Public Watchdog.org

No Bid? No Problem For Borrelli-Led D-64 Board

06.27.16

Back in early May we published a post about the Board and Administration of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 having entered into what appears to have been a series of NO-BID contracts worth multi-millions of dollars with vendor Arbor Management for hot lunches at Emerson and Lincoln middle schools.

And it appears as if those deals were cut in closed-session meetings that have become par for the course with the “meet the not-so-new boss (Tony Borrelli), same as the old boss (John Heyde)” Board.

So it should come as no surprise that tonight’s Board agenda has as an action item the Board’s vote on approving a new, more expansive NO BID deal with Arbor Management to provide hot lunches to the District’s five elementary schools.

In that May 3 post we noted how the District’s previous under-the-radar, no-bid deals with Arbor suggested the kind of kinkiness that characterized the no-bid deals that got former CPS supt. Barbara Byrd-Bennett indicted. Preventing that kind of kinkiness, albeit on a smaller scaled than Byrd-Bennett’s $23 million kickback scam, is exactly why no-bid contracts are required by public bodies in all but a few limited situations – food vendor contracts not being one of them to our knowledge.

So we found it curious, to say the least, that the “recommendation” memo ostensibly authored by Supt. Laurie Heinz and Financial Czarina Luann Kolstad – “ostensibly” because propaganda minister Bernadette Tramm’s fingerprints are usually all over this kind of disinformation – makes special mention (at page 2, item 3) of “advocacy for the status quo” (i.e., no District-wide hot lunch program) by one school’s “PTO leadership team” where the owner of a PTO lunch vendor is a family of a current student in that school.

That sound you hear is the pot calling the kettle black.

Ironically, the very next item on that page (No. 4) seems to be Heinz’s and Kolstad’s alibi for not going out to bid on these expanded lunch services: Arbor “are [sic] already the food service vendor of record for District 64” and, therefore, “they [sic] would not require a formal bid process.”

We don’t know when or how Arbor became “the food service vendor of record,” or if that is even a lawful designation.

And, frankly, it sounds like the same kind of dishonest hooey Heinz, Kolstad and Borrelli spouted about the Illinois Open Meetings Act back when they were advocating for the creation of two new D-64 Board committees – a “Finance Committee” and a “Building & Sites Committee,” which we wrote about in our 02.17.16 post – on which resident Joan Sandrik blew the whistle, ultimately resulting in that misguided plan being quietly dropped even though Borrelli and his dwarfs were all set to buy into it hook, line and sinker.

So just consider tonight’s vote on the NO BID hot lunch vendor deal as SSDD: Same [Stuff] Different Day. And just like the IOMA-violating committee plan, this NO BID hot lunch deal also comes without any legal opinion that endorses what appears to be an illegal deal that breaches the public trust. Again.

So we can’t wait to see which of Borrelli’s dwarfs join him in this latest abuse of power, and what kind of alibis they will come up with to justify their rubber-stamping of this perversion. Odds-on favorites in that category are Zimmerman, Lee and Johnson, whose heads start bobbling the moment they walk into a Board meeting room and rarely ever stop.

The only real question is whether, in following Borrelli, they sing “Hi ho” or simply “moo.”

To read or post comments, click on title.

Finally…Something Better Than The Blues From Moody’s

06.24.16

Last week Acting Mayor Marty Maloney got some good news that he shared with Park Ridge taxpayers by a press release: Moody’s Investors Service issued a new “Credit Opinion” which removed the “negative outlook” from the City’s Aa2 general obligation bond rating.

For a City that had seen its bond rating downgraded from Aa1 to Aa2 back in January 2011 and stigmatized with a “negative outlook” – thanks to more than a decade of irresponsible borrowing and spending, and general mismanagement, under that trio of bumbling mayors Ron Wietecha (now of Barrington), Mike Marous (still of Park Ridge) and Howard Frimark (now of Harwood Hts.) – just stopping the slide was a major accomplishment that took a significant revision to the City’s financial philosophy to include “prudent austerity” and “reasonable – but not painless – tax and fee increases,” according to the press release.

As noted in the release, that new financial philosophy started with our late mayor Dave Schmidt, who in 2009 became the only adult in a room full of children effectively demanding Snickers bars and Skittles for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That earned him the nickname of “Mayor No,” of which he was justifiably proud because it distinguished him from the majority of his fellow City officials (and their predecessors) who were either too stupid or too selfish to understand and care about all the long-term damage such financial irresponsibility and debt was doing to the City, both present and future.

If you want a little more history on those points, you can check out our posts of 01.12.12, 01.30.12 and 07.25.13.

Schmidt’s vetoes weren’t always upheld, especially when a majority of the City Council consisted of holdovers from the Frimark regime. But the ones that were not over-ridden saved City taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars short-term, and will end up saving the City millions more if the policies and practices underlying them continue to be carried forward by present and future councils.

With the prospect of the City’s needing to issue tens of millions of dollars of new bonded debt to repair, replace and/or improve its infrastructure, stopping the City’s bond rating slide is a crucial first step to reducing the cost of that debt to the City’s taxpayers. And as Maloney was quoted in the press release:

“Our next goal is to raise the rating itself.”

That will require the continued support of the taxpayers “who have contributed the extra tax and fee revenues while accepting the various economies necessarily imposed on City services.” And maintaining that support will challenge both the brains and the spines of our elected officials, as it will challenge the vigilance of those taxpayers who don’t get back-end benefits from front-end tax and fee increases; e.g., City employees and their families.

