Public Watchdog.org

City Council Finally Says “No” To Politics Of Appeasement

02.09.16

It wasn’t a pretty process, and it took too darn long.

But the Park Ridge City Council finally made the right decision last Monday (Feb. 1) night in dropping the City’s appeal of Judge Kathleen Pantle’s November 2015 decision in favor of owner/developer John O’Flaherty and his 400 W. Talcott LLC’s plan to develop the eponymous parcel.

Judge Pantle’s reversed the decision of the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission to deny the developer’s site plan review application because of the size and scale of the four-story, 22-residential unit structure – even though it met the City’s then-existing Zoning Code standards for B-1 “business” property, which lacked the same kind of residential density restrictions contained in the Code’s “R” (for “Residential”) zoning classifications.

Pantle ruled that P&Z abused its discretion in denying the Code-compliant site plan.

That always sounded like the right decision to us. As we wrote in our 12.22.15 post:

“We’re no fans of increased residential density for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is the likelihood such increased density brings more flooding and more school-aged kids adding to our school-tax deficits. But when a developer satisfies our Zoning Code requirements, that should be the end of it – especially when both the City’s former and current law firms agree that the likelihood of the City’s prevailing on appeal is low.”

And way back on 10.22.14, our post noted how “O’Flaherty and his attorney rightly pointed out that developers buy property only after analyzing the zoning parameters, with the purchase price based on what they should be able to build there” – a “determination…based on what increasingly appears to be a vague, ambiguous and unacceptably inadequate Zoning Code” that makes development unpredictable, and therefore “unfriendly,” to business and residents alike.

But what appears to have happened here is that both the folks on P&Z and, subsequently, a four-alderman majority of the Council, let themselves get stampeded into wrong decisions in order to appease a roomful of vocal, specially-interested residents – commonly known as NIMBYs for “Not In My Back Yard” – who really didn’t seem to care one whit about the provisions of the Zoning Code or the developer’s compliance with those provisions.

That’s their right as NIMBYs. And we’re big fans of NIMBYs because they tend to shine a spotlight on issues that non-NIMBYs often overlook – as in this case, where the Talcott NIMBYs helped the City identify loopholes in the Zoning Code, at least one or two of which have since been closed.

Unfortunately, both P&Z and the Council majority seem to have let their good judgment fall prey to the desires of the NIMBYs’ special-interests.

We’ve often called that “political pandering” but perhaps a more accurate term is the “political appeasement.”  It’s an inherent danger when elected or appointed officials try to be politicians instead of statesmen, and look for the most politically expedient solution instead of figuring out what the right course of action is and then taking it – special interests, no matter how vocal, be damned.

Compounding that wrong decision by Acting Mayor Maloney and Alds. Moran, Milissis and Shubert was Milissis’ comment in December that an appeal was part of “a strategy to drag this out longer and fight it” notwithstanding that “the likelihood of us winning is slim to none” based on advice of counsel.

That invited a January 14, 2016 letter from the developer’s attorney to the City, charging that the City’s decision to appeal appeared to be “an effort to appease disgruntled residents who would like to make this process as difficult, lengthy and expensive…as possible” for the developer. That arguably opened the City up to potential liability for tens of thousands of dollars of the developer’s attorneys’ fees as a judicial sanction for bad-faith prosecution of the appeal, as well as money damages for any extraordinary costs resulting from delay caused by the appeal.

Ald. Milissis, an attorney, certainly knew better than that. So we have to assume that his vote and his comments were mistakes; and that they were the product of a misguided intention to appease those vocal opponents of this development rather than the product of any over-arching public policy tone-deafness.

Two of those vocal opponents reportedly have threatened their own legal action against the developer, but don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen. The likelihood of individuals spending their own money on attorneys and lawsuits tends to be inversely proportional to the frequency, intensity and volume of their beefs that “government” should do that heavy lifting for them.

Notwithstanding the mis-steps, however, the Council wised up and did what it should have done from the start: listened to the beefers, realized that the developer’s compliance with the Zoning Code made everything legal, and told the beefers “No.”

Public officials should never be human windsocks, moving reflexively in response to the winds of public sentiment – especially when that sentiment is expressed by a small-but-vocal special-interest minority. And extra-especially when that small-but-vocal minority loudly proclaims that it represents a “majority” – but doesn’t have the signed and notarized proxies to back up such grandiose proclamations.

Non-windsock public officials were basically what Madison was advocating when he explained the function of the ideal people’s representative in Federalist No. 10:

[T]o refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations. Under such a regulation, it may well happen that the public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people, will be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves, convened for the purpose.

That “public voice” was finally pronounced – correctly and by the entire Council – last Monday night. For that all Park Ridge taxpayers should be grateful.

Yes, it shouldn’t have taken that long.

Yes, it shouldn’t have taken a closed-session meeting – especially in light of the fact that the advice of both the City’s former counsel and its current counsel against prosecuting the appeal was already public knowledge.

But at least it was done before the Council wasted $5-10,000 of the taxpayers’ money on a losing appeal. And it was done before the Council risked saddling those same taxpayers with tens of thousands of additional dollars for the developer’s attorneys’ fees and delay damages the appellate court could have awarded as sanctions.

We trust this latest Council vote demonstrates that the errant majority, and the minority aldermen as well, have learned an important lesson about the dangers inherent in playing the politics of appeasement.

As Churchill once said: “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile hoping it will eat him last.”

No matter how noisy it might get and how sharp it says its teeth are, however, a special interest is not a crocodile.

So why treat it like one?

To read or post comments, click on title.

“A Lie Told Often Enough Becomes The Truth”

02.05.16

The title of today’s post is a quote from Lenin, and it seems particularly applicable to much of the rhetoric being generated about Park Ridge Library’s new “business” policy.

Actually, that policy is more a “tutor” policy than a “business” one, primarily because tutors seem to be the only people regularly fattening their wallets using the no-overhead tutoring “offices” at the Library. And now that a policy has been put in place that requires them to register and pay a $10/hour user fee, they are trying to exact revenge on the Library Board for adopting such a policy.

How? By spreading misinformation and outright lies on social media.

If information truly is “the currency of democracy” (as Jefferson stated), then misinformation and lies are the counterfeit currency.

