Public Watchdog.org

Council Right To Opt-Out Of Crook County Minimum Wage Hike

06.09.17

Kudos to newly-minted 3d Ward Ald. Gail Wilkening for some recent spot-on observations about the City of Park Ridge opting out of Crook County’s graduated minimum wage increase from Illinois’ current $8.25/hour ($1/hour above the federal version) to $13/hour by July 2020.

“The market will decide what we need to pay people,” she opined, adding: “Anything Cook County wants, I usually don’t want.”

“Amen!” to both sentiments.

Don’t get us wrong: A minimum wage is a good thing to the extent it reduces the opportunities for outright worker exploitation, especially of the lower-wage workers whom it tends to affect most strongly. On the other hand, it’s an arbitrary, non-market based number that is much more of a temporary palliative than a cure for the underlying problem of lower wages for lower-skilled (or lower-risk) work.

Notwithstanding some hyperbolic claims by proponents, the minimum wage was not designed to enable the minimum-wage worker to raise a family of four, or to become a homeowner instead of a renter. It was designed to provide a wage above a welfare-level subsistence for the person earning it and perhaps one “dependent” – back in that day, often/usually a stay-at-home wife.

Not surprisingly, considering that this initiative was produced by the head-scratchers comprising the Crook County Board, that $13/hour, 2020 target rate would provide a minimum-wage employee working 40 hours per week for 50 weeks a year with $26,000 – or roughly the poverty threshold for a family of four in today’s dollars, without taking into account any inflation over the next 3 years before that full $13 wage is achieved.

Three nights ago (June 5) the Council voted unanimously in favor of opting out of this latest Crook County attempt at selling activity as achievement. Under City procedures, however, a second vote is needed to pass the opt-out ordinance, which will be taken at the Council’s June 19 meeting.

Although last Monday night’s vote was unanimous, Alds. John Moran (1st) and Marc Mazzuca (6th) explained their votes, in part, by arguing that a minimum wage standard is best left to the state or federal government.

Exactly right.

Crook County’s intrusion into minimum wage policy reminds us of Evanston’s 1985 enactment of an ordinance declaring Evanston a “nuclear-free zone,” ostensibly to prohibit Northwestern University professors from conducting research that might be used in the development of nuclear weapons. The ordinance was unenforceable, but that’s Evanston for you.

Should our City Council complete its opt-out at its June 19th meeting, it will be interesting to see what effect, if any, that will have on Park Ridge’s economy. Given Park Ridge’s borders with Chicago and Des Plaines, one of the suburbs that has chosen not to opt-out of Crook County’s latest sideshow. Will Park Ridge suddenly become a haven for small businesses, or for cheaper goods/services, because of a lower wage for low-end workers?

We doubt it.

But we think the opt-out is a win for folks who are tired of further intrusions from a unit of local government that has been mismanaged for decades and shows no signs of improving.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Time For City Council To Consider Population Issues

06.02.17

How many residents should Park Ridge have?

We don’t know.

But the recent proposed 34-townhouse development for the Mr. K’s property has caused us to once again consider that question. And we think the Park Ridge City Council should do likewise – sooner rather than later, given how regularly the issue pops up, directly and indirectly, in the context of re-zoning or zoning variances for new developments.

New 3d Ward Ald. Gail Wilkening apparently is thinking about this. So are two of Park Ridge’s zoning and land use mavens, Pat Livensparger and Missy Langan.

All of them cited one of the most significant reasons why the size – and demographics – of Park Ridge’s population is important: More school-aged children mean more students receiving expensive Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 and Maine Twp. High School District 207 educations that will end up being paid primarily by the majority of taxpayers whose kids aren’t getting those expensive public educations, including some of whom are also paying out-of-pocket for private/parochial educations.

That situation already is producing some problematic responses.

From talking to a few local RE brokers, we’re hearing that empty nesters are downsizing sooner than they used to, or are moving out of Park Ridge entirely and heading to lower-taxed communities. And in most instances, the homes they are moving out of are being purchased by young families with multiple school-aged kids – and the prospect of more on the way.

The math is simple, albeit a bit rough because of all the variables that need to be taken into consideration. So to make it a bit easier, we’ll use a residence with a $15,000 RE tax bill as our example.

Almost $6,000 of that $15,000 tax bill goes to D-64, while D-207 gets around $5,000. The City of Park Ridge gets a meager $1,700 and the Park District even less.

So with D-64 per-pupil costs closing in on – if not already at – $16,000, our sample residence creates a $10,000 deficit  if only one kid from that residence attends a D-64 school. If two attend that deficit grows to $26,000 and likely crests at $42,000 for those homes where three kids are in grades K-8.

Which means that it takes 7 empty nests being taxed at that same $15,000 rate to subsidize the educational costs of just that one 3-student residence.

Or looking at it another way: If each of D-64’s roughly 4,500 kids were dispersed as tax-optimally as possible, each of them would reside in one of 4,500 individual homes, each of which would be paying $6,000 in taxes to D-64 while drawing out $16,000 in education, producing $10,000-per-home deficits totaling $45 MILLION overall. And that $45 MILLION deficit would have to be absorbed by the other 9,500 of the roughly 14,000 Park Ridge residences, at an average cost of roughly $4,700 per residence per year.