As we’ve recently seen with our Fire Dept., City employees – like many/most employees in both the public and the private sector – will continue to expect more money for the same amount and quality of their work. Unfortunately, the market economics that manages such expectations in the private sector have pretty much become foreign to the public sector, especially in Illinois and even here in sleepy ol’ Park Ridge.

For example, senior bureaucrats find it much easier to support rather than resist their subordinates’ demands for raises because “salary compression” resulting from such raises provides a convenient argument for similar or even greater increases in compensation for those very same senior bureaucrats.

And even where those City (or school district, or park district, or Library) employees are also taxpayers of the unit of government that employs them, a $100 property tax increase is an outstanding bargain when it comes with a $500 or $1,000 raise.

The same analysis applies to those various private-corporation community groups who denounced Schmidt and the city councils that shut the spigot of tax dollars that had been flowing unaccountably to those groups year after year. Even the unpaid directors of those groups delighted in a $100-per-home (avg.) property tax increase that put $20,000 or more into their organizations’ coffers, thereby reducing their own funding and fundraising obligations.

And it also applies to certain “private” special interests as well.

Like those Mayfield Estates residents who bought their homes at discounted prices because of the flooding in that area – resulting primarily from their cheapskate predecessors’ rejection of the City’s request that they pay for the installation of storm sewers when that area was annexed, and from their or their predecessors’ expansion of their usable front yards by filling in the drainage ditches that substituted for storm sewers.

They’re the ones who show up at City Hall seeking a multi-million dollar bond issue and accompanying property tax increase to finance flood remediation in their neighborhood. That’s because they know full well that their $100/year-per-home tax increase will buy each of them $100,000+ of flood remediation, with a likely $100,000+ increase to the value of their residences if/when they want to sell them.

All of it is a variation of what we call “freeloading” practiced by “freeloaders”– our shorthand term for those residents who are always looking to leverage maximum benefits for themselves, their families and/or their friends by shifting the costs of those benefits onto the backs of their fellow taxpayers.

If that freeloader mentality continues to gain traction, we can all say ”goodbye” to Maloney’s goal of raising that Aa2 bond rating and say “hello” to the likely return of the negative outlook.

A/k/a, Moody’s blues.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Smart Money Betting On PREA Over D-64

06.21.16

In our 12.31.15 post we warned about the new teachers contract that would be devised by Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 and the Park Ridge Education Association (“PREA”), a mis-match on the order of Muhammed Ali v. Zora Folley.

And in case you don’t grasp the metaphor, the PREA is Ali.

One of the big differences between Ali–Folley and PREA–D-64 is that, while the former bout was held before a jam-packed Madison Square Garden, the latter is being staged in the secrecy of closed-session meetings – the legacy of the 2012 contract offered by then-D-64 Board president John Heyde and sidekick Pat Fioretto as just another favor to a PREA that most definitely doesn’t ever want D-64 taxpayers hearing either the teachers’ demands or their responses to any D-64 counters, however insipid the latter might be.

So while this year’s “negotiations” – if you can legitimately use that term for ankle-grabbing on command – have been going on for weeks (months?), taxpayers have been kept in such darkness by the D-64 (a/k/a, the D-64 taxpayers’) “negotiating” team that we don’t even know what round it is. And we most likely won’t know a thing until (mixing metaphors) the white smoke emerges from the D-64 chimney and the respective sides’ sycophants and/or spinmeisters begin chanting “Habemus contracta!”

If past is prologue, the taxpayers won’t even see that contract until after it is ratified by PREA membership and approved by the D-64 Board. Four years ago, the new contract didn’t appear on the D-64 website until months after it was appproved, after it was posted on the PREA website.

One easy way to tell if the “fix” was in (returning to the boxing metaphor), however, is to see whether the D-64 team of Supt. Laurie Heinz, Board pres. Tony Borrelli and Board v.p. Scott Zimmerman chose to bake yet another secret negotiations provision into the new contract in order to ensure yet another Star Chamber negotiation for the next contract.

We’re betting “Yes!” Actually, we’re betting “Hell yes!”

Once you find that secrecy provision in the new contract you can also bet there is a new set of those “step” (seniority-based) and “lane” (continuing education-based) increases unrelated to any actual merit. That’s because seniority and continuing education, however irrelevant and ineffective in producing improved student performance and achievement, are what’s important to the PREA and to the D-64 Board. Which means the D-64 team happily threw in the towel on that part of the contract, too.

Keeping teacher (and administrator) compensation disconnected to merit and achievement appears to be one of the main reasons why D-64 maintains total radio silence about those inconvenient truths: (a) its students’ test scores don’t measure up to comparable districts; (b) its schools’ rankings are inferior to the schools of those other districts; and (c) its educational mediocrity may be adversely impacting Maine South’s performance. Ignoring those truths reduces the chances of D-64’s having to explain them to the folks paying for the underachievement.

Meanwhile, the only report we’ve heard about the “negotiations” appeared in an article about the D-64 budget in last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Budget discussion continues in District 64,” June 14), in which Board president Borrelli stated that the parties are “currently working on salaries in negotiation.”

Translation: They are currently working on how much more the teachers will be paid for no greater effort or objectively-measurable results.

Interestingly enough, the focus of that H-A article was how the District is stripping $10 million out of its working cash fund so that it can pay cash for upcoming capital projects instead of going to referendum – and thereby giving the taxpayers a voice in whether and/or which such capital projects should be done.  Avoiding actual taxpayer votes on taxing and spending is a D-64 tradition since at least 1997, when D-64 was forced into the “Yes/Yes” referendum to build the new Emerson Middle School and increase the operating levy – only to discover a few years later that it apparently had failed to adequately budget for Emerson’s debt service and operations.

