Public Watchdog.org

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

04.28.17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Tilted Kilt Tommy:

You seem to be confused.

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

That was you.

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

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

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

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

No.

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

No.

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

No.

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

No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

No.

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

No.

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

Seriously, Tilted Tommy?

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

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

Robert J. Trizna

Editor & Publisher

To read or post comments, click on title.

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

04.24.17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you say “slush fund”?

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

Why didn’t we know it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To read or post comments, click on title.

Ald. Milissis: Aldermanic Appointment Process Needs Changes

04.14.17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To read or post comments, click on title.

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

04.05.17

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

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

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

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

But that wasn’t the half of it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And doing so in bright sunlight.

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

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

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

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

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

Well done, voters!

To read or post comments, click on title.

VOTE! (Updated)

04.04.17

Mayor:                      Marty Maloney 

Ald. (3d):                   Rick Van Roeyen

Ald. (4th):                  Roger Shubert

D-64 Board:               Rick Biagi

                                 Alfred “Fred” Sanchez

D-207 Board:              Linda Coyle

Park Dist. Board:        Harmony Harrington

                                 Jim Janak

                                 Bob Leach

                                 Jim O’Donnell

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

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

To read or post comments, click on title.

Our Recommendations For The D-64 And D-207 School Boards

04.03.17

Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 and Maine Twp. High School District 207, cumulatively, consume in the neighborhood of $200 million of our tax dollars…each year – or around 70% of our entire property tax bills.

And growing.

Yet over the past several years many/most ratings and rankings show a decline by the schools of both districts – with D-207 flagship Maine South now ranked as low as 45th in Illinois, according to the 2016 U.S. News & World Reports rankings. As we noted in our 04.22.16 post, that’s down 16 slots from 2012.

Worse yet, the “College Readiness” of Maine South’s students is a meager 40.8%, trailing not only the likes of New Trier, Stevenson, the Glenbrooks (North and South), Deerfield, Highland Park, the Hinsdales (Central and South) but, also the likes of Wheeling and Elk Grove – despite comparable-or-higher teacher and administrator salaries, and comparable-or-lower student to teacher ratios.

And off-the-record conversations with a few long-time Maine South teachers suggest that a key reason why Maine South’s performance is declining is because the kids coming into South – the majority of whom are D-64 grads – aren’t high school ready.

But to listen to the D-207 Board and administration, and the Maine South administration, everything’s just ducky. Or peachy, if you prefer. And that’s the same bag of heifer dust being scattered about by the D-64 Board and administration – even though both D-207 and D-64 have some of the highest-paid teachers and administrators in the state, and have among the highest costs per pupil.

Those high costs and salaries might be justified if the performance demonstrated real value to the taxpayers who are footing the bills. But higher taxes and lower performance is an unsustainable model for the long-term attractiveness of Park Ridge.

D-207:   Four (4) seats are being contested by 5 candidates: Incumbents Carla Owen and Jin Lee; and challengers Aurora Austriaco, Linda Coyle and Dan Gott.

We didn’t endorse Owen or Lee when they ran in 2013, and you can read why in our 04.01.13 post. Since then, all that has changed is that Maine South has slid further in the rankings, so we can come up with no conceivable reason why they deserve re-election.

Unfortunately, because the current lineup of candidates will leave on odd-man/woman out, we would encourage the voters to leave Jin Lee without a chair when the music stops – if only because (a) he has expressed an almost total disregard for the taxpayers; and (b) he’s trying to institute a “global educational” initiative, including matching up one or more D-207 schools with schools in Korea and elsewhere, without any suggestion that such globalism will stop the ranking slide or increase the levels of student college-readiness.

Of the 3 challengers, Linda Coyle is the star by far. An attorney who has served on both the Park Ridge Planning & Zoning Commission and the D-207 Community Advisory Council, she consistently has demonstrated sound thinking and a firm grasp of taxes-to-value analysis that is currently MIA on the D-207 Board. And her belief that the D-207 board “must spend the taxpayers’ money carefully…[while] ensuring that each dollar is directed at providing the strongest learning environment possible for our children” is a refreshing change from Jin Lee’s spend-without-results compulsion.

D-64:     Seven (7) non-incumbents are vying for four (4) seats created by the departures of Bob Johnson, Vicki Lee, Dathan Paterno and Scott Zimmerman.

