Public Watchdog.org

City Council Finance Chairman Explains Higher City Tax Levy

11.24.14

We live in a society with two generally distinct sectors–the public and the private.

The private sector is non-monopolistic, with monopolies actually being illegal in most instances. Because there is so much competition in the private sector, decisions are based almost exclusively on economics rather than popularity. Popular decisions that produce bad economic results usually lead to drops in stock prices, the firing of management (albeit with golden, or at least silver, parachutes), and even bankruptcy.

The public sector, on the other hand, is monopolistic.  Government services tend to come from only one source of supply: e.g., only one fire department, one police department, one system of public education. That’s because those are customarily considered “essential services” which usually cannot be efficiently or economically provided by the competitive free market – although the consistent increases in the costs of such public services has created the outsourcing/privatizing movement.

Public sector decisions are always political decisions, with popularity rather than economic soundness tending to be the more important consideration. Witness the City’s “investment” in the Uptown TIF, a politically popular project (at least with our then-elected officials – the taxpayers never got a vote on it) that was economically unsound from the start due to an over-commitment of City funds and debt with no commensurate economic upside in return.

Those costs to the City were soft-peddled and even concealed from public view by the Uptown TIF perpetrators and their successors. For several years the City ran deficits and processed the Uptown TIF costs through the General Fund to paper over those costs. Only recently did the City, under Mayor Dave Schmidt’s administration, start coming clean with the taxpayers, as politically painful as that has proven to be.

Once again this year, Council Finance Chairman Dan Knight has prepared an essay on the new tax levy that has been sent to the local newspapers and was published in last week’s Park Ridge Journal. It is reprinted here with Ald. Knight’s permission.

___________________________________

By now most Park Ridge residents have either read or at least heard about our City Manager’s presentation of a preliminary December 2014 (for payment in 2015) tax levy to the City Council that is some 23% higher than the prior year’s levy. In actual dollars that 23% represents a $4.1 million increase over the prior levy, and your 2015 tax bills should reflect that increase.

There’s no doubt that on the face of it, both in real dollars and as a percentage, this is a stunningly large increase. Bearing in mind that the City’s portion of the total typical tax levy is roughly 12%, a 23% increase in the City’s share equates to about a 2.75% increase in the total tax bill. On a fairly typical $12,000 tax bill this equates to a $330 increase.

A $330 increase is not to be taken lightly, especially by those on fixed incomes. But you deserve an explanation of the rationale behind that increase, and why it is almost unavoidable.

Here it is.

The first factor is the back-end loaded nature of the Uptown TIF debt the City remains obligated to pay, which hits this levy with a vengeance because the total required debt service payments for the TIF bonds and the required payments of the TIF-related intergovernmental agreement obligations (with both local school districts and the park district) far exceed the tax revenue the TIF brings in. Those TIF expenses will require an additional $2.1 million in payments this coming year, as previously-deferred principal payments kick in; and as the prior abatement of those TIF-related taxes has ceased. Just the TIF alone represents 50% of the total increase.

Next, the success of the recent Park Ridge Library tax increase referendum has enabled the Library Director and Board to levy over $1 million more than last year’s approximately $3.7 million, for a total of $4.7 million.  That accounts for another 24% of the total levy increase.

Finally, escalating police and fire pensions have the boards of both pension funds asking for an additional levy of $300,000, which amounts to 8% of the increase.

Just those three elements of the City’s total tax levy consume 83% of the total increase sought.  Worse yet, the City has almost no flexibility to reduce those requests because there is absolutely no flexibility as to the TIF or the library increases; and there is very little flexibility, if any, in the pension fund levy requests due to state pension funding mandates.

Over the past few years City tax levy increases were deliberately held to a far more modest level: in the 2% to 4% per annum range. But the demands imposed on the City as described above give the City Council no reasonable hope of achieving such a small increase this year. That said, the Council will work as usual to be sure the balance of the levy is rationalized and any additional increases sought are modest and absolutely necessary.