The result: by 2003 the District was annually popping up on the Illinois State Board of Education’s financial “early warning” or “financial watch” lists – a highly-problematic situation that the District downplayed while sneakily issuing $5 million of back-door “working cash bonds” to replenish its diminished fund balances in 2005 until it could crank up its propaganda machine to promote the multi-million dollar “Citizens For Strong Schools” referendum in 2007.

Based on D-64’s “2015-2016 Tentative Fund Balance June 30, 2016” that stripped out $10 million of working cash will reduce the District’s projected working cash balance by 66%, and leave the overall fund balance at $40,537,045 – giving the District a cushion of approximately 57% of its annual operating expenses, still well above its professed objective of “33% (4 months (120 days) of operating expense).”

So if the District’s professed objective is 33% of operating expenses, what’s the reason for it hanging onto an overall fund balance which, even after taking that $10 million working cash fund hit, will still be 73% above that objective?

Can you say “Slush fund”? We knew you could.

Now, can you say “Produced by year after year of maximum tax levies”? Well done!

Sitting on such a huge pile of extra cash (which the taxpayers otherwise would have in their own pockets, bank accounts or investment accounts) makes it so much easier for the D-64 Board and administrators to spend big chunks of it without having to get taxpayer approval via referendum. And those big chunks can be spent without the taxpayers really even noticing that it’s being spent, and what they’re getting in return for that spending.

As the old saying goes: “A slice off a cut loaf is rarely missed.” Or, in D-64’s case, a lot of slices. And that’s just another way that D-64 remains non-transparent and un-accountable to those taxpayers.

Now, bring on the next Star Chamber discussion of another Heinz contract extension and raise!

To read or post comments, click on title.

Fire Chief’s Salary Beef Too Little, Too Late

06.16.16

Any reader of this blog knows that we were no fans of former Fire Chief Mike Zywanski – ever since the night he sat silently in a City Council meeting while then-mayor Dave Schmidt asked who from the City signed off on a set of ridiculous “ground rules” for contract negotiations between the City and the firefighters union that Zywanski not only signed off on but which he actually proposed.

So we were delighted when Chief Z retired and Jeff Sorensen took over as chief in 2014. And we’re still glad he’s the chief.

But we must confess to more than a little disappointment in reading his June 13, 2016 Agenda Cover Memorandum in which he claims to be “looking to the Council for some direction” in addressing what he claims to be “salary compression” – whereby “over half our lieutenants make almost as much as our battalion chiefs” while the former get better benefits and overtime.

Our initial disappointment arises from having a matter of this financial significance being brought up only a couple of months after the City budget was finalized. The budget process is when this discussion should have occurred, yet we recall no mention of “salary compression” in any of the Fire Dept. budget materials or during any of the discussions of the Fire Dept. budget.

So if there’s a good reason this wasn’t done as part of that process, than Chief Sorensen owes the Council and the taxpayers an explanation of what that reason might be. Because there’s nothing in his memo to suggest that this situation just sprung up overnight out of thin air.

We’re also disappointed in the gruel-thin analysis that the Chief presents in support of his conclusion that he and “all of our non-union personnel are paid far below the average for their rank and position as compared to our neighboring departments.”

Take the four MABAS salary surveys he attaches – for chief, deputy chief, captain and battalion chief – attached to his memorandum. While they show disparities in salaries, they omit key information that might provide insight into the raw salary data, such as: size of force; department budget; years on the job; years in that position; starting salary; number and amount of raises; and vacation/leave days.

In other words, these surveys appear to be apples to oranges comparisons, at best. Or maybe apples to watermelons.

We believe Chief Sorensen is better than this kind of propaganda would suggest. We also believe that he should, and can, do better than that.

But until he does, it’s up to the taxpayers’ representatives on the City Council to deny such requests while demanding a better and more-timely work product from the Chief and his senior staff.

And that “better” work product should start with some additional information that relates solely to our Fire Dept. personnel, irrespective of other communities’, that would permit our taxpayers to decide if our personnel are under-compensated, starting with a calculation of the annual pensions each of the affected personnel will be receiving; and at what age they will qualify for those pensions. Because the simple truth is that while a $130,000 salary is pretty darn good all by itself, a $97,500/year pension (75% of $130,000) with a 3% COLA is basically the gold standard – especially if one can start taking it at age 55 and can expect to pocket a whopping $3.2 million just for living to age 85.

That beats the $%@& out of Social Security and the vast majority of Park Ridge taxpayers’ 401(k)s! And those pensions and COLAs are GUARANTEED under the Illinois constitution, unlike the 401(k)s the rest of us have.

Let’s also not forget that dirty little secret rarely even whispered about when discussing firefighter pay: moonlighting income.

Thanks to the typical firefighter schedule of 24 hours on, 48 hours off, many/most firefighters moonlight at other jobs, often well-paying ones like construction. That’s all well and good, but it’s something most of our salaried taxpayers making even the $64,000 starting salary of a Park Ridge firefighter can’t pull off without the convenience of a 3-workdays-out-of-every-9-calendar-days schedule.

And while a 24-hour shift could conceivably be a significant challenge, we’d be willing to bet some decent cash that here in sleepy old Park Ridge, most of our firefighters average 6 to 8 hours of shut-eye out of the typical 24-hour shift. That’s not intended as a a criticism, just an observation.