So we’re devoting today’s post to calling out some of the folks who have lied through their teeth about the Library’s new policy, or about the Library Board, or about the owner of one particular tutoring business who appeared at two Library Board meetings to question the fairness of his competitors getting taxpayer-subsidized office space that he effectively was paying for through the RE tax portion of his office rent.

And, in the process, we’ll also rebut a few lies being told about this blog and its editor.

But first we want to explain once again our use of the word “freeloader” because more than a few delicate souls out there are suggesting they’ve been victimized, traumatized and even “bullied” by our use of that word as shorthand for people who view local government as their personal ATM, funded by OPM (“Other People’s Money”).

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines “freeloader” as:

“a person [like a tutor) who is supported by or seeks support from another [like the Library, a/k/a the taxpayers] without making an adequate return [like paying a $10/hour fee].”

Merriam-Webster’s synonyms for freeloader include “bloodsucker,” “leech,” “moocher” and “sponger.” So while we chose “freeloader” as the most benign of those alternatives, we’re willing to consider one of the others – especially “leech” – if enough freeloaders request it. It should also be noted that Merriam-Webster lists “parasite” as another synonym, but we’ve reserved that for non-resident freeloaders who can’t even claim to be paying Park Ridge RE taxes to justify their freeloading.

With that out of the way we now return to our featured topic: lies and the liars who tell them.

Let’s start with Caroline Vengazo, the teacher/tutor whose claim to fame is creating the deceptive Change.Org. petition that demanded “Keep the Park Ridge Public Library a FREE Public Space for Everyone” – when what she really meant was: “Keep the Park Ridge Public Library an OVERHEAD-FREE Public OFFICE Space” for herself and her fellow tutors.

In addition to that deceptive petition issue, Vengazo also provided a write up that included the following lies:

LIE: “The single complaint that started this debate was a local businessperson who employs tutors….”

FACT: This debate was started by this editor’s questioning the for-profit tutors’ monopolizing of Library tables for hours on end – and conversing in a manner that disturbed other patrons – more than a month before Jim Giovannini of Academic Tutoring Centers first appeared before the Board.

LIE: “[Giovannini] has a buddy on the…Library Board” who pushed a tutor policy “in an act of political cronyism….”

FACT: Since Vengazo didn’t have the nerve to identify that “buddy,” we can’t say for sure whom she meant by that comment. But if she meant this editor, he has never – even to this day – communicated with Giovannini other than during the latter’s two appearances before the Library Board at its August 18, 2015 and September 8, 2015 meetings.

LIE: “[I]nformation provided by the Board lacks transparency regarding their plans as to how the funds will be utilized….”

FACT: The Board made it clear that the funds from tutor fees would go into the Library’s General Fund.

LIE: “The library will now need additional staff to police all library patrons who use this public space….”

FACT: The Library’s Director has consistently told the Board that no additional personnel will be needed to enforce the policy.

Not to be outdone when it comes to outright lying – or, in her case, maybe it’s just aggravated cluelessness with an intent to mope? – about local government matters is Kathy Panattoni Meade, headmistress of the Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners Group FB page and a regular on the “closed group” (i.e., members only) Park Ridge Virtual Chatterbox and the “closed group” (ditto) Park Ridge Citizens Online FB pages.

KPM’s comments demonstrate not only her embrace of Vengazo’s lie about Giovannini’s being some Board member’s “buddy” but she actually inflated that lie by branding Giovannini “a good friend of several library board members” who enacted the new policy for the purpose of “squelching [Giovannini’s] competition.”

Among the many other KPM Lies are:

* LIE: that both the City’s and Library’s legal counsel “advised against this tutoring policy”;

FACT: counsel’s advice merely suggested a need to expand the policy to all one-on-one business activities at the    Library, which the Library Board promptly did;

* LIE: that the Board “won’t even let the library buy new chairs for the meeting room”;

FACT: the new chair purchase was deferred because the Director didn’t follow the LIbrary’s procurement policy; and

* LIE: that the current Board wants “people to stop using the library so they can stop wasting ‘their tax dollars’ on a socialist institution”;

FACT: the current Board initiated a new focus on improving the Library to attract more patrons and reverse the several-year decline in customer visits, circulation and program attendance – which decline has continued notwithstanding the seeming increase in tutor use of the Library.

Those jumping on the baseless “blame Giovannini” bandwagon include Jenny Ftacek Sanderson (“everybody knows it was Academic Tutors who started this”); and Carol Simner (the Board “obviously wanted to fix things for their friend.”)

Deserving of special “lying fearmonger” recognition, however, are those who insist that this Library Board wants to actually shut-down and/or demolish the Library, including: Nichole Flynn (“this [board] seems intent on dismantling the library” because it “hates the library and it’s [sic] patrons”); Dena Lucy (“Trizna would love to see it bulldozed and a Barnes & Noble in its place”); Park Board member Cindy Grau (“This is what they want – to close the Library” because “[m]any of them aren’t patrons” or “fans”); and Joshua Nichols (Board members who voted for the policy “appear to want everyone to stop using the library so they can close it down”).

These last four fibbers apparently were so hell-bent on lying about this Board that they didn’t even care how incredible those lies sounded in the light of things like Joe Egan’s, Char Foss-Eggemann’s, Pat Lamb’s, Dean Parisi’s and this editor’s vote – in July 2014 – to repeal the prior board’s decision to close the Library on summer Sundays, a closure about which not one of the aforementioned fibbing fearmongers publicly complained.

Nor do they try to explain how shutting down the Library jibes with Egan’s, Foss-Eggemann’s and this editor’s push for the November 2014 referendum that gave the Library an extra $1 million a year for four years – while their fellow Board members at that time preferred to sit around and berate the City Council for not giving the Library that extra $1 million a year from the City’s tax levy.

Shutting down the Library also flies in the face of the current Board’s hiring of architects to come up with renovation ideas and other ways of making the Library more functional and attractive to the entire community rather than to just one or two special interests. That’s the point Trustee Mike Reardon was making when he stated, during the January 19, 2016 meeting:

“I have sworn an oath to act on the behalf of all the citizens of Park Ridge, not only the ones sitting in this room.”