Ouch!

Yes, we know: These calculations aren’t adjusted for variables like the contributions of commercial taxpayers, or the fact that D-64 also takes in some areas outside of Park Ridge proper, etc. That’s why we labeled them “rough.” But these calculations also aren’t adjusted to reflect the reality – as we understand it – that more Park Ridge residences have RE bills below $15,000 than above; and that the students are not distributed in that tax-optimal manner.

Meanwhile, according to the “Illinois-At-A-Glance Report Card” for the 2015-16 school year, the D-64 per-pupil cost of $15,613 was $2,600 more than Glenview D-34 ($13,013); $5,000 more than Mt. Prospect D-57 ($10,663); $3,000 more than Arlington Hts. D-25 ($12,610); $5,000 more than Western Springs D-101 ($10,602); and $800 more than Wilmette D-39 ($14,804).

And according to that same source, the average D-64 teacher salary (“for teachers over the past 5 years… calculated by using the sum of all teachers’ salaries divided by the number of FTE teachers.”) was $85,970, while Glenview D-34’s was $61,207; Mt. Prospect D-57’s was $57,996; Arlington Hts. D-25 was $72,962; Western Springs D-101’s was $60,417; and Wilmette D-39’s was $76,425.

Needless to say, D-64’s average teacher salary accounts for a significant part of D-64’s higher costs.

Hence our, and many of our readers’, concern when facially-legitimate third-party ratings, rankings or other evaluations show our schools performing below many of its competitors.

It’s one thing to pay less and get less, but quite another to pay more and get less.

That’s why we think it’s time for the City Council to start a public debate about the further proliferation of multi-family residential, especially through up-zoning and variances, that could – because of its impact on our schools – adversely affect the value of Park Ridge property in ways that have the potential for becoming more significant than flooding and jet noise now are.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Mr. K’s Should Not Get A Special-K Deal

05.24.17

For years various developers reportedly have sought to acquire the Mr. K’s Garden and Material Center at 1440 Higgins for commercial development. And for years the owner apparently has said “no.” Or his asking price was too high to make development feasible.

But suddenly a developer wants to stick 34 townhouses on that 2.19-acre parcel and the owner sounds willing to say “yes” – even though the site is zoned “B-2 Commercial” and the City of Park Ridge’s “Higgins Road Corridor Plan” (the”Plan”) identifies that site as one of the City’s last prime office/commercial properties.

At least a couple of the members of the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission (“P&Z”) appear to be taking the site’s B-2 zoning and Plan status seriously. According to a recent article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Developer shares plan for townhouses on site of Park Ridge landscaping business,” May 14), Commissioners John Bennett and Jim Argionis criticized the idea of multi-family residential on that site – with Bennett suggesting a low-rise hotel might be a worthwhile goal and Argionis saying that the space “screams commercial.”

Indeed it does.

And two of Park Ridge’s unofficial zoning and land-use mavens, Pat Livensparger and Missy Langan, warned of the effect of more multi-family residential on Park Ridge schools, a concern echoed by new 3d Ward Ald. Gail Wilkening.

Back in our 09.12.13 post about the Trammel Crow development just east of Whole Foods, we pointed out how almost every multi-family residential project in Park Ridge is an overall money-loser for Park Ridge taxpayers IF they house children who will be attending our public schools. Just one public school student per residence eats up double or even triple that portion of the average RE tax bill paid to either Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 or Maine Twp. High School District 207.

Trammel Crow persuaded the City to permit that 116-unit rental project on the basis that it was designed for individuals and younger couples, not people with school-aged children. And if we recall correctly, Trammel Crow’s project was a “planned development” that did not require re-zoning, just some density relief which it obtained by offering not only to retain all of its own run-off water but, also, to double the size of the City’s adjacent water detention basin.

We have not heard whether the actual demographics of that project have matched the no-schoolkids sales pitch, although we would expect that somebody at D-64 or D-207 would have said something by now if they didn’t.

But for the past 20 years or so, residential development has been the lowest-hanging fruit in Park Ridge. In part, that’s because the risk to developers of residential is minimal and short-term – as opposed to the greater, more long-term risk of commercial development.

And the cash-strapped City has too often been lured by the Sirens’ song of more property tax revenue coming from residential developers, and also from the City’s real estate brokerage community that understands how there will be far more profit-making opportunities from 34 townhouses – that may flip owners every 5-10 years – than in 1 or 2 commercial/office structures that may flip every 10-20 years, if that.

In addition to the re-zoning needed for the Mr. K’s townhouses, the H-A reports that the project would require a 3-townhouse variance from the City’s density requirement, a height variance, and variances for front and rear yard setbacks. In other words, the developer wants to create a sardine-can subdivision and needs a lot of City help to pack the can.

The main reason for shoehorning that many townhouses onto that site? “The cost of the site is very high,” said the project’s architect, Guido Neri.

Bingo! Mr. K’s owners want to cash out at a top-shelf price, and the developers want to maximize their profits.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that.

But the City, a/k/a the taxpayers, don’t owe Mr. K’s owner(s) or any developer a zoning change, a basket of variances, or windfall profits – especially if it means losing one of the last significant commercial parcels in Park Ridge. That neighborhood has accommodated Mr. K’s for decades, and it can continue to do so while the owner decides whether a lower sales price might entice some commercial development instead of simply pandering to the low-hanging residential fruit pickers.