The bottom line is that firefighters, like police, perform an essential and potentially life-risking service to our community. We owe them a debt of gratitude and fair compensation.

But that means looking at the entire compensation package, not just salaries – however further “compressed” they may have become thanks to the Chief and/or his deputies having just negotiated a 4-year contract providing 1.875% average annual raises, in addition to “step” increases based on seniority.

Which means looking long and hard at those gold standard pensions, and considering the golden opportunity for the moonlighting income that a 24-on, 48-off schedule makes possible.

In the end, however, the best test for determining how “fair” the compensation is might be to look and see how many of our firefighters – and police, and public works personnel, and teachers – flee their Park Ridge employment for similar jobs in those nearby communities held out as comparables.

Because over the past 28 years we have yet to hear the whoosh of multiple departures.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Mayor’s Advisory Board Chooses To Stay The Course At The Park Ridge Library (Updated)

06.10.16

Once upon a time Park Ridge was a sleepy little inner-ring bedroom community of single-family homes and “conservative” values – so conservative, in fact, that one of its standout high-school students (who would later become a rich, famous and powerful Democrat running for president) was reportedly a “Goldwater Girl.”

Back then local government was also sleepy, run by something called the Homeowners Party that was more a social club than a political organization. The HOs not only openly ran City Hall but they also indirectly ran the park board and both school boards, the latter two through their unofficial affiliate known as the General Caucus of School Districts 64 & 207.

Park Ridge City government remained sleepy until April 2003, when the HOs lost five out of seven aldermanic races and subsequently went out of business.

Since then, local politics has become much more a contact sport than cocktail party. But the result is that local government has become vastly more transparent and accountable to the taxpayers who fund it. Not as transparent and accountable as it should be, mind you. Just more than it has ever been – even at those bastions of opaque, closed-session Star Chamber government: the D-64 and D-207 school boards.

One shining/glaring example of that “New Way” of government is that the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate published not one but TWO online stories this week about the three recommended appointees to the Library Board that were approved just the night before by the Mayoral Advisory Board (the “MAB”) comprised of the chairs of the City Council’s four standing committees: “Alderman, former trustee clash over Park Ridge Library Board attendance,” (June 7) and “Two incumbents, one newcomer recommended for Park Ridge Library Board” (June 7).

Prior to the 2009 election of the late mayor Dave Schmidt, there was no MAB. Library Board appointments, like virtually all other City board and commission appointments, were the prerogative of the mayor; and his choices were regularly rubber-stamped by docile and complicit councils, with little discussion. As a result, ordinary citizens never read or even heard about the mere “applicants” for Library Board appointments. If they heard anything at all it was usually just the names of the appointees once they were confirmed by the council. And that was only if the citizens were really paying attention, and if the local media even reported it.

Contrast that with the process implemented by Schmidt that, over the past several weeks, saw 11 residents have their applications and resumes posted on the City’s website for all to see and comment on – followed by three nights of open-meeting interviews by the MAB, culminating in the open-meeting discussion and selection of the three recommended nominees before last Monday night’s Council meeting.

Transparent process? Check.

Accountability of the four MAB aldermen? Check.

In fact, the process was so transparent that several residents, led by Walter Szulczewski, showed up to monitor those meetings. And a pre-emptive strike against the reappointment of incumbents Joe Egan and Char Foss-Eggemann was launched by a June 3rd letter to all seven aldermen from three former Library Board members (John Benka, Patricia Lofthouse and Richard Van Meter) and the Library’s former business manager (Kathy Rolsing).

Those cabal members trained their fire on the meeting attendance of Egan and Foss-Eggemann because they apparently didn’t have the nerve or the ammo to challenge those two incumbents on their respective records of performance and policy decisions – records which the cabal strongly disapproved even though the City Council and, presumably, most taxpayers, did not.

Despite the confusing attendance figures presented by the cabal, Egan’s lawful attendance at regular meetings was 30 out of 37, or 81%; and 53 out of 63, or 84% for committee meetings. Foss-Eggemann’s numbers were 31 out of 37, or 84% for regular meetings; and 37 out of 56, or 66% for committee meetings.

Further corrections to, and explanations of, those numbers were submitted to the MAB by both Egan and Foss-Eggemann.

I served on the Library Board with all three of those former trustees: with Van Meter for 1 year (2011-12), with Lofthouse for 2 years (2011-2013), and with Benka for three years (2011-2014). All three of them are smart and affable folks who were perfectly suited for the old-Homeowners style of opaque, un-accountable rubber-stamp government. In fact, Benka ran unopposed as an old-HO candidate for Second Ward alderman and held that office from 2001-2005 before being appointed to the Library Board by then-mayor Howard Frimark.

When it comes to the Library, the collective legacies of Van Meter, Lofthouse and Benka can pretty much be summed up as 27 years of unquestioning go-along-to-get-along deference paid to the Library staff – highlighted by neglect of the Library structure; years of irresponsible deficit spending; open hostility to, and ridicule of, the city council; the endorsement of management without measurement; and “vision” based on 20-70 hindsight instead of 20-20 foresight.

In Benka’s case it also included a vote to close the Library on summer Sundays in 2014 – consistently the busiest or second-busiest day of the week based on average visits per hour – so that the Library could use that money to give raises to some employees. Those closings and raises were tacitly endorsed by the other three cabal members, none of whom voiced even a peep of an objection either in person or in writing.

