Public Watchdog.org

Hold Your Nose And Vote For Thillens…Just Don’t Do It Early

10.20.14

Early voting starts today and continues for the next two weeks.

We think early voting is a really dumb idea, maybe one of the dumbest ideas ever invented by politicians. And that’s saying something.

Worse yet, those politicians have been able to convince their more gullible constituents that early voting is really for the voters’ benefit rather than to make it easier for the politicians to allocate their campaign resources. As if polls open from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on election day don’t provide enough voting opportunities for the average voter who actually cares about doing his/her civic duty. And as if traditional absentee ballots for people who truly can’t make it to the polls on election day aren’t a sufficient alternative.

Among the many thoughtful critics of early voting, Northwestern University Law professor and public intellectual Eugene Kontorovich may have stated the case against it most succinctly:

More fundamentally, early voting changes what it means to vote. Voting then becomes an incoherent summing of how various individuals feel at a series of moments, not how the nation feels at a particular moment. This weakens civic cohesiveness, and it threatens to substitute raw preferences and momentary opinion for rational deliberation. Of course, those eager to cast early will be the most ideological — but these are precisely the voters who would benefit most from taking in the full back and forth of the campaign.

Early voting also encourages voting without important information that often comes to the fore in the final weeks of the campaign, whether through debates, late-breaking events, or even crass political tactics like “October Surprises.”

If we employed early voting principles for jury trials, individual jurors would be permitted to return their verdicts anytime after opening statements. Some jurors might render their verdicts immediately and leave without hearing any evidence at all, while others would vote and go home after hearing only some of the evidence.

Would that be a reasonable way to run a justice system? Of course not.

Unfortunately, that’s the kind of incomplete decision-making early voting encourages. But since we’re stuck with early voting for the time being, we feel compelled to issue our one and only candidate endorsement in this election – in the race for state representative of the 55th District – for all you early voters instead of waiting until a day or two before election day.

Once upon a time, before Mike Madigan became Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives and began cutting all those foolish and kinky deals with Republican In Name Only (“RINO”) governors “Big Jim” Thompson, “Slim Jim” Edgar and George “No. 16627-424” Ryan that have helped turn Illinois into the banana republic of American states, we actually had elections between very good and good candidates. That slipped to elections between good and mediocre candidates, and then to between mediocre and bad candidates, and then to between bad and worse candidates.

Republican Mel Thillens v. first-term incumbent Democrat Marty Moylan presents a choice between terrible and horrible – like choosing between congestive heart failure and metastasized brain cancer.

In any rational world, neither Thillens nor Moylan would be allowed to run for anything more significant than home room rep to their high school student council. This editor has the dubious distinction of having talked government policy and practice with both of them within the past six months, allowing him to both hear and observe firsthand that what these two may lack in stupidity they more than make up for with ignorance.

They are, on their absolute best days, political hacks who represent the worst of the slim pickings their respective political parties have to offer the voters of this state.  It’s hard to fathom exactly how low that goes, but just the concept is scary.

There is one crucial difference between them, however, that accounts for today’s endorsement of Thillens.

The simple truth is that a vote for Moylan is a vote for continuing Speaker Madigan’s corrupt stranglehold on State government. So long as the Democrats hold a majority in the Illinois House, they will continue to elect Madigan speaker. And Illinois will continue its slide toward bankruptcy that started the moment Madigan became Speaker in 1983.

That’s right, folks, 1983. For twenty nine of those thirty one year (the exceptions being 1995-96, when the Republicans gained control of the House for a measly two years), Madigan has been the one constant in Illinois state government and the intractable mess it has become.

People are slowly starting to figure out that Madigan is the albatross, however, which is why Moylan doesn’t want the voters to think of him as Madigan’s sock puppet – despite the fact that Moylan can’t speak whenever Madigan is drinking water. So Moylan’s campaign is going out of its way to stress a few issues on which Moylan seemingly has split with Madigan.

Don’t be fooled. Moylan’s next original thought will be his first.

Ironically, back in 1999 Madigan attempted to recruit this editor – then in his first term as a Park Ridge Park District commissioner – to run for state rep against the then-incumbent one-trick (pro-abortion rights) pony, Republican Rosemary Mulligan in 2000.  Madigan’s recruiter back then was his political operative Rob Biederman, a Niles resident who subsequently moved to Park Ridge after his wife’s failed bid for Niles mayor in 2009.

Biederman promised this editor plenty of financial support from Madigan and assured him that Madigan tolerated independence from his minions except on certain key votes, such as when it came to electing the Speaker. When this editor rejected the pitch, Biederman turned his sights on then-Park Ridge Library Board member Mary Beth Tighe.

Madigan delivered on his promised financial support, and even produced U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin for a Tighe fundraiser at the home of Laura Morask – who was elected to the Maine Township Board the following April (2001) as a Democrat, but soon flipped to the Republican side.

Mulligan beat Tighe by 1,300 votes, Rosie’s toughest re-election race until her botched petition drive two years ago led to her being blown out by Susan Sweeney by over 2,000 votes in a write-in Republican primary. Mulligan turned around and endorsed Moylan, thereby joining Morask in demonstrating that what Tribune columnist John Kass branded “The Combine” is alive and well in Maine Township politics and government.

So much for the stroll down memory lane. We’ve got more than enough challenges in the here-and-now.

