Public Watchdog.org

2020 Vision Doesn’t Work In The Dark

04.26.15

We recently published a post about that night’s Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 “preview” of its new “2020 Vision Strategic Plan.”

“2020 Vision”…get it?

Because a “We’re Finally Going To Try To Get It Right Strategic Plan” just doesn’t have the proper ring to it. Especially when you need a snazzy moniker with which to bamboozle the parents and taxpayers aout what’s supposed to be the guidelines for D-64’s priorities and goals over the next five years.

Besides, when you’re paying consultants based in New Orleans (JJ and Associates) to put together a dog-and-pony show for the locals, “shrimp etouffée” sounds a whole lot better than “smothered shrimp.”

According to the April 21 Park Ridge Herald-Advocate report about that April 15th event (“District 64 previews new strategic plans”), something that passed for a “draft” of the strategic plan was “presented” during the two one-hour meetings. But we haven’t come across anyone who got a copy of that draft, or who even knows anybody who got a copy.

And try as we might, we can’t find a copy on the D-64 website going on two weeks after the event.

As we’ve noted in previous posts, the bureaucrats and School Board members that run D-64 don’t want the average taxpayer to know what they’re up to. That could create difficulties in their herding all those taxpayers whom they see as merely a bag of money to be emptied without annoying questions or complaints.

The H-A article doesn’t report how many residents actually showed up at either session of last week’s dog-and-pony show.  And given those pre-7:00 p.m. time slots and D-64’s penchant for secrecy, it’s also no surprise we can’t find any video of either performance on the District’s website, or a roster of attendees. Based on what the H-A reported, the only two attendees were former D-64 Board member Herb Zuegel and Board member-elect Tom Sotos.

Zuegel’s contributions were half-baked observations like: “If parents don’t want kids to learn, they are not going to learn.” In other words, if kids aren’t learning it’s the parents’ fault, not the District’s. That’s such a convenient excuse for a District that never accepts responsibility or accountability for anything, that we wonder whether Zuegel was the District’s designated shill.

Zuegel’s other most significant observation was how achieving a strategic plan is threatened “[w]hen the adults are squabbling over political views and financial views…[and] when their needs become more important that the children’s needs….” Translation: taxpayers who dare to question what D-64 is doing with all their tax dollars should just shut up and let the professional educators do whatever they please.

Fortunately, Sotos’ comments showed real merit and suggest that he could become something other than the PREA’s Plan B candidate he appeared to be during the just-concluded campaign.

He rightly challenged the new five year plan’s lack of any District commitment to raise its academic ranking among districts in comparable communities – which is the only objectively-measurable way for residents and non-residents alike to compare school districts, such as when considering Park Ridge or some other north/northwest suburb for their future residence.

And when hired-gun consultant Robert Ewy tried to give Sotos the bum’s rush by saying the District’s survey results didn’t place improved rankings among major concerns, Sotos called out Ewy by not only expressing skepticism about those survey results but, also, by noting all the residents who told him about their rating concerns.

Had D-64 done the right and honorably thing by releasing those survey results prior to that event, Sotos would have had the ammunition he needed to brand Ewy an outright liar – assuming Sotos actually has what it takes to call a spade a spade.

That’s because those survey results reveal – in the only survey question which even attempts to inquire about the importance of “[c]omparisons to the results of other high achieving school districts, locally and nationally” (Question No. 4) – that those comparisons came in a razor-thin second behind “Measures of student growth over time as students’ [sic] progress through grade levels,” 56.01% to 56.62%, as the evidence most often used to evaluate the quality of D-64 education.

So much for Ewy’s credibility…and the credibility of the D-64 Board and Administration that cooked up this whole charade of a strategic plan process.

Ewy clearlly was brought in solely to create an aura of legitimacy for those strategic plan conclusions which we are pretty darn sure the D-64 administration already had locked and loaded well before the survey was issued and the committee formed.  Because when Supt. Heinz says that D-64 is “doing outreach all the time” and is “talking to parents and community members,” she means it is reaching out to only those certain parents and community members from whom it expects to hear what it wants to hear.

As “Inspector Renault” in the movie Casablanca would say: “Round up the usual suspects!”

And then spoon feed them a bowl of Survey Monkey chow.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Evanston Water: Betting $60 Million On A Magic 8 Ball?

04.21.15

About a dozen years ago, consultant S.B. Friedman helped Park Ridge’s then-mayor, Ron Wietecha, and its then-city manager, Tim Schuenke, convince Park Ridge’s then-city council – which didn’t take much, considering how shamelessly a majority of aldermen were panting over the deal – that “investing” around $30 million in an Uptown TIF would bring a $20-30 million-plus profit by the time the TIF was scheduled to end 23 years later.

Unless you’ve been in a coma for the past several years, however, you know how totally wrong that projection turned out to be: that $20-30 million “profit” is now projected to be a $20+ million loss.

But Wietecha fled to Barrington shortly after getting the TIF passed, Schuenke fled to Wisconsin after the sweetheart development deal was cut with PRC, and not one alderman who rubber-stamped that boondoggle is still on the Council.  In fact, 11 of the 14 didn’t even stand for re-election after then-mayor Howard Frimark led the referendum drive that cut the council from 14 aldermen to 7.

So when we read in last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Park Ridge asked to make water supply decision by July,” 04.14.15) how another consultant – this one paid by Niles and Morton Grove rather than on the City’s meter like Friedman’s was – is claiming the City could save between $74 million and $111 million in water costs over the next 40 years if it spent around $47 million toward the construction of a new water main from the City of Evanston to Park Ridge, our initial reaction was: we’ve seen this movie before.

And it’s a horror film.

Make no mistake about it: our City currently is being gouged on the price of its water purchases from its sole-source supplier, the City of Chicago. And given Chicago’s decades-long self-destructive run toward bankruptcy, we can expect to be gouged even more as Emperor Rahm tries every trick in the book to avoid imposing necessary tax increases on all those mindless serfs (a/k/a Chicagoans) who elected and re-elected him, just like they mindlessly elected and re-elected Rahm’s evil dwarf predecessor whose name Rahm cannot speak.