Not surprisingly, Egan and Foss-Eggemann opposed each and every element of the cabal members’ legacies. And they also opposed giving away thousands of dollars of Library money each year on the foolish Food For Fines program, giving away free office space to for-profit tutors, and giving away free computer and Internet time to non-residents. And unlike the cabal members who preferred to deficit spend and then blame the city council for not giving the Library more money, Egan and Foss-Eggemann supported the 2014 Library tax levy referendum that will provide the Library with an extra $4 million by the time that levy increase expires in 2018.

Fortunately, the members of the MAB aren’t old Homeowners and don’t subscribe to those old-HO principles. That’s why Egan and Foss-Eggemann have been recommended to Acting Mayor Maloney for re-appointment. Should they be reappointed they can be expected to continue to help drive the Library into the 21st Century and make it a  better institution for even more Park Ridge residents, especially the many thousands who have not been using it.

Meanwhile, expect Van Meter to keep showing up at Library Board and City Council meetings to demand my resignation or replacement, respectively. Or to rail about Egan’s attending some Library Board meetings by “calling in from third-world countries” like…Phoenix AZ. Or to kvetch about Foss-Eggemann. Or to warn the other Library trustees about agreeing with the three of us on anything.

As a sporting proposition, he’s welcome to bring the rest of his cabal along with him.

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and publisher

Member, Park Ridge Library Board

[DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the editor and are not intended to represent those of the Park Ridge Library, its staff, its Board of Trustees, or any other individual trustee.]

UPDATE (06.12.16): A former alderman has advised that a “Mayoral Appointment Board” was created by former mayor Mike Marous (2003-2005). Although we have not been able to independently verify that fact, we consider this alderman as a credible source of such information; and, accordingly, we deem it worthy of inclusion in this update.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Memorial Day 2016

05.30.16

On this solemn day we reprint our post from Memorial Day 2013.

Memorial Day 2013: “Go Tell The Spartans…”

At the battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C., a Spartan king and 300 of his personal bodyguards sacrificed their lives to delay the advance of a massive Persian army and to cover the retreat of more than 3,000 of their non-Spartan allies.  As reported by the historian Herodotus, that heroic effort led to an epitaph at the battle site which translates as:

“Stranger, go tell the Spartans that here we are buried, obedient to their orders.”

That heroism, sense of duty and sacrifice first recorded so long ago helped save Greece, the threshold of democracy, from conquest.  And it is typical of so many soldiers who have given their lives for their countries, many of them young Americans like the soldier whose story was first told in a letter to the editor of the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate for Memorial Day 2000 by Park Ridge resident Joseph C. “Jay” Hirst – himself a Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Silver Star recipient as a Ranger in Vietnam.  That story is reprinted here with Jay’s permission:

*           *           *

It seems that about every other year, I am compelled to submit a letter regarding Memorial Day and what it means to this Vietnam veteran.

A couple of years ago, I wrote about a young man named Ken Wedman, who served his country all too well so long ago. With your indulgence, let me tell you of another, John Wasilow, who also deserves our thanks and remembrance every Memorial Day.

John was from South Carolina. Couldn’t understand most of what he had to say, and John had problems finding a niche in the squad.

Tried him out as a radio operator, his accent doomed that effort. Tried him as a rifleman, but he couldn’t shoot straight. Figured what he couldn’t hit with a rifle, he could with a grenade launcher. Made John a grenadier.

John humped that launcher, his ruck and about 50 grenades all over II Corps without ever a complaint. “Ironman” became his nickname.

On a late November night, at the beginning of the monsoons, in Binh Dinh province, Ironman saved my life.

Moving along a narrow bank near the Bong Son River (just below silhouette framing), the NVA opened up on my squad. While we caught a lucky break that the slope of the bank provided cover from the small-arms fire, it was going to be only a matter of minutes before the grenades or, worse yet, mortars came in.

My RTO was calling for air support when suddenly, from my right, grenades are flying out at an incredible rate.

Ironman!

With the resulting slacking of NVA fire, we moved rapidly to the wood line 200 feet away. I looked back to see Wasilow running to, and setting up, a new position toward our rear. Didn’t think much more about it at the time.

We held at the woods, with two missing men, and called in air support. A gunship that responded put the NVA forces at more than 60, and a Mike Strike Force Company from across the river caught them. The KIA count was 16 NVA.

But, John was dead.

His initial rate of fire from a weapon less than desirable in a close-range firefight had lifted the NVA fire enough to allow the squad an escape from certain disaster with the additional loss of only one wounded “booner” (infantryman). Wasilow had been hit at least four times, yet his bandoleer was empty.  He died after firing his last grenade.

John could have laid wounded and may have survived.  He didn’t have to get up wounded and put himself at peril again as the squad sought safety, but he did.

Ironman was aptly named.

We did all the paperwork to nominate Wasilow for the DSC. To this date, I don’t know if it happened.

Like I said, John didn’t have to do what he did. But he did, and I am alive today because of it.

Memorial Day is his day, Kenny’s day, and the day of all the veterans like these two. I remember them almost every day. Because of them, I have a son, the love of a wife, and a life. You can begin, I hope, to see and understand my gratitude.

The least we Americans can do is give them their day, their deserved honor, and our heartfelt thanks. God knows I do.

*           *           *

To truly “celebrate” Memorial Day, one stop every American should make before firing up the grill or cracking open the cooler is at a cemetery.  Any cemetery will do – just look for the little American flags, planted each Memorial Day by various veterans’ organizations out of their own sense of honor and duty, which mark the graves of veterans.

Take a moment to note the service of each of those veterans whose graves you come across.