After all, a lower sales price usually beats no sale at all. And once that commercial site is lost to residential development, it’s gone for good.

Meanwhile, we have yet to hear a persuasive, or even rational, elevator-pitch for adding to Park Ridge’s population, especially if it includes more public school students and further exacerbates the already-onerous tax burdens from D-64 and D-207.

To read or post comments, click on title.

“College Ready”? Don’t Bet On It

05.19.17

We got a few constructive criticisms about our previous post that caused us to look a little more closely at – and drill down a little more deeply into – those U.S. News & World high school rankings, which this year had Maine East soaring from 63d place to 37th place among Illinois high schools while Maine South plummeted from 45th to out-of-the-money.

A couple of commenters faulted our suggestion that South’s 44.6 College Readiness Index (“CRI”) score indicated that the Maine Twp. High School District 207 administration was “incapable of educating even half of its students to the level of ‘college readiness’.”

And those commenters are correct.

The CRI is not the percentage of students in a given school who are “college ready.” Rather, it’s a number that reflects how many students take Advanced Placement (“AP”) tests and how many “pass” by scoring at least a “3” out of “5” possible points.

As one of our commenters speculated, South may have been penalized because not as many of its students took as many AP exams as other schools’ students.

Or maybe South students just didn’t pass as many of the AP exams they did take.

But South didn’t fall out of the rankings because of its CRI, which was higher than East’s and a number of the other schools ranked a head of it.

South fell out of the rankings because it could not get past Step 1 in the ranking process: A determination of whether its students “were performing better than statistically expected for students in that state” – based on its percentage of economically disadvantaged students.

According to U.S. News data, 46% of Maine East students are considered “economically disadvantaged, while a mere 7% of Maine South students fit that description.

So the bottom line of South’s rather dismal ranking performance is that it under-performed its expectations for a school with such affluent students.

That under-performance was totally side-stepped by D-207 Supt. Ken Wallace, who keeps on getting raises for reasons we can’t begin to understand. As we noted in our 05.08.17 post, he basically blamed PARCC testing, Park Ridge’s lack of diversity, and the U.S. News rating system.

If D-207’s or D-64’s rankings, or their objective performances on standardized tests, don’t match up with those for the schools in Glenview, Northbrook and all those other communities that compete with Park Ridge for highly-educated, high-income transplants from Chicagoland or out of state, you can count on Wallace and D-64 Supt. Laurie Heinz to come up with more alibis and excuses than you can count…using both your fingers and your toes.

Almost all of them boil down to: We’re better than they say we are. And the standards they use to say we aren’t are fatally flawed.

In that vein we encourage you to read an article in today’s Chicago Tribune (“Tribune analysis: College prep courses not preparing kids for college”, May 19), which raises yet another warning flag about Maine South’s 44.6 CRI: That South’s “general” curriculum may be under-performing in preparing South’s students for college.

That Tribune story points out how the general curriculums in too many Illinois high schools are not rigorous enough – absent “honors” and AP classes – to get their students college-ready. So if South’s CRI is lower because of a lack of AP course/test takers and AP test passers, a less-than-rigorous general curriculum may be part of the problem.

Is it?

We don’t know. Getting a handle on the quality of public education in this country is like trying to catch a greased pig, squealing (by administrators, teachers, teachers’ unions and politicians) included.

But one thing is clear: When it comes to local public school education, it’s always sunny in Park Ridge. Our schools are great…just ask all our highly-paid educators. And according to them, anyone or anything that suggests otherwise lacks credibility, or is using faulty data, or is manufacturing fake news.

Will we ever have a school superintendent or school board member who actually accepts accountability for the continuing under-performance of our schools occurring on their watch?

And will the Park Ridge sheeple who have every right to demand more, and better, for the children of this community – because they already are paying for much more, and much better – ever stop mindlessly buying the propaganda churned out by the likes of D-64 Propaganda Minister Bernadette Tramm and her D-207 counterpart, David Beery, presumably at the direction of Heinz and Wallace?

The folks who run D-207 and D-64 have bet heavily on “No.”

To read or post comments, click on title.

Maine East Up, Maine South MIA In Latest U.S. News Rankings

05.08.17

A year ago the 2016 U.S. News & World Reports rankings of Illinois high schools had Maine South at 45th, Maine East at 63rd, and Maine West MIA. In our 4.22.16 post we bemoaned the fact that Maine South’s 45th place ranking was down 16 places from 2012, and that the “college readiness” rating was an unimpressive 40.8%.

But that was then, this is now. But once again we now have good news and bad news.

First, the good news: Maine East leaped from 63rd place to 37th!

Now the bad: Maine South fell out of the rankings entirely – meaning it didn’t even come in among the top 1oo.

According to the article in last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Maine East ranks 37th in state on new ‘Best Schools’ list,” May 2), U.S. News ranks schools based on: (a) reading and math results on high school proficiency tests; (b) whether “disadvantaged” student groups — identified as black, Hispanic and low-income — “performed at or better than the state average for the least-advantaged students; (c) graduation rates; and (d) how the schools prepare students for college-level work using data from Advanced Placement exams.