That’s the same oath ALL Library Trustees have taken.

Meanwhile, the Library Board’s tutor critics have pledged their troth to their own pocketbooks, even if it means freeloading off their fellow taxpayers and telling lies to deflect attention away from their self-interest and greed.

But leave it to that self-serving socialist, Mary Wynn Ryan, to question this Board’s motives by lying about how this editor “successfully thwarted a referendum a decade ago to renovate and enlarge the library.” Were Ryan capable of telling the truth, or capable of reciting non-revisionist history, she would have admitted that the November 2002 referendum had nothing to do with any renovation or enlargement of the Library. Instead, it consisted of three questions, the principal one asking the voters whether the Library should be demolished and replaced with a $20 million-plus (not counting additional millions in debt service) new library double the size of the current one.

And to the extent that new-library plan was “thwarted,” it was not by this editor but by the VOTERS, 8,948 (60.73%) to 5,786 (39.27%). Ryan respects the voters only when they vote the way she wants them to, which might explain her revisionist history of the 2002 referendum.

Ryan was voted off the the Park Board last April, but her self-serving socialist seat has been filled by her fellow class warrior, the aforementioned Ms. Grau, who unequivocally claims this editor “was reappointed [to the Library Board in July 2014] after the commnuity asked that he not be.” That lie is disproved by the official minutes of the Mayor’s Advisory Board’s June 16, 2014 meeting, which reflect this editor’s unanimous recommendation for reappointment by then-mayor Schmidt; and by the minutes of the full City Council’s July 7, 2014 meeting reflecting the unanimous approval of that recommendation – without even ONE “community” objection.

Perhaps Ms. Grau is suffering from the same aversion to the truth that plagues Ms. Ryan. Or maybe she’s just “Feeling the Bern” from advocating for the replacement of all City officials with candidates holding “different values” who can “form an alternate vision for our community.”

From what we’ve seen and heard from Ms. Grau so far, that “alternate vision” will mean a lot more “free” stuff for the shameless freeloader contingent – which means it will need to be sold to gullible residents by even more lies.

And paid for with more OPM from that government ATM.

Robert J. Trizna

Editor

Park Ridge Public Library Trustee

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this post are solely those of the Editor in that capacity, and not in his capacity as Library Trustee. None of these opinions should be viewed as representing those of the Library, its Board, its staff, or any other Trustees.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Library Board – 1, Freeloaders – 0

01.22.16

The most important portion of Tuesday night’s Park Ridge Library Board meeting occurred at the very beginning, but it got the least attention from the assembled multitude.

It was a 45-minute presentation on modern libraries by Rick McCarthy of StudioGC architects, the firm retained by the current Library Board – that Board now being maligned by an assortment of myopic malcontents as wanting to “close” and “destroy” the Library – to advise about a planned renovation to the current building that will modernize and improve it for the entire community.

A renovated Library not just for one or two special interests intent on lining their own pockets and/or dodging $10 user fees, but for the benefit of ALL 37,000+ residents.

For most of the 40-50 folks who braved single-digit temperatures to get to City Hall Tuesday night, that presentation was just something to endure, a meaningless warm-up for the headline act that brought them there. And it showed.

As McCarthy provided a wealth of information about the current building (e.g., that it’s only 2/3 the size it should be for a community like ours), about its current inefficiencies (like all the space wasted on too many desktop computers) and the various design and furnishing changes that can make its limited space more flexible for 21st Century uses, most members of the audience fingered their smart phones, yawned or shifted impatiently in their chairs.

Once all that Library renovation talk was out of the way, however, they snapped to attention for the discussion and vote on the adoption of a Library policy addressing the continuing use of the Library by private, for-profit tutors and other private businesses.

After an hour and one-half of public comment (three times the 30-minute limit prescribed by Library Policy No. I A 14), a 6-2 majority of the Board – Trustees Joe Egan, Char Foss-Eggemann, Dean Parisi, Mike Riordan, Jerry White and this editor v. Steve Dobrilovic and Judy Rayborn, with Pat Lamb absent – rejected Dobrilovic’s proposed amendment to delay charging the $10/hour user fee; and then adopted the policy as written by a vote of 5 (Egan, Foss-Eggemann, Parisi, Riordan and this editor) to 3 (Dobrilovic, Rayborn and White).

Adoption of that policy was effectively a gift to tutors and other business people who have been using the Library as their personal, overhead-FREE business space, because neither the Library’s “Mission” nor its “Vision” include providing free space for the operation of private businesses.

The Library’s “Mission” makes no mention of “tutoring,” or of “education,” or of doing any form of “private business” on Library premises:

“The mission of the Park Ridge Public Library is to provide the community with access to information, recreation and enlightenment by providing and promoting materials, programs and services.”

Neither does the Library’s “Vision” statement, which is intended to go hand-in-glove with the “Mission”:

“The vision of the Park Ridge Public Library is to be a community resource that dynamically provides relevant materials and stimulating programs, accomplished through a friendly and professional staff in an enhanced building with reliable and accessible technology.”

Reading those two statements together results in only one reasonable conclusion: any “information, recreation and enlightenment” furnished under the Library’s “Mission” must come through “materials, programs and services” provided, if at all, by the Library’s “friendly and professional staff” – not by an assortment of unidentified (by the Library), unregistered (by the Library), unregulated (by anybody) and unsupervised (by the Library) freelance tutors having no formal affiliation with the Library.

That might explain why Trustee White wants NO tutoring or other business operating in the Library. And, strictly speaking, he’s not wrong.

But a majority of the Board was willing to compromise with these tutors and parents by permitting tutoring on the premises, albeit with registration of tutors and the payment of a $10/hour user fee.

And when such a policy first came up for a vote by the Board in October 2015, and the tutors objected to its adoption by claiming it discriminated against them, the Board compromised once again by extending the policy to ALL business people – even though no evidence was presented that any businesses besides tutors regularly used the premises for one-on-one activities.

Not surprisingly, those kinds of compromise are lost on the “me first” entitlement-minded tutors: When you’re getting $40-$50-$60 or $70+ per hour – with no overhead because your “office” rent, utilities, etc. are being covered by the Library, a/k/a Park Ridge taxpayers – your self-interest and greed are not easily mollified.