Consider it the Chicago Way’s equivalent of the Mafia’s code of “omerta.”

So leaving our water supply at the mercy of the ethically-challenged parasites who run Chicago is a very big risk. But so is bonding $47 million when even the consultant trying to separate us from our money can’t come up with a better snake-oil pitch than one that needs 40 years for payback – especially when we’ve already seen just how foolish it is for politicians and bureaucrats to think they can predict a project’s ROI even 10 to 20 years into the future, much less 30 and 40 years out.

For proof, look no further than the Uptown TIF.  And just to show that inept prognosticating isn’t a recent phenomenon, Maine Twp. H.S. District 207 opened Maine North High School in 1970 to accommodate projected enrollment growth, then closed it for good a mere 11 years later when those projections didn’t materialize.

But being wrong, even spectacularly so, has never stopped irresponsible public officials from plowing ahead with bad decisions, especially when they know they’ll be out of office (if not out of town and/or out of state) and, therefore, conveniently non-accountable for those bad decisions by the time those turkeys come home to roost.

Niles and MG are simply looking for deep pockets to share the cost of this major project. And E-Town is just looking for additional revenue sources for itself. None of those three communities cares whether the money they’re looking for comes from Park Ridge, Park Forest, or Park City, Utah.

If the City were to bond the $47 million water line cost (assuming that number is accurate – don’t bet your lunch money on it) at an interest rate of 3% over 20 years – which is the customary term of muni bonds such as these – interest on those bonds would jack that $47 million price up by over $16 million if payments were made annually, or by over $15.8 million if payments were made semi-annually.

That cuts into the $74 million minimum projected savings by around $63 million. Except that the debt service calculation is basically a mathematical lock, while the savings calculation includes a bucket of variables that likely can’t be known with any certainty for a decade, or two, or three.

The H-A article quotes City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton as saying: “We want to make sure the numbers being used in their projections are good numbers and that the assumptions are correct.”

Now there’s a pile of heifer dust that would rival the Augean Stables.  Except Hamilton is no Hercules.

If Hamilton and City Staff actually believe they have a snowball’s chance in hell of coming anywhere close to predicting the cost of water – whether purchased from Chicago or E-Town – for the next 20-30-40 years, they must be smoking the souvenirs of their last trip to Colorado.

For this deal to make any sense at all, the first order of business is to determine whether Evanston is willing to lock in a water rate schedule for enough of those 20-30-40 years that the ROI from water cost savings becomes as close to mathematically certain as the $60+ million cost of building that infrastructure.  Because trading one avaricious water vendor (Chicago) for another (Evanston) without some ironclad guarantees on pricing is just plain foolish.

And one thing we’ve learned from watching Park Ridge government and politics for the past 24 years is that there are rarely any real consequences for bureaucratic foolishness. So when it comes to anything in the nature of long-term predictions or projections, a Magic 8 Ball is about as reliable as any local bureaucrat.

Fortunately, unlike the bobble-headed aldermen back in 2000-2007 who danced to whatever tune Schuenke and the consultants played, the current Council is willing to question and push back against Staff and consultant pronouncements – as you can see with Alds. Dan Knight’s (5th) and Marc Mazzuca’s (6th) interrogations of the Niles/Morton Grove consultant at the Council’s 04.13.15 Committee of the Whole meeting – with the consultant’s presentation starting at 1:11:10 of the meeting video; and Knight ‘s and Mazzuca’s interrogations running from 2:01:10 to 2:22:15.

THAT’s the way elected officials (D-64 and D-207 board members take note!) are supposed to look out for the taxpayers they represent.

Especially when they’re thinking about betting $60+ million of the taxpayers’ money.

To read or post comments, click on title.

D-64 Once Again Shows That It’s “Chinatown”

04.15.15

In our 01.25.15 post we wrote about Park Ridge-Niles School District 64’s announcement of the formation of a 30-35 member “Strategic Planning Steering Committee” to create a new, “community-driven” five-year strategic plan by involving our community’s “stakeholders.”

TONIGHT (04.15.15) D-64 is offering all of us “stakeholders” a preview of its “working draft” of that strategic plan’s “2020 vision” for D-64. Those previews will be held in two one-hour sessions – 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., or 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. – at Emerson Middle School’s Learning Resource Center.

For all you “stakeholders” who regularly commute home to Park Ridge on the 5:47 or 6:30 p.m. METRA trains, don’t worry: D-64 doesn’t really mind that you won’t be attending. When it comes to community involvement, D-64 has operated under a version of the old Chicago Way creed of: “We don’t want nobody nobody sent.”

Those of you “stakeholders” who know how these dog-and-pony shows tend to be run won’t be surprised to learn that these preview sessions will be “led” by the District’s strategic planning consultant, Bob Ewy, formerly the director of planning and quality programs for Palatine District 15 and now a “performance coach…[who] most often works with senior leaders to develop or refine strategic plans, deploy plans, align organizational systems, develop process management and improvement methodology, develop assessment metrics, build district-level scorecards, and apply continuous process improvement principles and practices.”

And, apparently, with a sub-specialty of drafting-creative-and-self-promoting-job-descriptions-and-resume-inserts.

This draft strategic plan reportedly incorporates feedback from “more than 830 surveys” submitted in March, although after looking at the survey form we would love to see the raw data provided by the answers to those questions. A mere 830 surveys sure doesn’t sound like any kind of representative sampling of the views of over 37,000 “stakeholders” in more than 14,000 households, especially if (as we understand it) the “Surveymonkey” process did not prevent one or more people from “stuffing the ballot box” and skewing the data through multiple responses.

And, true to form for the anti-transparency crew running D-64, the “draft” strategic plan cannot be found on the District’s website so that interested “stakeholders” might read it before tonight’s festivities and show up at the preview sessions with at least some familiarity with the subject matter so that they might ask some informed questions.

