“Secured Vestibules” Will Not Make D-64 Schools $5 Million Safer


No less a genius than Benjamin Franklin once opined that: “He who chooses security over freedom deserves neither.”

And no less a wartime leader than Franklin Delano Roosevelt noted that: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

But both of those sentiments were MIA last Monday (11.16.15) night at the Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Board meeting, and apparently at the last several Board meetings, as the D-64 “Chicken Littles” – a/k/a, the D-64 Board and administration members – tried to convince whomever would listen that each of the District’s seven schools and everyone inside them are in imminent danger from (pick your favorite paranoia): ISIS suicide bombers, unstable non-custodial parents, bullied introverts with access to semi-automatic weapons, or miscellaneous unidentified bogeymen.

Instead, we got repeated displays of what no less a political philosopher than Edmund Burke warned about: “No passion so effectively robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.”

And, yes, the fearmongers did invoke “Sandy Hook.” More than once.

But, better yet, they also invoked the image of Laurie Dann – the emotionally-troubled young woman who, in 1988, walked into the Hubbard Woods Elementary School in Winnetka with three pistols tucked into her clothing and proceeded to shoot one child to death and wound five others.

But the D-64 tag team of Board president Tony Borrelli and Supt. Laurie Heinz – seemingly operating from Rahm Emanuel’s playbook – don’t appear to want to let any crisis, real or imagined, go to waste.  So they are doing their best to stampede the herd (a/k/a the rest of the D-64 Board) into throwing multi-millions of taxpayer dollars at “security” projects that won’t really make our schools secure, including the “secured vestibules” that have now come down in price to a bargain-basement $5.1 million.

Why spend $5.1 million when, as we understand it, each school is currently supposed to be on lockdown during the school day, with the only entry point being a locked main entrance through which only approved visitors can be “buzzed in.”

What’s “insecure” about that?

We’re still not sure, even after watching the “secured vestibules” portion – from 57:15 to 3:24:35 – of the meeting video. But from the gist of the comments made by the Chicken Littles, the schools aren’t the fortresses some folks might like them to be.

But here’s a most curious fact: despite D-64’s teachers being, along with the children, the most direct beneficiaries of whatever “security” the $5.1 million secured vestibules can provide, their union – a/k/a the Park Ridge Education Association (“PREA”), has failed/refused to formally endorse them.

Without explanation.

You can watch (at 2:11:00 – 2:11:47 of the meeting video) the current president of the PREA, Erin Breen, say that the PREA has no official position on the plan. And several minutes later you can watch the most recent PREA past president (and current Lincoln Middle School teacher) Andy Duerkop state that schools can’t be made “safe” before questioning whether secured vestibules are the best way to spend $5 million.

Gee, do you think the PREA’s refusal to go on record in support of $5 million worth of half-baked secured vestibules has anything to do with the fact that it’s going to be asking taxpayers for a new multi-year, multi-million dollar contract next year?

If so, you may be starting to understand how local government works.

But if the teachers give so little concern to the secured vestibules that they aren’t willing to jeopardize their next contract by formally supporting them, why did a 4 (Borrelli, Zimmerman, Lee and Johnson) to 3 (Paterno, Eggemann and Sotos) vote to spend $600,000 to move forward on their design and whatever building additions/renovations may be needed to accommodate them?

Could it be because the D-64 Board and Administration has been so unsuccessful in moving the needle of objectively-measurable student performance that they need a “Look, there goes Elvis!” distraction?

If so, what could be a better distraction than panic-peddling various forms of domestic terrorism (Sandy Hook, Laurie Dann, etc.), especially when you’ve got parents like Jeff Schneider telling the Board to “Do anything in your power, regardless of cost, to protect these schools and our children”; and Paul Sheehan asking the Board to adopt a policy of “Zero tolerance for risk to our babies while within our schools”?

There were a few voices of reason, however, including residents Joan Sandrick and Diane Bresler; and Board member Dathan Paterno, who raised enough questions about the process, the data, the “expert” opinions, and the manipulativeness of the secured vestibule advocates to stop any such project dead in its tracks if making the right long-term, cost-effective decision was the principal goal.

But it’s not.  And it rarely has been at D-64.

Ironically, the kind of spare-no-expense/accept-no-risk nuttiness voiced by Board members, administrators, the District’s architects, and some of those citizen speakers ignores the fact that the $5 million spent on secured vestibules is basically WASTED if not accompanied by metal detectors.

Without metal detectors at every secured vestibule, any bullied student can walk into the school with a backpack loaded with the same three handguns that Laurie Dann carried into that Winnetka school.

Any over-stressed, homicidal non-custodial dad can walk in with the same Bushmaster XM15-E2S stashed under his trench coat, and the same Glock 20SF stuck in his waistband, that Adam Lanza carried into Sandy Hook Elementary.

And any disaffected soccer mom with too many toys in her attic can stroll right in wearing a suicide vest under her North Face parka filled with ten or twenty pounds of ball bearings, like Hasna Ait Boulahcen may (or may not) have been wearing when she was killed in that Saint-Denis apartment.

But none of the Chicken Littles want to discuss making metal detectors part of the secured vestibule project. Metal detectors are serious business, a lot more serious than this Board and this Administration is willing to get about “security.”

Look! There goes Elvis!


To read or post comments, click on title.


Library Chair Procurement: No-Can-Do Diligence


This blog doesn’t regularly quote scripture.

And when it does, it’s usually the gospel according to Franklin, Adams, Jefferson and Lincoln instead of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

But in our post of 03.17.11, we used the words of Luke 16:10 to describe how our public officials’ ability to handle important and expensive tasks is often revealed by how they handle the smaller tasks:

“He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much.”

And that principle is at the heart of the article in last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate about the Park Ridge Library Board’s rejection of a proposal to purchase $19,232 worth of high-density stackable event chairs, primarily for use in the Library’s first-floor meeting/activity room (“Park Ridge Library Board rejects $19,232 chair purchase,” November 10) – even though the article pretty much misses that principle entirely.