Given their D+ performances (and a grade of F when it comes to transparency), It’s hard to conceive of their replacements being anything but an improvement. Amazingly (and sadly) enough, however, three of those challengers – Greg Bublitz, Norman Dziedzic and Michael Schaab – are almost guaranteed to be as bad or even worse, by virtue of the fact that they are all married to D-64 teachers. So if they are elected, they will get to vote not only on the 2020 teachers’ contract but, also, on various other conditions of employment and even teacher disciplinary issues that arise in the interim.

Whether that’s just the appearance of impropriety or an outright conflict of interest might require a lawsuit to actually establish. But for the reasons we discussed in greater depth in our 03.07.17 post and our 03.15.17 post, we see no sane reason why D-64’s already-H.I.T.A. (Honesty. Integrity. Transparency. Accountability)-challenged School Board should be burdened with either of those potential integrity breaches.

The other 4 candidates are Rick Biagi, Larry Ryles, Fred Sanchez and Eastman Tiu, all of whom are preferable to the “3 Hubbies.”

Of those 4, however, the stars clearly are Rick Biagi and Alfred “Fred” Sanchez, both of whom are attorneys, strong proponents of H.I.T.A. and strong proponents of maximizing educational value for our tax dollars. They also are staunch opponents of the D-64 Board’s regular abuse of secretive “closed session” meetings.

Biagi is completing his second 4-year term on the Park Ridge Park District Board, where he twice led the Board as president. Both he and Sanchez are founding members of the Park Ridge Holiday Lights Fund committee. Both of them have children currently attending D-64 schools, as well as children who have graduated from D-64 schools, with Sanchez himself being a D-64 grad.

Only by electing candidates like Biagi and Sanchez can we hope to improve the quality of education for D-64 students while also improving the value of D-64 to its taxpayers.

DISCLAIMER: The editor of this blog serves with Biagi and Sanchez on the Park Ridge Holiday Lights Fund committee.

To read or post comments, click on title.

 

Our Endorsements For Park Ridge Park District Board

04.03.17

For many years the Park Ridge Park District has had the highest number of contested races, and this year is no exception.

First-term incumbents Joan Bende and Jim Phillips appear to be running on an unofficial “slate” with newcomers Carol Becker and Laurie Pegler Mallin for four seats on the 7-member Park Board. Phillips, in a March 24 letter to the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate, claims that those four are the true “Friends of the Parks” – running against alleged “Republican candidates” while identifying only Jim O’Donnell, former Republican candidate for State Senator, by name.

For us, Phillips’ – and his running mates’ – philosophy of government is captured in Phillips’ minimizing the District’s recent tax increase as “the amount added to the typical property tax bill this year is $3.42, the price of a cup of coffee at Starbucks!” Politicians who demean tax increases in that fashion rarely have any respect for the taxpayers or the money taken from those taxpayers.

That was demonstrated four years ago when Bende and Phillips also ran on an unofficial “slate” with then-incumbent Steven Vile – billed as “The Last Three” because of their ballot positions. Their major issue then was support of private corporation Senior Services Inc. and its efforts to walk away with hundreds of thousands of dollars bequeathed to what was then known as the Senior Center, which they used to form their own short-lived senior club in Niles.

Vile lost his bid, but Bende and Phillips did not. And, not surprisingly, during the past four years they have consistently voted for annual property tax increases, voted against competitive bidding, and voted against repeal of the District’s policy of freebie uses and memberships of District facilities by Board members, and have regularly blanched at the mere thought that the Park District can be operated somewhat like a business.

Yet the Park District is the unit of local government best suited to operating on a business model.

It is both the smallest, budget-wise, and least essential of our four units of local government: Its 2017 budget of $22 million is less than 1/3 that of either the City or Park Ridge-Niles School District 64, and less than 1/6 that of Maine Twp. High School District 207. And most, if not all, of its facilities and services are amenities – albeit desirable ones – rather than necessities like police, sewer, water, or education.

Unfortunately, there were no debates (or “forums,” for those gentle souls like the League of Women Voters who view debates as too harsh and adversarial, if not downright traumatic) for the Park Board candidates. That prevented the Bende/Phllips/Becker/Mallin “slate” from having to answer hard questions about the costs and cost-effectiveness of their cause celebre this time around: The GoGreen “natural” method of grass, tree and plant management.

But from information about the candidates – available primarily from the March 9 Park Ridge Herald-Advocate article (“Q&A with eight candidates running for the Park Ridge Park District Board”) and Facebook– we believe the best choices for filling the four Park Board vacancies are first-time Park Board candidates who (in alphabetical order) favor a more business-oriented approach to District operations: Harmony Harrington, Jim Janek, Bob Leach and Jim O’Donnell.