Take a little more time and, with a little luck and a quick calculation, you’ll probably find at least one grave of an American soldier actually killed in action.  When you do, remember Abraham Lincoln’s stirring invocation – at Gettysburg in 1863 – of  “these honored dead” who “gave the last full measure of devotion” so that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

And then offer a heartfelt “thanks” for their ultimate sacrifice.

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and publisher

To read or post a comment, click on title.

City Attorney Is Blowing Smoke On Public Evaluation Of City Mgr.

05.27.16

Those Park Ridge residents who oppose the principles of H.I.T.A. (“Honesty, Integrity, Transparency, Accountability”) espoused by our late Mayor Dave Schmidt got an early Christmas present a couple of weeks ago when relatively new City Attorney Julie Tappendorf proclaimed the City’s unique contribution to open government – the open-session performance evaluation of the city manager – violated the Illinois Personnel Records Review Act (the “PRRA”).

You can watch and listen to her sparse explanation of why that is by checking out the 05.16.16 meeting video, starting at the 1:36:10 mark and continuing for about 9 minutes.

Tappendorf pointed to a 2010 amendment to the PRRA which provides that “disclosure of performance evaluations under the Freedom of Information Act shall be prohibited.” You can read not only that provision (highlighted in yellow) but the entire PRRA by clicking here.

Tappendorf is no bumbler: she knows municipal law, including its various permutations like the PRRA and the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”). But she makes her living exclusively by representing governmental bodies and by telling the public officials who run those bodies – both elected/appointed and bureaucrats –what they want to hear. Those officials generally are as enthusiastic about transparency as vampires are about sunshine. So the best way for her (and most/all other government-centric attorneys) to stay on good paper with those officials is to find ways to help them hide, and hide what they’re doing, from their constituents who pay the freight; i.e., the taxpayers.

When Park Ridge, with its iconoclastic City Council, was added to AG’s stable of governmental clients last year, it must have dawned on Tappendorf and her partners that they might have problems justifying our Council’s several year old process of reviewing the city manager’s performance in open session – with the individual aldermanic evaluations published on the City’s website so that each of those aldermen could be held as accountable for how HE evaluated the city manager as the city manager was being held for HIS performance – to their other government clients whom they’ve encouraged for years to run into closed sessions and hide such reviews from their constituents.

That meant Tappendorf couldn’t continue to let the City Council operate in the sunshine. The solution: steal our sunshine.

And not just by scaring our acting mayor and his six fellow aldermen into not publishing their evaluations on the City’s website with warnings about lawsuits, fines and the heartbreak of psoriasis. She also tried to stampede them into conducting the actual evaluation discussion itself in closed sessions, going so far as to suggest that the consequences of what the City Council has already done might be so dire that they shouldn’t even be talked about in open session where the unwashed public might actually hear the reasoning behind her opinions.

That reasoning could prove mighty interesting given that Tappendorf appears to be extending Section 11 of the PRRA – which was enacted back in 2010 and is expressly limited to FOIA requests – to City Council meetings held under the provisions of IOMA which permit but do not require ANY closed session discussions.

And although Section 11 has been in effect for more than five years now, we could not find one Illinois court decision interpreting or enforcing that Section consistent with Tappendorf’s opinion and advice; nor could we find any Illinois Attorney General opinion supporting Tappendorf. In the world of law and litigation, attorney opinions and arguments without the support of such authority are regularly disregarded by the courts, and should be.

That might explain Tappendorf’s desire to hide her reasoning in closed session, where the only alderman who might have the legal chops to challenge her opinions and advice is Ald. Nick Milissis, an attorney. But with Milissis’ expertise concentrated primarily in national security and terrorism matters, he likely would not be able to go toe-to-toe with Tappendorf on a matter such as this.

So far the only support we’ve heard for Tappendorf’s advocacy of a return to Star Chamber government, at least when it comes to evaluating the City’s CEO and highest-paid official, comes from known disciples of the pre-Mayor Dave “old style” of Park Ridge government, where the elected officials who weren’t content to simply bury their heads in the sand did their best to thwart transparency, scrutiny and accountability not only for themselves but also for their bureaucrat buddies drawing good salaries and accruing even better pensions on the taxpayers’ dime.

You can tell those supporters by their description of the open-session evaluation of the city manager as horrific, embarrassing, cruel, unthinkable, and a form of public humiliation.

Of course, that’s the same mindset that considers a lack of transparency and accountability by public employees, and annual raises unrelated to performance, as an acceptable form of entitlement. And that’s the same mindset that has prevailed, and continues to prevail, at the Star Chambers that pass for school boards at School Districts 64 and 207.

Tappendorf’s predecessor, former city attorney Everette “Buzz” Hill, described our City Council as “a unique outfit” with “an antipathy toward closed sessions” which Hill conceded might very well be “a real healthy antipathy” despite its being unlike anything he had observed in any of the various governmental bodies for whom he provided legal services. You can read more about Hill’s comments in our 02.02.15 post. While we disagreed with Hill on more than one occasion, that kind of acknowledgment by a long time public-sector attorney was itself unprecedented.

And accurate.

If this Council truly believes in H.I.T.A., and if its antipathy to closed sessions and unnecessary secrecy is as sincere as it is “unique” and “healthy,” it should demand that Tappendorf provide a memo (publishable on the City’s website) in which she sets out her complete argument – with supporting Illinois case decisions, if any exist – demonstrating that Section 11 of the PRRA: (a) legally prohibits the City’s voluntary publication of the city manager’s evaluations by each alderman, unrelated to any FOIA obligation or request; and (b) legally prohibits the Council’s open-session evaluation of the city manager even though such a discussion is permissible under IOMA.