The fact that this year’s total Uptown TIF debt of $3.4 million will comprise nearly 16% of the City’s total tax levy teaches us a painful lesson: taxpayers and other stakeholders must pay attention to what their elected officials are doing when they are doing it, not years later after the damage has been irreversibly done. It is in the present, rather than in the distant future, that public officials can best be held accountable for their actions on our behalf.

In the case of the Uptown TIF, irrespective of one’s tastes and opinions about the appearance and functionality of both the residences and the retail components, the financial components that were locked in 10 years ago and still have another 13 years to run have been a disaster – and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future, according to the City’s outside TIF consultants.

Like you, as a resident and a taxpayer I look forward to the day we are out from under the crushing pressures of the TIF. And I hope and trust that, as badly as we taxpayers have been burned collectively by this “gift” from a decade ago, we have learned enough from the experience that we will never let something like it happen again.

The City Council will discuss this new tax levy at each Council meeting leading up to the levy’s adoption at the Council’s December 15th meeting.  I heartily encourage you to attend those meetings and provide your input to those of us – the mayor, your aldermen, the city manager and senior city staff – who owe you a completely transparent process and accountability insofar as how we address this challenging situation.

Dan Knight

5th Ward Alderman, Park Ridge

___________________________________

Had we had this type of transparency, candor and accountability from the City administration(s) back in 2002-06 when the Uptown TIF was cooked up and jammed down the taxpayers’ throats without a referendum, the current Council might not be stuck grappling with such long-term intractable problems, or having to propose unpopular tax increases.

But we didn’t.

To read and post comments, click on title.

Youth Campus Park Battling Cost Overruns Before Permits Pulled

11.19.14

How does a $13.2 million parks project grow a $1.6 – $2 million cost overrun before the project has even gone out to bid?

Just ask the Park Ridge Park District.  Or not, given that it has become rather closed-mouth about this topic.

As reported by the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate in a November 12 article (“Higher costs predicted for Park Ridge Youth Campus”), a $1.6 -$2 million overrun is what PRPD Building and Grounds Supt. Terry Wolf is currently projecting.  According to Wolf, the Park District is “trying to clarify that [number] and identify where and why we have these overages.”

It’s as if they popped up overnight, like mushrooms in an autumn wood.

But you can’t think about this stuff the way you would financial problems in your private life, a/k/a the “real” world.  The bureaucrat world of 15% (or worse) cost overruns is nothing like the one the rest of us live in, where financial decisions have real consequences that can’t be pawned off on friends and neighbors the way bureaucrats can pawn them off on unsuspecting and relatively helpless taxpayers

Think about it this way.  You hire a contractor who tells you he can design and build that addition to your home for $100,000.  So you go to your bank and max out your equity line of credit to borrow that $100,000.  You sign all the paperwork needed to indenture yourself to the bank.  And then your contractor tells you, oops, your project is already 15% over budget…and he hasn’t even pulled the permits.

This cost-overrun disclosure makes us wonder exactly who was doing the budgeting over at Park District HQ back when this Youth Campus Park project was being put together and gussied up for sale to the community in a binding referendum in April 2013.

Can Park Board president Mel Thillens – the tax/borrow/spender who championed the no-referendum $8 million Centennial water park effort in 2012-13 and then followed that up by leading the Youth Campus Park referendum campaign before allegedly becoming a born-again fiscal conservative while running his losing race for state representative – explain how the Park District can be as much as $2 million, or 15%+, over budget yet not know exactly why?

Are we looking at a cynical case of bait-and-switch designed to bamboozle the voters?  Or is it just some irresponsible and/or incompetent WAG budgeting ?

Board president Thillens?  Thillens?  Anybody?  Bueller?

Either way, Park District management – Board and Staff – should have some big-time explaining to do.  But as we’ve seen with the water park boondoggle and the Senior Center/Kenmitz Estate fiasco, what passes for “management” at the Park District is shameless enough that providing explanations to the unwashed masses of District taxpayers is optional, at best.  After all, the votes on the Youth Campus Park already have been counted, so who cares!

Meanwhile, the Park District reportedly is the recipient of a $750,000 state grant for this Youth Campus Park project, and expects to receive an additional $500,000 from the sale of naming rights for a multi-purpose building on the site.

