was “unranked” by U.S. News & World – with only 44.6% of seniors deemed “college ready.”

Niche.com’s 48th-place ranking of Maine South is further qualified by its reporting that student reading proficiency is only 49% and math proficiency is a dismal-sounding 28%.

What’s happening, Supt. Wallace? What’s happening, School Board members?

Whenever another chapter in the decline and fall of Maine South High School has been published, what have we heard from Wallace and the Board – both the current members and the others who have come and gone since 2009, such as Joann Braam, Eldon Burk, Mary Childers, Eric Lays, Margaret McGrath, Ed Mueller and Donna Pellar?

*Crickets*

Now, we don’t claim these ratings/rankings are gospel, nor are we suggesting they be treated as such. One can probably find flaws in every one of their methodologies. But Wallace and the Board haven’t produced any ratings/rankings that place Maine South among the elite Illinois public high schools, a category that includes many otherwise comparable suburban Chicago communities, many of which have lower school property taxes than D-207’s and Park Ridge-Niles School District 64’s.

Meanwhile, all we’ve heard from the Maine Teachers Association (D-207’s teachers union) is a variation on the theme of: “Our teachers are great, give us more money.” And neither Wallace nor the Board members past and present have had the smarts to demand “Prove it!” Or the spines to say “No!”

Are we being harsh? You’re darn right we are!

But we’re talking about D-207’s plan to spend one-quarter of a BILLION dollars – or, more accurately, ONE-THIRD OF A BILLION dollars when you figure in the estimated $105 million of interest on the $195 million of bonded debt – that will suck up a whopping $300 million tax dollars over the next 20 years, with no significant guaranteed or even objectively-measurable improvement in student performance as an acceptable return on investment (“ROI”).

That’s just about as incompetent as D-207 can get before it crosses the border into con-job territory.

Assuming it’s not there already.

Update 05.10.2018. The 2018 U.S. News & World Reports “Best High Schools” rankings are out and Maine South is once again “unranked.” And although Maine East is ranked 46th, that’s down from last year’s 37th. But, mirabile dictu, Maine West is…wait for it…27th!

If you are flummoxed by those rankings, we encourage you to read our posts of 05.08.2017 and 05.19.2017 in which we discuss the U.S. News ranking system and criteria. They won’t get you all the way to where you should want to be on this issue, but it’s more than you’ll get out of D-207, if history is any guide.

The bottom line, however, appears to be that Maine South is under-performing based on its demographics: 15% minority students, 8% economically disadvantaged. Compare that to Maine East’s 54% minorities and 46% economically disadvantaged, and Maine West’s 53% and 39%.

We can’t wait to hear Supt. Wallace’s or D-207 propagandist Dave Beery’s attempts at explaining these rankings, or how they will try to spin these results to fit nicely into their $240.7 million (really $300 million) “Moving Maine Forward” narrative.

To read or post comments, click on title.