Maine Twp. High School District 207 Supt. Ken Wallace, not surprisingly, offered explanations that don’t seem internally consistent.

According to the H-A article, Wallace blames “flawed” state PARCC testing, unequal comparisons between schools, and Maine South’s failure to meet the performance threshold for black, Hispanic and low-income students. He also claimed that while District 207 gave the PARCC math and language arts exams to its freshman, other districts tested older students; and other districts may have selectively tested only their better students.

That might explain South’s plummet, but how does that explain East’s simultaneous rise?

We don’t know but, not surprisingly, Wallace’s explanation didn’t wash with Robert Morse, chief data strategist at U.S. News. As reported by the H-A, Morse claimed the test score comparisons across schools “are generally reliable” and that “[t]o the extent that any comparisons are unfair, in this particular case, Maine South and Maine West would have both been advantaged by the fact that they tested their students in ELA I, the easier ELA assessment.”

Morse went on to explain that because South and West didn’t pass step one of the U.S. News methodology because their performance was no better than might be expected, “given their proportion of students identified as economically disadvantaged.”

Wallace remained defiant, claiming that once D-207 schools start using the SAT the comparisons with other schools will be “apples to apples.”

Let’s hope so.

Wallace was quick to point out that typically high performers like Barrington, Deerfield and Highland Park high schools also didn’t make the rankings cut, and that the “metrics that matter the most is [sic] really the CRI [College Readiness Index],” But South’s CRI – according to U.S. News – is a disappointing 44.6, although up almost 4 points from last year.

Compare that to not only the three top suburban schools — Stevenson (71.6), Hinsdale Central (62.8) and Prospect (61.5) – but also to less prestigious schools like Hersey (58.9), Buffalo Grove (52.9) and York (50.8).

Even the three also-unranked schools that Wallace noted did better than South: Barrington’s CRI was 46.8, Deerfield’s was 58.6 and Highland Park’s was 58.3. Even our out-of-the-money neighbor to the north, Glenbrook South, clocked in with a 55.6.

What does all of this mean?

We don’t know, because we’re not willing or able to figure out how many U.S. News testing metrics – or Supt. Wallace’s metrics, for that matter – can dance on the head of a pin.

But one thing we are pretty sure of is that when parents from the City of Chicago or outside the Chicago area are looking at relocating to suburbs with the highest-quality schools, Park Ridge takes a big hit – justified or not – when its flagship high school gets beaten out by so many schools from other communities where the taxes are so much lower, especially when 70% of our property tax bills are attributed to our local public schools.

And irrespective of how Maine South compares to schools in those other north, northwest and west suburbs, we didn’t hear Wallace trying to justify South’s 44.6 CRI number.

Think about that for a minute: An affluent suburb like Park Ridge, taxing and spending near the top of the pack (at approx. $18,000 per student per year), appears incapable of educating even half of its students to the level of “college readiness.” And all we get from Wallace and the D-207 School Board is…crickets.

Are those kids arriving at South, primarily from D-64 – itself among the highest-priced elementary districts – under-prepared for high school? If so, it’s time for Wallace and the folks at South to say so. Then let Supt. Laurie Heinz, her heretofore puppet school board members, and her administrators defend their stewardship of their schools’ students.

If not, then it’s time to start questioning the stewardship of Wallace, his puppet school board members, and his administrators.

We’ve had more than enough of what appears to be a conspiracy of mutual silence and back-scratching by the folks running both D-64 and D-207.

Meanwhile, it’s well past time the Illinois State Board of Education started producing its own official “apples-to-apples” comparisons of Illinois schools – both elementary and secondary – rather than leaving the task to the likes of U.S. News, Schooldigger, et al.

Because, like it or not, comparative school shopping and community shopping is here to stay – especially when those schools consume a whopping 70% of a community’s hefty property tax bill.

To read or post comments, click on title.

D-64 Bd. Member Sotos: Trizna Failed To Do My Job On WCBs

04.28.17

The following was submitted as a comment to our 04.24.17 post by Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Board member Tom Sotos. We are choosing, instead, to print it here as a stand-alone “guest” post because it demonstrates the kind of irresponsible, anti-H.I.T.A., anti-taxpayer, unaccountable mindset that permeates the current rubber-D-64 Board under Tony “Who’s The Boss?” Borrelli, lead sock-puppet for Supt. Laurie “I’m The Boss!” Heinz. 

Hopefully this Monday night will herald an end to D-64’s Star Chamber, anti-H.I.T.A. form of government with the exit of four compulsive rubber-stampers and the arrival of four new members who might not all be Heinz’s pawns.

_________________________

It’s a shame that Mr. Trizna, who obviously is well informed and educated in these matters, didn’t mobilize and follow the procedures to halt this vote.

Mr. Trizna knows full well how he could have been heard. He knows exactly what he could have done to lead a challenge to be the voice of the tax payers.

Yet, it appears that Mr. Trizna only cares to be a voice with no action.

Why, Mr. Trizna, did you wait until it was too late to speak up?

Why did you fail your followers and not inform them that they could have petitioned. Why didn’t you inform them and lead the charge?