The naming rights deal was announced by Exec. Director Mountcastle at the November 6 Park Board meeting.  In response to Commissioner Rick Biagi’s question of whether that $500,000 in new money would result in an equivalent amount being shaved of the referendum-authorized bonding, or be rebated to the taxpayers, Mountcastle –predictably for a consummate bureaucrat –responded: “That would not be my recommendation.”

In other words, a million here and a million there is no big deal to the Mountcastle’s of the world, so long as those millions go toward building a better bureaucratic resume and not be wasted by giving them back to the taxpayers.

At the end of the day, the taxpayers have no more of an idea of where those $1.6 to $2 million in cost overruns are coming from than they did of where the original $13.2 million cost for the Youth Campus Park project came from for referendum purposes.

And the best way to cope with that is not to think of any of it as “your” money.

Because Mountcastle and most of the Park Board don’t think of it that way.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Private Citizens Now Bearing Brunt Of Defective Zoning Code

11.15.14

John O’Flaherty apparently doesn’t care about winning friends and influencing people here in Park Ridge.

It’s one thing for the real estate developer disgruntled with the way the City is responding to his development plans to sue the City and/or City officials for not giving him his way. But when he sues ordinary citizens simply for expressing their opinions at an open public meeting, O’Flaherty might just as well have told Dale Carnegie to go pound sand…and the horse he rode in on.

O’Flaherty responded to the Park Ridge Planning & Zoning Commission’s denial of his application to build a 22-unit residential building on top of a parking garage and 1,500 square foot commercial space at 400 W. Talcott – the last feature apparently being the bare minimum commercial space he needed in order to camouflage his residential building as a “commercial” structure for purposes of the property’s “B” (for “Business”) zoning classification – by filing a lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Cook County: 400 W Talcott LLC v. Argionis, et al., Case No. 2014-CH-17457

We can understand O’Flaherty suing the City, the Planning & Zoning Commission, and the individual P&Z commissioners. We can even understand his suing Ald. Joe Sweeney, the Council’s liaison to the P&Z Commission, and Jon Branham, the City’s Senior Planner in charge of evaluating the Zoning Code compliance of projects such as this. They are City officials so they at least technically fall within O’Flaherty’s field of fire.

But naming twenty-two private citizens – Al Beltuzzi, Larry Devereux, Krystyna Doerhty, Linda Foss, Joe Fresel, Patricia Gagliardi, Tom Harris, John Hildefra, Missy Langan, Dan Lawlor, Pat Livensparger, M. Christina, Tom Maheras, Carol McComb, Steven Nadler, Ron Pollina, Karen Sloma, Ray Wachnick, Jerzy Wachnick, Paul Wright and former ald. Frank Wsol – just for speaking out against the size and density of the projects is nothing but unvarnished political hardball.

It also may be a violation of the Illinois Citizen Participation Act, 735 ILCS 110/1 et. seq., commonly known as the Illinois Anti-SLAPP (“Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation”) statute, which is designed to prevent folks like O’Flaherty from filing lawsuits not so much to actually win them but, instead, to “chill” citizens’ exercise of their free speech and protest rights, and to discourage future opposition to their projects by causing the sued citizens to incur the time, expense and distraction of being a defendant in a lawsuit.

Interestingly enough, the lead attorney for O’Flaherty, Ronald Cope, is himself an elected official in Lincolnwood. And, even more interestingly, within days of filing the suit naming all these individuals, Cope reportedly offered to drop them from the suit if they would sign waivers agreeing not to seek attorneys’ fees or damages from O’Flaherty and his attorneys.

In other words, Cope – on behalf of O’Flaherty – intentionally scared the beejeezus out of many/most of those private citizens, then offered an olive branch in the hope of extricating himself and his client out from potential Anti-SLAPP liability, which includes an award of the wronged individuals’ attorneys’ fees.

A few of us folks here at PublicWatchdog are trial attorneys who make decent livings from waging courtroom battles, but we’d be the last folks to encourage anybody to litigate – including our fellow residents, especially a developer who has far more to gain from unleashing a pack of high-priced attorneys on ordinary Park Ridge citizens.