The first is to convince as many voters as possible to envision the name “Madigan” on every green and white “Moylan” sign, and to treat every Moylan vote as a vote for Madigan himself. Practice by referring to them, interchangeably, as “Mike Moylan” and “Marty Madigan.”

The second is to make certain nobody deludes themselves about Thillens. He is NOT a fiscal conservative, as his three year tenure of tax, borrow and spend practices on the Park Board has amply demonstrated. When it comes to public policy, Thillens’ only principles are whatever will get him elected. And, like Groucho Marx, if you don’t like those, Thillens has others.

Voting for Thillens, however, does have one other positive effect beyond depriving Madigan of a vote for Speaker: if Thillens wins, we understand that he has to resign from the Park Board. As a first-term state rep he probably can’t do as much damage to Park Ridge taxpayers from down in Springfield as he can from Park District headquarters on Sibley, judging from the $20 million-plus of long-term debt he helped the Park District run up in the last 18 months or so.

That’s why we’ve decided to ask you to hold your nose when you go to the polls and cast your vote for Mel Thillens. Put on one of those ebola-proof hazmat suits if that’s what it takes for you to feels safe enough to vote against Moylan, the 55th District’s proxy for Illinois’ Dark Lord of the Sith. Because Illinois government will NEVER improve, E-V-E-R, so long as the Democrats keep control of the Illinois House and keep anointing Madigan as Speaker.

And with a little luck, maybe between now and 2016 the Republicans might actually find a qualified candidate to challenge Thillens’ re-election bid in the Republican primary.

To read or post comments, click on title.

City Mgr’s Outsourcing Initiative Likely More Smoke Than Fire

10.16.14

Recessions like the one this country recently experienced cause a lot of bad things.

The economy contracts. Unemployment increases. Wages stagnate. Savings are consumed by cash-strapped people and cash-strapped companies that can’t make ends meet on their reduced income or profits.

One good thing that can come out of a recession, however, is the belt-tightening that tends to make people and businesses more efficient. Sometimes it even causes outside-the-box thinking from executives who need to do more with less but can’t do so simply by continuing the same old same old.

On rare occasions that outside-the-box thinking even finds its way into the public sector, as we read about in last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Park Ridge city manager to look at outsourcing jobs,” Oct. 9) reporting on how City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton announced at the October 6 Council meeting that he and his staff would begin exploring possible outsourcing of some City jobs.

But before the needle on the Richter Scale could even begin to jiggle, Hamilton promptly began backsliding into an acknowledgement that he might decide not to go in that direction once his outsourcing analysis is completed over the next few months.

If you want to bet on how that will end up, the smart money is going with the “under.”

Outsourcing – or, more accurately, talking about outsourcing – is becoming the flavor-of-the-month management tool among government bureaucrats who are only now finally figuring out, more than five years since the recession official ended (according to the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research, the official arbiter of U.S. recessions) that their units of government can’t keep paying those escalating wages and benefits they’ve been giving out for decades. Or at least not without raising taxes higher than most taxpayers are willing to accept.

In Hamilton’s case, however, he has a built-in excuse that doesn’t require him to wear the jacket for the City’s wage and benefit largesse that has gone on during his relatively short watch:

The Uptown TIF.

Hamilton said the impetus for his outsourcing initiative was the increasing Uptown TIF bond payments, which were back-end loaded by those irresponsible City officials who saddled Park Ridge taxpayers with that financial boondoggle a decade ago. Cynics might suggest that back-end loading was intended to ensure that the perpetrators of the Uptown TIF would be long-gone from public office before any real pain might begin to be felt. And in the case of Uptown TIF ringleaders like former mayor Ron Wietecha and former city manager Tim Schuenke, they would be long-gone from our community entirely.

Mayor David Schmidt sounded receptive to the idea when he noted that “everything has to be on the table” when figuring out ways for providing City services more cost-effectively. According to the H-A article, the number of full-time City employees has decreased 10% since FY2009-10, although some of that reduced manpower has been replaced with an increased number of part-time employees.

From the hour or so of research we were able to do by Googling “municipal outsourcing,” we have concluded that outsourcing is far more talk than action. One reason is that it has not yet proved to be the magic/silver bullet bureaucrats and elected officials alike were hoping for. Another reason is that municipal employee unions and their members view it like the ebola virus.

And despite what they say, bureaucrats don’t really want outsourcing because it reduces the size of their fiefdoms. It’s a lot harder to argue for more money when you are seen as managing less people because 20 city/school/park jobs have been outsourced to a private vendor. In Hamilton’s case we also have to question the legitimacy of his outsourcing initiative when its announcement comes with a “we-might-not-do-any-of-it” qualifier.

Even more tellingly, despite promoting unspecified “outsourcing” out of one side of his mouth, Hamilton has been arguing for returning the city attorney functions to an in-house position – despite the fact that the in-house position was abolished around a decade ago because the total cost was too high – due to so much of the work still having to be outsourced to private law firms.

So we’ll be interested to see whether Hamilton is really serious about outsourcing, or whether he’s just another lemming bureaucrat.

To read or post comments, click on title.

For Once, Some Good News On O’Hare

10.10.14

Anyone who has been reading this blog or otherwise paying attention for the past few years knows what a Sisyphean task it has been getting any meaningful noise relief from O’Hare International Airport, especially since the $8 billion O’Hare Modernization Program (“OMP”) was adopted.