Harrington is an attorney and lobbyist, which makes her the candidate best-suited to pursue the private partnerships and grants she believes can supplement the property taxes and user fees now funding the Park District. She believes that “a healthy park district needs to operate like a business, use market-based principles yet maintain affordable access. While we all pay our share of taxes – 5% of our City of Park Ridge tax bill goes to the Park District – those taxes cannot cover all Park District amenities. Hence, the reliance on market-based user fees is essential.”

She also believes that “for major capital projects outside our current means, public referendum is a very important component.” Exactly right!

Janak is running with O’Donnell. Both of them favor voter input, via referendum, as a condition of any tax levy increase. That novel idea means that the Park Board would need to anticipate its revenue requirements and levy on a two-year basis to correspond to the odd-year local election calendar, unless the District wished to also utilize the even-year primary and general election calendar. That might mean more work for the Board and staff, but it would also ensure more thought than currently goes into the moronic “Use It Or Lose It” reflexive increases favored by Bende and Phillips, which would also mean greater taxpayer scrutiny and accountability.

They also realize that the competition from other recreation and fitness vendors like the new Fitness Formula Club (“FFC”) only a few blocks from the District’s Centennial Fitness Center (f/k/a the “Community Center”) requires that the District be more circumspect about the strengths and weaknesses of its facilities and programs.

Interestingly enough, Leach favors a two-year strategic plan – of a more readily understandable 20 pages instead of the current 331 pages – which would fit neatly into Janek’s and O’Donnell’s levy referendum process the he also supports. He wants the District to focus on improving the quality and value of those programs our residents actually want or need instead of trying to be all things to all people.

Harrington, Janak, Leach and O’Donnell deserve a shot at making the District a better value for all of our residents.

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Van Roeyen In The 3d, Shubert In The 4th

03.31.17

Only 2 of the 4 aldermanic seats whose terms are expiring this year have contested races: Nobody even attempted to challenge Ald. Nick Milissis in the 2d Ward, and the only challenger to Ald. Marc Mazzuca in the 6th Ward was tossed off the ballot because of insufficient valid nominating petition signatures.

3d Ward. When we first heard that there were four candidates for alderman of Park Ridge’s 3d Ward, we figured that was a misprint. After all, for the past 25 years or so the 3d Ward rarely even had a contested race. And the nadir was reached in 2011 when NOBODY filed candidate petitions, leaving Jim Smith to run uncontested as a write-in candidate.

None of the four technically is an “incumbent” because current 3d Ward Ald. Rick Van Roeyen was appointed by the Council after the death of Bob Wilkening only a few months into the term we won over Van Roeyen in April 2015. It is the final two years of Wilkening’s four-year term that are at stake this election.

Flooding is basically the 3d Ward’s political one-trick pony, which is why that was the No. 1 answer by all four candidates to the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate’s question: “What are the top issues facing Park Ridge today?”

Pasquale Laudando’s campaign, well-intended as it might be, has displayed the shortcomings of a candidate who has not been engaged very long in City issues. He has a few interesting ideas but they lack both depth and comprehensiveness. On the other hand, for the past four years that Vicki Lee has been a member of the Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Board, her most significant contribution appears to have been helping provide a quorum – although we will miss her open-mouthed gum chewing when perusing D-64 meeting videos after May 1.

That leaves the race to Van Roeyen and Wilkening’s widow, Gail, who has never run for a City office but who was twice elected to 4-year terms on the Park Ridge Park District board (1997-2005).

Their answers to the H-A’s questionnaire and their performances at the March 2 candidates’ forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters (Laundando and Lee were MIA) were surprisingly similar: They both profess to be environmentally conscious; they both seem to support the creation of the proposed storm water utility; they both speak zealously about infrastructure maintenance, repair and replacement; and they both support Marty Maloney for mayor.

Although Wilkening has 8 years of government board experience to Van Roeyen’s 2, hers is over 10 years old and was for a much smaller unit of government. Van Roeyen’s experience is current and it’s been on the Council dealing with more varied and significant issues, and a much larger budget.

For that reason we give the edge to Van Roeyen.

4th Ward. This race is an inter-generational battle between incumbent Ald. Roger Shubert and challenger Jack Barnette, who was an alderman back in the 1980s when dinosaurs roamed Park Ridge, the Homeowners Party dominated City government, the Council was comprised of 14 aldermen, and none of them could even spell “transparency” or “accountability.”