But from what we know of this situation, it appears Team O’Flaherty’s lawsuit is the exact kind of action the Anti-SLAPP law is intended to discourage and punish. And his attorney’s attempt to let bygones be bygones by tendering waivers to the folks they just sued seems like a pretty transparent acknowledgment that O’Flaherty and Cope may have overplayed their hand.

Whether any of the 22 private residents choose to hold O’Flaherty’s feet to the fire and try to Anti-SLAPP him remains to be seen. Given the expense, the potential exposure to liability, and the distraction presented by this lawsuit, we can understand if all 22 choose discretion over valor, take the waiver deal, and leave with a whimper instead of a bang.

But as we argued pre-SLAPP suit (in our 10.02.14 post), the real lesson from this situation is just how inadequate and/or screwed up our Zoning Code is – and how it encourages uncertainty, acrimony and expense for the City.

Now 22 ordinary citizens have discovered that, up close and personally.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Veterans Day 2014: The “Sacred Trust” We Owe Our Veterans

11.11.14

Today is Veterans Day – the one day each year set aside to honor all men and women who have served our country in the armed forces, whether in wartime or peacetime. It is intended to recognize the sacrifices and contributions to our national security of those living veterans, and to thank them for their service.

It’s not the same as Memorial Day. That’s the day we honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of our country.

The two days are not interchangeable, nor should they be.

While we owe our dead veterans, especially those who died protecting our freedoms, an undying duty of remembrance, respect and gratitude, we owe our living veterans more tangible benefits: the care and opportunities they have earned through their service.

For those of us who still justifiably believe in The American Dream, nobody deserves it more than those veterans who voluntarily put themselves in harm’s way to keep our nation and their fellow Americans safe and secure – many of whom have paid a high price for doing so.

Every veteran who has been injured in body, mind or spirit as a result of military service deserves the best medical care this nation can provide – including the ongoing care and support needed to address the special challenges of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. In that regard, we hope the overhaul of the Veterans Administration announced yesterday is not just a political stunt but an overdue and much needed step in the right direction.

As Americans, we should all join in President Obama’s acknowledgment of the “sacred trust” we owe our veterans:

“If you put on a uniform and risk your life to keep us safe, we’ll do our part for you. We’ll make sure you and your family get the support you need. We’ll have your backs, just like you had ours.”

Exactly, Mr. President.

And thank you, veterans!

To read or post comments, click on title.

Fewer Library “Parasites” Mean More Revenue And/Or Less Expense

11.07.14

Not all that many years ago “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” was an aphorism parents taught their children from an early age. It was so common you often heard kids on playgrounds chanting it in an almost-taunting, sing-song fashion.

In today’s full-employment-for-psychologists,-sociologists-and-lawyers society, however, “sensitivity” is a virtue and “victimhood” has gained almost sacred status. And a an expanding contingent of the shameless not only seek to reap what they have not sown, but when called out for their avarice they feign sensitivity and claim victimhood. Or their sympathizers and apologists claim it for them.

So it came as no surprise that a recent article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Park Ridge library fees mean lower use, fewer ‘parasites’,” November 4) would seize on how the editor of this blog – in his role of Park Ridge Library trustee – used the word “parasites” to describe a certain group of non-resident Library ex-patrons at last month’s Library Board meeting.  Especially since the H-A reporter who wrote the story is no “fan” (to put it mildly) of this editor or his philosophy of local government.

She also wasn’t in attendance at that meeting.  So it must have been her muse that inspired her to listen to the tape recording of the meeting, because she seems to have gotten the quotes right…or close enough for government work.

To be clear, the “parasites” label was not conferred on all non-resident Library users – just those who had been coming to our Library for the past few years for free use of our computers and programs but recently stopped doing so because (according to our Library’s director) the Library started charging non-residents for those privileges. Although this editor voted to approve those fees, they were actually proposed by Library staff in response to Library Board requests for ideas on how to raise needed revenue.