The airlines, the Federal Aviation Administration, and congressmen and senators from around the nation were looking to reduce the air traffic bottleneck that O’Hare had become. Meanwhile, a virtually bankrupt City of Chicago became hell bent on building more runways and running as many flights in and out of O’Hare as possible, if only for the taxes and fees they could generate.

Lo and behold, last week we heard that O’Hare had wrestled the title of the country’s busiest airport away from its old nemesis, Atlanta’s Hartsfield.

Add to that the seeming sabotage of Park Ridge’s efforts to alleviate the overhead traffic and noise by neighboring O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission (“ONCC”) member communities like Arlington Heights – who feared that any gain in Park Ridge’s noise reduction efforts would result in increased noise for them – and the task of merely gaining approval of a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (“SEIS”) looked increasingly bleak.

So last week was quite a welcome development for Park Ridgians.

On Thursday, October 2, Illinois congressman Mike Quigley announced the formation of a “Quiet Skies Caucus” comprised of himself, fellow Illinois representative Tammy Duckworth, and 11 other U.S. House members from California, Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New York.

Then on Friday, October 3, the ONCC voted to support Park Ridge’s request for the SEIS, with only three “no” votes: from Elmwood Park, Melrose Park and the City of Chicago.

But let’s not kid ourselves.

While the vote in support of the SEIS is an important step, the FAA is not bound to honor that vote. And even if it does, it could be years before any meaningful relief is provided – and that will most likely be in the form of a new noise contour map that would increase the number of homes and buildings entitled to soundproofing. And, if we’re lucky, it might also promote an increased implementation of the “Fly Quiet” program.

And you can bet Chicago will fight tooth and nail to keep O’Hare cranking at full capacity.  Because of the mess he inherited from Daley, Rahm needs every penny he can squeeze out of anything that moves…or sits still for too long.

Nevertheless, Mayor Dave Schmidt’s jaw-boning of the ONCC to vote in support of the SEIS is something. And it validates the decision of the City Council to look for political solutions to what is a political problem, rather than spend tens/hundreds of thousands of dollars on litigation with little-to-no chancce of gaining any better result.

Meanwhile, the best chance we have for noise relief continues to be the airlines’ modernization of their fleets by replacing the noisiest jets – currently the MD80s – with newer, quieter jets. Expediting those upgrades is where a caucus like the one Congressman Quigley helped form might be able to exert some influence that’s not in Park Ridge’s or any other community’s tool box.  But, once again, don’t expect that to happen overnight – if at all – because Chicago is too big to fail.  And so are the airlines, at least to those elected officials who count on them for campaign contributions and jobs in their districts.

We’ve still got a long way to go. But last week was easily the best one Park Ridge has had in years when it comes to dealing with O’Hare noise.

And it cost Park Ridge taxpayers next to nothing.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Time For FFF Advocates To Put Up Or Shut Up

10.06.14

Last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate contained a letter to the editor from long-time resident William Scharringhausen, on behalf of the Park Ridge Kiwanis Club, criticizing the Park Ridge Library Board’s discontinuation of the “Food for Fines” (“FFF”) program. (“Food for Fines cancellation disappointing,” Sept. 30)

We published posts on 10.03.13 and 08.22.14 explaining why FFF was a form of theft from the taxpayers, and we stand by those posts. Not surprisingly, because misconceptions die hard, some of the pro-FFF arguments we criticized in those posts are resurrected in Mr. Scharringhausen’s letter – to go along with a new one such as: “Kiwanians saw the value of transforming a negative fine system into an opportunity to nurture the spirit of giving in our community.”

Heck, if that truly was their motivation, they should have approached fellow Kiwanian and Park Ridge Police Chief Frank Kaminski about “transforming a negative” parking fine system. With parking fines checking in at a $25 minimum as compared to a mere couple-to-several bucks average for Library fines, just think of how much more the “spirit of giving” could have been nurtured!

But the simple truth is that any real “spirit of giving” shouldn’t need to be nurtured by any kind of quid pro quo personal economic benefit, especially when that benefit picks the taxpayers’ pockets by what we estimated (because the Library staff didn’t even try to keep track of it) to be as much as $7,000 worth of of Library fines in any given year.

That’s not chopped liver for a Library that could have used that $7,000 to remain open for four or five of the weeks it was closed this summer.

Mr. Scharringhausen concludes his letter with what sounds like a challenge to Library Board members:

“We also anxiously anticipate the generous contributions of the Library Board members to this holiday food drive as they demonstrate leadership in our community without encumbering public funds.”

When I proposed abolishing the FFF program, I suggested that the Library could still be a collection point for food donations. And in order to walk the walk instead of merely talking the talk I also suggested that, instead of donating taxpayer funds, all Library Board and staff members could show their community spirit by making personal monetary donations towards the purchase of food for the needy.

That was a good idea then, and it’s a good idea now.

That’s why I pledge a $100 donation to the no-longer-FFF Library food drive this holiday season. And I invite all current Library Board members and those former Library Board members who voted for keeping the FFF program (e.g., John Benka and John Schmidt) to do likewise. Assuming everybody comes through with a Benjamin apiece, that’s at least $1,100 right there.

But let’s not stop walking the talk with just the Library Board members.

Several staff members who advocated for the continuance of the FFF program should also be willing to say “C” (as in C-note) to support the Kiwanis food drive for the needy. And let’s not forget those Kiwanians who showed up at the Library Board’s January 21, 2014 meeting to successfully (for the time being) lobby against elimination of the FFF program, including: Ted Sigg, Jack Owens, Gerald Berkowitz, Lloyd Lange, Frank Kaminski, Maureen Kaminski and Jay Terry.