Shubert ran four years ago as a supporter of then-mayor Dave Schmidt and as an adherent of Schmidt’s H.I.T.A. (“Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability”) platform. For the most part he has lived up to those principles, seeming to stray only on those occasions when he puts “politics” ahead of “government.” He also has a tendency to spread himself a bit thin because of his wide variety of extracurricular activities, although that also can serve to expand his perspectives on City issues.

Another difference between them is that Barnette seems to favor City activism in attracting business and controlling residential development, while Shubert has adopted the more laissez faire approach we favorespecially when government activism involves bureaucrats trying to outsmart the marketplace using taxpayer funds.

Barnette also recently attempted to distinguish his qualifications from Shubert’s by arguing, on Facebook, that he has “owned and lived in three different homes in Park Ridge” – paying the property taxes that the City Council is charged with levying and spending – while Shubert “has no real commitment to Park Ridge” because he “is renting a place here in the Fourth Ward…[and] pays no property tax.”

Sorry, Mr. Barnette, but Ald. Shubert has demonstrated his “real commitment to Park Ridge” by his Council service over the past four year. And at the risk of shaking your concept of real estate economics, property tax tends to be factored into the rent of both residential and commercial leases. If you can’t grasp that basic concept, perhaps the rest of the Council’s business might also be a bit too much of a challenge.

Shubert is the better choice.

DISCLAIMER: The editor of this blog serves with Ald. Shubert on the Park Ridge Holiday Lights Fund committee.

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Maloney For Mayor

03.29.17

Six years ago we “strongly endorse[d]” Marty Maloney in his contested race for 7th Ward alderman. Today we endorse him even more strongly in his contested race for mayor of Park Ridge.

Back in 2011 we pointed to Maloney’s 8 years (2003-2011) as “the No. 1 fiscal hawk” on the Park Ridge Park District Board, as well as his key role in helping save the City more than $3 million in construction costs by his support of the intergovernmental agreement to relocate the City’s Uptown reservoir to Hinkley Park – instead of to the intended relocation site of the old City garage property at Greenwood and Elm. Doing so kept that site available for its ultimate sale to Lexington Homes in October 2015 for $1.4 million.

Maloney won the aldermanic seat handily over two other candidates.

During his first four-year term, Maloney – along with his Class of 2011 colleague Ald. Dan Knight (5th) – was so instrumental in helping then-Mayor Dave Schmidt turn around a City government left financially staggering and virtually-rudderless by former mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark and his Alderpuppets, that both he and Knight were re-elected in 2015 without a single challenger between them.

Maloney’s support of Schmidt’s dedication to transparency resulted in the City’s receiving two consecutive “Sunshine” awards in each of the two years the City applied for it – 2014 and 2015 – while increasing its transparency scores from 86% to 94.8%. And by our unofficial count, the City leads the other three units of local government in fewest number of closed sessions.

When Maloney was selected by his Council peers in March 2015 to serve as Acting Mayor following Schmidt’s sudden death, he made it clear that the next two years were “the rest of Mayor Dave’s term.” And for the past two years Maloney has advanced Schmidt’s legacy of H.I.T.A.: Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability, the four pillars of good government regularly ignored by previous City administrations and effectively mocked by the boards of both of our school districts.

For that reason alone we could endorse Maloney for mayor.

But there’s more.

As alderman he supported Schmidt’s austerity measures and the tax hikes needed to rebuild the City’s fund balances, especially the General (operating) Fund’s, so that the City could stop tapping the Water Fund just to make payroll. He also supported refinancing the onerous Uptown TIF debt and various other financial measures to return the City’s finances to credibility.

That kind of fiscal management paid off in last June’s Moody’s Investors Service “Credit Opinion,” which removed the “negative outlook” that accompanied Moody’s downgrade of the City’s bond rating from Aa1 to Aa2 in late 2011, in large part because of the low General Fund balance and the TIF albatross. Maloney responded to that news by proclaiming his next goal “to raise the rating itself.” Doing so could save City taxpayers millions of dollars of interest if/when the City decides to issue the boatloads of bonds needed to finance infrastructure repair, replacement and/or improvement, including flood remediation.

Chalk up another reason for a Maloney endorsement.