First and foremost (although overlooked in the article), NO Trustee objected to the purchase of new chairs. The current ones are reportedly 35 years old and anybody who has seen them knows they are more than showing their age.

Also missing from the article was any reference to the fact that the Library’s purchasing policy, which requires the Library Director to “secure informal written proposals from suppliers…when an expenditure for a single item” – in this case, 125 stackable chairs – “…is expected to be over $5,000.00 but less than $20,000.00,” was totally ignored.

Instead, the Library Director initially came to the Board on August 5, 2015 with ONE proposal for one particular chair: the KI “Opt4.”

Just that one.


Because, according to her 08.05.15 memo, that’s a chair that is “comfortable, lightweight and can be stacked up to 40 high,” has a “10 year warranty,” weighs “less than 8 pounds each” and are “in use at several area libraries that report they are very satisfied with their performance.”

“Comfortable” based on what objectively measurable standards? The memo doesn’t say.

“Lightweight”? Why does it matter whether they’re 8 lbs., 11 lbs. or 14 lbs.? How much more “lightweight” than comparable chairs? The memo doesn’t say.

“In use at several area libraries”? Which ones? For how long? The memo doesn’t say.

“[Those libraries] report they are very satisfied with their performance” but how do they “report” it? What does “very satisfied” mean”? What “performance” standards are they applying? The memo doesn’t say.

Yet notwithstanding those 8 unanswered – actually, UN-ASKED – questions, the Library Director inexplicably requested the Library Board to blindly approve those $135.72 chairs. In other words, a rubber-stamp approval without ANY comparables. And without ANY specifications from which such comparables might be objectively determined.

None! Zero! Zip! Nada!

Actually, that’s not quite true: the Library Director tried to create the illusion of “comparables” by juxtaposing the $135.72 per chair cost of her preferred KI chairs with the estimated $110.00 “Cost to repair old chairs” – that NO Trustee suggested should be repaired.

An “irrelevant” non-comparable.

Translation: “I want these particular chairs and I don’t have to justify my wants to you Trustees or to the taxpayers you represent.”

Only after the Board balked at rubber-stamping that purchase did the Director come up with four alleged “comparables,” in a memo dated 09.08.15, despite no objective specifications to demonstrate whether and how those other four chairs might actually be “comparable” to the KI chair. Nor did she provide any objective “Consumer Reports”-style test results, evaluations or recommendations concerning quality, durability, or value of the KI chair or any of the four “comparables.”

Without such specs, test results, etc., the Board decided it should actually see and sit on some of those comparables.

So at the Planning & Operations portion of the October 14, 2015 Committee Of the Whole (“COW”) meeting, the Director provided samples of three allegedly comparable chairs while continuing to assert, as she did in the September 8 memo, that there weren’t many other comparables. Consequently, the minutes of that 10.14.15 meeting reflect that 5 of the 8 trustees present voted for the KI chair while 3 voted against it.

But when the KI chair came up for a final vote at the October 29 Board meeting and after further discussion ensued, a 5 (Egan, Dobrilovic, Foss-Eggemann, Reardon and Trizna) to 3 (Lamb, Parisi and Rayborn) majority voted to reject the Director’s chair recommendation for economic and procedural reasons – including that president Egan noted that he was able to find “many chairs” that appeared comparable to the KI simply through a 10-minute Google search.

You can read that discussion in the “draft” minutes of that portion of the meeting, or you can watch the meeting video, starting at the 54:17 mark and concluding at the 1:08:50 mark,

during which you can hear the Director admit that her principal “specifications” for the new chairs was simply “high density” – followed by a lot of vague and subjective pseudo-criteria that ignores the fact that both the KI and the Demco Compact are made primarily of polypropylene (“poly”).

Except that the Demco costs only $48 each, or 35% of the cost of the KI. With no objective proof that the KI is better constructed, is more comfortable, or will last longer.

That’s what happens when the Library’s top administrator ignores the Library’s purchasing policy in the first instance – and then compounds that failure with two months of obfuscation and attempts at circumventing that policy; and when the Library Board is not just a rubber-stamp for the Director.

Irrespective of whether the matter is big or small.

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and publisher

Member, Park Ridge Library Board

To read or post comments, click on title.

Paterno Right On “Secure Vestibules” – For What It’s Worth (Updated)


We haven’t had all that many good things to say about Dathan Paterno since he was elected to the School Board of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 in April 2013 – with our endorsement in which, among other things, we praised his view of referendums “not as last resorts in times of crisis but as proactive educational tools that ‘would afford voters/taxpayers a greater awareness of the financial woes of the district and the policies that contributed to those woes.'”

Unfortunately, he has been a dependable vote for the secretive closed session meetings that have become routine under current Board president Tony Borrelli and his overpaid BFF superintendent.

And for each vote Paterno casts for the District’s taxpayers (e.g., his vote against giving Supt. Laurie Heinz an estimated $20K raise after just one year of unspectacular performance), he seems to cast at least two boneheaded spendthrift ones (e.g., his vote to give Heinz a one-year contract extension worth $250K after that same one year of unspectacular performance; and $500K to provide middle-schoolers with “free” Chromebooks).

Meanwhile, objectively-measurable educational performance at D-64 remains stagnant while costs continue to rise, and Paterno and his colleagues remain silent as church mice.

So despite D-64’s spending around $14,000 per pupil, per year, one of our community’s major growth industries has become tutoring – to compensate for the lack of learning actually taking place in those big-spending schools.

But Paterno appears to have found an acorn with his criticism of the District’s plan to spend $6 million to secure the vestibules of its school buildings, as expressed in his Letter to the Editor in last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“$6 million doors just a placebo for District 64,” Nov. 3).