If they all step up and donate the basic hundo in addition to what the Library Board members come up with, we’ll be kicking off the holiday season with around $2,000 just in cash donations – unsullied by any crass quid pro quo fine forgiveness – before the very first can of Green Giant “Niblets” hits the bottom of the Library’s collection drum.

And, better yet, the Library Board won’t have to waste valuable meeting time discussing such weighty Library operational issues as how the expiration dates on FFF contributions are checked, and how far past those dates the food is still usable so as to be credited against fines.

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and Publisher

Member, Park Ridge Library Board

To read or post comments, click on title.

Zoning Code Unfriendly To Business And Residents Alike

10.02.14

About eight years ago then mayor Howard Frimark and the city Council formed an “Ad Hoc Zoning Ordinance Rewrite Committee” tasked with re-writing the City’s Zoning Code. The City hired an outside consultant and conscripted seventeen Park Ridge residents – six of whom were attorneys – to do the job.

But almost immediately after the newly-rewritten ordinance was adopted, developers began identifying all sorts of gaps and inconsistencies that they tried to exploit – with varying degrees of success. And an old rumor got new life:

“Park Ridge is unfriendly to business.”

Anything that is unpredictable is, almost by definition, “unfriendly” to business. Unpredictability increases the risks inherent in already-risky business ventures – medical marijuana and casino gambling likely being the most notable exceptions. And that unpredictability can be perceived as “unfriendliness,” especially to prospective businesses and developers.

In the years that have passed since the “new” Zoning Code was enacted, it seems as if most developers come in looking for variances and MAP amendments; and expecting to get them. Often they have at least a colorable argument, given the gaps, inconsistencies and general ricketiness of many of the Code’s provisions.

So it should come as no surprise that a developer is threatening to sue the City for the Planning & Zoning Commission’s recent denial of his request to build a four-story primarily-residential building at 400 Talcott Road that formerly housed an auto repair business.

This proposed 4-story building would be located in a “business” rather than a “residential” district, but it will have approximately 1,429 square feet of commercial space and 22 two and three-bedroom condos, each of which reportedly will contain more square footage than the entire amount of commercial space. That apparently qualifies as “business”/commercial under our whacked-out Zoning Code.

And the language of our Zoning Code, as previously interpreted by City staff and approved by the P&Z Commission for the project at 20-30 South Fairview – by the same developer, John O’Flaherty – would appear to permit the kind of structure he wants to build on Talcott.

But there’s a difference between that Fairview project and the Talcott project.

The Fairview project appears to have been a favorite of City staff, including Senior City Planner Jon Branham. Consequently, City staff may have interpreted vague or ambiguous Zoning Code terms in ways that favored the developer and advanced that project earlier this year – without any regard for what kind of precedent such interpretations might set for future projects.

Precedent, as in predictability.

Back at the public hearing on May 27, P&Z chairman Joe Baldi expressed concern about the lack of Zoning Code standards for the Talcott style of residential development in a B-1 Retail and Office district. Had this project been located in an area zoned “R” (for “residential”), even the highest residential rating, R-4, would have limited the maximum number of residential units to around 10-15 units.

Which don’t provide enough profit for Mr. O’Flaherty, who paid $400,000 for the property with the understanding that he could build what he is proposing on that site.

And if O’Flaherty gets his way, storm water detention may be a combination of insufficient and stupid, because he gets to pay a fee-in-lieu of providing sufficient detention. A fee which we understand to be wholly inadequate to address already-problematic flooding. Doesn’t that sound just ducky!

While we don’t take kindly to any developer threatening to sue the City in order to get what it wants, 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. And that determination is based on what increasingly appears to be a vague, ambiguous and unacceptably inadequate Zoning Code.

Interpreted by City staff and P&Z in ad hoc ways that make it unpredictable.  And unfriendly.

To business and to residents alike.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Northwest Park Flood Control Project Should Stand On Its Own Merit

09.28.14

Park Ridge resident Dennis Sladky has spoken thoughtfully about flooding at several Park Ridge City Council meetings. But his letter to the editor (“Park District’s land grab is greedy,” Park Ridge Herald-Advocate, September 23) reflects a misunderstanding of recent actions by the Park Ridge Park District.

In fairness to Mr. Sladky, however, his misunderstanding seems to have been caused by the inept and heavy-handed way the Park District presented its proposal for letting the City use Northwest Park as part of its flood control program.

The premise of his letter is that the Park District is using its permission for the City to use Northwest Park as a flood water detention to extort the City out of an excessive amount of compensation, including the former public works facility at Greenwood and Oakton, a property reportedly appraised at $1.8 million. Mr. Sladky sees this as a sign the Park District is callously holding approximately 450 Northwest Park area flood-prone residents hostage.

First of all, Mr. Sladky seems to be making a mistake common to many/most residents: thinking that the City’s taxpayers are the same as the Park District’s taxpayers. Although the overlap is substantial, the City’s boundaries are not the same as the Park District’s, meaning that certain City taxpayers are not Park District taxpayers, and vice versa. That’s why the City and the Park District are two separate taxing bodies with two separate governing bodies.

Chalk that up to the absurdity that is Illinois government, with more governmental units – 6,968 – than any other state: over 2,000 more than Pennsylvania, the first runner-up in governmental inefficiency with 4,871. As if we needed 2,000 more ineptly and/or corruptly-managed governmental units.