Heck, we scoured the D-64 website and weren’t even able to find the names of the 40 “stakeholders” who were selected for the strategic planning committee by what seems to have been secret deliberations by the D-64 Board and/or administration until…wait for it…earlier today – when even the shameless D-64 Board and administration couldn’t justify keeping it a secret any longer, and the List was released.

Heaven forbid that the identities of those members might become known – they might suddenly be inundated with unsolicited input from their relatives, friends, neighbors and acquaintances. And THAT, dear readers, could make it a lot harder for Mr. Ewy to herd those committee members in the direction the D-64 administration desires.

Or maybe D-64 didn’t want to reveal those names any earlier than it had to so as to conceal the fact that, in typical D-64 style, the most grossly under-represented group on that Committee is the “Community” –comprised of only 7 of the 39 (18%) members. Ideally, “community” members would be just plain ol’ ordinary taxpayers with no current direct personal or economic ties to D-64 or to the local public education “establishment” – like, maybe, young married DINKs, or parochial school parents, or even a single person or two who did not grow up here.

But, not surprisingly, that’s not the case.

Of those 7 “community” members, one is current D-64 CFC member (and former D-64 board member – 2007-11) Genie Taddeo; another is retired D-207 assistant supt. John Benka; two more are D-64 parents Paul Lisowski and current D-207 Board member Paula Besler. That leaves only Jackie McNeilly, Len Stoga and Police Chief Frank Kaminski to truly represent the “community” – although Stoga appears to be the designated “community” member for every D-64 strategic plan, as demonstrated by the roster from the 2010 strategic planning committee.

Not surprisingly, we also can’t find any trace on the D-64 website of the agendas, committee packets or minutes of the meetings this committee held in order to come up with this draft strategic plan.

Because that’s what passes for “transparency” and “involving the community’s stakeholders” with the current D-64 Board and administration.

“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

To read or post comments, click on title.

Election 2015 Re-Cap: Reading The Tea Leaves

04.12.15

Another local election has come and gone, and with it a few surprises and not-so-surprises. After listening to both the noise and the silence over the past several days, here’s what we’ve concluded and speculated about Tuesday night’s results.

City of Park Ridge: The first non-surprise is that Seventh Ward Ald. (and Acting Mayor) Marty Maloney and Fifth Ward Ald. Dan Knight won their uncontested races.

Although nobody ran against Maloney, it apparently isn’t for want of interest in that seat: we hear that at least two – and perhaps more – Seventh Ward residents have been chasing Maloney like dogs after a t-bone, pushing him to take the full complement of mayoral powers by relinquishing his aldermanic seat.

Oh yeah… and then appoint one of them to fill it.

Another non-surprise was Bob Wilkening’s defeat of Rick Van Roeyen by almost 300 votes, 418 to 120, in the traditionally apathetic Third Ward – where contested aldermanic races come along about once a generation. Given that the current alderman won by write-in when no conventional candidates filed nominating petitions, it also should come as no surprise that even this rare contested race drew fewer total votes – for both candidates combined – than were cast for just the winner of the First Ward race. And to add insult to insult, the Third Ward had a lower turnout of registered voters (9.58%) for its contested race than did the uncontested races in the Fifth (10.9%) and Seventh (9.79%) wards.

The takeaway from this race? If Wilkening can stay awake during meetings, we can call this a “Plus-One” for the City. And that’s more than Third Warders deserve because even with their first contested race this millennium they still found a way – through pathetic turnout – to prove just how badly they suck at Citizenship 101!

The “hot” City race was up in the First Ward, where John Moran posted a 16% win – 590 to 430 – over Andrea Cline.

Cline, backed by the “Go Green Park Ridge” organization/association/club/caucus/coffee klatch, garnered some noteworthy endorsements (e.g., Maine Twp. Clerk Gary Warner, former 1st Ward ald. and 2005 mayoral candidate Michael Tinaglia, D-64 Board president Tony Borrelli, 2nd Ward. Ald. Nick Milissis, and former 5th Ward ald. Rich Whalen) for what was perceived by many to be a flooding-oriented campaign – not that there’s anything wrong with that, given our chronic flooding problems.

Moran, the son of a former alderman, seemed to draw support from some remnants of the defunct Homeowners Party, as well as from a broad network of social contacts. His campaign focused more on the financial side of City government, which may have resonated with more voters because of the City’s emphasis – thanks to the late Mayor Dave – on the financial problems accumulated over the better part of two decades.

The takeaway from this race: flooding does matter, but there appears to be a growing recognition that most/all government problems are rooted in, and must be solved by, financial matters. If Moran walks his finance talk, this should also be a “Plus-One” for the City.

Park Ridge Park District: In the biggest squeaker of the night, two-term incumbent Park Commissioner Jim O’Brien edged two-term incumbent Park Commissioner Mary Wynn Ryan by only 18 votes – 2,330 to 2,312 – for the third and last of three seats on the Park Board. Interestingly enough, both O’Brien and Ryan ran similar low-key campaigns, eschewing yard signs and mailers and, instead, choosing to run on their respective records.

The leading vote getter was the only non-incumbent, Cindy Grau, another “Go Green Park Ridge” candidate who had to overcome a petition challenge to stay on the ballot. She scored a 10-vote win over second-place finisher Mel Thillens, 2,409 to 2,399, and was the leading vote-getter in 14 of the 33 Park District precincts – showing the most strength in Maine Twp. precincts 24, 25, 27 and 42. Thillens, on the other hand, was best of show in Leyden Twp. precinct 23 and Maine precincts 30, 43 and 65.

The takeaway from this race? With Grau and Ryan seemingly singing from the same hymn book, the chanteuse with the signs beat the one without. We’ll call this a “Push” for the Park District, at least until Grau shows whether she can carry a different tune from Ryan’s.

School District 64: In the waning days of the election a flier appeared that encouraged voting for PREA-recruit Greg Bublitz, PREA-maybe Tom Sotos, and Board president Tony Borrelli. The message was clear: Anybody but Mark Eggemann.