You claim the board was secretive. Yet the board held multiple discussions surrounding this matter in open session over the course of several meetings.

I can’t blame the regular tax payer of PR for not sitting through these meetings or viewing them on line.

However, you sir, have proven that you will sit through many meeting videos to gather your information.

How is it possible that you didn’t care enough, when you could have made a “difference”?

Your readers, if upset with the board, should be more upset with you. You are the one they look to for information and guidance.

Either way. Thank [sic] guy for not using many insults in your recent article. It shows growth.

___________________________

EDITOR’S NOTE: Tilted Kilt Tommy:

You seem to be confused.

Back on May 4, 2015, only one of us raised his hand to “solemnly swear that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of member of the Board of Education…to the best of my ability”; and to “respect taxpayers’ interests by serving as a faithful protector of the school district’s assets.”

That was you.

I swore my oath to Park Ridge’s taxpayers and residents as a Library Board trustee, first in 2011 and again in 2014. And I take that oath as seriously as a heart attack.

But my civic duty, either as a LIbrary trustee or as the publisher of this blog, isn’t to do yours for you.

Although recounting how you have dishonored that oath and betrayed not only the taxpayers but, also, the students and parents of D-64 over your past two years on the Board could occupy the rest of this Note, I’ll confine my comments to your disrespect for D-64’s taxpayers’ interests in just the past month or so regarding non-referendum debt.

At the March 13 Board meeting, before casting your vote to issue $9.25 million of debt certificates, did you care enough about those taxpayers to ask, on the record, why the District should be borrowing $9.25 million (and running up an extra $2.5 million in interest charges on those certificates) as part of a $30 million borrowing plan – without going to referendum, even if just an advisory one?

No.

At that same March 13 meeting, before casting your vote to declare the Board’s intention to issue $20 million of working cash bonds (“WCB”s), did you care enough about the taxpayers to ask Finance Minister Luann Kolstad why her cover memorandum (at Appendix 7 of the Board’s meeting packet) didn’t explain the “backdoor referendum” process for those WCBs, the 30-day period within which citizens could circulate petitions to force a referendum on them, and how many signatures they would need?

No.

At that same March 13 meeting, did you care enough about the taxpayers to ask Kolstad to publicly explain the vital details of that WCB backdoor referendum petition process before you voted to start that process running?

No.

At any time prior to that March 13 meeting did you care enough about the taxpayers to propose a public hearing at which “the Board shall explain the reasons for the proposed bond issue and permit persons desiring to be heard an opportunity to present written or oral testimony…” before the March 13 meeting at which the vote to start the process was scheduled to be taken?

No.

Obviously, you didn’t care enough about either the “taxpayers’ interests” or your oath of office to make sure the taxpayers got that vital WCB information early enough so that they might have been able to do something with it.

But you certainly were smarmy enough to finally ask Kolstad at Monday night’s meeting – after the 30-day petition period had conveniently elapsed – the $64,000 Question (at the 13:50 mark of the meeting video):

“Can you explain what right the community had, and what the process is [for forcing a backdoor referendum by citizen petition]?”

How honest and transparent you pretended to be when you asked that, knowing the backdoor referendum process was at an end and that no annoying taxpayers would be challenging your backdoor borrow-and-spend plans.

You claim the Board “held multiple discussions surrounding this matter in open session over the course of several meetings” but I challenge you to produce minutes of any meeting held this year that even mention the terms “backdoor referendum,” “citizens’ petition” and “30-day petition period”?

Even on Monday night, in response to some solid questions by resident Moira Collins during the too-little-too-late “public hearing” (starting at the 9:12 mark of the meeting video and continuing to the 28:28 mark), when Borrelli and Kolstad referred to the WCBs as “non-referendum bonds” instead of “backdoor referendum bonds,” did you correct them?

No.

And when Ms. Collins, clearly perplexed by all the double-talk and arguably irrelevant chatter coming from Borrelli and Kolstad, asked (at the 13:13 mark of the meeting video) where she could find the information with which she was being bombarded – and was told by the District’s D.H. Blair bond lady that “It’s all on the Board video and Board minutes, you can just look over the last year at those” – did you suggest that respecting the “taxpayers’ interests” means something more than dismissively telling them to go look at a year’s worth of videos, minutes and Board packets?

No.

Instead, you asked: “How does using bonds differ from going to referendum?”

Seriously, Tilted Tommy?

Fortunately, starting this Monday, taxpayers will have two real attorneys on the Board who not only will be able to explain the difference between “using bonds” and a “referendum” but, also, are much more likely to take the oath they swear that night far more seriously, and honor it far more diligently, than you have. And, unlike you and your fellow pawns of Supt. Heinz, they will bring with them an uncompromising demand for a level of transparency that you and your cronies loathe.

Then we’ll see if you can demonstrate any “growth.”

Robert J. Trizna

Editor & Publisher

To read or post comments, click on title.

Is Tonight’s $20 Million Bond “Hearing” Another D-64 Charade?

04.24.17

For the past few years taxpayers of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 constantly have been told how D-64’s financial management has been so wonderful that the District won’t have to go to referendum this year, as was expected back in 2007 when the last D-64 funding referendum was passed.