Absurdity notwithstanding, the City Council and the Park Board are duty-bound to look out for their own provincial interests. Which is why, before the Park District can offer Northwest Park to the City for storm water detention, it owes its taxpayers a duty to lock the City into a binding legal obligation to minimize, and then repair, any damage to that park caused by the storm water.

That kind of guaranty is an appropriate quid pro quo for the Park District’s cooperation with the City’s flood control project for that area.

We suspect Mr. Sladky’s perception of over-reaching by the Park District came from the District’s September 10 letter to the City, in which Park District Exec. Director Gayle Mountcastle appears to link the District’s permission for the City’s use of Northwest Park to the City’s agreement to a variety of other District demands – including the City’s unmet TIF obligations to the District, a new City lease of the Salt Dome at Oakton, the District’s acquisition of the old City garage at Greenwood and Elm, and a variety of Northwest Park amenities like a “trail system for the park” and “tiered concrete retaining walls and stadium-style seating.”

We can find no evidence of the Park Board’s directing Mountcastle to draft up such a list of demands and figuratively nail them to the door of City Hall, Martin Luther-style. So we’ll chalk that up to Mountcastle’s one-dimensional, zero-sum view of the Park District-City relationship.

Any deal to use Northwest Park as a storm water detention area should stand on its own, and not be tied to other deals. The City and its taxpayers need to ensure the Park District and its taxpayers that any damage to Northwest Park from storm water detention will be prevented and/or remediated by the City.

But flood control should not be made dependent on other unrelated matters, such as whether the City can satisfy its Uptown TIF-related obligation to the Park District by selling the Greenwood and Elm former public works garage property for $1 – even if such an Uptown TIF deal may make sense in its own right.

Unfortunately, the Park Board apparently gave Executive Director Mountcastle a free hand to deal with these issues. And, not surprisingly, Mountcastle bungled them with her stupid and seemingly extortionate linkage of unrelated projects to the Northwest Park storm water detention deal.

Wake up, Park Board members…you should know better by now!

To read or post comments, click on title.

At School Dist. 64, Change Just Means More Of The Same

09.18.14

We’re always looking to see how our two local school districts are doing in comparison to the schools in other comparable upper-level communities. 

That’s because we believe that top-shelf schools at a reasonable price can be a difference-maker for folks considering moving to not-inexpensive suburbs like Park Ridge. And even at a high price, top-shelf schools can still add enough value to be a difference-maker. 

Which should mean better education for the kids and higher property values for the taxpayers. 

But as we’ve pointed out repeatedly, although Park Ridge public schools are better than most they no longer appear to rank among the very best – judging by the annual ISAT-based rankings that both Chicago newspapers (and sometimes Chicago magazine) put out – despite Park Ridge taxpayers continuing to pay top-shelf prices for those schools.

Over-payment for under-performance is never a good strategy.

So a recent Park Ridge Journal article with the title “District 64 Prepares For Strategic Planning” (09.11.14) caught our eye. It talked about how Park Ridge-Niles School Dist. 64, with one year still left on former Supt. Sally Pryor’s five year strategic plan, is looking to hire a consultant to assess where the District’s current situation. And new D-64 superintendent Laurie Heinz wants that assessment to be “a nice, objective look from highly trained professionals.”

Heinz’s consultant of choice? The Consortium for Educational Change (“CEC”).

Note the key words in the name: “educational change.” Not “educational excellence.” Not “educational achievement.” Not “educational improvement.” Not even “educational hope and change.”

Just “educational change.”

That’s because “change” is no longer merely inevitable: it’s now actually considered good. “New” – as in “different” – has replaced “new and improved,” presumably because novelty is all we need. The tiny-brained folks, encouraged by marketers, advertisers and politicians, now embrace anything new or different so long as it doesn’t require them to do the heavy lifting of determining whether that new or different is actually better.

And if better, whether the benefits meet or exceed the costs.

Then again, cost-benefit analyses are not the forte of most public school teachers and administrators. That holds true at D-64, including its School Board members who should be focused on the bottom line both educationally and financially. It comes as no shock, then, that the D-64 Board apparently has endorsed Heinz’s choice of CEC.

What is CEC?

According to the “About” page of its website, CEC claims to be:

“[A] nonprofit organization affiliated with the Illinois Education Association that works with teachers, school and district administrators, school boards and unions to improve student learning and achievement.”

In other words, it’s a teachers union-dominated private corporation with the audacity to claim that its goal is…wait for it…educational achievement.  Even if, by all outward appearances, “change” seems to be its greater concern.

And since it’s a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, there are no pesky shareholders looking over CEC management’s shoulders making sure the services it provides are competent and valuable enough to generate profits that can be paid to those shareholders as dividends. That leaves CEC free to be a one-trick pony: a shameless cheerleader for unaccountable educators and administrators who hire it – presumably using taxpayer funds – to tell them what they want to hear.

What the D-64 Board, teachers and administrators DON’T want to hear is anything about ISAT-based performance rankings. Which is why a more-than-cursory Google search failed to disclose any public acknowledgement of those kinds of rankings by the D-64 Board or administration since Sally Pryor pushed the adoption of her “Journey of Excellence” plan four years earlier, before retiring with her guaranteed $183,400/year pension, avec COLAs.