As Paterno correctly points out, events like Sandy Hook are extreme rarities which become hyper-exaggerated primarily by a news media whose credo for too long has been: “If it bleeds, it leads” – and by all those “helicopter parents” who want no expense spared on their children, especially if that expense is paid for primarily with Other People’s Money (“OPM”); i.e., the taxpayers’ money.

Notably, Paterno’s opposition to spending $6 million to secure the schools’ vestibules does not seem to reflect an overall concern with D-64 spending $6 million. Given his record on the Board over the past two years, that means he’s already got one or more other places he’d rather spend it.

But improving education and the students’ performance metrics doesn’t appear to be one of them.

Not surprisingly, we couldn’t glean very much from the last couple of months of sketchy School Board meeting minutes and corresponding “Reports,” but we are hearing that the “vestibule” projects are actually school building additions that will contain and/or accommodate those secured vestibules – and which comprise a substantial portion of those “vestibule” costs.

In other words, it’s not just about “security” – something we would have expected Paterno to have mentioned in his letter if his goal was to play it totally straight with the taxpayers.

Speaking of playing it totally straight with the taxpayers, it looks and sounds like D-64’s Secrecy Patrol has done its typically excellent-but-deplorable job of keeping the taxpayers clueless not only about the building additions aspect of the “vestibule” work but, also, about the Board’s consideration – per “Appendix 3″ of it’s November 5, 2015 meeting “Report” – of doing the $15-20 million of 2016 building work without referendum – by pulling $10 million out of the District’s semi-sacrosanct fund balance “and issuing in spring 2016 a small non-referendum bond issue of $5M-$10M.”

In other words, the Borrelli-led D-64 Board is seriously considering a plan that makes sure we taxpayers don’t even get a referendum vote on this first wave of $15-20 Million of spending – before they start dumping the next $12 Million, or $26 Million, of additional planned “health, life, safety” expenditures on us.

And because of his silence about this scheme, we have to question whether Paterno is merely asleep at the wheel or actually a co-conspirator in that scheme.

But asleep or co-conspiring, he nevertheless seems to have gotten it right with his observation that “secure vestibules would not appreciably reduce the risk of violence to our children and staff” because: (a) there appear to be no reports of attacks on American schools that were foiled by secure vestibules, and (b) an assailant bent on harming schoolchildren can find much easier targets on the playgrounds during recess, or walking out the doors at day’s end.

This community’s history demonstrates that school children are more at risk from crossing streets – either on foot or on bicycle – than from armed assailants. This new obsession with secured vestibules, however, reminds us of the anti-O’Hare Chicken Littles who’ve been warning of an imminent plane crash into Maine South for the past couple of decades, if not longer.

Not surprisingly, the District’s architect of record, FGM Architects, is 100% behind pushing forward with all this new construction. According to a Park Ridge Herald-Advocate story from October 13, 2015 (“Roofs, windows, doors targeted for repairs and upgrades in District 64″), just a preliminary study of these projects will put over $300K in FGM’s pocket. And then there is likely to be a percentage of the total cost of the projects FGM will grab for coordinating and/or overseeing them.

That’s because FGM gets paid for bricks and mortar, not for any improvements to the quality of education within the walls those bricks and mortar comprise.

So we’re grateful for Paterno’s having called attention to the likelihood that spending a whopping $6 million on “secured vestibules” – with or without the building additions he failed to mention – is far from the highest and best use of that money. Whether his silence about the Board’s looting of its own fund balance and its non-referendum borrowing calls into question the motive(s) and validity of his criticism, however, remains to be seen.

But for somebody who has pretty much been lost in the Borrelli’s/Heinz closed-session funhouse for the last two years, getting anything right deserves at least a qualified kudo.

Now, if only he can stay awake and attentive for the remaining two years of his term.

UPDATE (11.13.15)  This week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate is reporting (“District 64 board divided on $6 million secure doors,” Nov. 10) that Paterno was taken to task by at least a couple of his fellow Board members at the Nov. 5 Board meeting. And, not surprisingly, secrecy-uber-alles Board president Tony Borrelli was one of them.

“ ‘When these things are crafted, you have to be very careful,’ said Borrelli. ‘Any time after tonight would have been perfect.’ ”

Translation: When D-64 orchestrates a process to achieve a particular result, don’t screw up the orchestration! Or at least don’t screw it up until the fat lady’s done singing.

And Board member Bob Johnson didn’t seem to like the way Paterno took his case directly to the people rather than confining it to a Board meeting:

“I think that a much better forum for what had been written would be here,” Johnson is reported to have said.

Translation: If you only say it at a Board meeting, D-64’s propaganda minister, Bernadette Tramm, can have a chance to spin it, and maybe even keep it out of the newspaper so the public isn’t the wiser.

But we need to note that Board member Tom Sotos, himself not all that impressive since his election last April, appears to have stood up for Paterno and the transparency his comments added to the issue:

“I think actually [Paterno] stepped in the right direction….”


Now let’s see if Paterno can do that on other topics – and if Sotos starts stepping in the right direction himself.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Saying “Goodbye” To The Short-Lived Kemnitz Center


Simply saying “We told you so” would be too easy.

And not nearly enough to capture the pettiness, greed, stupidity and waste by the masterminds behind the private corporation called “Senior Services, Inc.” (“SSI” or “Seniors Inc.”) that founded something called “The Kemnitz Center for Active Adults” – the imminent demise of which has been reported in both the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“ ‘Senior-driven’ Kemnitz Center to close by end of year,” Oct. 26) and the Park Ridge Journal (“Kemnitz Center In Niles Closing At End Of This Year,” Oct. 21).

For those keeping score, that’s a mere 15 months between the Kemnitz Center’s September 2014 opening and its anticipated December 31, 2015 closing.

And, from the sound of things, they burned up approximately $300,000 in the process.

That $300 grand was a bequest from the late Betty Kemnitz to the “Park Ridge Senior Center” – which, at the time the bequest was made, just happened to be the name on the building at 100 S. Western owned and nominally operated by the Park Ridge Park District, and a place that Kemnitz frequented and apparently treasured.