One of the definitions of “parasite” in Merriam-Webster’s on-line dictionary is: “a person or thing that takes something from someone or something else and does not do anything to earn it or deserve it.” That pretty much describes those non-resident Library patrons who profited from their lower-than-Park Ridge property taxes because they could get free library computer time and programs – compliments of our taxpayers – while their own communities saved money by offering less amenities and not even keeping their libraries open as many hours as ours.

But judging by the hue and cry from a couple of Library employees and a few suspected parasites (posted as comments to the H-A article, many of which this editor sportingly responded to), one might think labeling parasites as…well…“parasites” was some heinous crime; or, at the very least, an outrageous social faux pas.

Admittedly, “parasites” in this context is probably as provocative as it is descriptive, with a decidedly negative connotation. Nobody who regularly uses somebody else’s resources without paying fair value for them – no matter how shameless they have to be to do so – likes to be compared, even indirectly, to a leech or a tapeworm.

But as the Library’s director seemingly lamented the departure of those shameless non-resident patrons, “parasites” was actually the nicest term that went through this editor’s head: none of the other ones, including the several adjectives that might have preceded them, can be printed here.

That’s because Park Ridge Library trustees like this editor owe a fiduciary duty to our residents and taxpayers – and ONLY to our residents and taxpayers – who foot the bill for the Library’s maintenance and operation through payment of their property taxes. Many of them struggle mightily just to pay those taxes. When it comes to spending those tax dollars, therefore, every penny had better benefit OUR residents and taxpayers first and foremost.

That sense of duty became even more honor-bound when, just this past Tuesday, those taxpayers conscientiously and graciously voted to tax themselves even more to keep our Library open, operating and improving.

So if Chicago residents, for example, want free library computers and free programs, they should demand them from Rahm Emanuel and his alderpuppets, many of whom were co-conspirators with Rahm’s predecessor in the decades of stupidity, irresponsibility, mismanagement, graft and/or corruption that have virtually bankrupted that city. And they should be willing to have THEIR property taxes raised to pay for them.

Meanwhile, the doors of our Library remain open to Chicagoans and other suburbanites who are content to enjoy our Library’s ambience and its printed materials, or who are willing to pay the modest non-resident fee of $3 per hour for computer time – more than a sawbuck less than what Kinko’s charges just 5 minutes down the road.

The “parasites,” on the other hand, can do our taxpayers a favor by staying away.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Vote Today To Stop The Insanity…And The Blisters (Updated)

11.04.14

Readers of this blog know that one of our go-to quotes about government incompetence and stupidity is Einstein’s definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

For all but 2 (1995-97) of the past 31 years the voters of Illinois have given control of the Illinois House of Representatives to a collection of mopes, opportunists, carpetbaggers and scalawags that can get away with calling themselves a “political party” only in a state as politically, financially and ethically bankrupt as Illinois: the Illinois Democratic Party.

And for 29 of those 31 years, that Democratic majority of the House has ceded absolute power and authority over the House to the “human” embodiment of everything that’s wrong with this state, House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Our state has suffered horribly for it, becoming a national joke for its chronically unpaid bills, its unfunded pensions, its banana republic credit rating, and so much institutionalized corruption that its two most recent former governors were in federal prison at the same time!

Yet Illinois voters have done their best since 1983 to prove the truth of Winston Churchill’s observation that “the best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.”

As we made clear in our 10.20.14 post, you 55th House District voters have an unacceptable choice between incumbent Marty Moylan (D. Madigan) and challenger Mel Thlliens (R. Buffoon). A vote for Moylan, however, is a vote for another two years of Madigan’s disastrous control of the State House, while a vote for Thillens is not.

Neither Moylan nor Thillens deserves your vote, but Thillens deserves it far more than Madigan does.

You 20th District voters on the east side of Park Ridge have a better choice, because the incumbent is Michael P. McAuliffe, a go-along-to-get-along mope who basically inherited the seat when his father, Roger McAuliffe, died in 1996. But at least he’s a Republican and unlikely to vote for Madigan as Speaker. Democrat Mo Khan, on the other hand, will be an automatic Madigan vote if needed.