So a recent article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“District 64 board members OK plans for $1.2M project at Lincoln Middle School,” 04.04.17) got our attention. Not because of the headline, even though wasting $1.2 million of taxpayer money on not-really-“secured” vestibules for yet another D-64 school is hardly sound fiscal management. Or effective “security,” for that matter.

What pinged our radar was tucked away in the last paragraph of that H-A article: School officials are holding a “public hearing” at tomorrow night’s School Board meeting regarding the Board’s “plan to sell $20.7 million worth of working cash bonds (“WCBs”), allegedly to fund “mandated health and life-safety repairs to district facilities” – which bonds reportedly will be issued “in stages over the course of several years.”

For those of you unfamiliar with school finance, the purpose of WCBs is pretty much what the name indicates: To provide short-term working cash to cover a district’s temporary cash flow needs or operating, deficits. It’s not to do long-term capital improvements, including those masquerading as “health and life-safety repairs.”

So why, pray tell, does D-64 need almost $21 million of short-term borrowing for “working cash”?

Didn’t D-64 Board president Tony “Who’s The Boss?” Borrelli – after obtaining permission from Supt. Laurie “I’m The Boss!” Heinz, of course – assure us just last Fall that (as quoted in a H-A article, “School board president: District 64 exceeding financial projections made prior to 2007 referendum,” Oct. 7, 2016) “the district is operating in the black and not operating within a deficit spending pattern”?

Didn’t financial guru Luann Kolstad proclaim – as reported in that same Oct. 7 article – that, as of June 2016, the district’s operating fund balance was $48.1 million, or 60 percent of annual operating expenses, which is twice the District’s 30% target and means D-64 already is sitting on $24 million more taxpayer dollars than they say they need?

Can you say “slush fund”?

What we didn’t know until reading the article in last week’s H-A (“District 64 projects include maintenance work, vestibule, library makeover,” April 18), however, is that at its March 13 meeting the D-64 Board voted to issue $9.25 million of “debt certificates” – thereby pushing the slush fund balance to over 70% of the District’s reserve target.

Why didn’t we know it?

Because this opaque School Board, with the able assistance of propaganda minister Bernadette Tramm, didn’t publicize it.

And our clueless local press apparently didn’t understand it or care enough about it to do its job: The first mention of “debt certificates” was in that April 4 H-A article, three weeks after the March 13 meeting at which the Board voted to issue them. And no “official” evidence of that vote appeared in print until last week, when the draft minutes of that March 13 meeting were finally posted on the District’s website as part of tonight’s Board meeting packet.

According to a fact sheet published by Stifel, a financial services firm that advises governmental bodies as well as businesses and individuals, debt certificates are a pricier type of financing that requires no voter approval or even a Bond Issue Notification Act (“BINA”) hearing. So it should come as no surprise that this secretive-bordering-on-dishonest D-64 Board would look to borrow $9+ million using debt instruments that don’t require taxpayer approval or even require a public hearing like tonight’s, which they are required to have for the issuance of WCBs.

And in typically deceitful D-64 Board fashion, the minutes of that March 13 meeting fail to mention the discussion during that meeting of the likelihood that the interest on those debt certificates will cost District taxpayers at least an additional $2.7 million of interest at the expected rate of 3.36% – something you would have to watch the meeting video (from the 51:36 mark to the 58:55 mark) to discover – thereby pushing the total cost of these debt certificates up to approximately $12 million over their 15 year life, paid off at the rate of $800,000 per year starting next fiscal year.

What is more problematic, however, is how this Board may have cheated D-64 taxpayers out of any opportunity to force a referendum on the WCBs.

That’s because the Board also voted on March 13 to declare its intention to issue the $20.75 million of WCBs. WCBs require a devious legal device known as a “Back Door Referendum” that puts the burden on the taxpayers to get petition signatures from 10% of the District’s 33,263 registered voters – or 3,326 – within 30 days of publication of a notice of that intention. Otherwise, no referendum need be held.

If you listen closely to the District’s bond advisor’s colloquy with Borrelli (at from the 1:00:08 mark to the 1:04:50 mark of the meeting video), you will hear her describe what sounds like a “plan” to publish the required BINA notice, which starts the 30-day back-door period running, immediately after the authorization vote.

Not surprisingly, you won’t find that information in those meeting minutes, either. But they do report that, just like with the debt certificates, the $20 million WCB authorization passed unanimously – only with far less discussion.

Which means that if the District published its notice of intent on, let’s say, the Ides of March (03.15), the 30-day back-door period ran out on April 14; and the WCB authorization has become bullet-proof from referendum.

Which makes tonight’s “public hearing” on those WCBs a mere technical requirement that has been turned into just another meaningless charade by a D-64 Board whose members operate on the theory of “the taxpayers be damned.”

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Ald. Milissis: Aldermanic Appointment Process Needs Changes

04.14.17

Today we are posting a comment by 2nd Ward Ald. Nicholas Milissis – submitted in response to an anonymous comment of 04.07.17 at 1:52 pm. to our 04.05.17 post – stating the Alderman’s case for changing the process by which replacement aldermen are selected, such as when an alderman resigns or dies.