But after Kemnitz died and her bequest “matured,” the Seniors Inc. crowd – already bristling at some Park Board members’ complaints about the $100,000-plus annual operating deficits the Senior Center was posting while charging members a paltry S43 in annual membership “dues”– collaborated with former Park District employee/Senior Center manager Teresa Grodsky (who had been sacked by the Park District about a year earlier) to file a lawsuit intended to make sure that Seniors Inc. could keep that $300K bequest for itself.

You can get all the background on this you need or want by checking out our 05.13.13 post “Good Riddance To Greedy Geezers” and the other posts referenced there.

But long story short, when the Park District decided to give up its fight for the Kemnitz bequest, the Seniors Inc. “leadership” – current D-207 School Board member Carla Owen, Grodsky, Barbara Ingolia, Helen Roppel, Millie O’Brien, and Ken Butterly – triumphantly packed up and moved to the former Our Lady of Ransom school building in Niles.

And fifteen months later, it sounds like they’re flat broke and busted.

But still remarkably shameless.

As quoted in the H-A article, Seniors Inc. chairman Ken Butterly is bragging that they “broke a barrier in the region” by allowing seniors from outside the District’s boundaries to belong – even though the Senior Center always allowed non-resident members, albeit at a higher price. And although the Kemnitz Center’s membership reportedly topped out at about 250 people ages 55 to 90, Seniors Inc. chairman Ken Butterly is bragging that: “It’s been a great run.”


Not surprisingly, the District is already welcoming back the secessionists with open arms – to a re-purposed and re-branded facility now known as the “Centennial Activity Center” from which it runs the “Seniors Together At Recreation” (STAR) program.

But apparently senior centers are bad investments irrespective of whether they’re publicly or privately run.

Even as Seniors Inc. was blowing $300,000 in less than two years, as best as we can tell from the District’s own reports the Centennial Activity Center lost a whopping $240,000 in 2014, and looks on track to lose around $190,000 this year. Those deficits have to be covered by…wait for it…the taxpayers. But in typical government fashion, we hear that District staff and certain Park Board members consider that “moving in the right direction.”

And in typical Good-Time Charlie fashion, Butterly and his Seniors Inc. buddies intend to “press on and have a good time until the last day.” And the last pennies of Kemnitz’s $300,000 get spent.

Before they come back onto the Park District dole.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Park District Spares Taxpayers, Ticks Freeloaders


Readers of this blog know that we’re not the biggest fans of Park Ridge Park District Executive Director Gayle Mountcastle.

Not because she’s a bad person. She isn’t, although we try to leave those kinds of judgments to higher powers because they’re generally above our pay grade.

Our main beefs with Mountcastle are the things she has done in her ED role that we find abhorrent to honest, transparent and accountable government – most notably her manipulation of too-compliant Park Board members to push through a second/third-rate, over-budget $8 million Centennial water park without the voter referendum that previous directors and park boards scrupulously held for every major Park District project since the misbegotten Community Center was built, without referendum, 20+ years ago.

And a design and budgeting process for the new Prospect Park that now seems inept at best, and a bait-and-switch at worst.

But we have to give the “devil” (tongue firmly planted in cheek) her due – and also toss a few kudos in the Park Board’s direction – for turning the District’s collection of amenities into a business-like operation that is projected to derive nearly 51% of its budgeted revenues – up almost 4% from the current year’s projections – not by squeezing already-pinched taxpayers for more property taxes but, instead, through charging user fees.

What a novel concept for government: Make the District’s pay-per-use facilities and programs provide enough value that residents, and even non-residents, are actually willing to pay something close to fair market price for them!

Well, not quite all of our residents.

There’s a contingent of local “freeloaders” – our one-word shorthand for what we otherwise would have to describe, in 31 words, as “those residents who are always looking to leverage maximum benefits for themselves, their families and their friends by shifting the costs of those benefits onto the backs of their fellow taxpayers” – who don’t like these fee increases one bit.

How do we know?

Because perhaps the most outspoken poster-child for local freeloading of all types, Kathy Panattoni Meade, tells us so.

Shortly after the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate published its article about the Park District’s plan to increase certain user fees in its 2016 budget (“Park Ridge pool passes, fitness center memberships could get more expensive,” Oct. 6), KPM was burning up the Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners Group Facebook page about…wait for it…how she pays taxes that should entitle her to free use of whatever her heart desires, including all Park District facilities and programs.

Just for kicks, let’s look at a few of her FB comments – which we present in italics, followed with our own comments in bold for the reader’s convenience:

“I can put my kids in programs in other communities for less money – even as a non-resident. This enrages me because my taxes should be offsetting the cost of the programs.”

Vaya con Dios, KPM. If you can get a better deal in Niles, Skokie, Winnetka, Lake Bluff or Medicine Hat, adios!

“If the price of the pool passes is going up then the ban on outside food needs to be lifted. The Park District can not ask people to pay over $200 [for a family full-season pool pass] and then forced [sic] Park Ridge residents to pay for over-priced snacks. That is unconscionable.”

Let’s try some Econ 101, KPM: If you aren’t going to go to the pools often enough to justify the family full-season pool pass, don’t buy one! Problem solved…without the Park District having to change its rules to let you roll in a cooler of drinks, a bucket of KFC, or a 6-foot sub from Tony’s.

“I have no problems with paying high taxes for services and that our high taxes in Park Ridge should be off setting the price of the programs at the PRPD.”

Let’s try a little more Econ 101: If the increased fees are paying only 51% of the District’s budgeted revenues, 49% of the budgeted revenues are still being covered by the taxpayers. Reducing the fee revenues as you desire means the taxpayers – including you – will need to pay even higher taxes. But, then again, freeloaders like you don’t mind higher taxes so long as you can recoup them through excessive use of the facilities and services.

