Public Watchdog.org

A Tale Of Trainers And Tutors

08.28.15

What do the Park Ridge Park District and the Park Ridge Library have in common?

Freeloaders. That’s the shorthand term this blog has adopted to describe Park Ridge residents who look to take unfair economic advantage of their fellow taxpayers.

Most folks don’t remember that back about 10 years ago the Park Ridge Park District’s “Community Center” (n/k/a the “Fitness Center”) had a “freeloader” problem: private personal trainers were running their for-profit training businesses out of that facility on the taxpayers’ dime.

The Park District’s solution was simple: personal trainers had to register with the Park District, book training sessions through the District, and have their customers pay the District, which would deduct a fee and remit the balance to the trainer.

And when too many of those trainers became adept at gaming that system, the Park District banned private trainers altogether and started running its own training program from which it – and its taxpayers – have modestly “profited”: the District’s 2014 profit on those trainers is currently estimated (pending the final audit) at approximately $15,000, on gross revenues of approximately $50,000.

That’s $15,000 of Park District expenses that its taxpayers don’t have to cover out of their own pockets.

That may not matter to those folks who view “government” as some sort of bottomless wellspring of money to be spent on whatever suits their fancies, but it matters to us. And we believe it matters to the vast majority of Park Ridge taxpayers who keep getting squeezed tighter and tighter every year for the disproportionate benefit of certain special interests, including the freeloaders.

Now the Park Ridge Public Library has a freeloader problem similar to the Park District’s: private tutors are running their for-profit tutoring businesses out of the Library. And at its August 18 meeting, the Library Board listened to several of those freeloaders, along with one non-freeloader tutor, speak to that issue.

Not surprisingly, the freeloaders defended their free “offices” with a collection of warm-and-fuzzies that repeatedly invoked some variation on the “for the children” theme. Their comments and anecdotes got so gooey and cloying at times that, if you closed your eyes, you might have sworn you were at a D-64 School Board meeting – like the one and only public discussion of Supt. Laurie Heinz’s recent $250,000-plus contract extension and $10,000(?) raise that Board president Tony Borrelli couldn’t steer into his beloved secretive closed sessions because the Illinois Open Meetings Act wouldn’t allow it.

Not one of those freeloaders attempted to explain exactly why they should be entitled to free “office” space to conduct their for-profit businesses at the taxpayers’ expense. Nor did any of them attempt to justify the competitive advantage and additional income they were enjoying from having their “overhead” covered by Park Ridge taxpayers, thereby letting a larger portion of their tutoring fees fall down to their personal bottom lines.

They also didn’t want to discuss how the Library might have trouble accommodating tutoring if ALL of our local tutors decided to become freeloaders and effectively turn the Library into one big Huntington Learning Center – only with the profits privatized (i.e., going into the tutors’ pockets) and the expenses socialized (i.e., pulled out of the taxpayers’ pockets).

Those kinds of reality checks were left to non-freeloader Jim Giovannini of Academic Tutoring Center, which has been in business for 25 years and occupies office space at 120 Main Street, a mere block from the Library. That means that, unlike the freeloaders, ATC pays rent to a building owner who, in turn, not only pays taxes to the City but also to School Districts 64 and 207, and to the Park District.

ATC employs approximately 300 tutors, roughly 50 of which regularly work in Park Ridge. So besides questioning the fairness of the Library giving his competitors what amounts to free rent, Giovannini also pointed out that “[t]here simply would be no room at the inn for anyone else” – a/k/a ordinary citizen patrons – if his firm and the other non-freeloader tutoring businesses that serve Park Ridge students were to join the freeloaders and make the Library their base of operations.

Only one of the current freeloaders – Laura Denver – said that she would be willing to pay a fee for the use of the Library. That deserves a Watchdog tail wag, both because it’s the right thing to say/do and because she was unique in that regard.

The others tap-danced their way around that question, babbling predictable nonsense like tutors attracting students and their family members who generate sales tax by spending money in Uptown (totally unverifiable and, at best, likely to be insignificant); tutors could make voluntary donations in lieu of being charged for use (as if the Library already has been inundated with voluntary donations from tutors); the old reliable “I’m a taxpayer so I already pay for the Library” (not unlike all those taxpayers who don’t leech free “office” space off their fellow taxpayers); and our personal favorite, from a tutor named Karen, who employed the “There goes Elvis!” gambit by comparing tutors to those “nannies” who bring their charges to the Library and its programs and thereby earn their income off the Library.

Tutors are like nannies? Seriously?

Nice try, Karen, but nannies on duty are caregivers/babysitters who effectively stand in loco parentis – which doesn’t mean “crazy parents” but, instead, “in place of the parents” – and bring kids to the Library, or to Panera, or to Oberweis, as if the parents were bringing them there.

