Public Watchdog.org

Library Officials’ Own Words…Almost…On Summer Sunday Closings

04.14.14

When I wrote the 04.04.14 post, I expected a hue and cry from the apologists for the Park Ridge Public Library’s business-as-usual deficit spending and its reluctance to generate revenue or ask the taxpayers directly for more money (through a referendum) when, instead, it can just blame the City Council for not giving it more tax dollars.   

And I wasn’t disappointed.

Ninety-five comments shattered the existing record for any one post.  And even if nineteen of those came from Library employee Laura L. Enright, both in her own name and by her initials (“LLE”), the remaining 76 comments alone show what a hot-button issue the Library can be – especially when its executive Staff and the Library Board’s majority (Margaret Harrison, John Benka, Audra Ebling, Dorothy Hynous, John Schmidt and Jerry White) wants to play politics rather than manage responsibly.

Not surprisingly, most critics of the post chose to ignore the economic issues raised in it.  Economics involves too many objective, measurable facts and basic mathematics.  Instead, the critics chose to advance subjective emotional appeals, while also rejecting any ulterior motives of the Library’s senior Staff and the Board majority.

The closing of the Library for 14 summer Sundays, recommended by the executive Staff and approved by the Board majority, stands as the single most egregious display of mismanagement and political gamesmanship perpetrated against anybody who uses the Library on summer Sundays, as well as against those Staff members who might end up losing more pay from closed Sundays than they will gain from the raises those closings arguably will be financing.  But the apologists for Library standard operating procedures and the political gamesmanship being used to preserve those SOPs can’t seem to fathom the facts about what’s going on.

So today’s post will recite actual statements about the summer Sunday closing as presented in their most tangible official form: the Library Board meeting minutes, which are intended to capture the substance of everything that is said during meetings, although not with verbatim accuracy. 

Minutes of December 17, 2013 Library Board Meeting

Board member Charlene Foss-Eggemann objected to summer Sunday closings, noting “that Sundays, even in the summer, are important to people, some of whom may work six days a week and Sundays may be the only day they can get to the Library.” (Minutes, Page 3)

Board member Joseph Egan “believes the Library should charge a nominal fee to come up with $20,000 to keep the Library open on Sundays in the summer.” (Minutes, Page 4)

Board member Robert Trizna “agrees with Mrs. Foss-Eggemann…[because] Sunday had the highest average visits per hour.” (Minutes, Page 3)

Board member John Schmidt “noted that his impression was that one of the reasons for closing on Sundays in the summer was to make a visible impact with the public; whereas the other cuts being made are not as visible to the public.” (Minutes, Page 3)

Director Janet Van De Carr “noted that to Mr. Schmidt’s point, if the Board feels it is important for the community to be aware that the Library is definitely being negatively impacted by the decisions made by the City Council then having a visible reduction is one way of proceeding.” (Minutes, Page 3)

Board member Dorothy Hynous “stated that the most significant impact is to close on Sundays…[because] it is the thing Library-goers will notice.” (Minutes, Page 6)

Board member John Benka (in response to Board president Margaret Harrison’s suggestion that summer Sunday closing be re-visited) stated “it’s already done – it was decided at the Committee meeting…[and he] is not in favor of opening it up to another vote.” (Minutes, Page 6)

Ms. Hynous “agrees with Mr. Benka; that it was  voted on in Committee. (Minutes, Page 6)

Board member Jerry White “stated that [summer Sunday closing] was already passed in Committee and [he] doesn’t understand why it is being discussed at length tonight.” (Minutes, Page 6)

Board member Audra Ebling “stated that the Committee already discussed all of these matters and did all the work at the Committee meetings.” (Minutes, Page 5)

Minutes of January 21, 2014 Library Board Meeting

Mr. Trizna stated “[h]e believes the revenue from charging for computers will pay the $20,000 to keep the Library open on Sundays in the summer.” (Minutes, Page 8)

Ms. Hynous “asked then why not just charge $1.00 per book [use]?” (Minutes, Page 8)

Minutes of February 18, 2014 Library Board Meeting

Mr. Trizna “brought up the matter of closing on Sundays during the summer…thus depriving the people of service on a Sunday while a third of those [summer closed Sundays] could be opened if the Library was not forfeiting money” through the Food For Fines program. (Minutes, Page 4)

Mr. Schmidt “stated that the Library is ‘depriving’ people of service on Sundays because the City Council, which is voted in by the public, has reduced the amount of money the Library has to work with….” (Minutes, Page 4)

Minutes of March 18, 2014 Library Board Meeting

Mr. Trizna stated that “he doesn’t see the logic in closing on [summer] Sundays, on what appears to be the busiest day of the week.” (Minutes, Page 2)

“Mr. Egan asked Mr. Trizna if his is suggesting the Board bring the matter [of summer Sunday closings] back to a vote, to which Mr. Trizna said, ‘no, I can count heads’.” (Minutes, Page 2)

*                                             *                                             *

If you read through those Minutes you will find the foregoing excerpts highlighted in yellow.  One thing you will not find, however, is any Library Staff member or any member of the Board majority expressing his/her interest in discussing how to keep the Library open any of those 14 summer Sundays.  You also won’t find any of them proposing ways to raise revenues – or further cutting expenses – sufficient to keep the Library open those summer Sundays.  In fact, you’ll find that none of them voiced any real concern about the effect of those closings on the Sunday users or Sunday Staff.