“I don’t mind paying high taxes. I knew it was part of the package when I moved here. I want to live in a community where people aren’t complaining that the police are overpaid or the teachers are overpaid yet the city manager is making $140k and the school superintendent is making nearly $200k.”

That “$140k” (actually more than $150K) for the City Mgr., and that “nearly $200k” (actually $250K-plus) for the D-64 Supt. presumably reflects the fact that both of them are the CEOs of their respective $70 Million-plus business enterprises. A patrolman starts at around 40% of the City Mgr.’s salary, and a classroom teacher starts at about 25% of the Supt.’s salary. So your beef is…?

“I posted about the holiday lights which sparked a conversation and now a fund to pay for the holiday lights!”

KPM, you had NOTHING whatsoever to do with the creation of the Park Ridge Holiday Lights Fund. And, true to your freeloader form, as of the time of publication of this post the Fund has no record of your having donated one cent – as if that should come as any surprise.

But enough about the freeloader mentality and the freeloaders who revel in it.

The Park District really is onto something. And all you taxpayers – you folks who are net “payers,” as opposed to the net “users” (like KPM) whose principal goal is to pull more out of the public trough than they put into it – should be supporting that effort.

Now that the Park District is crossing the 50% threshold of non-tax revenue, its next goal should be having tax dollars cover only those CAPITAL costs of the District’s parks and facilities, while having user fees cover all the operating expenses.

That’s the kind of twofer we like: Making the taxpayers happy.

And making the freeloaders howl.

To read or post comments, click on title.

To Understand Evanston Water Option, Think Uptown TIF


About ten (10) years ago the government of the City of Park Ridge decided to lock our taxpayers into tens of millions of dollars of 20+ year bonded debt in return for the potential – the mere P-O-T-E-N-T-I-A-L – of approximately $23 million of net revenue. They called it the “Uptown TIF” and “Uptown Redevelopment,” depending on whom they were trying to cajole or bamboozle.

Needless to say, that potential net revenue never materialized. But the City was nevertheless stuck paying off that bonded debt, the cost of which has substantially reduced and even prevented certain infrastructure spending, while also causing property taxes to rise. Meanwhile, that $23 million net revenue has turned into (at last estimate) an approximately $17 million net loss.

And, not surprisingly, not one of those elected or appointed officials responsible for steamrolling the TIF fiasco past the taxpayers – without even giving the taxpayers a referendum vote on it – has ever stepped up to assume accountability for it.

So why are we bringing up the Uptown TIF financing in connection with a post about the City’s water sourcing?

Because, to quote George Santayana: “Those who don’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

And the City Council seems to be moving toward repeating that past TIF mistake with what we will call the “Evanston Water Option” (or “EWO” for short).

The EWO was devised by Morton Grove and Niles and consists of constructing a water supply line from Evanston, along with the necessary pumping infrastructure. Those two communities are putting the full-court press on Park Ridge to commit to picking up a substantial portion of the EWO’s staggering cost they don’t want to carry all by themselves.

What’s in it for Park Ridge?

If you listen to the Sirens’ song coming from Park Ridge’s would-be municipal partners, cheaper water. And if you listen to some of our town’s chronically under-informed shallow thinkers, the vast long-term savings from buying water from Evanston instead of Chicago will not only pay for all that new water line infrastructure but also can pay for flood control projects. (Yes, Kathy Panattoni Meade, we’re talking about you).

Fortunately for Park Ridge taxpayers, however, they now have elected City officials who are more intelligent, and far less ignorant and gullible, than their predecessors back in 2003-05.

Led by Acting-Mayor Marty Maloney and Finance Chair Ald. Dan Knight, this Council is demanding that City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton, Finance Director Joe Gilmore, and Public Works Director Wayne Zingsheim get their hands around the cost of Park Ridge’s share of the project – which starts at around $60 million and could go as high as almost $100 Million, depending on who’s throwing the numbers around and what day of the week it is. And, as best as we can tell, even that low-end $60 million figure doesn’t include 30 years of debt service – which even at 2% interest could add almost $30 million to the cost.

Call that $90 million, at a bare minimum.

So when you look at Gilmore’s water-cost savings projections using a 3% annual increase in the cost of Chicago water and a 4% discount rate for the net present value of the water-cost savings over 30 years, his $26,285,068 savings will be completely consumed – and then some – by those bond interest costs the City will have to pay just on the lowest-end EWO cost. And that deficit could grow by tens of millions of dollars if the high-end cost becomes reality.

Sound familiar?

We don’t mean to suggest that continuing to do business with those incompetent and corrupt weasels who have run Chicago into the ground over the past 30+ years – a/k/a mayors Richie “the Evil Midget” Daley and Rahm “Tiny Dancer” Emanuel, along with more than a hundred of their sycophantic alderdopes – doesn’t come with a significant risk of future price-gouging as Chicago tries to prevent itself from going the way of Detroit.

But there are scores of variables, some of which (e.g., Chicago’s possible/likely municipal bankruptcy) could salvage Chicago financially and thereby result in a much less pressing need for it to gouge Park Ridge on water prices over the next 30 years. But once the City issues its $60 million (or $100 million) of bonded debt, our variables become pretty darn limited because that money needs to be repaid.

Just like the Uptown TIF bonds. Or just like Paulie Cicero’s loan to Sonny Bunz for the Bamboo Lounge in “Goodfellas.”

This matter is on tonight’s City Council COW agenda. Let’s hope the current Council – unlike its predecessor 10 years ago – figures out that something too good to be true usually isn’t.  Because this project already appears to be fool’s gold in much the same way the Uptown TIF and the City’s multi-million dollar “investment” in Uptown Redevelopment appeared to be, even before then-mayor Mike Marous and then-city manager Tim Schuenke sprinkled it with pixie dust and snake oil.

Otherwise, we might end up stuck with an EWO project so bad it ends up making the Uptown TIF almost look good by comparison.

To read or post comments, click on title.