As the Library trustee who first raised this issue, my only goals were to stop the freeloaders from exploiting a limited-size taxpayer-funded facility, and to level the playing field so that all local tutors can compete on as equal a cost footing as possible.

There may be more than two ways to achieve those goals, and I’d love to hear them. Meanwhile, however, I think either of the following could do the job:

1.  The Library can take the Park District approach and require each tutor to register, book his/her tutoring sessions through the Library, and pay an hourly fee for the use of the Library; or

2. The Library can adopt the Winnetka-Northfield policy and prohibit the “[c]onducting [of] for-profit business between two or more persons (including, but not limited to, sales, interviews, and tutoring).” Because if the Library is going to ban for-profit tutoring it should also ban any freeloading attorneys, accountants, insurance agents, etc. who want to conduct their for-profit businesses on the taxpayers’ dime.

That howling you may already be hearing is likely coming from the freeloading tutors, while the wailing is likely coming from the parents of the kids being tutored by the freeloaders – in anticipation of any hourly fee under Alternative 1 being passed down to them.

In an indirect and limited way, that might make those parents “freeloaders,” too.

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and publisher

Member, Park Ridge Library Board

To read or post comments, click on title.

Caution: Freeloaders On [The] Board (Clarified)

08.24.15

Back in the early 1980s it seemed like you couldn’t drive more than a few blocks in any urban or suburban area without seeing one or more of those black-on-yellow “Caution: Baby On Board” signs slapped on the back of a mini-van or SUV.

The intent of those signs was an obvious appeal to other drivers to exercise special care and caution around such vehicles, presumably because of some unrealistic expectation that a reckless motorist might be constrained from imitating his favorite NASCAR driver if he thought the neighboring vehicle he was about to “rub” into the concrete divider on the Kennedy was carrying a baby instead of his favorite NASCAR driver’s main rival.

Predictably, those signs were followed by signs with even sillier cautionary assumptions, like “Caution: Mother-in-Law On Board” or “Caution: Rottweiler On Board” – assuming, of course, that those are not redundant or interchangeable warnings.

But after watching the video from last Thursday’s (08.20.15) Park Ridge Park District Board meeting, we’re thinking that the Park District might need to consider making and hanging one of those black-on-yellow signs on the door of the Board room whenever a couple of our Park commissioners are inside. And it should read:

“Caution: Freeloaders On The Board.”

Regular readers of this blog already know that “freeloaders” is a term we use as shorthand for local residents who try to disproportionally profit from their fellow taxpayers’ tax payments, a/k/a “Other People’s Money” or “OPM” for short. They are to be distinguished from “parasites,” which are non-residents who help themselves to the facilities and services paid for by our Park Ridge taxpayers, especially when they can get them for free.

Today’s featured freeloaders are none other than Park Commissioners Joan Bende and Cynthia Grau.

You can see and hear their freeloader arguments against  park commissioners giving up their currently free uses of Park District facilities and programs by going to the Park District’s meeting video at around the 1:51:00 mark where the discussion begins. You’ll need to listen closely, however, because the audio is muddied by the constant rattle/rumble of the Board room’s window air conditioner.

Such freebies have been a bone of contention at the Park District for decades.

They were S.O.P. prior to 1997 when they really came into their own as the Park Board members who railroaded the land acquisition, construction and bonded debt for the $8 million Community Center (n/k/a the “Fitness Center”) promptly rewarded themselves with free memberships to that facility. Meanwhile, the District started issuing short term bonds to pay the long-term CC debt service, but then found itself with insufficient funds to do needed maintenance, repairs and renovation of existing parks and facilities.

But in 1997 a new majority of commissioners (including the editor of this blog) came into office and voted in several changes to business-as-usual, including a ban on those free Community Center memberships and all the other lesser “perks” that commissioners had been enjoying for years on their fellow taxpayers’ dimes.  It wasn’t a game-changer economically, but it sent a message that the Park District wasn’t an “Ubi est mea” (“Where’s mine?”) kind of place.

The proponents of the perks back then howled about how free usage enabled them to better observe and evaluate the facilities and programs they oversaw. But the perks opponents prevailed with their arguments that (a) facilities and programs could be equally, or better, evaluated by commissioners simply observing them and actively listening to the users’ opinions; and (b) that if use of a facility or program was truly necessary for a proper evaluation, a specific freebie use could be arranged…with the expectation of a written status report by the commissioner in return.

We’re not sure when that no-perks policy was rescinded and the freebie commissioner usage of facilities and programs became “encouraged.” But we shouldn’t be surprised that freeloader commissioners found a way to resurrect freebie commissioner perks without fanfare or media scrutiny.

Freeloaders have a knack for ripping off the taxpayers in a variety of stealthy ways.