And don’t expect to find any encouraging words about a referendum from that crowd.  Mr. Schmidt comes closest, on Page 6 of the March meeting Minutes, with a non-committal “at least now the discussion of the matter is on the record in the minutes” – such as it was.  But Mr. Benka deserves special mention for his conclusion (at Page 5 of the December 2013 Minutes), drawn from the results of the recent Community Health Survey, that voters might not vote to give the Library extra money via a referendum because “they are used to quality service for nothing.”

Can you say “freeloaders,” John?

What these meeting minutes demonstrate, in these public officials’ ”own” words, is what we wrote in our previous post: managing the Library effectively has taken a back seat to the executive Staff’s and Board majority’s attempt to wage political war on City Hall for more money.  To that Staff and Board majority, Sunday Library users are mere pawns and acceptable collateral damage in that war

And you can now add the Library’s Sunday staff members to the “pawn” column, too, even if they don’t realize it.

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and publisher

Member, Park Ridge Library Board

To read or post comments, click on title.

Summer Sunday Library Closings Make Political Pawns Of Sunday Users

04.04.14

If you are a regular Sunday user of the Park Ridge Library, you’ve just become a pawn in a local political battle.

That’s because the Library is scheduled to be closed every Sunday this summer, from Memorial Day through Labor Day.  And that closing for 14 Sundays is being done purposely to anger you Sunday users enough to demand that Mayor Dave Schmidt and the City Council give the Library the hundreds of thousands of additional tax dollars the Library wants, but isn’t getting, from City Hall.

The customary five hours (from noon until 5:00 p.m.) you Sunday Library users have enjoyed for more than a decade have become acceptable collateral damage to Library Director Janet Van De Carr and her executive staff (“Staff”), and to Library Board members John Benka, Audra Ebling, Margaret Harrison, Dorothy Hynous, John Schmidt and Jerry White.  And you Sunday users have become cannon fodder in their political battle with City Hall, viewed by them the way King Edward Longshanks viewed the Irish in “Braveheart”: expendable.

Why the Sunday shutdowns?

First and foremost, because the Library Board and Staff want to cause pain to the group of Library users they consider least valuable and least dependent on the programs and services Staff is most concerned about preserving and expanding – the vast majority of which are offered during the week even though Sunday per-hour Library attendance is often higher than any other day of the week.

But what is most frustrating, dishonest and just plain wrong with the way the Library Board and Staff has gone about stiffing you Sunday users is the misinformation/disinformation campaign that is being employed to actually mislead the taxpayers on what the Library is doing, and why.

For example, The Board and Staff issued a January 23, 2014 Press Release about the Library’s finances and operations that is most notable for the information it omits.

Let’s start with the fact that it makes no mention whatsoever of the cost of keeping the Library open those 14 summer Sundays, which is believed to be only about $20,000.  Nor does it mention that roughly that same $20,000 will, instead, be spent on raises for Library employees.  This Board and Staff don’t want the Sunday users or the taxpayers to think that the Library will be closed 14 Sundays this summer just so Library employees can get raises.

The Board and Staff also don’t want you Sunday users or the taxpayers generally to know that, if the Library charged users of the Library’s computers a nominal $1 fee per log-in, the Library’s own computer usage figures through February 2014 suggest that such a charge could generate over $63,000 of new revenue on an annual basis.

That’s right, folks: over $63,000.  Three times the cost of keeping the Library open those 14 Sundays this summer.  Enough to keep the Library open and pay for those employee raises.

But as infomercial king Ron Popeil would say: “Wait, there’s more!”

The Library regularly shows movies and runs a variety of programs for which it charges nothing.  Yet based on the Library’s  program attendance figures, just a nominal $1 admission fee for those movies and programs could generate another $31,000.

Don’t expect to see those figures in any of the propaganda the Library is generating to goad its Sunday users into fighting its battle against City Hall.  The Library Board and Staff don’t want you Sunday users or the taxpayers generally to even consider the possibility that the way the Library currently is being run isn’t the only way, or even the best way.  And they hate any data that suggests otherwise.

Even if it’s their own.

Which is why those figures also don’t appear anywhere on the Library’s anonymous ”survey“ that asks the people who have been getting free programs whether they want to start paying for them.  That survey apparently does not prevent respondents from taking that survey as many times as they want, so ”ballot box” stuffing is permitted if not tacitly encouraged (despite the perfunctory ”Only one survey per person, please” request).  And the Board’s and Staff’s preferred answer to the pay-to-play questions is “no.”

The survey is the Board’s and Staff’s attempt to stave off any Library funding referendum, especially in light of the recent suggestion of such a referendum by Mayor Schmidt and Ald. Dan Knight (5th).  That’s because, despite their insistence that the Library is so beloved and treasured that the taxpayers want nothing less than for the Council to give the Library whatever additional funding it asks for, none of those Board or Staff members want to give those taxpayers an actual vote on that funding via a referendum question – especially on the November general election ballot when turnout is expected to be much heavier than for our local elections in April 2015.