D-64’s Stealthy Public Relations Council


Back on August 11 we published a post about the lack of transparency at…where else…Park Ridge-Niles School District 64.

Unofficial motto: “Don’t ask, cuz we won’t tell.”

We wrote about how D-64 Super!-intendent – because that’s pretty much how Board president Tony Borrelli and fellow Board members gushed about her when the Board gave her a $250,000+ contract extension and raise a few months ago – Laurie Heinz got herself a propaganda army she named the “Community Relations Council”(the “CRC”) for its avowed purpose of “strengthening relationships between the schools and local residents” in order to facilitate “a free-flowing dialogue and make sure everyone’s voice is heard.”

D-64 Minister of Disinformation Bernadette Tramm must have earned combat pay for that folderol.

Anybody who pays attention to what passes for representative government at D-64 knows by now that if there’s any “free-flowing dialogue” over there, it’s occurring only when the Board scurries off into its regular secretive closed session meetings, the proceedings of which it hides and keeps hidden from the public. For us ordinary Park Ridge residents/taxpayers, on the other hand, “free-flowing dialogue” most often consists of “talking to the hand” of Heinz and the Board collective.

According to Super!-Heinz, there were almost 40 applicants for the CRC, 19 of which were chosen and identified for the first time in a Sept. 16 posting on the D-64 website – one day after the CRC’s first meeting was held. Just chalk that timing up to D-64’s version of the “it’s-better-to-ask-for-forgiveness-than-permission” school of non-transparency and non-accountability.

And this being the D-64 Star Chamber, the only thing that has been revealed about the 19 successful applicants so far appears to be their names:

Marlene Arteta, Chris Bauer, Anne Camarano, Mariana Eguren-Cosma, Jeff Flyke, Kathleen Kornely, Terry Krahl, Dale Lasky, Robert Leurck, Maureen McGuire, Annette Miller, Sheri Roche, Philip Salemi, Rob Schoenstedt, Franco Scimeca, Paul Sheehan, Michael Shields, Jennifer Steurer and Kara Vormittag.

Because of D-64’s pro-secrecy/anti-transparency obsession, the qualifications of these 19 individuals (as well as the other 20 or so unsuccessful applicants) are nowhere to be found on the District’s website or in any of its Board materials for the past several Board meetings. That’s in stark and ugly contrast to the transparency of the process by which the Park Ridge City Council appoints residents to its boards and commissions – where every single application is posted on the City’s website days before those applicants are interviewed by the Mayor’s Advisory Council, in meetings open to the press and the public, prior to the recommendation of the selected applicants to the mayor and the full Council’s voting on them in meetings open to the press and the public.

We also can’t find anything in the D-64 Board’s minutes, agendas or meeting materials to suggest that the Board had any role whatsoever (even its typical rubber-stamping one) in the appointments of the favored 19. That suggests that the whole CRC is Heinz’s personal rodeo, although we assume Tramm was whispering sweet somethings into Heinz’s ear during the selection process.

Meanwhile, unsuccessful applicants like Watchdog reader/commentator George Korovilas were left scratching their heads about why they weren’t chosen, although only Korovilas publicly expressed his skepticism of the process and/or selection criteria in a comment to the 08.11.15 post on 09.15.15 @ 11:03 a.m.:

I think that maybe PUBDOG might be onto something with this NEW council created by the superintendent. I was offended that PUBDOG would suggest that only YES men would be put on this council, since I applied to be on it. I, along with others that believe there is good and bad with what the district is doing and had NO INTENTION of being YES people, have been denied a spot on this council. I hope that I am wrong but it looks like I might owe PUBDOG an apology for his original take on this Council.

Poor guy: he thought the selection process would be (to quote the late Jay McMullen, husband of then-Chicago mayor Jane Byrne) “on the legit.” As if anything of consequence D-64 does is ever totally “on the legit” or even totally out-in-the-open.

Korovalis clearly overlooked how his vocal beefing about the District’s ongoing refusal to provide D-64 parents with itemized billing statements of the expenses that comprise the annual student fees made him a persona non grata with Heinz and the Board. His chances of getting appointed to anything at D-64 more important than Franklin School copy machine volunteer are slim and none.

But back to the CRC.

It’s supposed to meet three times a year for a couple of hours at a crack, with these 19 members serving for two years.

And according to Heinz’s post on the D-64 website, CRC members “will be building their understanding of current District 64 issues” – as spoon-fed to them by Heinz and Tramm, of course – which those CRC members will, in turn, spoon-feed to the community.  That’s the way non-transparent, non-accountable governmental bodies stay that way: by controlling the flow of information to that public.

And Heinz also wants CRC members to “provide her with feedback about what misconceptions the community might have about what is or isn’t happening” in D-64. [Emphasis ours.]

“Misconceptions” like the continuing underachievement of D-64’s students despite the ever-increasing costs to the taxpayers?

To read or post comments, click on title.

Criminal Background Checks: Good Idea But No Panacea


The Park Ridge City Council is considering requiring criminal background checks for residents appointed to the City’s various boards and commissions.

The simple question to ask when considering this idea is: Are there any advantages to having board and commission members who have criminal records?

We don’t think so.

According to a story in the current edition of the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Park Ridge exploring background checks for board, commission volunteers,” Sept. 29), more than 100 residents serve on 17 boards and commissions by mayoral appointment.

That means that more than 100 residents are making significant decisions for our community while, unlike the mayor and the aldermen, not having been subjected to direct scrutiny by our community’s 24,000 or so registered voters – even if only 11,000 or so of those voters ever actually bother to show up and cast their votes. Instead, prospective board and commission appointees are vetted by the “Mayor’s Advisory Board” comprised of the chairs of the Council’s four standing committees, serving as the peoples’ representatives.

That vetting and selection process is all well and good by us. But it requires at least four conscientious aldermen who will make the effort to select, if not the “best of the best, sir!” (“MIB”), at least the tallest midgets in the circus – and not a collection of the usual suspects appointed primarily because they are somebody’s buddies who can be counted on to rubber-stamp whatever the mayor, aldermen and/or City bureaucrats, or some developers or business owners, want.