We are featuring Ald. Milissis’ comment as a stand-alone post because of its timeliness: A new 7th Ward alderman will need to be appointed after Acting Mayor/Mayor-Elect Marty Maloney vacates his aldermanic seat in May to assume the Big Chair at The Horseshoe. We also are providing an Editor’s Note as our counterpoint to Ald. Milissis’ arguments.

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First off the only true representational way to select an alderman is an election by all residents of a ward. In the situation of a vacancy we are in a less than ideal situation because someone is being appointed and not actually elected in an election open to all residents of a ward. This process is already imperfect and what we are dealing with here are the different approaches to making the best of a bad situation.

I vehemently disagree with assertions that aldermen are primarily responsible for their ward. Even though aldermen are elected by a specific ward they are part of a council charged with the well-being of the entire city. I vote on all matter of issues that affect a specific ward other than my own. When I vote for a street to be resurfaced in the 5th ward I don’t look at it from a 2nd ward perspective but rather as a repair to our city’s infrastructure that needs to be carried out.

Aldermen have a representational role and responsibility to their immediate constituents when it comes to liaising with city staff on their behalf and on specific issues (challenging a water bill, an argument with a neighbor over a tree or zoning violation etc.). However, they also have a much larger and in my view more important role of legislating for the benefit of the entire city.

It is that tribalism mentality of “I know what’s best for MY ward”, and the assertion that wards have unique needs or ward specific needs that is pervasive in Park Ridge and which has led to divisions and a mentality of “not my problem” unless it’s in my backyard. That is not what a City or Municipal Corporation is meant to be.

For example, just because I might have less O’Hare noise in my ward does not mean that I do not support and vote in favor of city actions that might alleviate my Park Ridge neighbors on the south side of the city.

Comments such as those of Anon 04.07.17 @ 1:52 pm illustrate the point that the process is flawed and that if someone is appointed (and I emphasize appointed) to make decisions that will affect the entire city, then elected aldermen should have a say.

In fact the current process already recognizes the fact that aldermen have a say. The current process (which I think is partly based on the requirements of the Illinois municipal code) states that aldermen have to confirm the selection of the mayor. No matter who the committee appointed by the mayor selects, the council still has to confirm the selection. I am not trying to take away input from residents. I am merely trying to get the aldermen involved earlier in the process where they can ask questions and participate in interviews instead of just having them vote at the tail end.

I envision a process where some aldermen are added to the interviewing committee alongside residents of the ward impacted.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The City Code authorizes the mayor to appoint successor aldermen to fill Council vacancies between elections, subject to approval by a majority of the Council. For more than a decade (if not longer), the last three mayors – Frimark, Schmidt and Maloney – have chosen to avail themselves of the recommendations of committees filled with citizens of the affected wards who interview and assess the qualifications of their fellow ward residents who are seeking appointment.

Irrespective of whether an individual alderman (or aldermanic candidate) holds the interests of his/her ward above those of the City as a whole – or vice versa, as you encourage – the bottom line is that the selection of a ward’s alderman always has been the province of the citizens of that ward, not of the aldermen of other wards. Allowing aldermen from other wards to meddle in, and maybe even dominate, another ward’s aldermanic appointment process undermines the self-determination of those ward residents.

Instead of changing the current unofficial process, we would encourage the amendment of the City Code to: (a) require the mayor to form a ward committee when filling Council vacancies; and (b) establish a process for how that committee will operate. Frankly, the codified process could be modeled after the one employed by the Fifth Ward committee in recommending the successor to the late Ald. Dan Knight: interviews and deliberations held according to published schedules, open to the public, with audiotaped proceedings publicly available on the City’s website.

If sitting aldermen want to “get…involved earlier in the process,” they can do so just like any other citizen.

And at the end of the day, those aldermen still have to approve the person whom the committee recommends, assuming the mayor approves him/her and advances the appointment.

So even if the other aldermen haven’t availed themselves of the committee process, they still have the opportunity to question the appointee in an open Council session before voting on the appointment – as they had with Ald. Melidosian’s appointment.

The current process works fine. It should be codified, not tampered with.

To read or post comments, click on title.

A Big Win For Yesterday’s Victors, An Even Bigger Win For H.I.T.A.

04.05.17

Eight years ago mayoral candidate Dave Schmidt sparked the flame of good government when he promised to bring H.I.T.A. – Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability – to a City administration that was bereft of those principles. He also pledged to put taxpayers first because there would be no City government without the taxes they provide.

Since then that flame has grown stronger and burned brighter, finally becoming a torch that illuminated the workings of City government through initiatives like televised meetings, the online posting of meeting materials in advance of meetings, and reducing closed sessions to the barest minimum.

Yesterday that torch was officially passed to a new generation of leaders with the election of Marty Maloney, a staunch Mayor Dave ally and an even stauncher proponent of H.I.T.A., as mayor of Park Ridge.

His election alone, by a margin of roughly 70% to 30%, would have been enough to keep Park Ridge on the H.I.T.A. path and moving forward in all other respects, especially because it was accompanied by the re-election of pro-H.I.T.A. aldermen Nick Milissis, Marc Mazzuca and Roger Shubert.

But that wasn’t the half of it.