An actual vote – democracy instead of bureaucracy, or oligarchy – on additional Library funding carries too great a risk of the Board and Staff being proved wrong.  They know (as did the Park Board when it arrogantly refused to ask the voters whether it should spend $8 million for the new Centennial water park) that the voting taxpayers often see “amenities” where bureaucrats and sycophantic public officials see “essentials.”

It’s one thing to manipulate pawns and a rig-able survey.  It’s quite another to manipulate a majority of the voters.

Especially when sombody else is counting the votes.

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and publisher

Member, Park Ridge Library Board

To read or post comments, click on title.

How Did $59,000 Grant Funding “Ball” Get Dropped?

03.30.14

When we read the headline “Park Ridge mayor rejects grant for police training in mental health” in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (March 26, 2014), the first thought that crossed our mind was: What kind of idiot would do that?

We know money’s tight over at City Hall and that, consequently, our elected officials have been in a constant battle since 2009 to maintain essential services while keeping annual tax increases at around 3%, even as the Uptown TIF debt continues to suck up around $1 million in debt service expense each year.  Getting $59,000 of grant money to provide Park Ridge police officers with training to better deal with mentally ill individuals, therefore, should have been something the City would jump at.

So why would Mayor Dave Schmidt “reject” such a grant?

After reading the H-A article, it’s clear he didn’t “reject” the grant.  But, notwithstanding the misleading headline, the article doesn’t fully explain where and/or how the grant ball got dropped.

The article reports that Schmidt was concerned about “hidden costs” of the grant such as travel and overtime charges for the officers undergoing the training.  That’s a legitimate concern, especially if those “hidden costs” wouldn’t be covered by the grant funding itself and, instead, would become over-budget expenses that had to be paid out of the City’s General Fund.

“When I got it I looked it over and had questions for staff, but I never really got complete answers and the time expired,” Schmidt explained.  “I never got an explanation so I never signed the form.”

Police Chief Frank Kaminski claims he promptly responded to Schmidt’s questions through City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton; and Kaminski is quoted in the article as saying he didn’t think Schmidt “didn’t want to sign” the grant.  Unfortunately, the article fails to report whether Hamilton forwarded Kaminski’s responses to Schmidt fully and in timely fashion, and/or whether those responses actually did answer all of Schmidt’s questions.

More significantly, the article fails to report why the mayor needed to sign off on the grant at all if there truly were no uncovered expenses.  As we understand it, Hamilton has the discretionary authority to sign contracts without mayoral or Council approval where the costs to the City don’t exceed $10,000.  So if there were any timing issues that jeopardized getting the grant, why didn’t Hamilton either follow up with Schmidt or just sign off on the grant himself?

We expect Schmidt’s critics to howl that he’s prejudiced against the police department and the mentally ill.  They’ve already barbecued him repeatedly for his vetoes of giveaways of arbitrary amounts of taxpayer funds to private corporations who want to use those funds to provide services to non-Park Ridge residents with no accountability to the City for those funds.  Some of those critics probably insist Schmidt hates puppies, kittens and small children, too.

But we can find no mention of, nor even think of, any instance in which Schmidt has “rejected” or not supported free, no-strings-attached funding of anything that would benefit the City or its residents.

Except for one misleading headline.

To read or post comments, click on title.

D-64 Board Surveys NTUs, Ignores NTPs On Full-Day Kindergarten

03.26.14

We’ve previously written that we subscribe to the letter and the spirit of the well-known quote from Pres. John F. Kennedy’s only inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”  Which is why, over many years of observing the workings of local government and the way certain residents or groups of residents exploit it, we’ve come to the conclusion that there are two basic groups: net tax payers (the “NTPs”) and the net tax users (the “NTUs”).

Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised by the admission that we don’t particularly like the NTUs – which is why we sometimes refer to them as “freeloaders.”   It’s nothing personal, mind you.  It’s more a public policy thing, and a matter of prioritizing the needs of the NTPs along the lines of what JFK was talking about.

That usually sends certain readers into paroxysms of outrage, which both amuses us and makes us happy.

And in search for some new amusement and happiness, we found an article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate that seemed to fit the bill, titled: “District 64 punts on full-day kindergarten until new superintendent takes over” (March 25, 2014)

The article talks about one of our “favorite” (i.e., most loathesome) governmental devices, the survey.

We loathe governmental surveys because they always seem to be commissioned to produce results that the governmental body, or some significant faction of it, wants – but for which it feels the need to fabricate some supporting data in order to provide sufficient political cover for the public officials who will approve it.

In this most recent case, the survey was another one of those easily-manipulated “on-line” ones commissioned by the Board of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 to find out whether parents of D-64 students wanted the proposed full-day kindergarten program.  The results, as reported in the H-A article: 79% of all surveyed parents and 86% of surveyed parents of current pre-school students supported FREE full-day kindergarten in their neighborhood school.

We could have predicted that in our sleep.  For free.

But when those on-line survey takers were asked if they would be willing to PAY for the extra half-day kindergarten program in their neighborhood school, guess what?  Only 32% of all surveyed parents, and only 35% of surveyed pre-school parents, answered “probably yes.”

We could have predicted that in our sleep, too.  Also for free.