And when you’re the parents of kids receiving such services, you’re not enamored with the prospect that any Library user fee being imposed on those tutors will likely be passed on to you.

Hence the clamor from both tutors and their parent/customers.

And hence the campaign of misinformation, propaganda and outright lies propagated by those two factions in an attempt to intimidate the Library Board, intimidate the Mayor and the City Council, and to whip up public opposition to the policy – including just plain despicable lies spread about the owner of the Academic Tutoring Center who actually pays rent for office space on Main Street that includes RE taxes which flow back to the Library so that it can provide overhead-FREE space to…wait for it…his freeloading competitors.

That’s because our resident freeloaders (and their non-resident “parasite” counterparts) hate to be recognized for what they are: people intent on taking out of the system far more than they put in.  We’ll address that misinformation, that propaganda and those lies in our next post.

For now, however, there’s a fair, honest and responsible business-user policy in place at the Library.

But if the tutors and their supporters really believe all their own propaganda about how THEY – and not the Library Board – represent the will of a majority of The People, they should immediately ask the City Council to put a referendum on the November 2016 ballot that reads as follows:

“Should the Park Ridge Public Library repeal its current policy of registering and charging an hourly fee for use of the Library by private businesses, including tutors?”

We’re betting they won’t ask…because they know they won’t like the answer they’ll get in November.

Robert J. Trizna

Editor

Park Ridge Public Library Trustee

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this post are solely those of the Editor in that capacity, and not in his capacity as Library Trustee. None of these opinions should be viewed as representing those of the Library, its Board, its staff, or any other Trustees.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Some Shoveling Here, Some Shoveling There…Pretty Soon You’re Blaming Public Works

01.15.16

It’s winter here in Park Ridge, and winter usually means snow. And ice.

Which means plowing. And snowblowing. And shoveling.

Park Ridge, like most suburbs, doesn’t have an ordinance requiring property owners to clear the City’s (a/k/a, the taxpayers’) sidewalks and cross-walks abutting their property – and keep them clear – of ice and snow. In the absence of such an ordinance, there is no legal duty on the homeowner to do so; and some folks have expressed concern that they could even subject themselves to liability by shoveling at all, if they do a poor job.

But most people seem to voluntarily undertake the task and do decent job of it. And many of them will do their neighbors’ walks, especially if they have one of those heavy duty snow-throwers that fling plumes of the white stuff 10 or 20 feet into the air.

Yeah, it’s a “guy thing.”

So far this year we’ve been extraordinarily lucky: unseasonable warmth (global warming?) has kept us pretty snow-free. That’s helped the City conserve money that would otherwise have been spent on plowing and salt.

But a few weeks ago an icy-snowy mixture over a dozen or so hours required several plowing runs by City crews to keep the streets clear. And, as plows are wont to do, they left piles of snow and ice in inconvenient places like curbs and cross-walks.

C’est la vie? Not quite.

A mom whose kids were forced to negotiate a plow-created ice pile in order to wait for their school bus posted a comment on the Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners Group Facebook page. That led to a “discussion” (which appears to have since been pulled for unknown reasons, but which one of our “stringers” o captured before it disappeared so that you can see it here) in which some folks blamed “lazy” homeowners – especially those on corner lots – for not cleaning up what the plows left behind. And, as some parents are wont to do, the blame directed at those “lazy” homeowners seemed to stem primarily from the fact that their little darlings didn’t have a nice clear space to wait for their school buses.

But it was left to our old friend, Kathy Panattoni Meade – one of those corner homeowners taking some of the incoming fire – to react to accusations of laziness by blaming the City’s Public Works Dept.:

“Technically that part of the sidewalk isn’t even my property. It isn’t even in front of or directly next to my house. I honestly think this is a job for the public works.”

Interestingly enough, she raised that “not my job” argument only after she explained how “we shoveled the sidewalk to the street” three separate times. So unless the sidewalk got up and moved or acquired a new legal status following those first three shovelings, it sounds like she was just looking for an alibi to throw in the shovel.

And, frankly, that’s okay because (as we pointed out earlier) homeowners have no obligation to clear the snow from the public sidewalks.

But then don’t throw brickbats at Public Works, especially when it has never, to our recollection, shoveled residential sidewalks for at least the past 25 years because of the substantial additional cost shoveling of walkways and bus stops would add to the City’s (a/k/a, the taxpayers’) budget.

Fortunately, a few commentators were voices of reason, including Martin Mazur, whose “I never ask what can my city do for me, I ask what I can do for my city” unmistakably echoes JFK’s inaugural address of 55 years ago this month.

That, standing alone, deserves a Watchdog bark-out.

But another bark-out goes to Mike Miller, who suggested that “the parents or the kids who have to wait there should pitch in and shovel out where they have to wait. Yeah, the neighbor with that corner could do a better job but this isn’t the city’s problem.”

Exactly.

For those who don’t like Miller’s solution, however, we’ve got another one for you: show up at City Hall this coming Monday night at 7:00 p.m. and tell the City Council why you and your kids are entitled to better snow removal than you’re getting, plus snow shoveling. And don’t forget to remind the Council of what Ms. Panattoni Meade keeps reminding everybody else: “I pay property taxes.”

Even if those taxes are some of the lowest in Park Ridge.

To read or post comments, click on title.

“Local Boy” Shows Right Stuff From Left Wing (Updated)

01.10.16

After taking a bit of a holiday break, we’re going to start 2016 out on an unusual (for us) note and write a post that doesn’t involve the stupidity, ignorance and profligacy of our local politics and government, or our local freeloaders and neighboring parasites for whom “civics” is taking more out of your fellow taxpayers’ pockets than you put in from your own.

Today we’re writing a “local boy makes good” post about a young man who, by dint of extraordinary effort applied to natural talent – and while overcoming significant adversity – has achieved his dream of doing something very difficult at a very high level.

His name is Michael Mersch, he plays professional hockey for the Los Angeles Kings of the National Hockey League, and he recently scored his first NHL goal.