The voters of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 made their voices heard with the election of vocal H.I.T.A. proponents Rick Biagi and Fred Sanchez to that Star Chamber Board which, by our unofficial tally, leads all units of Park Ridge local government in the number of closed sessions it holds, and in the obfuscation that comes with them. At the same time those voters just said “No!” to three candidates whose most notable – and controversial – qualification for office was that they all were married to D-64 teachers and shamelessly wanted to put themselves in the untenable position of voting on their wives’ raises and working conditions. Or recusing themselves, thereby effectively reducing the Board to the bare mininum of four members required to do business.

That was about as anti-H.I.T.A. as you could get, and the voters wisely rejected such shamelessness.

Over at the Park Ridge Park District, Harmony Harrington, Jim Janak, Rob Leach and Jim O’Donnell – although not espousing H.I.T.A. by name – advanced many of its principles in their successful campaigns to oust two decidedly non-H.I.T.A. incumbents and their two unofficial running mates.

The same can be said for successful Maine Twp. High School District 207 candidate Linda Coyle, who we understand was, ironically enough, a law school classmate of Mayor Dave’s.

All told, yesterday may have been the single greatest across-the-board good government day Park Ridge has had in decades – in no small measure because it was a victory, first and foremost, of principles instead of just personalities.

But make no mistake about it: Yesterday’s victories didn’t make everybody happy.

There are still residents, some of them very brazen and vocal, with special-interest axes to grind and a related lust for spending OPM (“Other People’s Money). These residents will continue to denigrate H.I.T.A. as a kind of code word for “conservative” (shudder) or “Republican” (double shudder) guys and gals.

That’s just sour grapes from folks who can’t accept the voters’ repudiation of the dishonest and failed tax, borrow and spend policies of local governments past and present.

So don’t be surprised if those naysayers try to demean yesterday’s results by decrying the “low turnout” – which was 28.29% for the mayoral race, down from the 34.87% of 2013. A similar decline in voters was also the case for the other races as well.

But it was the late Rev. Theodore Hesburgh who stated: “Voting is a civic sacrament.” So those who refused that sacrament deserve whatever damnation they may subsequently complain about as being visited on them by yesterday’s winners.

The H.I.T.A. revolution, while started by Schmidt and advanced by the aforementioned winners, hasn’t been the work of any one person, or even several people. Instead it has been the work of hundreds of Park Ridge citizens who initially believed that local government could be made better than it was, more cost-effective than it was, and more respectful of the taxpayers than it was. But where H.I.T.A. really gained traction was when those same people came to realize that making local government better in those aforementioned ways actually was an achievable goal.

Schmidt’s election in 2009 and his re-election by an even larger margin in 2013 proved that. So did the elections and re-elections of Alds. Maloney and Dan Knight in 2011 and 2015, respectively, as well as the election and/or re-election of Alds. Mazzuca, Moran, Milissis, Shubert and the other aldermen who served on the Council these past several years.

Now it’s time for Maloney and the rest of yesterday’s victors to emerge from the long H.I.T.A. shadow Schmidt created and start creating shadows of their own by walking their campaign talk.

And doing so in bright sunlight.

That will be most challenging for Biagi and Sanchez at D-64, where there is a longstanding anti-H.I.T.A. bias and culture, and where they likely will have to confront Board president (and closed-session aficionado) Tony “Who’s the Boss?” Borrelli and his puppetmaster, Supt. Laurie “I’m the Boss!” Heinz, right out of the gate. Whether Biagi and Sanchez can get any support from Board members Mark Eggemann and Tom Sotos – heretofore regular rubber-stampers of Borrelli’s closed-session motions and uber-secrecy about the PREA contract and Heinz’s contract extension – remains to be seen. So do the proclivities of newbies Larry Ryles and Eastman Tiu.

Over at D-207, Coyle will find herself surrounded by Board members afraid of their own shadows – and, therefore, possessed by a vampire-like fear of sunlight likely engendered by the desire to avoid any accountability for Maine South’s continuing and heretofore ignored decline in the rankings of Illinois high schools.

These local races, however, need to be viewed in the context of our state government which, over the past 40 years, seems to have grown as ethically bankrupt as it has grown financially bankrupt. That state of corruption won’t be reversed overnight.

But maybe, just maybe, the torch of good government passed last evening to these new Park Ridge leaders can also light the way for the officials of other communities to raise their games and adopt H.I.T.A. as the overarching principle of good government in their own communities – which can, in turn, start a grassroots turnaround statewide.

If so, it’s you voters who showed up yesterday to put your own imprints on local government – by means of the candidates you elected – who will deserve the credit.

Well done, voters!

To read or post comments, click on title.

VOTE! (Updated)

04.04.17

Mayor:                      Marty Maloney 

Ald. (3d):                   Rick Van Roeyen

Ald. (4th):                  Roger Shubert

D-64 Board:               Rick Biagi

                                 Alfred “Fred” Sanchez

D-207 Board:              Linda Coyle

Park Dist. Board:        Harmony Harrington

                                 Jim Janak

                                 Bob Leach

                                 Jim O’Donnell

Update (04.04.17 @ 1:00 p.m.) Voter turnout is sucking, people. C’mon…get off your duffs and get to the polls! A little rain isn’t going to hurt you.

It’s “of the people, by the people, for the people” time, folks!

To read or post comments, click on title.