That’s because NTUs (a/k/a freeloaders) only want things if they are free or, at the very least, where the benefits to them substantially outweigh their costs – with the difference being made up by the NTPs.  That’s why, for example, many/most parents of D-64 kids want no expenses spared by the District: if they are paying $12,000 a year in property taxes and $4,000 of it goes to D-64, they’re still ahead the approximately $9,000+ difference between that $4,000 and D-64’s roughly $13,000 per-student cost.  Throw a second student in the mix and the delta is a whopping $22,000+.

Per year.  Every year they have at least one kid in the D-64 schools.

Multiply that by 9 years (grades K-8) and we’re talking between $81,000 to almost $200,000 of benefits over costs for two children.  Add a third or fourth kid and it becomes almost obscene, albeit ecstasy for the NTUs.

Not surprisingly, our favorite School Board member, John Heyde, did what he has done so well for so long.  He supported the full-day kindergarten…but only if it could be done for free.  Heyde can’t bring himself to make parents who what amounts to enhanced babysitting pay for it when the NTPs remain so fat and docile.

And also not surprisingly, Scott Zimmerman – the Charlie McCarthy to Heyde’s Edgar Bergen – was for it, too.  Go figure.

Lori Hinton, Ass’t Sup’t for Student Learning who reported on the survey results at this past Monday (03.24.14) night’s meeting, added the proper dose of edu-bureaucratese by telling the Board to survey K-1 teachers, study the space requirements, and make sure they get all the “stakeholders” on board with the decision.  In other words, D-64′s minister of propaganda, Bernadette Tramm, had better prepare for some overtime if she’s going to bamboozle those “stakeholders” if/when the decision is made to go forward with the program when new Supt. Laurie Heinz shows up this summer.

Of course, nobody at D-64 thought about going out of their way to survey the NTPs.  That might skew the desired results, which were effectively manipulated by the District’s posting an announcement of the survey on its website on February 24, e-mailing the survey link directly to all D-64 parents (but not the NTPs), distributing it to area pre-schools (but not the NTPs), and closing the survey site on March 10.

We could find no press release about the survey, nor any story about it in the H-A or the Park Ridge Journal during the two weeks the survey process was going on and NTPs could respond.  Chalk that up to Ms. Tramm’s deft touch and knowing when silence is golden.

We aren’t ready to predict which way this decision will go.  If the NTPs wake up and realize that they might end up footing the bill for free enhanced babysitting service for the NTUs, they might start making nasty phone calls to their elected school board members and demanding explanations.

That’s when those bogus on-line surveys prove their worth. 

To read or post comments, click on title.  

Tonight’s Council COW: City’s Glass Half-Empty On Labor And Retail

03.24.14

As we’ve repeatedly pointed out in past posts, our various branches of local government always seem to be overmatched when collectively bargaining with the unions that represent most of our public employees.

Tonight the Park Ridge City Council Committee of the Whole (“COW”) is scheduled to discuss City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton’s Agenda Cover Memorandum on the current state of the City’s labor negotiations and unfair labor practice charges.  A review of that report suggests that the City is not even close to getting its labor costs and bargaining practices under control – or establishing a workable, pro-active plan for getting the taxpayers fair value for those ever-rising labor costs.

The report starts with the Local 150 Operating Engineers (“OEs”) contract, which passed the Council by a 4-3 vote but was then vetoed by Mayor Dave Schmidt because he wasn’t convinced that the promised health insurance savings promised by the OEs would actually be realized.  While we await the vote to sustain or overturn Schmidt’s veto, the City’s labor attorneys – Robert Smith and his Rosemont firm of Clark Baird Smith, LLP – continue to battle the OEs on two related unfair labor practice charges before an Illinois Labor Relations Board administrative law judge.

Unfortunately, these ULPs tend to be decided in favor of the unions because the vast majority of the ALJs who decide them are pro-union lawyers placed on the state payroll by the clout of the ruling Democrats who need to keep the public-sector unions happy.  Chalk that up as yet another cost of one-party rule in Illinois for the past 30+ years.

But that doesn’t mean the City should just roll over any time the unions beef about something – even in a situation such as this one, where it looks and sounds like either the City’s crack negotiating team was asleep at the wheel when it came time for properly documenting the “deal” it claims it obtained from the OEs, or it simply got suckered and slickered by its union counterpart.

The report also talks about the upcoming firefighters contract negotiations.  The City’s negotiating team will once again be headed by Fire Chief Mike Zywanski, which is like giving the firefighters union an extra negotiator and a blank check.  Chief Z is the guy who proposed those secretive negotiating ”Ground Rules” a few years ago, then didn’t have the basic integrity even to raise his hand and admit he did it when Schmidt asked who was responsible for agreeing to something so stupid.

All of this, however, is just re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

So long as the City continues to go along with a process where it budgets arbitrary amounts of tax dollars with the expectation of raises and benefit increases, then sits back and waits for the unions’ arbitrary and excessive demands, it will continue to commit increasingly more funding for services that are neither more numerous nor better than what is currently being provided.

That’s because the unions and the employees they represent don’t care about greater productivity, greater efficiency, or better service.  The last thing they want is raises and benefit increases tied to such measures.  So each negotiation starts off with a set of union demands that have no basis in anything but the unions’ wish list.