And to avoid having to revisit this issue every year, or biannually with the seating of each new council, this City Council should require the next city manager appointee to sign an employment contract in which he/she expressly agrees to an open-session evaluation at the Council’s discretion. Any city manager candidate who subscribes to H.I.T.A. should have no problem doing so; and any candidate who doesn’t subscribe to H.I.T.A. doesn’t deserve the job.

To borrow a phrase from George Orwell: “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

And telling it publicly rather than inside the closed-session Star Chamber is a “unique” and “healthy” revolutionary act.

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Hamilton’s Tenure A Teaching Experience…For Those Who Want To Learn

05.24.16

The sudden resignation of City Manager Shawn Hamilton last week brings to a close a worthwhile experiment that produced mixed results.

The experiment? Hiring a city manager with limited public-sector experience.

Back in July 2012, a majority of the then-city council approved mayor Dave Schmidt’s appointment of Hamilton after the previous city manager – Jim Hock, a career bureaucrat – was sacked for unsatisfactory performance. Hock was a replacement for yet another career bureaucrat, Tim Schuenke, who should have been sacked for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which was helping former mayors Wietecha, Marous and Frimark mastermind the Uptown TIF debacle.

Schuenke, however, was allowed to retire in 2008 with a healthy Illinois guaranteed pension. And he promptly moved back to Wisconsin where he could keep his Illinois pension benefits flowing while pulling down another six-figure salary as the City Administrator of Delafield, WI, until his second retirement (and second government pension?) in 2012.

The buffoonery and outright malfeasance of Hamilton’s predecessors is exactly why we welcomed him, noting in our 08.01.12 post that he was “a high risk, high reward selection” because he had less than a year of public sector experience – as Grundy County Administrator with only a $14 million budget – after working in banking and management consulting.

In fairness, Hamilton did some good things for the City.

He brought some needed youth and energy into the office after his two older predecessors pretty much sucked the life out of it. And he was willing to work for a smaller salary than they did, which was still a bump-up from his Grundy County paycheck as he continued to live in, and commute from, a lower-cost Coal City.

Hamilton also had some success in addressing the myriad problems he inherited from his predecessors, not the least of which was refinancing parts of the Uptown TIF. And after Mayor Dave and the Council set him off in the right direction, he helped move the City into a better overall financial position (so that, e.g., the City no longer had to borrow from the sewer fund to make payroll) while keeping tax increases – which had been held at artificially low levels by the aforementioned Wietecha, Marous and Frimark, even as infrastructure was being neglected – tolerable.

Unfortunately, his performance never reached the level of consistent excellence needed by this community and demanded by our City Council in addressing such difficult situations like flooding. And he did not appear willing to take ownership of, and provide the necessary leadership on, projects like the Storm Water Utility, the alternate water supply initiative, and strategic planning – leaving those to the Council to battle.

In a public sector where every job seems to be treated as an entitlement without accountability, finding a new city manager measurably better than Hamilton may be no easy task, especially if the rumors are true that, within the career bureaucrat community, Park Ridge is considered a “tough” assignment because our aldermen are not mindless rubber-stampers who treat every City employee as a Lake Woebegone trifecta: strong, good-looking and above average. That alone can be the kiss of death when recruiting career bureaucrats who expect kudos and annual raises just for showing up on a regular basis and avoiding indictment.

What does that mean for getting a quality city manager? For starters it might mean a salary near the $200,000/year mark.

When Schuenke left in 2008, he was pulling down $180,000 plus a few perks. Hock’s all-in package (including perks) totaled around $200,000. And that clown car known as the School Board of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 paid rookie Supt. Laurie Heinz more than $200,000, plus perks, for an undistinguished first year (2014-15) of a three-year contract – before hiding in several secretive closed session “reviews” around this time last year before emerging to announce both a one-year extension to Heinz’s contract and even more money in her pay envelope.

At a salary of around $160,000 and fewer perks than his predecessors, Hamilton actually was a bargain, even if only for 3.5 years.

Given Hamilton’s predecessors’ compensation and the fact that Heinz oversees a budget of roughly the same $70 million-plus as the City’s while serving less than 5,000 students to the city manager’s 37,000+ resident customer base, a city manager salary in the vicinity of $200,000 might be a rough midpoint between what Heinz is getting and what Hamilton got last year. And the taxpayers can count on this City Council being much more demanding of any $200,000/year city manager than the $250,000/year-plus Heinz’s milquetoast bosses on the D-64 Board could ever be.

Although the Hamilton experiment was far from a complete success, it did demonstrate that somebody with a private sector background and just a year of public-sector experience can pretty much do as well/poorly as career bureaucrats, if not better.

Merci et bon chance, Mr. Hamilton.

And bon chance to the new Acting City Manager, Joe Gilmore, whose upgrade from City Finance Director was unanimously approved at last night’s Council meeting.

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Can Carla Owen Stop The Slide At D-207?

05.21.16

Carla Owen recently was elected as the new School Board president at Maine Township H.S. District 207.

Owen takes over from Margaret McGrath, who held that office for the past three years during which Maine South High School, the flagship of the D-207 fleet and once one of the top handful of Illinois high schools, has fallen to a most recent 45th in U.S. News & World’s annual rankings – behind even the likes of Elk Grove Village and Wheeling.