Which is curious, given that one of the “Parameters” on page 2 of the “Strategic Plan Components” from the D-64 website states: “Student performance on the Illinois Standards Achievement Tests (ISATs) will always compare favorably with other high-achieving districts.”

Although edu-speak often is a totally foreign language, in common English the term “compare favorably with” customarily means “is better than.”

Does D-64 really need to hire a consultant like CEC to tell it how close it hasn’t come to meeting that particular performance “parameter”?

To read or post comments, click on title.

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Are Private Residential Associations The Latest Freeloaders?

09.11.14

We’ve written several times about the Mayfield Estates homeowners who foolishly bought or built in a neighborhood without storm sewers and now are outraged that the City won’t flood-proof their neighborhood for them.

We’ve called them “freeloaders” for demanding that all City taxpayers bail them out, literally and figuratively, because that neighborhood’s homeowners didn’t want to spend the money to install sewers back when it was annexed to Park Ridge 50 years ago – or ever since. And from what we have read and heard, the folks running City government at the time of annexation were too stupid (or corrupt?) to require that the sewers be built as a condition to annexation.

So far City government wisely has told them “no,” unless they are willing to vote for a cost-sharing Special Service Area (“SSA”) or let all City voters weigh in via a referendum. And, so far, those Mayfield Estates folks are adamantly opposed to either option.

That’s their choice. Perhaps they’re hoping for a change in the Council next April and the election of more aldermen willing to act irresponsibly with other people’s money (a/k/a, “OPM”).

But now we’ve got a new group of residents knocking on the door and City Hall looking for OPM to subsidize the unpleasant consequences of another collection of deals the City did with developers of multi-family enclaves like Boardwalk (circa 1972), Bristol Court (circa 1967), Park Lane (circa 1972) and Park Ridge Pointe (1996), which we will collectively refer to as the “Associations.”

DISCLAIMER: The editor of this blog lives in Bristol Court.

Back when these planned-development enclaves were built the developers cut deals with the City to avoid having to comply with then-existing building code requirements. They kept all of the property in these developments “private,” and agreed to provide many customary City services through assessments of their homeowners. The deal the developers cut, however, didn’t involve property tax abatements to reflect the lack of certain City services.

Now the Associations want to change those deals, claiming they should get full City services for the full City taxes they pay.

Why?

Weren’t those the special deals the developers of these Associations cut with the City just so their enclaves could be built? Didn’t those deals allow the developers to benefit from below-City standard infrastructure, thereby lowering the prices of those residences? If so, the residents now beefing about the situation have nothing to complain about because those special deals might be the only reason they are living where they are living.

The 08.19.14 Memorandum from City Attorneys Buzz Hill and Kathie Henn sets out what seem to be pretty compelling legal arguments for why the Associations are barking up the wrong tree.

According to recent articles in both local newspapers, however, that didn’t stop Lee Tate, president of Park Ridge Pointe, from criticizing what he viewed as a “cavalier” attitude by City officials toward the Associations’ plight. He also claims he can’t understand why Association homeowners have to pay City taxes and Association assessments just because the developer got a special deal.

Gee, Mr. Tate, maybe you should ask Park Ridge Pointe’s developer, or whomever you purchased your unit from.  But if you didn’t know what you were buying into when you acquired your unit, then shame on you and/or your real estate attorney for being stupid or negligent. And shame on you and your fellow Association homeowners for now expecting the City to bail you out of the deal you should have known about because – as is pointed out in the City Attorney Memorandum – that deal is reflected in both a City ordinance (No. 95-52) and Park Ridge Pointe’s Declaration.

If these Associations or their individual residents believe they have legal rights to the City services they haven’t been getting, however, then they should dig in their own pockets and hire a good lawyer to make their case to the City.  They should even sue the City if they have a valid claim that the City won’t honor. But we haven’t heard or seen anything to date that would suggest these Associations or their members have any greater legal rights to the subsidy they’re looking for than do the Mayfield Estates folks for storm sewers that they or their predecessor homeowners should have paid for decades ago.

Which is why these Associations are whining and badgering the Council into giving them handouts they don’t deserve.

That’s the freeloader way.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Tonight’s D-64 Public Budget Hearing: Edu-Speak For The Clueless Masses

09.08.14

We’ve often criticized the lack of transparency and accountability from the two local taxing bodies who take more money out of Park Ridge property taxpayers’ pockets – approximately 66% combined – than all other taxing bodies cumulatively: Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 and Maine Township High School District 207.

Not surprisingly, both those governmental units have mastered the art of extracting larger and larger amounts of tax dollars from the citizenry while at the same time avoiding accountability for producing lower and lower levels of measurable performance and student achievement.

Nevertheless, both of those school districts have a cadre of committed apologists who respond to any criticism of their favored district in knee-jerk reactionary fashion. You can see prime examples of such reactions in the comments to our 08.29.14 post about D-207’s Board member appointment process – although it should be noted that 28 of those 45 comments existing as of the publishing of this post (8/29 at 10:11, 10:31, 10:47, 10:56 and 11:06 p.m.; 8/30 at 7:10, 7:35, 8:10, 9:22, 9:24, 9:43 a.m. and 5:30, 5:37, 5:43, 6:36, 7:07 and 7:23 p.m.; 8/31 at 8:46 a.m. and 1:58 p.m.; 9/1 at 11:31 a.m. and 12:05, 12:11, 2:34, 2:54 and 3:34 p.m.; and 9/2 at 3:53, 4:24 and 4:40 p.m.) were submitted by the same person.