As Acting Mayor, Maloney has continued Schmidt’s initiative of making Park Ridge friendlier to business while refusing to become a sucker for business. During his six years on the Council the storefronts in Uptown south of Touhy have begun to fill, with Holt’s taking over the long-empty former Pine’s space, Harp & Fiddle filling the long-empty Scharringhausen Pharmacy space, and Shakou converting the old Pioneer Press offices.

Maloney also appears to have learned well the lesson of the Uptown TIF: Being stupid and profligate with the public purse usually has harsh, unforeseen and/or unintended – and almost always long-lasting – consequences. That’s why he and the Council have not let themselves be stampeded into stupid and/or profligate decisions by the various special interests whose unenlightened self-interest would leave the City hemorrhaging cash and hog-tied by debt.

That’s yet another reason for our endorsement.

Four years ago we urged the re-election of Mayor Dave “based on his record, one that has been the most public and transparent of any mayor in Park Ridge’s history.” The same can be said about Maloney’s.

Don’t be confused by the differences in style between Schmidt and Maloney. Schmidt’s was your typical Germanic no-nonsense approach that was aptly described as a “Schmidtzkrieg,” while Maloney’s has the smoother edges of those folks with Emerald Isle origins. While Maloney tends to hide his iron fist inside a velvet glove, Schmidt was the iron fist inside the iron glove. But when it comes to City government we believe their values to be consonant.

Acting Mayor Maloney was true to his pledge that the past two years would be the remainder of Mayor Dave’s term. Now it’s time for him to build on Schmidt’s legacy and define himself while continuing to move Park Ridge forward.

We’re confident he can do so. You should be, too.

Marty Maloney for mayor.

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Fuksa’s Ideas Neither “New” Nor “Improved”

03.27.17

Until about 20 years or so ago, manufacturers regularly advertised new iterations of their existing products as “New & Improved!”

But as American society became more youth-oriented and superficial, and less analytically critical, “improved” was subsumed into “new”: So long as something was novel or different from its predecessor, it no longer needed to be better.

Unfortunately, that type of superficiality has come to typify our politics even more so than our commercialism.

In our last post we talked about the difference in local government experience between Acting Park Ridge Mayor Marty Maloney and his challenger, Lucas Fuksa – a difference so stark and striking that there should be no reasonable choice between the two…IF experience were the only thing that matters.

But as we noted in that last post, great ideas can sometimes be a worthy substitute for experience.

So in this post we’re going to look at some of Fuksa’s more significant criticisms of Maloney and City government, and Fuksa’s ideas behind his slogan “We can do better” and his sketchy-bordering-on-flimsy flow chart that purports to show us what he plans to do without explaining HOW he intends to do it.

Let’s get started.

Flooding: As reported by the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Park Ridge mayoral candidates differ on issues during first debate,” Feb. 24), at the Chamber of Commerce debate on February 22 – the only real mayoral “debate” because the Evanston ladies who run the League of Women Voters apparently fear confrontation and, consequently, ran their March 2d event as a “forum” – Fuksa argued that the City didn’t need any more flooding studies but needed to take action funded by low-interest loans and grants. He also ridiculed the proposed Storm Water Utility (“SWU”) as “an illusion” because the fee structure for the SWU has not been established.

Interestingly enough, Fuksa made no mention of the total amount of those low-interest loans the City would have to borrow for City-wide flood remediation. Maybe that’s because the number has consistently been projected at well over $100 million since at least the end of 2013, not even including the additional tens of millions of dollars of debt service that would be needed to finance such a mega-project. It could be that Fuksa just didn’t know that number, considering how he had been MIA until late last year when he decided to grab for the brass ring and run for mayor.

At any rate, there is nothing new or improved about his positions on this issue: The folks most affected by flooding, especially those who bought their properties in known flood-prone areas (Hello, 2d and 3d Warders!) at a discount because they were in flood-prone areas have been clamoring for the City to do whatever it takes, at whatever it costs, for years. And they don’t give a rat’s derriere whether or not anybody else in Park Ridge gets flood relief, so long as they get theirs.

More Retail: Fuksa took his Chamber appearance – and every other opportunity, for that matter – to deride Maloney’s and the City’s alleged inability to bring more “national” and “regional” retail businesses to Park Ridge. With a mantra of “retail is driven by retail” and the recent closing of the Jos. A. Bank store in Uptown as his poster-child, Fuksa told the Chamber folks that he would push for the hiring of an economic development director and for making the City friendlier to businesses, except when it comes to non-retail businesses opening in the Uptown “retail” district.