But when the smoke cleared early Wednesday morning, Eggemann stood atop the leader board with a 168-vote margin over the second-place Borrelli, whom Sotos trailed by 242 votes. Missing the cut was Bublitz.

Interestingly, Eggemann led the pack in 20 of 36 precincts and finished second in 6 more, while Bublitz won only one precinct: Maine Twp. precinct 36 – and that by a mere 4 votes over Borrelli and 5 votes over Eggemann. Equally interesting was Borrelli’s showing, inasmuch as he conducted a low-key, yard sign-less campaign with only one mailer.

The takeaway? The PREA does a better job of manipulating Gumby-like Board members than it does the voters.  Consequently, the PREA won’t be getting another rubber stamp to replace departing best-boy John Heyde. And Eggemann, hopefully, can contribute some much-needed backbone for the rest of the Board members who have bent to the PREA’s and administrators’ wills and whims for far too long.

School District 207: The size of District 207 tends to make its Board a safe haven for incumbents no matter how inept or profligate they might be. Challengers without significant name recognition have a steep uphill battle, because the District is virtually impossible to attack on a door-to-door walking basis. So a successful challenger needs yard signs and/or mailers to level the playing field.

Only one of the three challengers to the slate of incumbents Sean Sullivan, Paula Besler and Pablo Morales had enough of those to make a difference: Teri Collins, the executive director of MCYAF who ran only 218 votes behind two-term incumbent Sullivan and 604 votes behind front-runner Besler for the third seat.

The odd incumbent out was Morales, who was appointed to the Board late last August and, therefore, had only seven months of Board service to make a name for himself. But despite having his own signs and being included with Sullivan and Besler on their slate’s signs, not only did Morales lose to Collins, but he also lost fourth place to Jill Dolan, a candidate with little name recognition and the ability to create any kind of yard-sign presence only in the last weeks of the campaign.

The takeaway? Expect the same old same old from D-207 for the next two years, even if Collins can muster spine enough to actually challenge the Kool-Aid drinking Board majority to demand better educational achievement from the very well-paid teachers and administrators. And props to Dolan and Patel for making their runs.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Time To Walk The Walk…VOTE!

04.07.15

It’s a cold wet dreary day.  The kind of day that people who just “talk the talk” can handily use as an excuse to stay home, or go directly to the office instead of heading to their polling place and exercising the right that was earned for them by the blood of the more than 650,000 American military personnel who gave their lives on various battlefields around the world since the first shots were fired in the Revolution.

And for those of you who think our local elections are minor league events that don’t matter, today’s elections will decide who will be in charge of spending approximately $260 MILLION+ of our money EACH of the next four years at the City, the Park District, D-207 and D-64.

Anybody can talk the talk.  But real Americans also walk the walk.

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and Publisher

Local Elections Should Give Taxpayers Pause: Wilkening And Moran For City Council

04.06.15

Only two of the four City aldermanic races are contested: incumbent Alds. Dan Knight (5th Ward) and Marty Maloney (7th Ward) are running unopposed, although we heartily endorse their re-elections and trust they will continue the solid efforts that characterized their first terms…and even take them up a notch to compensate for the loss of Mayor Dave Schmidt’s leadership.

In the First Ward relative newcomer Andrea Cline is facing off with longtime resident John Moran to fill the seat being vacated by Ald. Joe Sweeney, while business consultant Bob Wilkening is running against teacher Rick Van Roeyen in what we believe to be the first contested race the moribund Third Ward has seen in perhaps two decades.

All four of them are personable folks who seem sincere when proclaiming their interest in improving the community. But personality and sincerity should never be enough when it comes to the public trust inherent in the offices they seek. And it’s even less satisfactory when those offices require dealing with problems that have built up through two decades (1990-2009) of neglect and mismanagement by their equally personable and seemingly sincere predecessors.

We’ll start with the Third Ward race by noting that it’s basically one hand clapping – with that hand belonging to Wilkening. If Van Roeyen’s campaign were a military jet, most radar screens couldn’t even “ping” it.

Van Roeyen’s website states that, “[i]f elected, [he] would create a form…that would be used to poll the 3rd Ward to gain insight into the true will of the citizens [he] would be representing.” That sounds a whole lot like finger-to-the-wind politics of the worst kind: reliance on subjective surveys and questionnaires instead of objectively verifiable referendum votes. And if Van Roeyen really wanted constituent input, he should have created and circulated such a form as soon as he filed his nominating petitions months ago.

Wilkening, on the other hand, appears to have one principle focus: flooding. As he said in his candidate profile in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Q&A: Park Ridge’s 3rd Ward Candidates,” March 24) in response to the question of why he was running: “Because Park Ridge is now facing serious challenges as it struggles to deal with an aging and undersized sewer system.” And his website bears that out.

Combine that with his belief that “the City Council and staff spend far too much time talking about subjects that they should find ways to resolve more rapidly,” however, and it might not be too much of a stretch to wonder whether he will adopt a “ready, fire, aim” approach to flood control – especially since his endorsement of long-term debt to pay for it is not accompanied by an endorsement of referendum(s) to measure public support and to legitimize whatever multi-million dollar projects and/or programs might be undertaken.

Notwithstanding these concerns, however, Wilkening is running the far more active campaign and gets our endorsement.

Our toughest endorsement decision this election cycle, by far, is the First Ward aldermanic race. That’s why we have waited and watched this race play out on almost a daily basis over the past several weeks as the candidates’ positions have continued to evolve from the vanilla-vs.-vanilla match-up of a mere six or eight weeks ago.

That battle seems to have effectively morphed into a contest between flooding (Cline) v. money (Moran).

Cline brings technical expertise as a “Stormwater Management Professional” (per her website) for the Lake County Stormwater Management Commission. We’d venture a guess that she has forgotten more about stormwater management than Moran and the seven guys currently sitting around The Horseshoe, cumulatively, have ever known. She and her supporters – especially in the flood-impacted areas of Park Ridge both within and without the First Ward – tout that expertise and experience as her principal qualification.