Their goal, at a minimum, is to lock in what amounts to cost-of-living allowances (“COLAs”) which are intended to do nothing more but make taxpayers the guarantors of the purchasing power of these employees’ wages.  If the price of gasoline, or milk, or housing, or anything else included in the Consumer Price Index goes up, these unions want to make sure their members get enough additional money to cover those increases.

How many private-sector Park Ridge taxpayers get such COLAs?  We’re betting not many.

But when it comes to being lost in the funhouse regarding labor costs, the City isn’t just clueless with unionized employees.  It may also be an equal-opportunity bungler when it comes to non-union staffing, as has been the case with the various raises it has given those employees with no thought to greater productivity, efficiency or value.

And yet another example of that is on tonight’s COW agenda under “Economic Development Coordinator proposal,” which gets its own City Mgr. Memorandum to explain why the City needs to create a new position of highly-questionable worth.

Hamilton spends six paragraphs positively gushing over all the miracles – “grow our business tax base,” “reduce the property tax dependency of our residents,” and create “the competitive advantage the City can realize” – an $80,000/year ED coordinator will perform.  Not surprisingly, he offers no business plan or any metrics for evaluating the success or failure of this new incarnation of a position that was eliminated back in 2010 because it produced little beyond a $120,000/year expense.

Sadly, that’s the kind of lightweight work product we’ve come to expect from Hamilton, for whom we and other Park Ridge residents had so much hope when he was hired back in the summer of 2012.  The only redeeming quality of his latest brainchild is that it will cost the taxpayers $40,000 less than its predecessor.

Hamilton actually may have been out-gushed, however, by the president of the Park Ridge Chamber of Commerce, whose letter predicts even more miracles from the new ED coordinator, including “more long-awaited shopping, dining, and service options for Park Ridge residents” that will “improve the attractiveness of Park Ridge as a place to buy a home.”  And it that’s not enough, the Chamber pres suggests that when the new coordinator isn’t busy shilling for the business community he/she can also help people “find the [social] services they need.”

Brilliant!  The position hasn’t even been created yet, but the Chamber is already advocating a kind of mission-creep which can be used to justify the employee’s retention if/when he/she fumbles the primary economic development task.

We suspect neither Hamilton nor the Chamber want the taxpayers to think about how, despite not having any such ED employee on the City’s payroll for the past four years, Park Ridge was able to land a Whole Foods, a Mariano’s, a Chipotle, a Jersey Mike’s, and other businesses, the cumulative total of which absolutely dwarfs anything any City ED employee or department have generated in more than a decade.  Nor do they want the taxpayers to realize what a joke the Chamber has become at actually promoting Park Ridge as a viable business community.

At least not until after the new ED coordinator position is approved.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Park Board Strikes Blow For Transparency In Executive Evaluations

03.20.14

If you’re a top-ranked bureaucrat employed by one of our local governmental units, you are pulling down a six-figure salary and benefits such as a taxpayer-guaranteed pension that’s more than double – and sometimes even triple – what their private-sector courterparts will get from Social Security.

But when it comes time for our elected officials to evaluate the performance of these bureaucrats and dole out raises, the folks we elect to keep a keen eye on our local governmental units for us usually run into closed session and hide their deliberations from taxpayer view.  Often those elected officials rationalize the secrecy by claiming that’s the only way they can have “candid” discussions – which causes us to wonder how much less than “candid” are all the discussions they actually have in open session?

Make no mistake about it, however: those closed-session evaluations are far less about candor than about avoiding transparency and accountability to the taxpayers who foot the bills.

So a Watchdog bark-out goes out today to the Park Ridge Park District Board for its current evaluation process of executive director Gayle Mountcastle.

For the first time in Park District history as we know it, the Park Board is conducting what appears to be the closest thing to an “open” evaluation process conducted by any local governing body – with the possible exception of the time the Park Ridge City Council openly discussed then-city manager Jim Hock’s failure to meet a number of performance criteria the Council had set for him near the end of his tenure.

At its March 6th meeting, the Park Board held the majority of Mountcastle’s review in open session (running from approx. 1:50:20 through 2:12:43, and then from approx. 2:19:20 through 3:15:49 of the Board’s meeting video.  Since then, it has produced for public viewing a Performance Review of that evaluation and salary recommendation that will be discussed and voted on at tonight’s Board meeting; and Mountcastle prepared her own evaluation of her goals and achievements that is also part of the packet for tonight’s meeting (7:30 p.m., 2701 W. Sibley Street) available for public inspection.

We put little-to-no stock in consultants’ studies like the one the Board commissioned from McGladrey to design a “market-based” compensation program for the District’s full-time staff.  Such studies are inherently flawed because: (a) they are not based on the specific value of a specific employee to this specific district but, instead, are based on what other districts pay their employees – for whatever reasons, based on whatever resources those other districts may have that our Park District doesn’t, etc.; and (b) they seem to assume an unrealistic level of mobility of these employees.

When it comes to government in Illinois, what “somebody else” is doing usually is no better, and often worse, than what your own governmental unit is doing.  And it’s usually irrelevant, given the substantial dissimilarities between and among allegedly “comparable” communities, park districts and school districts that consultants conveniently tend to ignore.