As we pointed out in our 04.22.16 post, that’s down 16 notches from its 2012 ranking, right before Ms. McGrath got the big chair on the D-207 Board. And she and this Board reacted to that news with deafening silence.

But even more troubling than the decline in rankings is the assertion, also by U.S. News, is Maine South’s 40.8% “College Readiness” figure.

Let’s be clear, however: That slide in the rankings should not be blamed entirely on Ms. McGrath’s leadership or her board’s stewardship.

Academic achievement and rankings involve many factors, with teaching quality and administrative competence first and foremost. After all, if teachers and administrators are being paid – quite handsomely at D-207, especially when salary and pension are added together (and even when they’re not) – to provide quality education, these declining rankings and college readiness figures suggest that those “educators” aren’t getting the job done.

And let’s not forget the students and their parents. If a majority of a student body is a confederacy of dunces, it’s unlikely to yield top academic performance – especially if their parents also are dunces and/or undemanding and under-engaged.

But we’re not ready to blame rampant dunce-ness, either of students or parents.

Which is why we must look to the teachers and administrators who never acknowledge that everything is ever less than than seashells and balloons at Maine South, if not at the District’s other schools.

When educational performance keeps sliding while the cost of that education keeps rising, however, it’s up to the School Board – the taxpayers’ elected representatives – n0t just to ask the teachers and administrators “Why?” but also to demand honest, understandable and unequivocal answers to that question. And to hold those teachers and administrators accountable for their failures.

That’s where Ms. McGrath and her boards, including the current one, failed.

Hopefully, Ms. Owen – an attorney who should know how to ask tough questions and how to see through evasive answers – will have more success than her predecessor, also an attorney but who, along with her fellow board members over the past three years, seemed more concerned with going along to get along with both the teachers and the administrators.

But don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

As reported in the May 4 edition of the Park Ridge Journal & Topics (“Owen Succeeds McGrath As Maine Township High School Dist. 207 Board President”), at least two Board members seem focused on more frolic and diversions than on the basic learning that might realistically bump-up that 40.8% college readiness figure.

Per the Journal story, Board member Jin Lee and and Supt. Ken Wallace are working on an initiative to match up one or more D-207 schools with a school in Korea “to learn to share experiences, to learn cultures” which, if successful – by whatever measure they might make up – could be expanded to Europe, Africa, or South America. And Board member Mary Childers thinks that’s swell because of the District’s multicultural student body.

How typical of educators – and rubber-stamp Board members – to ignore ranking slide and the fact that more than half of their students/clients/customers aren’t college-ready when they graduate

But, hey, look on the bright side.

Rankings and college readiness might not improve, but at least D-207 students could learn how to make kimchi .

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First Generation Of Chromebooks Prove Tarnished

05.14.16

It was just two years ago that Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 rolled out its new Chromebook-based curriculum to great fanfare and applause, almost all of which was generated by the D-64 Board and Administration.

We wrote about it in our 07.21.14 post and our 08/26/14 post.

The Chromebooks were going to be the latest “magic bullet” for raising the District’s stagnant-to-sliding academic performance – as demonstrated by those pesky standardized test that provide those annoying objectively-measurable test results. Or maybe they were only intended to be $778,000 worth of new shiny objects to divert attention away from those test scores and related rankings.

Anybody who dared question the power and accuracy of this latest “magic bullet” was ridiculed as old fashioned, an unenlightened naysayer, and/or anti-child. That’s the strategy of choice by the “professional” education establishment, although just typing those words makes us laugh.

So far, however, we’ve neither seen nor heard about any improvement in academic performance. And if one entertains the possibility that the performance of Maine South students is affected by the educational quality of its D-64 feeder schools, the slide in Maine South’s performance becomes a tad ominous.

So we have to shake our head over a recent Park Ridge Herald-Advocate article reported (“All Chromebooks to be replaced in District 64, officials say,” May 2) how all of the District’s 2,782 “Generation 1” Chromebooks are going to be replaced, reportedly free of charge, with “Generation 2” Chromebooks by the manufacturer, Dell. The reason: more than half of them underwent repairs just this year alone, including a 25% breakdown rate for the computers’ logic boards.

The H-A article places the District’s cost of those repairs at $103,000 worth of parts and labor. So far, there’s no word from D-64 as to whether Dell will reimburse the District for those costs.

Two years ago the chief D-64 propagandist, Bernadette Tramm – still on the job today, sad to say – and a coterie of her sub-spinners were assuring anyone who would listen that those Generation 1 Chromebooks would have a four-year life cycle. Less than two full years later, however, Mary Jane Warden, the District’s director of innovation and instructional technology, and Finance Czarina Luann Kolstad are singing a very different tune.

“Expecting a product like a Chromebook to last a full four years of wear and tear may be too ambitious to sustain.”

What a difference two years makes.

We can’t figure out how Warden and the District’s other tech gurus didn’t see this coming two years ago because, according to Warden’s and Kolstad’s memo to the D-64 Board, “the Chromebooks are so new to the market, [and] there has been no history of product reliability or performance that we can put full confidence in.” But two years ago there was even less of a history.

Not surprisingly, that didn’t stop Warden from recommending the purchase of, or our School Board members and administrators from spending $778,000 of the taxpayers’ money on, 2,782 of the untried and unreliable critters.

And now they’re going to replace the Generation 1 Chromebook with Generation 2 Chromebooks, even though – according to Warden – Dell has not explained why the Generation 1s failed.

“I’m confident going forward we’ll have a better product,” she told the school board.

Just as confident as she was two years ago.

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