If Park Ridge’s flooding problem were just a collection of technical engineering challenges, Cline’s specialized knowledge might very well make her the better choice. But like so many of Park Ridge’s problems, flooding is far more a money problem than a technical engineering one.

Christopher B. Burke Engineering (“Burke”), for whom Cline once worked, has already come up with several alternatives for the three most significant problem areas. Per Burke’s 2013 plan, 100-year flood protection for 23 Mayfield Estates properties would cost $3.3 million, or $143,000 per property. The 418 properties in the Northwest Park area could get 100-year protection for $16.6 million, or approximately $40,000 per property. But the 680 properties in the Country Club area would get only 10-year protection at a cost of $48.7 million, or approximately $72,000 per property.

That’s around $70 million, not counting debt service, to protect roughly 1,100 out of over 14,000 Park Ridge households – with no guarantees that those projects will actually solve those three problems, or not exacerbate flooding problems elsewhere in the City.

And once that $70 million of bonded debt is locked in, how long should the other 13,000 households have to hang fire on their own flooding while the City pays off that $70 million?

Cline claims to have obtained in excess of $2.5 million of grants, and she suggests we can pay for these projects with federal, state and county grants, as well as low-interest loans. But she hasn’t even begun to spell out with any specificity what kind of grants she’s talking about (e.g., would they be matching grants requiring the City’s taxpayers to cough up an equal amount of funding?), their availability, the criteria for getting them, and how soon they might be forthcoming.  Meanwhile, the City already has applied for $27 million of such grants, but we have yet to hear the jingle-jangle of grant-generated OPM pouring into the City treasury.

So Cline’s funding plans, such as they are, sound a little too much like politician-style pie-in-the-sky.

Moran, on the other hand, has been talking on his website about “cost-sharing” funding arrangements, while also suggesting at campaign stops and on social media that SSAs (Special Service Areas) and referendums could play a role in the kind of bonded debt that would be needed if those grant windfalls don’t arrive – and maybe even if they do. Given the financial condition of our state and Crook County, we believe Moran’s approach is the far more practical and realistic one.

And it’s also the more courageous one, as evidenced by the barbecuing he is getting from the folks in those three affected areas who would derive the most direct and substantial economic benefit, through increased property values, if the City were to mortgage its future – Uptown TIF-style – to undertake those projects, especially if it did so without a referendum.

Dealing with our City-wide flooding problem is going to be a painful, frustrating and very expensive proposition. It will demand a unified purpose and an iron-clad City-wide commitment, the likes of which most of us have not seen in our lifetimes. Appeasing special interests or down-playing the substantial long-term costs to the City’s taxpayers is not the way to build the support needed.

That’s why we believe John Moran to be the better choice for 1st Ward alderman.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Local Elections Should Give Taxpayers Pause: Park Ridge Park District Presents Hobson’s Choice

04.06.15

Four years ago we endorsed Mel Thillens, Mary Wynn Ryan and Jim O’Brien (collectively, “TRO”) over a slate of candidates sponsored by Local 73 of the Service Employees International Union (“SEIU”) – because we didn’t, and still don’t, believe it’s any healthier to vote employee union lackeys onto the Park Board than it is to vote teachers union lackeys onto our school boards.

TRO won handily. And now they’re up for re-election against one challenger: Cindy Grau. So just like in the D-64 race, the only question about this Park Board race is: who will be the odd man/woman out?

In a number of respects TRO have done a good job overseeing the day-to-day management of the Park District. The facilities generally appear to be well-maintained. And the District has followed the City’s lead in reducing the number those damnable closed sessions where cowardly public officials try to hide their activities from scrutiny by the people who elected them.

We also have to give a big Watchdog bark-out to the District’s having become increasingly self-sufficient, with fees and other earned revenue increasingly replacing property tax revenue. That suggests the “marketplace – i.e., the consumer – believes the District’s facilities and programs provide good value for the price. That’s very good.

But in a stretch of less than six months, TRO and the rest of their Board buried the District in approximately $20 million of long-term debt, $6.3 million of which went to build a third-rate Centennial water park usable for only 3 months a year without even an advisory referendum. And, worse yet, that involved a dishonest bait-and-switch: the District cut what reportedly was the most desired feature of the design – a “lazy river” because it apparently lacked sufficient non-referendum debt to build it.

Why did TRO support incurring so much debt on such a cut-rate facility? Because they were too contemptuous of the taxpayers, and also too cowardly, to do what every park board since 1992 had done: ask the voters for approval of such a major debt-funded capital expenditure through a referendum.

So the taxpayers are now saddled with that water park debt which, along with the voter-approved Youth Campus/Prospect Park debt, will hogtie the District economically for the next decade and beyond. By then, however, TRO will certainly be gone from the Board. And we wouldn’t be surprised if one or more of them will have left town altogether.

That brings us back to the present and Tuesday’s election…and the question of who should be left without a seat when the music stops.

Frankly, TRO’s contempt for the taxpayers – in our book, the No. 1 sin among the 7 deadly sins of local government – curbs our enthusiasm for any of them. That contempt suggests they possess the typical politicians’ cynical view that taxpayers/voters are just pawns and dupes – to be exploited for their votes for candidates like TRO, but to be deprived of a vote on such major projects, expenditures and debt as the water park.

But we also can’t endorse Grau.

From everything we can gather from her website and articles about her in the local press, she would actually work to reverse the positive economic trend (save for that aforementioned $20 million water park bonded debt boondoggle) at the Park District. Although she makes the token one-time reference to her being “fiscally responsible,” both newspapers have reported her recent complaints about the very user fees that have made the District more economically self-sufficient and less dependent on the taxpayers.

She was critical of the fact that “[w]e make the users pay for camps and programming” (Keeping Costs Down Key To Park Ridge Park Candidates,” Park Ridge Journal, April 1) and she “could agree to a freeze in program costs” that would shift the burden of increasing program expenses onto the taxpayers. (“Park Ridge Park District candidates talk taxes, fees and flood-relief,” Herald-Advocate, March 31).