So adding a 3.0 % raise to Mountcastle’s current $143,225 salary in response to what appears to be a C+/B- evaluation (3.75 out of 5.0) seems both arbitrary and overly-generous, especially because the Performance Review clearly doesn’t capture the kind of specifics the taxpayers deserve about how their elected representatives actually came up with that 3.75 rating and a corresponding 3.0% raise – specifics we assume were hidden away in the closed-session portion of the March 6 meeting, or a prior one, in the interest of ”candid” discussions.

But we’re not going to let a desire for “great” become the enemy of the “good” that this Park Board has achieved – under the leadership of president Rick Biagi – when it comes to shifting the paradigm from secrecy to transparency in the evaluation of the District’s equivalent of a corporation’s CEO.

And this evaluation process should serve notice on the City Council and the Boards of D-64 and D-207 that this level of transparency and accountability – and even more of it – can be achieved if our elected representatives on those bodies start showing a bit more concern for the taxpayers who pay these salaries than for the employees who pocket them.

To read or post comments, click on title.

VOTE Today! (Updated)

03.18.14

Today is election day.  “Primary” election day, to be sure, but election day nonetheless.

For too many people, this isn’t a “real” election because it doesn’t decide who will actually win a particular office, just who gets to compete for it in November.  And, for some strange reason, that doesn’t seem to mean all that much to them.

Sadly, we understand how that came to be…at least here in Illinois, one of the most mismanaged and corrupt states in the country.

For over 30 years Michael Madigan and the Democrats have dominated the General Assembly.  And with the help of co-conspirator Republican governors like “Big Jim” Thompson, “Slim Jim” Edgar and George “No. 16627-424” Ryan, they created “The Combine” that changed our state from a prosperous leader into a pathetic, quasi-bankrupt shell.

And, over those same 30 years, they have provided far too many choices that seem like brain cancer versus congestive heart failure.

So we’re not saying conclusively that things would have been different if more voters had turned out for primary elections.  But how could it NOT have improved things, given how badly they have turned out?

Case in point: The biggest blow to corruption in this state in at least 50 years was struck by former Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, who pushed through the appointment of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald over bi-partisan Combine objections.  But the only reason Sen. Fitzgerald had the opportunity to strike that blow was because he was able to buck the Republican establishment in 1998 and defeat favored Loleta Didrickson in the primary – giving him the chance to beat an inept and ethically-suspect Democratic Sen. Carol Moseley Braun in the general election that year.

No Sen. Fitzgerald, no U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald.  Simple as that.  And no 11 years of prosecutions and convictions of Govs. Ryan and Blagojevich, of Combine guru Bill Cellini, and of other corrupt politicians and Outfit crooks, etc.

All because of primary election results.

Whether there’s one or more Fitzgerald-Didrickson choices on either the “D” or the “R” ballot today is an unanswered question.  Sometimes you can’t see these things clearly except in hindsight.

Which is why even choosing between brain cancer and congestive heart failure can still be a meaningful choice.  One might be more treatable than the other, just like one candidate might be slightly less terrible than the other.

Or maybe, as in the case of Fitzgerald v. Didrickson, just plain better; and in certain ways most of us never even anticipated.

If you want change for the better in Illinois, you aren’t going to make it happen by staying home.

VOTE!

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and Publisher

UPDATE (03.20.14)  Figures from the Cook County Clerk’s office indicate that a measly 11.29% of registered Maine Township voters showed up at the polls for this primary election.  No wonder representative democracy in Illinois is verging on terminal.

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Another Appropriate Veto From “Mayor No”

03.14.14

Mayor Dave Schmidt’s latest veto – of the new contract between the City and its public works employees represented by Local 150 of the Int’l Union of Operating Engineers (the “OEs”) – came with what might be his shortest veto message to date.

The contract Schmidt vetoed would require the City to pay the OEs to provide health insurance for the 28 public works employees it represents, rather than keep those employees on the City’s insurance.  The projected $70,000 savings to the City of that insurance off-loading purportedly justifies the multi-year pay raises the contract includes, which are to run through April 2017.

Schmidt is concerned “because the projected costs and purported savings for the 2016-17 fiscal years are too uncertain.”  That was the same theme advanced by Ald. Marc Mazzuca (6th) – one of the three aldermen (along with Alds. Dan Knight and Roger Shubert) who voted against the contract initially – in a letter to City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton last month.

Hamilton and HR Director Mike Suppan are endorsing this contract as buying labor peace for our time, or at least until April 2017.

That should be the concern of all Park Ridge taxpayers who have seen just how bogus “projections” can be, especially when they are created and/or endorsed by bureaucrats, politicians and private organizations trying to feed at the public trough.  Remember all those glowing Uptown TIF projections?  And how then-city manager Tim Schuenke waived them around like Neville Chamberlain returning from Munich with that white paper “accord”?

Replace Schuenke/Chamberlain with City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton and you’ve got the picture.

And any question about whether this contract is likely to be a good or bad deal for the taxpayers should be dispelled by one simple fact: the OEs are arguing that it will save the taxpayers money!

As reported in a recent Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Park Ridge mayor vetoes union contract over health care concerns,” March 6), Local 150 “spokesperson” Ed Maher chided Schmidt for not locking in protections for taxpayers and employees against possible future spikes in health care costs.  He also took a swipe at the ACA/Obamacare, calling it “completely unfunded” and contending that any suggestion that it will result in health care savings to the City is “absurd.”