Having a local kid playing any professional sport is something special, given how difficult and competitive the journey to professionalism in sports is. But it’s even more of a challenge to make the NHL, where most players are still from that traditional hockey bastion of Canada – or, in recent years, from Sweden, Finland and Russia. And most of the Americans in The League seem to be from the more hockey-oriented New England states, or the likes of Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin.

As best as we can tell, Michael is the very first Park Ridge hockey player to make the NHL, although we’re sure the Park Ridge hockey community will correct us if we’re wrong on that.

But what makes his story even more compelling is its “back story” – starting with the death of his father, also a professional hockey player who made it one level short of the NHL – when Michael was eight years old, leaving behind Michael’s mother, Nancy, and two younger children.

Fortunately, Michael’s father left him with a good amount of athleticism, and he excelled at most sports he played as a youth. But hockey was where he really stood out.

His mother allowed him to move to Michigan and train with the U.S. National Development program, learning to play the game at a level beyond what he could find here in Illinois. Besides honing his hockey skills to the point where the talented left-winger earned a scholarship offer from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, however, Michael worked hard enough in the classroom to complete his high school studies in only three years while earning a 3.3 GPA.

As a member of the Badger’s team he distinguished himself early enough to be drafted by the Kings in 2011. But as a fourth-round pick he chose to stay in school and work on his game at that level. He played 157 games for the Badgers, scoring 67 goals and 53 assists, developing into the kind of player who made amazing plays while earning his degree finance in the regulation four years in 2014.

His Wisconsin coach, Mike Eaves, regularly spoke of Michael’s work ethic, his focus and his mature goal-oriented approach to the game. His strength and conditioning coach, Jim Snider, called him “just a quality human being, a quality kid” who is “very genuine.” Not surprisingly, those are the kinds of characteristics needed for that long climb to a professional career.

Last year, his first as a pro, his Kings-system “farm team,” the Manchester (NH) Monarchs, won the Calder Cupt,  the minor league equivalent of the Stanley Cup. He followed that up with an outstanding performance earlier this season with the Kings’ American Hockey League club, the Ontario Reign, to earn a call-up to the big squad in December.

In an age where mere activity – and often modest activity at that – is so regularly mistaken for achievement that it is customarily rewarded with those uber-lame “participation” trophies (that delight only the non-achievers, their parents, and the trophy sellers), Michael Mersch’s journey from the Oakton Ice Center to L.A.’s Staples Center is notable in its own right.

To think he did it while skipping a grade and earning a degree from Wisconsin makes it even more notable.

So we salute Michael’s success and wish him a long and successful career of all-star performances.

Except when the Kings play the Blackhawks.

UPDATED 01.15.16.  We have been informed by one of our readers that Craig Anderson, goaltender for the NHL’s Ottawa Senators, is orginally from Park Ridge. He was with the Blackhawks organization from 2001-2006.

To read or post comments, click on title.

New Year’s 2016: One Door Closes, Another Opens (Maybe)

12.31.15

This is our last post for 2015, so we’re looking back at the year that’s ending and forward to the year ahead – the former with profound sadness, the latter with perhaps unjustified hope.

The sadness of 2015 relates to the sudden death of Mayor Dave Schmidt on March 4.

Mayor Dave was a larger-than-life figure with an almost ferocious joie de vivre. He truly loved Park Ridge and being its mayor, whether it meant poring over draft ordinances at 1:00 a.m., attending his third or fourth charitable event of the week, cutting the ribbon for a new business, teaching a little City civics to 4th graders, or laughing at a giant inflatable rat with a “Time To Veto Dave Schmidt” sign in front of City Hall.

He was a man-child in the best sense of that term, able to throw a curled-lip glower or to crack an impish smile with equal ease. And he seemed as “at home” in a bare-knuckle political brawl as in his regular seat at Orchestra Hall listening to his beloved CSO.

More importantly, in his almost six years in the big chair at The Horseshoe he changed business-as-usual at City Hall – most definitely for the better, and hopefully for the long-term.

He won the office by articulating his philosophy of Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability (“HITA”); and by actually doing what his three predecessors (and so many other local elected officials) merely talked about: putting the taxpayers first..

That made him some enduring enemies – including those three predecessors and the few handfuls of former aldermen who also endorsed his last opponent, for whom “business as usual” pretty much maxed out both their interest level and abilities. But it made Mayor Dave even more friends and supporters – the proof of that being the increase in both his vote total (from 4,897 to 5,601) and his winning percentage (from 56.3% to 62.06%) from his 2009 election to his 2013 re-election, while at the same time generating a larger voter turnout.

Mayor Dave’s principled way of doing the City’s business also attracted a group of aldermen who shared his principles and his priorities. Consequently, his passing did not spark the petty partisan politicking, horse-trading and jockeying for position that followed Wietecha’s dark-of-night resignation in September 2003 and led to acting mayor Marous and his Uptown TIF boondoggle. Instead, these aldermen checked their egos at the door and unanimously chose Ald. Marty Maloney as acting mayor, an office Maloney accepted with the pledge to treat the next two years as “the rest of Mayor Dave’s term.”

And that’s the way it has been, a City government directed by principles and pragmatism instead of preening and profligacy.

So as the clock ticks down on 2015 we offer one last “ave atque vale” to Mayor Dave.

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Looking ahead to 2016, the one thing we hope to see more of is HITA.

And nowhere is that more needed than from those two Star Chambers masquerading as Park Ridge-Niles Elementary School District 64 and Maine Township High School District 207.

That’s because while the City will continue to struggle valiantly to overcome the weight of the Uptown TIF debt and the difficulties of coming up with a cost-effective solution to the flooding problem, the last thing we need is for what passes as “leadership” at D-64 and D-207 to continue to fiddle while their schools’ objectively-measurable performance and rankings continue to slide in comparison to those other affluent suburbs competing with Park Ridge for long-term home-owning residents.

Superintendents Laurie Heinz and Ken Wallace, respectively, know that controlling the flow of information to the public is the single best way to: (a) end-run HITA; (b) dominate their feckless school boards; (c) manipulate the parents of their students; and (d) bamboozle the taxpayers while avoiding any accountability for their own highly-paid-but-mediocre performances. And if Heinz’s and Wallace’s own instincts in that regard aren’t quite up to the obfuscation tasks at hand, they both have taxpayer-paid propaganda ministers to assist them in Bernadette Tramm (D-64) and Dave Beery (D-207).