In other words, she would become the newest Park Board BFF to those special interest folks who don’t mind higher taxes for everybody (instead of user fees) so long as they can use the facilities and services enough to exhaust their tax share AND burn up the Other People’s Money (“OPM”) contributed by the vast majority of taxpayers who under-use Park District facilities and programs.

Which makes her a gold-dust twin of Ms. Wynn Ryan.

Notwithstanding WR’s flier trumpeting her “cost-effective” and “bang for the buck” attitude, she has never seen a local government that couldn’t be bigger, do more, and spend as much OPM as she can get her hands on – whether during her two years on the City Council (2005-07), during her eight years on the Park Board (2007-15), or as a member of the City’s Economic Development Task Force.

For her first four years on the Park Board (2007-2011) she led the fight to keep Oakton Pool open and, in the process, burned off about $300,000 of taxpayer money in operating losses. She also can be counted on to support annual property-tax-to-the-max levies like that 5.97% for 2012, even though she had a last-minute change of heart – most certainly campaign-related – and ended up voting against this year’s max levy. And the same H-A article that reported Grau’s complaints about fees, Ryan brags about “increasing the number and variety of free programs,” which she tries to spin into a kind of loss-leader marketing ploy.

And just today, campaigning on the Park Ridge Citizens Online Facebook page, Wynn Ryan shamelessly pandered to one of our community’s premier entitlement queens, Kathy Panattoni Meade, by saying she (Wynn Ryan) is “doing what [she] can” to reduce the price of the District’s “Beyond the Bell” child-care/babysitting service.

So coming at this race from the perspective of a non-endorsement based on who could do the most economic damage to the Park District in the next four years, that dubious distinction comes down to a classic Hobson’s Choice of Wynn Ryan or Grau. Neither one of them seems to have an intuitive grasp of the fact that government HAS NO MONEY other than what it takes from the taxpayers.

Unfortunately, one of them has to win.

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Local Elections Should Give Taxpayers Pause: Eggemann And Borrelli For D-64 Board

03.31.15

Yesterday we talked about showing the door to the incumbent Maine Twp. High School District 207 Board members because they have demonstrated they can’t, or won’t, do the job the students and taxpayers deserve. Today we shift gears to the contested race for three 4-year seats on Park Ridge-Niles School District 64.

Actually, those seats aren’t all that “contested” because there are only four candidates vying for the three seats. So the only suspense is finding out who is going to be the odd man out among incumbent Tony Borrelli and challengers Greg Bublitz, Mark Eggemann and Tom Sotos.

If the Park Ridge Education Association (the “PREA”) – the teachers union – has its way, that odd man will be Eggemann, which would be reason enough to endorse him.

That because the PREA exists solely to put more money and better benefits in the pockets of its members, while avoiding as much accountability as it can get away with. And the PREA has gotten away with that for years while student performance has stagnated or even declined compared to higher-scoring districts in Glenview, Northbrook and those other suburban communities with which Park Ridge competes for new residents.

Worse yet, D-64’s under-performance may be contributing to the marked decline in the performance and ranking of Maine South, which dropped a dozen slots in its student performance rankings in just three years!

Eggemann is the husband of Maine Twp. Republican Committeewoman (and Park Ridge Library Board member) Char Foss-Eggemann. He also served as the late Mayor Dave Schmidt’s 2013 campaign manager. Both of those facts rub certain people – the Kool-Aid drinkers who prefer go-along-to-get-along government – the wrong way.

He’s also the PREA’s worst nightmare: somebody who thinks for himself and isn’t easily intimidated.

Eggemann sounds uncompromising in his demand for higher measurable student achievement, and unabashedly dismissive of the District’s nonsensical “teaching the whole child” instead of “teaching to the [standardized] tests” alibi for its low rankings. Even more notably, he is the only candidate demanding complete transparency from the District and the Board – including dragging the teacher contract negotiations out of the closet and into the sunlight, where the taxpayers and the media alike can see and hear not only the PREA’s demands but also the District’s responses.

Not surprisingly, two of Eggemann’s opponents are PREA sock puppets.

Bublitz is a former teacher and current School District 63 administrator. And for good measure, his wife is a D-64 teacher and PREA member, which would appear to create both a conflict of interest and an appearance of impropriety in dealing with any systemic teacher issues. Bublitz is so much the PREA’s boy that its president, Andy Duerkop, didn’t hesitate to admit that the PREA recruited Bublitz to replace departing two-term PREA cabana boy/beyatch John Heyde, who engineered the current sweetheart contract for the PREA back in 2012.

According to Duerkop, Sotos also sought PREA support. So when a successful challenge got Bublitz’s running mate, Kristin Gruss, tossed off the ballot, the PREA adopted Sotos as its unofficial Plan B. Which is why you’ll see his and Bublitz’s signs paired up in front yards all over town, except where some sly devils have placed Bublitz’s sign on one lot line and Sotos’ sign on the opposite lot line to make it look like they’re on different properties altogether.

Busted.

While we are tempted to suggest that voters tired of the D-64 same old same old might want to consider giving Eggemann the “bullet” – i.e., voting only for him rather than diluting that vote with votes for his competition – we believe Tony Borrelli deserves another shot at proving he can be the kind of thoughtful and courageous people’s representative we endorsed back in April 2011.

On one hand, Borrelli has delivered for the taxpayers on a number of occasions during his first term – like with his “no” vote on the current teacher contract, his “yes” vote for residency checks, his “yes” vote for videotaping Board meetings. But seemingly just as frequently, he has stiffed those same taxpayers with his “yes” votes on “free” Chromebooks, on a sweetheart contract for newly-minted Supt. Heinz, and an even more ridiculous contract extension for business manager Becky Allard.

And most importantly of all, the educational performance of D-64 students seems dead in the water.