Having conscientious aldermen at all times, however, can’t be guaranteed.

Back when Ron Wietecha (1990-2003) and Howard Frimark (2005-2009) were mayor, a number of aldermen were so dependent on being told how to vote that they probably still bear faint traces of their respective mayor’s thumbprints on their backs or bellies. And we remember at least one alderman regularly taking his seat at The Horseshoe before tearing open his meeting packet for the first time – back in the days before transparency, when the packets were delivered on Saturdays and their contents weren’t available on-line.

So criminal background checks might also compensate, at least a little bit, for a lack of diligence by any phone-it-in aldermen.

Background checks would create reports that most likely would be public documents discoverable through FOIA requests, however, so we agree with new City Attorney Adam Simon that they should be required only for those applicants who actually are recommended to the mayor for appointment AND whom the mayor actually intends to appoint. [NOTE: Under the City Code, the mayor is free to reject such recommendations and, after two such rejections, he/she can appoint whomever he/she chooses.] That way, all those unsuccessful candidates will not have their privacy invaded unnecessarily.

But while such a process makes sense, it will not immunize the City from bad appointments who do stupid things because…well…they are stupid and/or ignorant individuals; or because they are “pleasers” for whom a pat on the back or a rub of the belly can suspend any semblance of good judgment.  Nor will it shield the City from appointees without criminal records who – when given the opportunity – might decide to do somebody a “favor,” either gratuitously or on a quid pro quo basis.

Remember: Dixon, Illinois’ appointed treasurer/comptroller (and quarter horse breeder extraordinaire), Rita Crundwell, didn’t have a criminal record when she ripped off Dixon’s taxpayers for $53.7 million over 22 years.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Let’s Pretend…That The D-64 Board Was Transparent To Its Taxpayers (Updated)


Today we’re going to play a game of “Let’s Pretend.”

Let’s pretend you’re a member of the board of directors of a $70 million service company that employs a few hundred people.

One day someone at the company discovers that a particular employee “engaged in dishonest and unprofessional conduct” during a one-year period that cost the company thousands of dollars. And upon this discovery being made, the company conducts an internal investigation that confirms the employee’s dishonesty and extent of the company’s loss.

And let’s pretend that, upon receiving the investigator’s report, the company’s CEO – whom you and your fellow board members consider such a superstar that, after only one year into her original 3-year contract, you unanimously extend her contract another year at its $250,000-plus salary – recommends the employee be fired.

Would you review the investigation report, accept your superstar CEO’s recommendation, and authorize the firing of that dishonest employee?

If you said “No!” then you’re qualified to be Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Board member.

Because, as reported in an online Park Ridge Herald-Advocate story (“School officials mum on Park Ridge teacher’s $16,500 fine.” September 22, 2015), that $70 million “company” is D-64; the employee reportedly is D-64 middle-school teacher Kate De La Pasqua; and the superstar CEO is Supt. Laurie Heinz.

Since this was a D-64 Board decision, you don’t have to read the H-A story to know that every important discussion and decision related to it was held in closed session.

When it comes to hiding from the taxpayers, Board president Tony Borrelli’s transformation into predecessor John Heyde is almost complete: watch the opening minutes of a few Board meeting videos and you can almost feel Borrelli’s delight over running into closed session – which seems to have become a permanent feature of every Board meeting – so that he and his fellow backbone-challenged fellow Board members [Mark Eggemann cast the only “no” vote on this closed session] can talk with the kind of candor they’re afraid to express in open session.

Or maybe they just don’t want a public record of their cluelessness and/or spinelessness.

According to the H-A article, the District cut a deal with De La Pasqua that includes a “remedial warning” and a $16,500 “fine.” And because the deal was cut in D-64’s Star Chamber, not only did the District fail to post even a redacted copy of the settlement agreement or any details of the settlement on the District’s website prior to the August 27th meeting when the deal was approved, but it made sure the settlement agreement contained a confidentiality clause.

The better to make sure that not only would no member of the press or public get any advance warning of this latest pre-cooked morsel of Board business-as-usual, but that they would have trouble learning about it even after the deal was done.

To its credit, however, the H-A issued a FOIA request and, in response, D-64’s minister of propaganda and disinformation, Bernadette Tramm, produced a highly-redacted copy of the agreement and notice of remedial warning that blacked out any information about the charges against De La Pasqua – other than that she “failed to adhere” to a D-64 employee ethics policy and some unspecified Board policy.

So if you pretend you’re a D-64 Board member who actually believes in honesty, integrity, transparency and accountability in D-64 governance, would you say: “Gee, Ms. Tramm, can’t you publish the redacted version of the settlement agreement on the City’s website so that no FOIA request is required?”

Apparently not.

And when the H-A asked for an un-redacted copy of the settlement, Tramm pled privacy concerns and cited the Illinois School Student Records Act, 105 ILCS 10, et seq.  So the H-A reportedly is taking its case to the Illinois Attorney General. And good for it.

Naturally, this kind of backroom deal-making has led to a lot of speculation and rumors, with the most interesting one being that De La Pasqua and her hubby may have scammed D-64 out of thousands of dollars in tuition by lying about the residency of some un-named (wink, wink) student(s).

Based on the 2-year old D-64 salary data we could find, De La Pasqua should be making over $100,000. And she is listed as the owner of a condo at 1301 W. Touhy Avenue that she purchased for $125,000 in 2014. But public records also show a “Katherine De La Pasqua” at 5024 Nagle Ave., Chicago.


We also find it interesting that the settlement included a $16,500 “fine” which – SURPRISE!– D-64 apparently has not explained. Does that amount represent D-64’s total loss from whatever “dishonest and unprofessional conduct” De La Pasqua allegedly engaged in, or just a small fraction of it – with the remainder having been negotiated away by the Board and, consequently, eaten by the D-64 taxpayers?