So GFL getting the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth out of those spinmeisters.

Too bad truth will be even more important, and less likely, in 2016 when it comes to D-64’s expected closed-session “negotiation” of a new contract with the Park Ridge Education Association (“PREA”), a/k/a, the teachers union.

Four years ago, then-board members John Heyde and Pat Fioretto hid in secretive closed sessions while giving the PREA a sweetheart deal that included “step” (longevity) and “lane” (continuing education) increases unrelated to either individual teacher performance or student performance. That put the taxpayers on the hook for starting salaries that increased over the contract’s four-year term from $45,780 to $48,582 for total out-of-the-box newbies, and from $101,374 to $107,579 for the most experienced. You can see the 2015 salaries for teachers, by name, by clicking here.

And remember: that’s just for 8-9 months of work, with no chance of D-64 packing up and relocating to Indiana, Wisconsin, or Mexico.

And also remember that it comes with those constitutionally-guaranteed pensions that can kick in as early as age 55, with annual COLA increases that carry the possibility of generating more income for teachers in retirement than they made while actually teaching.

See how your Social Security and 401(k) compare to that!

Unfortunately, the current D-64 Board is only marginally better than the one that gave away that sweetheart deal four years ago: Hang a bell around Heinz’s neck and president Tony Borrelli, vice-president Scott Zimmerman, Secretary Vickie Lee, and Bob Johnson would follow her anywhere, with little more than an occasional “moo.”

Even among “veteran” Dathan Paterno and newcomers Mark Eggemann and Tom Sotos, only Eggemann has regularly displayed any measurable HITA – voting against most of the unnecessary closed sessions and being the only vote against the recently-increased tax levy that will enable D-64 to continue to spend about as much to educate 4,500 kids as the City of Park Ridge spends to run the whole city of 37,000+ people: approximately $70 million.

With creatures of the dark Borrelli and Zimmerman reportedly heading the D-64 negotiating team, you should bet the “over” for what kind of contract the PREA will be able to wheedle out of them in the…wait for it…closed-session negotiations. After all, it was in closed sessions that Borrelli and Zimmerman hashed out the one-year, $250,000 contract extension and raise for Heinz – based on allegedly outstanding mid-year and year-end “reviews” that not only weren’t published to the taxpayers before the deal was cooked, but which we understand weren’t even given to Eggemann or Sotos before they were asked to approve the deal.

And which still can’t be found anywhere in the public domain as best as we can tell.

With D-64 and D-207 grabbing almost 70% of our property tax bills, versus the City’s roughly 10%, we’re hoping taxpayers in 2016 finally will start figuring out where more of their limited attention should be paid, and where the most basic HITA is so sorely lacking.

Here’s hoping that situation can be substantially corrected in the coming year.

To read or post comments, click on title.

A Brief Discussion Of Holiday “Charity”

12.28.15

As regular readers of this blog well know, we have actively and consistently opposed what had been a common practice of some of our local governmental bodies: taxing their residents and then using those tax revenues to make donations to certain private charities favored by those public officials with control over that money.

Last year the Park Ridge Library Board voted to discontinue what was known as the Food For Fines program (“FFF”). FFF was a longstanding program under which the Library staff waived overdue book and materials fines – money owed to the Library and, therefore, indirectly to its taxpayers – in return for non-perishable food donations to the Park Ridge Kiwanis Clubs that they forwarded to the Maine Township Food Pantry.

In other words, FFF caused the “donation” of public money belonging to the Library (a/k/a Park Ridge taxpayers) to a private organization (the Kiwanis) for the benefit of a different taxing body (Maine Twp.) that serves a much broader “community” than just Park Ridge.

In arguing against the discontinuance of FFF, certain Kiwanis members contended that FFF demonstrated the community’s commitment to taking care of the less-fortunate.

But according to an article in the current Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Park Ridge Kiwanians help families in need buy food for the holidays,” Dec. 20), in the first year that the FFF program was discontinued (2014) the food collection drums at the Library produced a mere 25 food boxes instead of the customary 200 boxes. And although Library staff never bothered to keep track of how many dollars of fines were being waived in return for how many food items, rough estimates based on average monthly fine revenues suggest that it was in the thousands of dollars each year.

So, apparently, many of those FFF participants were motivated more by the personal gain from trading a can of creamed corn for a few dollars of fines than by their commitment to the less fortunate in their community.

Or maybe they just preferred a different way of demonstrating their commitment to the less fortunate, such as donations to the many church food drives, or to various other charitable organizations.

But as the H-A article reports, this year the Kiwanis reinvented its food donation program to rely on its own fundraisers and individual contributions, rather than taxpayer money, to provide $100 gift cards and hams to 35 families whose children qualify for the free lunch program due to their families’ low income.

That’s what true “charity” is: privately chosen, not publicly mandated.

Which brings us to another true “charity”: the Park Ridge Holiday Lights Fund

In 2009, the City Council – under the leadership of then-mayor Dave Schmidt – cut from the City budget the approximately $40,000 annual holiday decorating expense in order to direct those dollars to essential City expenses. Some residents beefed and whined about that and other cuts, insisting that “a majority” of residents happily paid taxes for such amenities. But we supported Mayor Dave’s cuts because essential expenses should always take priority over amenities. And among those essential expenses were million-dollar increases in the debt service expense of the Uptown TIF, compliments of former mayors Wietecha, Marous and Frimark, and their complicit aldermen who buried the City in long-term bonded debt in order to sweeten the financial pot for the Uptown TIF’s private developers.

In response to the cut of those expenses, volunteers – many of whom were children in the Indian Scouts and Princesses program and their parents, with some assistance from the Park Ridge Public Works Department – took up the decorating. But as time went on, the extent of the decorating declined until many trees were barely decorated and many others not at all.

That prompted this blog to publish a July 22, 2015 post suggesting that a holiday lighting project for the Uptown and South Park business district was something a business organization like the Park Ridge Chamber of Commerce should take the lead on, because holiday lights in those two areas make them much more attractive for shoppers. And shortly afterwards, Chamber members Rick Biagi (also a Park Ridge Park District Board member) and John Moran (also a Park Ridge alderman) pitched the Chamber on letting them form and run a holiday lights committee under the Chamber’s auspices, using the Chamber’s not-for-profit status.