Assuming Dathan Paterno pulls his head out of his anti-Common Core whatsit and actually starts representing all those taxpayers who aren’t afflicted with obsessive/compulsive right-wing ideological pathology but who, instead, just want the educational quality they’re paying so dearly for, a Borrelli/Paterno/Eggemann alliance might be able to inspire some independent thought and civic-mindedness from a cipher like Bob Johnson.

And without a Heyde on the Board for the first time in a dozen years, maybe even a blind squirrel like Vicki Lee might find an occasional acorn.

But the first step is electing Eggemann and re-electing Borrelli.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Local Elections Should Give Taxpayers Pause: D-207

03.30.15

Early voting for our April 7 local election started last Monday (March 23) and continues through this Saturday, April 4. Although we always encourage voter turnout, we oppose early voting for a number of reasons, several of which we noted in our post of October 20, 2014.

Irrespective of when voters vote, however, make no mistake about it: voting matters.

As we’ve seen over the past decade, electing pleasant but inept go-along-to-get along folks to our school boards can bring our community years of overpriced-but-underperforming educational services that not only do a disservice to the children of our community but also rob our taxpayers of money that could and should be better spent.  The higher our property taxes increase and the lower our school rankings fall, the more likely it is that comparative home shoppers will look more favorably on places like Glenview and Northbrook.

Being eternal optimists, however, we always hope for elections that present the voters with meaningful choices. Occasionally the choice is between a good candidate and a better one, but all too often it seems like the choice ends up between a mediocre candidate and a bad one; or between a bad and a worse one.

And sometimes, especially where incumbents are involved, their record of poor performance dictates a “throw the bums out” vote, almost irrespective of who their opponents might be.

Which explains today’s “endorsement” for throwing out the incumbents at Maine Twp. School District 207 who are running as a ticket/slate: Sean O’Brien Sullivan, seeking his third four-year term; Paula Meyer Besler, who was appointed to the board last April and is seeking a full four-year term; and Pablo Morales, who was appointed to the board last August and also is seeking a full four-year term.

Admittedly, Besler and Morales are incumbents lite, their appointments appearing to have been engineered and effected in closed session meetings to avoid the scrutiny of the media and the taxpayers who provide the overwhelming majority of D-207’s approximately $150 million annual budget.  We wrote about that perverted process in our August 29, 2014 post. Such a lack of transparency raises all sorts of questions about the honesty and integrity of both that board and its process for appointing replacement board members.

But the key reason why we encourage the voters to show these incumbents the door is because they clearly don’t “get” what it means to hold the public trust for that many students and that much taxpayer money – or to “get” what the students and the taxpayers deserve for their $150 million a year.

Back in our October 30, 2009 post. we reported that D-207’s flagship school, Maine South, ranked 12th on the Chicago Tribune’s “Top 50” high schools list (based purely on test scores), while the Chicago Sun-Times ranked it 13th on its “Top 100” list (based on test scores and other factors). Just three years later, however, Maine South had slid to 24th place according to the 2012 Chicago Sun-Times analysis, and 29th-place in U.S. News & World’s 2012 rankings of Illinois public high schools.  Worse yet, neither Maine East or Maine West was within a $50 cab ride of Maine South in any of these rankings.

But you wouldn’t guess that from hearing Sullivan, Besler or Morales talk about D-207.

According to a Daily Herald article dated February 19, 2015, Sullivan claims that D-207 “is doing an excellent job” – so excellent, in fact, that he “would make no ‘changes’ at this time.” Running mate Besler claims to be “extremely satisfied” with how D-207 is preparing its students for college and/or the start of their careers, and she too does not “believe any changes are needed at this time.” Only Morales gives a less-than-stellar endorsement of D-207’s educational achievement, saying that it merely does “a good job preparing students for the next phase of their lives.”

What’s that old line about denial being not just a river in Egypt?

If you need any other reasons to just say “no” to Sullivan, Besler and Morales, try Sullivan’s 2011 endorsement by the Maine Teachers Association, D-207’s teachers union – a dubious achievement he is likely to repeat again this year, either expressly or tacitly. Or check out Besler’s website, where the “Issues” tab gets you what appear to be a bunch of canned platitudes from D-207 rather than Besler’s views…assuming she has any beyond the District’s own pablum.

As for Morales, his response to a Daily Herald question about his views of teacher contracts – without acknowledging that D-207 teachers and administrators are among the highest paid in the state – speaks volumes: “Therefore, one of my core beliefs is that teachers should work in an environment where they feel respected, valued, have the tools to do their job well and are fairly compensated.”

For those not conversant in politician speak, that translates to: “Whatever the teachers want.”

When it comes to demanding a full dollar’s worth of educational value from every taxpayer dollar expended, these three incumbents have demonstrated little more than the ability to rearrange deck chairs and play “Nearer My God To Thee” on the kazoo.  Re-electing them would effectively condemn D-207 to the continued decline of its academic standing – which these incumbents and their four fellow board co-conspirators would likely address with even more spending, even higher taxes, and even less accountability.

Unfortuntately, while we would love to provide glowing endorsements for each of the three challengers to these incumbents – Theresa Collins, Jill Dolan and Chimanlal Patel – we cannot.  They are just alternatives.

In that same February 19 Daily Herald article, Collins says that “[w]e should be able to increase our rankings…on an overall basis” without suggesting even one way of doing so. Dolan professes to be “proud that our District offers many programs academically and in the arts.” And Patel, while claiming he believes “in constant improvement,” seems fixated on “special needs…cultural integration and language education” without any recognition of the related costs.

Nevertheless, the three incumbents have already shown themselves to be hell-bent on continuing to drive the D-207 train the wrong way down the track, with no intention of letting up on the throttle.  So all we can do is urge voters to switch engineers ASAP and hope for something better.

Because “better” won’t be coming from these incumbents.

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D64 Candidate Forum: No Hard Questions, No Hard Answers

03.19.15

Guest Post by Steve Schildwachter

This past Monday (March 16) evening I went to the District 64 school board candidate forum sponsored by the PREA teachers’ union, the Parent Teacher Organization and the Elementary Learning Foundation.  (I had to look up the latter organization, which appears to be a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit that awards “grants to teachers and staff who are committed to excellence in education” and is governed by a group of parents.)