Abraham Lincoln said that while elections belong to the people, “[i]f they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”

If you vote for Moylan or Khan you are voting for two more years of irresponsible and corrupt Madigan rule.

Unfortunately, we’ll all be stuck sitting on those blisters.

UPDATE (11.05.14) 

In case you haven’t heard, Rep. Marty Moylan-Madigan defeated challenger Mel Thillens by a vote of 14,219 (52.2%) to 13,020 (47.8%). Moylan-Madigan’s win/Thillens’ loss, along with several other Republican losses in contested House contests, means that Speaker Madigan will remain Speaker Madigan for another two years, virtually ensuring that Illinois’ 30-year decline will continue despite the election of Bruce Rauner as governor.

But more importantly, and far more worse for Illinois citizens who actually care about their state’s continuing decline for the personal and political enrichment of Madigan and his ilk, Moylan-Madigan’s win/Thillens’ loss – standing alone – was enough to enable Speaker Madigan to retain his veto-proof majority in the House.

So for any of you who voted for Rauner and Moylan-Madigan, your schizophrenia helped ensure that the Speaker will remain the single most powerful elected official in the State of Illinois for at least another two years.

In that regard, we have to give a big shout-out to that gang of entrenched RINO (Republican In Name Only) opportunists that hold all the Maine Twp. elected offices: Carol Teschky, Bob Provenzano, Gary Warner, Walter Kazmierczak, Laura Morask (and relative newcomer trustees Peter Gialamas and Kimberly Jones). According to an article in last week’s edition of their unofficial newsletter, the Journal (“Off The Record: Township GOP Slate Won’t Endorse Thillens,” October 31) they refused to endorse fellow Republican Thillens over Democrat Moylan-Madigan.

According to Bobby Pro, the Maine Twp. RINOs’ main man notwithstanding Teschky’s “Supervisor” title:

“I’m neutral in this race.  There’s no way I can take sides,” said Provenzano last week. “Marty’s (Moylan) still one of my best friends. Thillens understands that.”

In other words, folks, the Maine Twp. branch of the “Illinois Combine” that Tribune columnist John Kass identified and named years ago – that cozy you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours partnership between Illinois’ RINOs and the Dems that have run Illinois into the ground for the last 30 years – is clearly alive and well, despite Char Foss-Eggemann’s thrashing of Teschky in last March’s hotly-contested Maine Twp. Republican committeeman’s race.

So for as long as the Maine Twp. Combine is in control of Maine Twp. government, it would appear that – to paraphrase the late and terminally-corrupt Dem Chicago alderman, Paddy Bauler – “Maine Twp. ain’t ready for reform.” Or at least not when there are Dem backs to be scratched.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Three Years Later, City Still Failing “Outsourcing 101″

10.30.14

In our 11.08.11 post, we gave the City of Park Ridge an “F” in Outsourcing 101 because of how it totally dropped the ball in municipal fine collections by private vendor Duncan Solutions of Milwaukee, WI.

Back then, the City was carrying almost $1 million of uncollected fines, penalties and interest on its books. Three years later, it’s still almost $1 million. And reading the story in this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Park Ridge owed nearly $1 million in unpaid fines,” 10.28.14) makes City government look like a clown car, at least on this issue.

According the City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton, a big problem with the collection effort is that the City doesn’t have a “collection policy” for collecting unpaid fines. He claims such a policy is needed to “dictate how, when and why we write off tickets” – which write-offs totaled over $60,000 in just in 2012 alone.

Information in a 10.27.14 Memorandum from Michael Fricano to Hamilton indicates that those write-offs were of tickets that were issued from 2002 to 2007 and determined to be uncollectable, although the report fails to say exactly why they were uncollectable. Fricano’s memo contains a three-page “Collection Update” that suggests enough bureaucratic incompetence and futility from November 2011 through June 2014 that it could almost be the script for a Saturday Night Live skit titled “Diddle-Fest.”  It actually made us laugh…but only because the only other alternative would be crying.