The Chamber, however, wanted no part of Biagi’s and Moran’s idea and told them so in no uncertain terms.

Undeterred, Biagi and Moran – with the help of a few other like-minded volunteers – formed the Park Ridge Holiday Lights Fund as an independent 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation with the motto “Lights For The People, By The People” and fully-transparent “open-book” finances. And in less than four months more than 400 of those “People” (and businesses and organizations) came through, helping the Lights Fund raise almost $45,000 in donations toward the $85,000+ 3-year light purchase commitment while creating the most “Bedford Falls”-like Uptown in memory.

Despite all that community support, however, it should be noted that the overwhelming majority of Park Ridge residents did not donate to either the Kiwanis food fund or the Holiday Lights Fund.

But that’s okay, because voluntary individualized charitable donations – not mandatory collectively-taxed contributions – are the kinds of acts that tend to ennoble the givers while inspiring (hopefully) gratitude in the recipients/beneficiaries, as de Tocqueville observed 180 years ago in his “Memoir on Pauperism,” even without having the Kiwanis or the Holiday Lights Fund in mind.

And they’ll have another chance to do so – voluntarily, as their spirits move them, not as government demands of them – next year and the year after that.

To read or post comments, click on title.

‘Tis The Season For Schizophrenia (Or Hypocrisy?) About RE Taxes

12.22.15

It’s that time of the year again, folks, and we don’t mean Christmas. Or Hanukkah. Or Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, or Festivus, either.

We mean Cook County property tax time. Or, more specifically, the second installment of the 2014 property taxes. And judging by a post on the Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners Group Facebook page, that’s got a lot of you griping up a storm about the continually-rising costs of living in the City of Park Ridge.

We suggest you read the Concerned Homeowners’ string started by Phil Poole on December 18 to get yourself up to speed on the comments that we’ll be riffing on in this post. Otherwise, you may find yourself scratching your head out of confusion rather than from befuddlement at some of those comments that pass for insights and fiscal thinking.

What we find most interesting about those comments is that their primary focus seems to be on the City of Park Ridge’s property tax increase – even though the City spends pretty much the same amount of money serving, protecting and maintaining a community of 37,000+ people that Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 spends on educating a mere 4,500 kids.

Education is important, to be sure. But how exactly does one justify spending $70 million a year to educate 4,500 kids (an average of $15,555 per kid) at the same time we’re spending $70 million to provide 37,000+ residents (at an average of $1,892 per resident, including most of those same 4,500 kids) with essential City services (police, fire, sewer, water, streets, sidewalks), a Library, and those huge-ticket capital improvements such as flood remediation?

For residents with kids in our public schools, the justification for more and more indiscriminate school spending is pretty much just plain math.

Even if the size of your home and land puts you among Park Ridge’s Top 25% residential property taxpayers and your annual property tax bill is $21,000, only around $2,100 of that goes to the City – while approximately $7,000 goes to D-64 and another $7,000 goes to D-207. So if you’ve got just one kid in D-64 schools, you’re getting over $14,000 of education for your $7,000. In investment vernacular, that’s a 100% ROI. Annually.

Add a second kid to D-64 and that gives you $28,000 of education for your $7,000, raising your ROI to a whopping 300%. Also annually. What’s not to like about that, especially if one of your principal life’s goals is to suck more money out of the system than you pay in?

Do you think that might explain the dead silence about D-64 (and D-207) taxes and tax increases from many of those commentators on the Concerned Homeowners page – you know, those with kids in D-64 (and D-207) schools – who happily barbecue the City for its taxing/spending increases while at the same time spouting mindless socialist rimshots like: “[A] city should act like a big family” and “People will not work harder because they get payed more.”

Seriously?

Which brings us, albeit indirectly, to the recent decision by the City Council to appeal a Cook County Circuit Court decision over-ruling the Park Ridge Planning & Zoning Commission’s withholding approval necessary for a developer to construct a four-story, 22-unit residential building at 400 Talcott, even though the development met the requirements of the City’s Zoning Code.

We’re no fans of increased residential density for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is the likelihood such increased density brings more flooding and more school-aged kids adding to our school-tax deficits. But when a developer satisfies our Zoning Code requirements, that should be the end of it – especially when both the City’s former and current law firms agree that the likelihood of the City’s prevailing on appeal is low.

If you want a place to lay the blame for this fiasco, it should be the Zoning Code. And if that’s not enough for you, blame the 17 residents who comprised the Ad Hoc Zoning Ordinance Rewrite Committee that, with the assistance of an outside consultant, produced the current Zoning Ordinance 10 years ago. But don’t blame the developer just because you think he’s a jerk, or a bully, or because you dislike his project.

And whatever you do, don’t say and do things which stupidly suggest that the City is now just trying to make life miserable and unduly expensive for the developer in the hope that he’ll give up and go away. That’s bad in principle, it’s bad policy, and it’s exactly the kind of thing that causes naysayers to brand Park Ridge as “unfriendly to business.”

With that kind of reputation, how can Park Ridge expect to get any of those businesses that some of our more clueless residents claim are just waiting for the City’s elevator pitch – like a centrally-located Jimmy Johns?

To read or post comments, click on title.

PARCC Test Results Suggest Concerns About D-64 And D-207 Education Well-Founded

12.18.15

If you give a rat’s derriere about the quality of the public education that consumes close to 70% of our property tax dollars, take a few minutes to read Jennifer Johnson’s recent articles in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate about the reactions of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64’s and Maine Township High School District 207’s superintendents to their schools’ performance on the first round of the Partnership for Assessment of Reading for College and Careers (“PARCC”) testing.

You can find them at: “District 64 school chief says PARCC results a ‘snapshot in time’ “ (Dec. 15, 2015) and “District 207 superintendent: Test results create ‘false narrative’ of student performance” (Dec. 14, 2015).

D-64 superintendent Laurie Heinz attempts to defend what sounds like her district’s unimpressive performance with the following italicized quotes from the first article:

“From a formatting perspective, [the PARCC test] went well. We had no technical issues.”