And if she ripped off D-64’s taxpayers for that much, is she being charged interest for the one year (until June 2016) she and her hubby are getting to pay it back?

A few years ago we published a post about how D-64’s botching of small tasks – at that time, the school lunch supervision program – very well may portend the botching of much bigger tasks. This $16,500 backroom deal with De la Pasqua is another one of those small tasks.

Meanwhile, the same Board members who just a few months ago unanimously proclaimed Heinz a superstar, and extended her contract like one, have signaled that on a small matter such as this they might not really trust her judgment.

With teacher union contract negotiations on the horizon, that does not bode well for D-64 taxpayers who can count on nothing more than being kept in the dark by this decidedly non-transparent Board.

UPDATED 09.27.15.  On of our readers in the real estate business has advised us that Ms. De La Pasqua sold the Nagle property in 2010 and purchased 6234 N. Olcott (Norwood Park, Chicago) that same year.

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A Valedictory Address Worth Watching


In our last post we wrote about how the Park Ridge Library Board was enhancing its transparency and accountability by broadcasting its meetings live on WOW and posting the videotape on its website.

Little did we know that the very first televised meeting last Tuesday (09.15.15) would provide such a wonderful teaching moment, compliments of the departing Children’s Dept. Service Mgr., Kelly Durov – whose valedictory address (starting at the 17:35 mark of the meeting video)

illustrates a number of the things about the Library and local government generally that need to be changed and corrected if local government facilities and services are going to improve to where they should be.

The main premise of Ms. Durov’s remarks was that she would have preferred to have continued adding to her “longevity” at our Library but that “[t]here are some real issues that made leaving [her] job, a job that [she] loved, a reality.”

Whenever you hear public employees (or their union reps) talk about how much they “love” their jobs, you can be pretty sure they’re talking about the pay, the constitutionally-guaranteed pension that they often take years earlier than Social Security kicks in for the rest of us, the lack of accountability, the virtual inability to be fired, the virtual certainty their employer won’t pack up and move to Indiana or Guadalajara, or various other advantages they have over private employees.

And Ms. Durov didn’t disappoint.

“It would be disingenuous for me to say that salary were not a large part of my decision to leave.“

You’ll note that Ms. Durov didn’t say what her current salary is, how much she will be getting at her new job, or how many more Benjamins in her pay envelope would have persuaded her to stay. That wouldn’t have fit into her anti-Library Board narrative.

Similarly, while she applauded Director Janet Van De Carr’s “strong leadership,” she curiously forgot to mention that it is Ms. Van De Carr – and not the Library Board – who has full authority over all employees’ raises, including Ms. Durov’s. Nor did she mention whether she even asked Ms. Van De Carr for a raise, or whether she was turned down.

That wouldn’t have fit into her anti-Board narrative, either.

Fortunately for anyone looking to understand the true priorities of many public employees, Ms. Durov didn’t stop after having expressed the primacy of her pay check.

“I would urge the Library Board…to respect the management of the Library to set goals for our staff that will better the Library and the community, and to trust us when we deem those goals have been achieved.”

In other words, the Library Board should see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil – but just let “management” (a/k/a, Ms. Van De Carr) continue to do whatever it darn well pleases, at whatever cost and to whatever effect. And then the Board should let Staff decide for itself how good a job it’s doing.

Yes, folks, that IS the inmates running the asylum.

In Ms. Durov’s bureaucrats-gone-wild world, that means rejecting “squishy numbers such as circulation and door count” and embracing whatever un-measurable warm-and-fuzzies make Staff less accountable while also boosting its self-esteem – even as a metric like “circulation” (how many books and other items are checked out, so how “squishy” can that number be?) is at its lowest level since FY2007-08, down more than 112,000 items from its FY2012-13 high; and a metric like “door count”(how many patrons physically visit the Library, which IS a “squishy” number because management and Staff want it that way) is at its lowest level in at least a decade, down almost 115,000 from its FY2009-10 high.

But, bless her, Ms. Durov didn’t stop there, either.

“My integrity as a librarian has been compromised as we have implemented user fees, stopped supporting Food for Fines, and now are examining charging people to use Library space.”

Ironically, each of those three things Ms. Durov criticized was intended to make more non-tax dollars available for Library use, and they have done so – two facts that also didn’t fit into her narrative. More importantly, none of those three things implicates her actual “librarian” duties, although we confess to having no knowledge of any code of librarian “integrity” and couldn’t find one with a quick Google search.

If there is such a thing as librarian “integrity,” however, we would have expected it to have been severely “compromised” when Ms. Durov’s favorite director and a previous library board of bobbleheaded rubber-stampers decided to close the Library on Sundays during summer 2014 as a political stunt to embarrass the City Council and enrage the citizenry into coercing the Council into giving the Library more money, thereby avoiding the referendum that the Council nevertheless thrust upon a reluctant and unappreciative director, Staff and board.

But neither Ms. Durov nor ANY of her fellow Library Staffers showed up at any Board meeting to voice even the slightest complaint or objection to locking out all those patrons who regularly made Sundays the Library ‘s single busiest day of the week, based on average per-hour attendance.

That’s because when one cuts through all the bogus rhetoric, the Library’s “patrons” are little more than props that employees like Ms. Durov use for their own purposes, like arguing for more money in their pockets. So invoking the welfare of the Library’s patrons is just empty lip service designed to sucker those patrons into thinking that many/most(?) Staff members aren’t just mercenaries.

And thanks to a small-but-vocal minority of easily-bamboozled patrons and a complicit local press, that tactic usually works…until someone like Ms. Durov shows her true colors, captured on video, before selling herself to a higher bidder.

As the fictional Vincent “Vinny” Gambini might say: “Thank you, Ms. Durov. You’ve been a lovely, lovely witness.”

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and publisher

Member, Park Ridge Library Board

To read or post comments, click on title.