Frankly, based on that “Update,” somebody probably should be fired: either the somebodies at City Hall who have been wrangling this goat rodeo for almost 3 years, or Duncan Solutions. Maybe both. Because the taxpayers of this town deserve better than what the “Collection Update” discloses.

In the H-A story Hamilton is quoted as saying “[w]e definitely made some strides” in referring to the $51,000-plus in outstanding tickets the City has collected. But that was over the past two years..which means the City collected less than $26,000 a year against a $1 million outstanding balance!

And as if that were not lame enough, Hamilton appears to be bragging on the City’s already exceeding this FY’s ticket revenue budget by $300 – which might be justified if that budget wasn’t a measly $8,000!

If all you’re budgeting for ticket revenue is $8,000, why even bother?

City Council Finance chair, Ald. Dan Knight, correctly noted that uncollectible tickets (say from 2004 to 2010?) need to be identified and cleared off the books so that the City can focus on what’s collectible. One would think well-paid full-time City employees wouldn’t need to hear such advice from a $100/month part-time elected official, but apparently that’s not the case when it comes to collecting fines and making sure the City’s outsource fine collection vendor is earning its keep.

Frankly, the whole “Citation Process” for Duncan Solutions processing ticket collections reads like it was created by Rube Goldberg. It also seems likely to be using more staff time and effort than if everything was being done at City Hall, which is exactly what outsourcing shouldn’t do. Accordingly, it should be scrapped and its replacement designed to get any money owed the City in fees or fines within no more than 60 days, or 90 days if an “adjudication” is required.

For example, any City employee writing citations that are not legible, or have erroneous information on them that jeopardizes their enforceability, should be reprimanded and sanctioned so that we don’t end up a year or two into the process only to find out that the license number was wrong. Sending out “4th notice[s]” of any type seems ridiculous, and sounds positively absurd when they are being sent out “40 days after adjudication date.”

Similarly, if a fine or fee isn’t paid within a reasonable time (e.g., 14 or 28 days?), it should be doubled or tripled – not only so there is some real incentive for the perp to pay the fine, but also so the cost of processing and enforcement is fully covered without any doubt. And unless state law prohibits it, it should take a whole lot less than “10 or more outstanding tickets” before licenses are suspended.  Like maybe 1 – if it has been outstanding for more than 3 months.

Otherwise, the process just invites people to become scofflaws while wasting staff time.

With the City buried in Uptown TIF debt, facing major flood control expenses, and struggling to hold annual tax increases to around 3%, just the idea that $1 million of fines and fees is being left uncollected is infuriating. And when we see just how bollixed up and neglected the whole process is – despite what was supposed to be a cost-effective outsourcing of ticket processing and collections that has turned out to be just the opposite – it becomes almost maddening.

It’s well past time for some butts to be kicked because of this fiasco.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Irvine Wrong On Library Referendum, Role Of City Council

10.24.14

m4s0n501

One would think that Mary Ann Irvine would know better.

After all, she was a two-term Park Ridge alderperson from 1987 to 1995. She sought to replace mayor Marty Butler when he resigned in 1991 to become a state senator, withdrawing her name before the city council chose Ron Wietecha.

After leaving the council she became the City’s Public Information Coordinator (a/k/a propaganda minister) for another 10 years. As some point she also served on the Park Ridge Library Board, including as its president.

Given all those years in and around City Hall, she should have learned how representative government is supposed to work in a municipality such as ours – even though we recall her as one of those many rubber-stampers who filled most seats around The Horseshoe between 1991 and 2003, when the Homeowners Party ran local government more like a social clique than a true political party with policies, principles and platforms.

But in a letter in this week’s Park Ridge Journal, Irvine displays an ignorance – or maybe just an arrogance – of City government and aldermanic power that warrants some discussion because it’s so plainly wrong.

We’ve included what the Journal has set up as a kind of point-counterpoint presentation – both Mayor Dave Schmidt’s criticism of a previous Irvine letter published in the October 8 Journal slamming the City Council for this election’s Library referendum, and Irvine’s reply to the mayor’s criticism – so you can read them for yourselves (and think about how Jane Curtin and Dan Aykroyd might present it back in their old Saturday Night Live days).