We’ve repeatedly pointed out – most notably in our posts of 07.31.09 (about “Farcical Façade Improvements”), 05.17.12 (about retail “crapitalism”), 02.26.13 (about the shoddy EDTF report), 03.19.13 (about retail “quacks”) and 11.30.16 (about retail “bribery”) – and been proved right by the likes of Whole Foods and Mariano’s, as well as by the disappointing performance of what was supposed to be our retail salvation, the Shoppes of Uptown, national and even regional retailers know where they want to be (and why) far better than any bureaucrat, including any six-figure economic development director the City might hire. Which is why Whole Foods was willing to drop its (or its developer’s) demand for a $2 million-plus bribe in the form of “tax revenue sharing” when then-Mayor Dave and that council said “no.”

Once again, there’s nothing new or improved about Fuksa’s “take” on retail: Four years ago mayoral challenger Larry Ryles claimed that he would (a) lure retailers to Park Ridge by showing up at national retail conventions with a promotional DVD, while (b) retaining local businesses with “a hug and a handshake.” He also identified several specific retailers he wanted to lure to Park Ridge. Voters didn’t buy that nonsense, but it’s still far more of a plan than Fuksa has proposed.

Parking: Fuksa told the Chamber folks to “forget about building [parking] decks” because the City’s parking problems can be addressed by “valet stations”: “You just pull your car up to the valet station – and the city actually makes money on these things.”

Will these “valet stations” be run by David Copperfield or Criss Angel, both of whom have been known to make all sorts of vehicles disappear and reappear? If not, then those valeted vehicles need to be parked somewhere, presumably in Park Ridge. If there are no parking places for the owners/drivers, in which parallel universe will the valets stow them?

For those of you still keeping score at home, valet parking is not new; and making cars disappear is not improved, just goofy.

Evanston Water: Fuksa claims Maloney and the Council sat on their hands instead of actively pursuing a plan to join with Niles and Morton Grove to bring in our Lake Michigan water from Evanston rather than from our longtime source of the City of Chicago. But according to a news story dated September 20, 2016, being promoted by Team Fuksa, Niles and Morton Grove pulled out of the original deal they contemplated with Park Ridge – building a brand new pipeline directly from Evanston – for the reduced cost of getting that “Evanston water” indirectly through Skokie’s existing distribution infrastructure.

We wrote about the fool’s gold nature of the original Evanston water proposal in our posts dated 04.21.15, 07.13.15 and 10.12.15, all before Niles and MoGro bolted for the cheaper – for them – Skokie option that we understand was not available to Park Ridge because Skokie lacked the infrastructure to service the extra demands from Park Ridge. And a March 10, 2017 e-mail from the Morton Grove Village Administrator corroborates that understanding.

Cluless or dishonest is neither new or improved.

76.22% City RE Tax Increase: Fuksa recently produced a “hit piece” mailer claiming that the City’s share of property taxes has gone up 75.22% during Maloney’s six-year tenure on the Council. An article by the Park Ridge Journal’s Anne Lunde (“Fuzzy Math Enters Park Ridge Mayoral Election Picture,” March 22) succinctly depicts most of the errors in that argument.

This kind of bogus math may, indeed, be “new” – but it’s also as clueless or dishonest as Fuksa’s Evanston water comment, rendering it most definitely not “improved.”

Bring Property Taxes Under Control: After saying he wants to move ahead with over $100 million in flood remediation alone, the idea that Fuksa will be better than Maloney at controlling RE taxes is, in a word, ludicrous. Needless to say, the reason there are no dollar signs attached to any of Fuksa’s “Ready, fire, aim!” proposals is likely because he can’t reconcile their costs with his “I’ll end our taxes-gone-wild” narrative.

Besides, the City’s portion of our RE tax bill is around 11%, which is barely the tip of the Titanic-sinking tax iceberg compared to the 70%+ of our taxes that School Districts 64 and 207 gobble up with not even a fraction of the honesty, transparency and accountability regularly demonstrated by the City since Maloney was elected 7th Ward alderman.

We’ll stop here because, frankly, we’ve pretty much covered “Fuksa’s Greatest Hits” – his ideas new and old that seem to be the meat and potatoes of his campaign. Perhaps had Fuksa done something more for this community over the past 6 years than seek a variance for his illegal pergola, he might have something more than the foregoing tripe to offer the voters as counterpoints to Maloney’s wealth of experience.

But he didn’t. And he doesn’t.

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