A public sector union executive expressing concern for the taxpayers sounds about as sincere as Putin expressing concern for Ukrainian independence.

Schmidt is spot-on in asking that the contract be revised to at least include a wage and health insurance re-opener if all these projected savings don’t occur.  But, of course, the OEs want no part of anything that might add any accountability and real consequences if their projections turn out to be nothing but propaganda.

And Hamilton and City Staff just want to make a deal, any deal, to put to rest the continuing saga of what appears to have been their botched negotiations of this contract, as we wrote in our 06.14.13 postThey seem to have not even the vaguest grasp of how whatever they negotiate with one group of employees – be it unionized or non-unionized – impacts the demands of other groups; and how it can effectively become the baseline for what terms an arbitrator can impose on the City in connection with the police and firefighters’ contracts.

This latest veto surely won’t endear Schmidt to the OEs, who threw their support – and an unprecedented $1,000 contribution – to Schmidt’s opponent in last April’s election.  At least one of that opponent’s campaign signs was also reported to have been prominently displayed in the Public Works garage even weeks after the election – notwithstanding that Schmidt won handily, in large part because it seems the voting taxpayers respect a public official who actually walks his talk.

Since we don’t appear to have any City negotiators with the brains or the backbone necessary to protect City taxpayers from the OEs’ (and other unions’) demands,, and their possible chicanery, that task falls to the Mayor.

Fortunately, he’s not afraid to do his job, especially when others can’t seem to do theirs.

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D-64 To City: “Pay Us!”

03.12.14

Back in 2003, when members of the Park Ridge City Council were like cats in heat trying to get the Uptown TIF off the ground, they needed the support of the Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 School Board.  And the Council knew that support wouldn’t come easy.

The TIF plan was going to take money from D-64, D-207 and the Park Ridge Park District.  Because D-64 would be the most financially-impacted by the TIF of those three taxing bodies, it hired a top-notch TIF attorney: John B. Murphey of Rosenthal, Murphey, Coblentz & Donahue in Chicago.  And Murphey told the D-64 Board that the City could not prove its contention that the proposed TIF district met the “but for” test: but for the creation of a TIF district, that area would not be redeveloped.

Armed with Murphey’s opinion, the D-64 Board demanded some significant financial concessions from the City in order to forego a lawsuit.  And those randy cats on the Council – happily slurping up all the pro-TIF Kool-Aid being doled out by then-mayor Ron Wietecha, then-city manager Tim Schuenke, and the various bond consultants and attorneys who saw the TIF as a nice chunk of revenue for them – jumped at the chance to effectively bribe D-64 for its support.

They cut a deal that required payments to D-64 irrespective of whether or not the TIF was successful.  And, by now, we all know how that’s turned out for the City..

So it comes as no surprise to hear that the City has been behind in making payments to D-64, as recently reported in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Park Ridge owes cash to schools, District 64 says,” 03.07.14).

Right now City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton and Finance Director Kent Oliven claim to need more and better new-student data from D-64 to determine how much the City owes.  For its part, D-64 says it provided its calculations back on January 9, but D-64’s highly-paid Business Mgr. Becky Allard reportedly was unavailable for comment.

Interestingly enough, the H-A article does not report either the dollar amount claimed by D-64, or the City’s proposed payment to D-64.  And the most recent Agenda Cover Memorandum on this issue says only that payments to D-64 were due by December 15 but D-64 didn’t even submit its new student data to the City until January 9.

Whatever the number turns out to be, the City should pay it promptly because – in true Chicago Way style – once you’ve been bought, you stay bought…so long as you get paid.  The City bought D-64 back in 2003, and it now owes that obligation despite the TIF’s turning out to be the financial white elephant for the City that some of us warned about back in 2003.

Although some folks at City Hall would like to renegotiate the bribe deal their predecessors cut a decade ago, the D-64 Board owes its constituents (a good number of whom are not Park Ridge residents) the duty to collect the TIF-related payments D-64 is owed.  And the D-64 Board has every right to take a lesson from the fictional “Paul Cicero” in the movie “Goodfellas”:

“But now the guy’s gotta come up with Paulie’s money every week, no matter what.  Business bad?  #@$% you, pay me.  Oh, you had a fire? #@$% you, pay me.  Place got hit by lightning, huh?  #@$% you, pay me.”

Back in July 2003, Wietecha criticized the few aldermen who hesitated to vote for the TIF.

“The people are expecting you to do your job, and your job is to cast a vote.”

Two months later, after the Council foolishly passed the TIF, Wietecha resigned his office on a Friday night and subsequently moved to Barrington.

Before his bill came due for “Paulie’s [TIF] money.”

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Deluge Of Demands Expected At Tomorrow’s Flood Control Meeting

03.07.14

If you’re interested in the City’s efforts to control and remediate its flooding problems – or if you’re interested in how the City might be taking on tens of millions of dollars of long-term bonded debt – then show up tomorrow morning (Saturday, March 8) at City Hall (505 Butler Place) at 9:00 a.m. for a special meeting of the Park Ridge City Council to discuss the continuing saga of flood control.

For years we have argued for the City’s undertaking a plan for remediating both the sewer back-up and the overland flooding that plagues much/most of our community.  One reason we supported then-ald. Dave Schmidt in his mayoral campaign against then-mayor Howard Frimark in 2009 was Schmidt’s promise to meaningfully address this problem while Frimark fiddled with the Uptown TIF, the façade improvement program, and other giveaways of our public tax dollars to private entities.