The candidate line-up was different than I expected.  Tony Borrelli, an incumbent, was there, along with newbies Greg Bublitz and Tom Sotos, but Mark Eggemann was at work and sent a statement that was read by the moderator. Bob Johnson was there even though he is running unopposed to fill out the term to which he was appointed when a former board member resigned his seat last summer.

This post won’t attempt to be a strict account of the evening, just my impressions based on the public and private remarks of the candidates.  The newspaper article previewing the event promised that “members of the community will be invited to ask questions,” which turned out to be wrong. But I was able to squeeze in some informal questions when people were milling around afterwards.

My biggest impression:  None of the candidates made one.  It would have been hard for any voter to walk out of the forum ready to support any of the candidates – because none of them expressed any clear, specific points of view.

For example, a common refrain during the event was “for the children.” As in: “We’ll do what’s right for the children,” and other variations on that theme.  Look, it’s clear to me that everyone involved has the best of intentions and wants District 64 schools to be the best they possibly can.  No one needs to prove that.  But this phrase doesn’t translate into any firm point of view.

So, please, Messrs. Borrelli, Bublitz, Eggemann, Johnson and Sotos:  Can we please retire this rhetorical crutch?

The second most-used phrase of the evening was “do more with less,” a reference to the supposed tightness of D64 budgets which actually increase every year.  To that point, the candidates who said they’d “do more with less” never said how they’d achieve this.  There were some questions from the moderator about how candidates would manage spending and whether or not they’d raise taxes, but nobody committed to any positions beyond saying that if a ceiling was falling apart, “we should fix it.”

With the exception of Tony Borrelli, who’s been on the board for four years, there seemed to be a lack of knowledge of how the budget actually works.  For example, Sotos — who told me he’s reading “a big stack” of research — hadn’t even heard of the “step and lane” system by which teachers get annual pay increases according to their years of service (steps) and level of education (lanes).  Stated another way:  The 2% annual pay increase given to the teachers in 2012 is over and above these “lane and step” increases, meaning that they effectively get an average increase of +3.6% per year.

Although Tony can definitely claim he was only one of two “no” votes against the +2% pay increase of 2012, I was left wondering how serious he would be about controlling costs in his second term.  In December — just three months ago — Borrelli, Johnson and four others voted for a +4.6% budget increase, above the legal limit, because “we have to ask for more so Cook County will approve the maximum allowable.” The maximum allowable?  This does not sound like cost control to me.

In public comments Monday night Borrelli said the school board should let administrators do their job and only provide “oversight to ensure policies and procedures are being followed,” which didn’t suggest a willingness to hold administrators accountable.  I was waiting to hear a candidate say they would instruct the superintendent to prepare multiple budget options, e.g., one that cuts spending by 2%, one that keeps spending flat, and one that takes the fully-allowed-by-law increase (which is what they vote for every year).

To be sure, managing a big budget like this one is a tough task, and elected representatives aren’t paid to do it.  But these candidates were there willingly and perhaps should at least ask the hard questions.

Can we cut administrative positions?  Freeze administrators’ salaries?  Which of our expenses is rising faster than the CPI and which are rising more slowly?  If we cut the budget by 2% and didn’t cut teachers’ salaries, what would we cut? Maybe these questions are being discussed; but if so, no such discussions occurred Monday night.

The only outright gaffe of the evening was Bob Johnson’s statement that “the community doesn’t want a teachers’ strike,” accompanied by a colorful listing of all the negative consequences; e.g., Park Ridge on the 10 p.m. news (but, curiously, no concern for children not being able to attend class).  I’d venture to say that it’s true, the community would rather not have a strike.

But Bob was answering a question about how to handle the upcoming teachers’ contract negotiations. PREA teachers’ union president Andy Duerkop was sitting right in the front row and now knows at least one board member will be a pushover at the bargaining table.

On the same topic, I asked Greg Bublitz if he would recuse himself from teacher contract negotiations, but he didn’t really answer yes or no.  Would his experience as a District 63 teacher and administrator help inform the discussions, or make him sympathize with the union, or both?  What about the fact that his wife is a District 64 teacher?  My point was that he owed voters an answer before Election Day, not after.

All of this comes back to the budget.

When I moved to Park Ridge ten years ago my property tax bill was $9,880, and by last year it had doubled to $19,549.  I’ve since negotiated down my assessment, so my tax bill is “only” $16,836. But what that really means is only that I succeeded in shifting part of my tax burden to my neighbors.  Nevertheless, District 64’s portion of my tax bill has jumped from 37.3% ten years ago to 42.5% this year, which shows how fast the budget has increased.

When I explained this to one of the candidates, he retorted that I should be complaining about the City of Park Ridge’s planned +22% increase.  This really made me mad because, when I ask the Park Board for some fiscal responsibility, they blame the school districts. Yet now here’s the school district blaming the City.  Which is rich because a big chunk of the city’s increase stems from the Uptown TIF — and money it must pay to Districts 64 and 207 under the City’s TIF agreements with those districts.

We should be able to demand fiscal responsibility from all our local taxing bodies, all the more so because they are composed of our friends and neighbors — people we live and work with.  Which leads to my last point.

It seemed to me that none of the candidates were willing to stand up for a position on anything because they were too afraid to offend, alternately, the teachers, the administrators, or their neighbors.  It’s as if they must keep saying “for the children” as much as “do more with less” so they can’t be accused of being anti-child, anti-teacher or anti-tax increase.

I’m all for comity and friendship.  In fact, I genuinely enjoyed meeting Andy Duerkop, and we have some important, personal things in common.

But the candidates weren’t supposed to be there to make friends. They were there asking to be elected to a local body that decides how much money will be demanded from you, me and every single one of our neighbors. The least they could have done was tell us what they would do if elected.

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