In other words, D-64 didn’t screw up the administration of the test. Huzzah!

“I have not looked at how our results are compared to other schools.”

The very first thing Ms. Heinz should be doing is comparing D-64’s results to other districts – because whatever D-64 schools add to our property values is relative to how they match up with other demographically-comparable districts. Perhaps Heinz might be more motivated to prioritize that kind of comparative analysis if our School Board told her that the continuation of her employment and $250,000+ salary depends upon how D-64 rates against other comparable districts? Oh, wait…never mind: that feckless Board would never impose a performance standard on her after.

“My letter to parents explained the belief we have that this [PARCC test] is a snapshot in time….”

EVERY test – including a math final, the SAT, the ACT, etc. – is “a snapshot in time.” So her point is?

“We surpassed the state of Illinois average in both language arts and math.”

Seriously? As best as we can tell, D-64 is in the top 10-15% in per-pupil expenditures among ALL Illinois elementary school districts, yet Heinz is bragging about merely “surpassing the state of Illinois average.” Seriously?

“We had over 50 percent of our students within those two [“thorough understanding” and “exceeds”] levels in reading and…math.”

Merely “over 50 percent”?  See previous comment, but add one more “seriously?”

Interestingly enough, D-207 superintendent Ken Wallace echoed some of Heinz’s themes – which causes us to wonder if they were generic sound-bites and “talking points” from some special PARCC public relations template ginned up by the propaganda department of the Illinois Association of School Administrators that self-congratulatory fluff-and-stroke/networking organization for superintendents and

But Wallace takes it up a notch by ripping on the tests themselves and with statements like:

“Right now, the results [of the PARCC test] are next to meaningless to us” because he doesn’t think “they truly and accurately reflect the success of [D-207] students.”

Not surprisingly Wallace, like Heinz, avoids matching up D-207’s PARCC results with those of other demographically-comparable districts. Why make such comparisons when you can blow smoke up your own kilt and befuddle the taxpayers by insisting that D-207 is doing great – just ask ‘em!

“Any one test is not going to be a better predictor of student success in college than achievement across a rigorous set of courses.”

That very well may be true. But tell that to the admissions department of your kid’s dream college when he/she pulls a 1500 on the SAT, or a 17 on the ACT.  Or see how many advanced placement credits can be earned  with “1”s on those AP exams.

And when asked what plans D-207 has for next year’s testing, Wallace sounded totally dismissive of the test and/or of what level of achievement is expected:

“We will meet the minimum guidelines, testing in algebra and language arts.”

Yes, by all means let’s be satisfied with “the minimum” because that’s been working so well for the District over the last decade as its ranking has steadily declined even as its cost per pupil to our taxpayers has steadily increased.

Once again, we see that both of our school districts keep whistling past the graveyards of standardized test-based achievement and of comparing that achievement to other demographically-similar districts with which Park Ridge competes for new residents.

And while it seeems almost unfathomable that a school board could be any less demanding of student achievement and of teacher/administrator accountability than the D-64 Board, the D-207 Board may have met and exceeded that level of irresponsibility and general cluelessness.  At the very least they are 1 and 1A.

Which brings to mind, again, Mark Twain’s famous quote:

“In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then He made School Boards.”

To read or post comments, click on title.

Council Shows It Won’t Be Fooled Again On Cop Shop Requests

12.15.15

A few years ago, in 2010 to be exact, Park Ridge Police Chief Frank Kaminski persuaded then mayor Dave Schmidt and the then-city council to create a Police Chief’s Advisory Task Force (the “PCATF”), ostensibly for the purpose of improving the relationship between the Police Department and the citizens it serves in the wake of the Ekl Report.

But mission creep being what it is in government, the PCATF almost immediately became a de facto lobbying group for Chief K and his department. And it soon had a 3-phase plan for improving the physical plant (a/k/a, the Police Station) to the tune of around $1.1 million.

Chief K and the PCATF were able to steamroll through “Phase One” – which was the construction of that ugly, stand-alone, 2,100 square foot building on Courtland just south of City Hall that now serves as an evidence room and corral for stolen bicycles, along with 18 parking slots.  Price: $360,000+ing.  Meanwhile, things like a new locker room for female officers, improving ventilation and remediating the mold problem, and otherwise upgrading the existing police station space was ignored.

So it came as no surprise to us that when the City Council recently voted, at its November 23, 2015 meeting, to remove $100,000 from the 2016-17 budget that had been earmarked for engineering and design services for the main-building improvements and upgrades that could/should have been done a couple of years ago.  Nor did it come as any surprise that Chief K was more than willing to say how “disappointed” he was about the Council’s action.

He worried about the “bad message” being sent to Department employees, and the “employee safety and security” that he claims was being sacrificed.

“These are all basic concerns,” he said. “We need to take care of our employees.”

If they are such “basic concerns,” why did the Chief and his sycophantic PCATF push for a new evidence room and bike corral when that same money could have been used “to take care of employees” in the ways you now claim are vital?

We’re betting they figured that after enough time passed so that people forgot about the Courtland building, they could scare people with stories about the health hazards of black mold that has been neglected for years, and with warnings about how a third-rate women’s locker room that has been neglected for year is now a civil rights violation waiting to happen, and with all the old anecdotes of how a sally port that the cop shop has lacked forever without any adverse effects is now essential.

Fortunately, Chief K’s renewed cry of “Wolf!” – or “Public Safety!” and “Health Hazard!” – is unlikely to stamped this City Council the way that shtick stampeded former councils.

This is a problem of the Chief’s own making. This is what happens when he surrounds himself with a bunch of lemmings who will thoughtlessly jump on command and mouth whatever platitudes are required of them.

They won’t dare tell him that he’s screwing up when he puts the building of a new evidence room and a bike corral ahead of the safety of the employees about whom he now claims to be oh-so-concerned.

Chief K may be the most natural politician in City government, and the most experienced – even though he hasn’t held elective office.  He knows how to leverage that uniform for maximum effect.

But as Abraham Lincoln once noted: “You can’t fool all the people all the time.”

Even with a blue suit and a shiny gold star.

To read or post comments, click on title.