A shy D-207 Board member, perhaps? Or a Board member’s spouse? Or just a D-207 toady?

Maybe that’s why we got some perverse satisfaction from the story in the current edition of the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate, “District 64 to hold Sept. 8 hearing on proposed budget,” (09.03.14), about tonight’s budget hearing scheduled for 7:15 p.m. at Jefferson School, 8200 Greendale Ave., in Niles.

Actually, it wasn’t the hearing itself that provoked a wry smile. It was wondering how the D-64 Board members could maintain straight faces while announcing the opportunity for members of the community to comment on the proposed 2014-15 budget while the District’s grossly overpaid (at close to $220,000 this school year) budget manager, Rebecca Allard, was declining to share the budget’s total revenues and expenses until the hearing itself because “[t]here are adjustments [to the budget] that the board has not seen.”

So much for any interested taxpayers or the local press showing up tonight with any advance knowledge of arguably the two most important components of that budget: revenues and expenses. And in addition to no final revenue and expense totals, Allard also said that the amount the District plans to spend on capital improvements won’t be disclosed before the hearing, either.

Just when we thought D-64 and its Board couldn’t be any less transparent or accountable, they give us a game of 20 questions masquerading as a “public budget hearing”…where even the Board members apparently won’t find out the answers until kick0ff!

That’s exactly what we’d expect out of Allard and the rest of the illusionists who run D-64 like a Vegas magic act, using sleight of hand to convince trusting and/or gullible parents and taxpayers alike that the tens of millions of dollars D-64 shakes them down for each year really do turn into marvelous educational achievement of equivalent or even greater value. Or into a white tiger, depending on whether you attend the matinee or the dinner show.

And, unfortunately, these D-64 Board members – whom we elected and entrusted with the duty to ensure that every tax dollar is spent in the most prudent manner so as to maximize its value to the students whom are its intended beneficiaries – are either bigger rubes than the rest of us in the audience, or they’re actually part of the  act and charged with getting us to look in the wrong direction so that we miss the bureaucrats’ false shuffles and their palming of the Ace of Spades.

Worse yet, the H-A article states that the D-64 Board approved a tentative budget back in July. So it appears that, for the past 30-plus days, Allard and her financial munchkins have been diddling each other when they should have been crunching numbers. Or they’ve actually been engaging in a deliberate effort to bamboozle the taxpayers by keeping enough loose ends and empty places in the budget so that neither the public nor the press can ask informed questions at tonight’s “public” hearing.

And if that means the D-64 Board is kept in the dark, so much the better – because neither the current Board nor any of its predecessor boards have let even pitch-blackness stop them from rubber-stamping whatever the bureaucrats du jour hand them. So even though the taxpayers – and the Board, apparently – have no idea what Allard’s “adjustments” will be tonight, that didn’t stop them from moving the process forward on what the H-A article blithely reports to be salary increases of 4.9%, along with an approximately 4% increase in benefits.

How many of you D-64 taxpayers are getting a 4.9% salary increase this year? How about a 4% benefit increase?

Actually, we’re not exactly sure where that 4.9% comes from, because Page 13 of the latest draft (No. 3) of the “Tentative Budget Review” dated September 8, 2014, states: “The [Educational Fund] salary budget is estimated to increase by $2,304,229 or 5.3% over the previous year’s actual expense.” And Page 15 states that “[s]alaries are anticipated to increase by $99,147 or 3.8%…[as] a result of 3.5% increases for all custodial and maintenance staff.”

As we’ve come to expect when dealing with public sector raises, none of these salary and benefit increases appear to be tied in any understandable way to measurably-improved employee performance, whether that comes in the form of more work performed, or the same amount of work performed in a better way, or some other objective measurement.

We also find it interesting that, according to Page 26 of the Tentative Budget Review, even though Board Policy 4:20 requires the District to maintain “four (4) months of operating expenditures” in reserve, the tentative budget projects year-end 2014-15 reserves of double that.

Can you say “slush fund”?

But our very favorite part of the budget documents is the Executive Summary section titled “Investments in Student Learning 2014-15,” which can be found on Pages 2-4.

It starts out talking about a “five-year plan” named “Journey of Excellence” whose “original planning horizon” has been reached, thereby requiring the creation of “a new multi-year Strategic Plan.” The irony of how the old Soviet Union always implemented five-year plans – which were never successful before being replaced by the next five-year plan that also never hit its marks - apparently was lost on budget-drafter Allard, despite her $220,000 annual compensation.

And judging by the District’s lackluster performance these past five years (and by what might be its adverse effects on Maine South’s rankings), the “Journey of Excellence” might not even qualify as “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”

The rest of that Executive Summary is loaded with edu-speak like: “Strategic Plan implementation activities will continue to be embedded within the District’s overall initiatives,” “job-embedded coaching,” “instructional shifts,” “[m]ath intervention for struggling learners,” “curricular pacing guides,” “supplemental learning experiences,” “dynamic and differentiated opportunities,” and what must be the term of the year for 2014-15: “release time.”

George Orwell would be proud of such edu-speak.

And “Winston Smith” would be confused and dismayed by it.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Tomorrow’s ONCC Meeting Worth Your Time And Attention (Updated)

09.04.14

No matter where in Park Ridge you may live, it seems like all of us are susceptible to airplane noise as some time or other.