And Schmidt has done just that.

He created the City’s Flood Control Task Force, which expended substantial effort in collecting data and providing a lot of valuable input from both an expert’s and resident’s perspective.  And Schmidt spearheaded the City Council’s hiring of Christopher B. Burke Engineering, Ltd. to provide a comprehensive analysis of Park Ridge flooding problems.

Unfortunately, kind of like the saying about how God answers all prayers but sometimes the answer is “no,” the Burke study and follow-up analysis produced a number of remediation projects – but with some major sticker-shock: $2.3 million for flood relief to just 23 homes in the Mayfield Estates neighborhood in the 2nd Ward, near Maine East; and another $16.6 million for the Northwest Park neighborhood, also in the 2nd Ward.

That’s basically $19 million and counting – because we all know how the costs of these kinds of projects tend to grow like Topsy – to provide flood relief to only two neighborhoods, leaving the rest of the City standing at the altar, ankle-to-knee deep in groundwater and/or sewage back-up.  Throw in the third main flood relief target area west of the Park Ridge Country Club, at another $80 million, and we’re looking at $100 million of long-term bonded debt that still leaves most of the City to fend for itself.

In our January 17 post, we suggested that the fairest way to undertake the staggering costs of these projects – which, if successful, could add tens of thousands of dollars to the value of those homes in the remediated neighborhoods – would be by a combination of City funds and a special assessment for the benefitted homes through the creation of Special Service Areas (“SSA”s).  Alternatively, we suggested a City-wide referendum.

Since then, the City has begun to look into both of those options, as can be seen from the SSA Memorandum and the Referendum Memorandum for tomorrow’s meeting.  These two options apparently have infuriated the folks in those neighborhoods who have been working for months to portray themselves as “victims” (of whom, precisely?) in the hopes of guilting our City officials into mortgaging the City’s future primarily for these victims’ private economic benefit.

Leading the charge for what amounts to a major Second Ward windfall is Ald. Nick Milissis (2nd), who has done an excellent job of firing up his “base” with e-mails and Facebook posts like his most recent one from Wednesday:

WE ARE SECOND WARD CITIZENS NOT SECOND CLASS CITIZENS.
Reading the packet for the Special Council Meeting to take place this Saturday March 8, 2014 it is apparent from the material included that some of our elected officials want to treat the residents of the Second Ward as if though they are a lower class subgroup of this city. The staff has been directed to produce memos that introduce concepts such as Special Service Areas and Advisory Referenda. NEVER I repeat NEVER has an area in the city been subject to this proposed discrimination and derogatory treatment. The City has never put a flood relief project to referendum nor has it ever passed on the costs directly to the victims of the flooding. Yet this is exactly what some aldermen will propose this Saturday. Instead of pitting areas of the city and residents against each other the council should be treating these projects as what they are; a continuation and a piece of an overall flood management plan for the entire city of Park Ridge. Let’s stop with the diversions and let’s assume our responsibility as a city for the health and safety of our citizens.

Frankly, we like the idea of aldermen advocating vigorously for their constituents.  And we also like the idea of other aldermen and citizens – like ourselves – vigorously challenging that advocacy, especially when it smacks of private greed and class and/or regional warfare.

So we will take this opportunity to remind Ald. Milissis that NEVER, we repeat NEVER, has such a limited area of the City demanded the kind of expenditures and long-term bonded indebtedness Milissis is demanding for his constituents – other than the Uptown TIF.

How’s that one working for us, Alderman?

And NEVER, we repeat NEVER, has the City committed the kind of expenditures and long-term bonded indebtedness Milissis is demanding for his constituents – other than the aforementioned Uptown TIF.

Let’s be painfully honest, Alderman: what you are tele-marketing as a mere “continuation and a piece of an overall flood management plan for the entire city of Park Ridge” will basically hogtie and hamstring the City in addressing other pieces of overall flood management for the rest of the City’s neighborhoods and residents for the foreseeable future.  What you’re proposing is nothing less than making sure your constituents win the race to empty what’s left in the public trough.

And let’s be even more painfully honest, Alderman: You don’t want a referendum because you know you can’t sell such a fundamentally dishonest, unfair and profligate initiative to the rest of this community.  And you don’t want SSA’s because many/most(?) of your most vocal constituents are shameless freeloaders who are counting on there being enough spineless aldermen to cave in to these demands and pay the entire cost – totaling as much as $100,000 per household – of their flood control.

As we’ve seen with the financially disastrous Uptown TIF, once the bonds are issued and the money is spent, there’s no do-over.  Once that debt service commitment is made, everything else must take a backseat to it – including the City’s ability to maintain its current level of services and to react to future challenges – unless the City jacks up its taxes substantially or watches its bond rating plummet.

Meanwhile, those residents directly reaping the benefit of all that debt and debt service can watch their property values rise dramatically as their homes lose the “we flood” designation.  And when those new taxes get too high and/or our bond rating drops, they can pack up and sell their properties – and pocket the enhanced profits provided by their fellow taxpayers’ financing.

Do you really want to talk about “pitting areas of the city and residents against each other,” Alderman?

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