Before we get into Irvine’s reply, we must point out that Schmidt and Irvine both supported Howard Frimark in his successful run for Park Ridge mayor in 2005. They parted company when Schmidt successfully challenged Frimark in 2009, however, and she was one of the twenty-five former aldermen who, along with the three former living mayors, formally endorsed Larry Ryles for mayor over Schmidt last year.

As best as we can tell, she abhors the way the City is governed under Schmidt.

So when Irvine starts her reply to Schmidt with “[t]he mayor and I must have different philosophies about serving on the city council,” she isn’t kidding – even if the rest of her letter demonstrates no grasp whatsoever of Schmidt’s philosophy of government as repeatedly expressed and practiced by the mayor over the past five years he’s been in office, as well as during the two years before that when he served as 1st Ward alderman.

Distilled to its essence, Irvine’s position is: (a) she wants the Library to get more money from the City; (b) the Council sucks for not giving the Library more money; (c) the Council is using the referendum to avoid responsibility for any Library–related tax increase; and (d) the Council worded the referendum question so that it would fail.

The wording of the referendum, as Schmidt points out, is prescribed by state law and was fashioned with the assistance of the City Attorney and debated at no less than five public meetings in May, July and August of this year. One of them was a joint meeting between the City and the Library Board. A quick Google search reveals that there also were numerous newspaper stories about the referendum and referendum language during that period.

So where was Irvine with her criticisms of the referendum wording during the three months when they could have made a difference?

Contrary to Irvine’s complaints, the Council hasn’t “dodged” any responsibility for funding the Library. The aldermen expressly decided not to give the Library all the funding it requested, instead treating the Library like many other City departments and cutting its budget in an attempt to manage the entire City budget without unduly hiking taxes.

Rather than pull a “we know what’s best for you ignorant taxpayers” move like the Park Board did with its no-referendum $8 million water park decision in 2013, however, the Council – in response to the Library’s and some citizens’ complaints about that funding decision – chose to give the taxpayers a chance to prove the Council wrong through a binding referendum vote.

In other words, unlike an arrogant Park Board and the arrogant way Irvine thinks a City Council should operate (so long as it agrees with her ways of spending taxpayer money, of course), these current aldermen are actually inviting the taxpayers to publicly second-guess their decision of what is the prudent amount of Library funding, and whether taxes should be raised for that purpose.

Imagine that!

Irvine takes a parting shot at the Council for eliminating more than $550,000 from the Library’s budget since 2009 but not giving the taxpayers a tax reduction in that amount, asking: “Where have those funds gone?”

Try the same place that a boatload of other tax dollars have gone: into that black hole otherwise known as the Uptown TIF. Irvine should remember the Uptown TIF because she spoke favorably of it and promoted it while she was the City’s paid propaganda minister.

Whether the Library referendum passes or fails is up to the voters – but only because these aldermen, after deliberating at length and making a tough decision, weren’t so arrogant that they couldn’t acknowledge they might be wrong about their constituents’ willingness to pay additional taxes for the Library; and because they weren’t so cowardly that they were afraid to let the voters prove them right or wrong by an actual vote, rather than by rumor, innuendo, or some half-baked survey.

This is the way local government should operate, and the mayor and the City Council should be applauded rather than pilloried for it.

Irvine, on the other hand, thinks quite differently. And she may still be carrying a grudge from when the voters rejected the $7 million Library expansion referendum she favored back in November 1992; and/or when the voters rejected the brand new $20 million library referendum she also favored back in November 2002

No matter what the outcome of this referendum, however, this editor – in his role of Library Board member – will continue to do his fiduciary duty and work to ensure the Library is managed as well as it can be for all the taxpayers and residents of Park Ridge.

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and Publisher

Member, Park Ridge Library Board

To read or post comments, click on title.

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

10.20.14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To read or post comments, click on title.

City Mgr’s Outsourcing Initiative Likely More Smoke Than Fire

10.16.14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Uptown TIF.

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

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

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

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

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

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

To read or post comments, click on title.