Where once the noise tended to track the northeast to southwest paths of runways 22R and 22L, the construction and opening of east-west runway 9L/27R has shifted the noise bombardment to areas of town that never had it before – although the old runways are still used on days when wind conditions or runway maintenance dictate. And there’s another new east-west runway on the drawing board that also will impact Park Ridge.

The new runways are part and parcel of the O’Hare Modernization Program (“OMP”), the evil brainchild of former Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley (a/k/a, “Shortshanks,” a/k/a “Li’l Richie,” a/k/a the “Dumbest But Best Name Recognition”) and designed to help replace the revenue Li’l Richie gave away to the Spanish consortium that bought the Skyway, and to a Morgan Stanley-led partnership that bought Chicago’s parking meters.

When the OMP was still in the planning stage, Park Ridge was governed by mayor Ron Wietecha, an O’Hare-obsessed buffoon who deluded himself into believing that he could make Shortshank’s blink. Wietecha didn’t even try to get Park Ridge a seat at the O’Hare bargaining table, preferring instead to blow well over $1 million taxpayer bucks on battling O’Hare as part of a Suburban O’Hare Commission (“SOC”) even as it was losing members faster than the Black Knight lost limbs in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

Wietecha was followed by interim-mayor Mike Marous, who didn’t give a rat’s derriere about O’Hare because he was obsessed with Uptown Redevelopment. Park Ridge no longer was wasting money on SOC during his administration, but feel free to thank him and his rubber-stamp council for saddling Park Ridge taxpayers with the $23 million in red ink the Uptown TIF is projected to produce by 2027.

Marous’s successor, Howard Frimark, was so clueless he didn’t even know what the OMP was until it opened up the new runway in 2008 and irate taxpayers began bombarding him with complaints about “Mayor Daley’s Air Force” strafing the 5th and 6th wards.

That brings us to the present.

Mayor Dave Schmidt and the Park Ridge O’Hare Airport Commission have been trying to get Shortshanks’ lapdog, the O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission (“ONCC”) and its long-time chair-princess, Arlene Mulder, to support Park Ridge’s request for a supplemental Environmental Impact Study (“EIS”). We wrote about Mulder’s obsolescence in our 08.07.14 post, and we have every reason to expect that Mulder will continue to do whatever she can to frustrate Park Ridge’s bid for noise relief that might possibly result in more noise over her Arlington Heights home/political base.

A supplemental EIS could qualify Park Ridge residents for various forms of noise relief, including soundproofing. And it might also give us some leverage for turning “Fly Quiet” from a mere suggestion into an enforceable mandate.

While those aren’t perfect solutions by any stretch of the imagination, they would be a significant improvement over anything the Wietecha, Marous and Frimark administrations achieved.

Tomorrow morning (September 5) at 8:00 a.m., the ONCC will be holding an open meeting at De Paul’s O’Hare Campus, 8770 West Bryn Mawr (just south of the Kennedy and west of Cumberland). Park Ridge Mayor Dave Schmidt will be there to renew Park Ridge’s request for ONCC support for the supplemental EIS.

And this time he has an additional arrow in his quiver: a letter from Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D. Ill.) advocating Park Ridge’s position on the supplemental EIS, even if she does appear to bend over backwards to kiss Mulder’s and ONCC Executive Director Jeannette Camacho’s derrieres.

Rumor has it that residents of other OMP-impacted communities (e.g., Norridge, Harwood Heights, Chicago’s Edison Park neighborhood, Wood Dale, et al.) will be in attendance to support the supplemental EIS. You Park Ridge homeowners hit especially hard by the OMP’s new runway could do worse than showing up in support of the supplemental EIS and other forms of relief from the airplane noise that has bedeviled you the last few years.

Because that may be the only realistic chance at meaningful relief from new O’Hare runway noise we’ve got.

UPDATE (09.06.14)  We hear the crowd was so big at yesterday’s ONCC meeting at DePaul’s O’Hare Campus that more people may have been turned away than typically attend those meetings. And from the accounts we received of the meeting itself, we wish there were a video of it – because viewers could have laughed and cried about what passes for the quasi-government of the ONCC.

Chair-princess Mulder was her customary obstructionist self when it came to Mayor Schmidt’s call for an ONCC vote in support of the supplemental EIS (“SEIS”) instead of waiting for a “re-evaluation” that FAA rep/Chicago shill Barry Cooper claimed was a prerequisite to any SEIS – a re-evaluation that is not scheduled to be finished until Fall 2015. Not surprisingly, Cooper could provide no legal authority for his re-evaluation claim when challenged by Schmidt, presumably because there appears to be none.

As we understand it, the FAA can order an SEIS whenever it chooses, if only to allay the communities concerns about noise and health/safety.

Despite the efforts of Mulder, meeting chair Frank “Empty Suit” Damato (a former Chicago alderman and Crook County commissioner, go figure), and ONCC executive director Jeanette “Just Empty” Camacho (somebody important’s “niece”?), Schmidt was able to muster enough support to get the SEIS vote on the ONCC’s October meeting agenda.

Between now and then, expect all sorts of behind-the-scenes maneuvering by the ONCC’s executive committee – headed by Mulder, Damato and Camacho, the meetings of which are not even listed on the ONCC website – to kibosh a favorable SEIS vote. But even if it is held and prevails, it is not binding on the FAA.

That’s when we’ll get to see just how serious Rep. Schakowsky is about looking out for her noise-oppressed constituents.

To read or post comments, click on title.