So when Commissioner Rick Biagi raised the topic of repealing the current freebie-perk policy – and also instituting an anti-nepotism policy to prevent commissioners and their families from obtaining District employment – it should have been expected that some commissioners would hoist their freeloader flags and object

Enter Bende and Grau, stage left.

In arguing to repeal the freebies, Biagi correctly noted that every commissioner was free to audit programs and facilities when such audits were deemed necessary to properly discharge their official duties; and that the greatest benefit of such audits would be for the auditing commissioner to report his/her findings and conclusions to Exec. Director Gayle Mountcastle.

We’d go Biagi one step further, however, by requiring a written report of those findings and conclusions that not only gets sent to Mountcastle but that also gets distributed to every other commissioner and department head. And that gets published on the District’s website so the taxpayers can read it. Otherwise, there’s a clear and present danger of many/most of those fact-finding tours becoming magical mystery ones that merely provide a freebie for the commissioner’s personal/private benefit.

We also concur in Park District Attorney Tom Hoffman’s observation (at 1:54 of the video) that any one commissioner’s audits of any one facility or program should be occasional rather than regular. While there may be a reason to audit a yoga class, there’s no reasonable need for the same commissioner to audit it every Tuesday morning for several months.

If you have a twisted sense of humor you might want to check out the argument between Biagi and Bende beginning around 1:57:30 of the video and continuing to around the 2:04 mark, in which Bende sounds like she is telling Biagi she would be fine with his regularly inspecting the Driving Range by knocking out free bushels of golf balls.

That’s because freeloaders are like Amway salespeople: they love recruiting more freeloaders who, in turn, recruit even more of them.  Call it gaining acceptance by increasing market share.

But the winner of last Thursday’s “Freeloader On The Board” competition was Park Board newbie Grau, who – if we heard her correctly over the air conditioner – had the audacity to actually admit (between 2:03 and 2:04:35 of the video) that, since her election in April, she has decided it was high time to get back into a fitness regimen at the Community Center via the free pass for commissioners…although, not surprisingly, she failed to note that she would be putting those charges on the taxpayers’ tab.

As we’ve said before: freeloaders are extraordinarily shameless.

But the only way they can keep getting away with it is if the rest of us are equally spineless. 

CLARIFICATION (08.26.15)  Commissioner Grau has objected to this post on the grounds that it accuses her of receiving a free Community Center membership that she has not received.  Athough it was not our intention to create that impression, and although we believe that “she would be putting those charges [for that “free” membership] o the taxpayers’ tab” denotes a future event, after re-reading the post we can see how it might be misinterpreted.

As she makes clear in her remarks (from 2:03:56 and 2:04:40 of the meeting video), whether she can use the Community Center for free might be a factor in her deciding whether to work out there or someplace else, but she had not yet made that decision.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Another Big Step – Or Leap – Toward Transparency At City Hall

08.18.15

We want to offer a big Watchdog bark-out to the Park Ridge City Council, which took a major step – actually a leap – toward full transparency and accountability in its labor relations at its August 3 meeting when it voted 4 (Alds. Milissis, Knight, Mazzuca and Maloney) to 2 (Alds. Moran and Shubert) against going into closed session to discuss the terms of contracts with the police sergeants union (the Federation of Police) and the patrol officers union (the Teamsters).

The seven sergeants are represented by the Fraternal Order of Police, while forty patrol officers and support personnel are represented by the Teamsters.

We applaud the Council for taking this action, which is one part of a more comprehensive plan we advocated in our 06.08.15 post, “Time For A Better Way To Negotiate Public Sector Union Contracts.”

For decades, public sector unions in Illinois have manipulated closed-session negotiations to hide their sometimes/often outrageous demands, as well as their bargaining postures and tactics, from the very taxpayers from whom they are looking for more money without providing additional or better quality services. And for decades they generally got their way with clueless and spineless public officials who, truth be told, were just as happy to keep their cluelessness and spinelessness hidden from their constituents.

The result?

Multi-year contracts locking in annual raises unrelated to measurable improvement in performance or greater economic efficiencies. As reported in a Park Ridge Herald-Advocate story, “City Council skips closed session over for [sic] police contract negotiations” (08.11.15), the proposed four-year contract with the Teamsters provides for pay raises of 2% in years 1 and 2, and 1.5% in the final two years.

Although our local “mainstream” media didn’t report it, the Teamsters contract will have a “net impact” (i.e., increase) on the City’s budget of $153,239, or 1.16% of their annual payroll, while the net increase proposed for the seven sergeants is $116,387, or 6.06% of their annual payroll.

And because this is Illinois where the fleecing of the taxpayers has been institutionalized for at least the past 30 years, City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton pointed out that awards from “interest arbitration” – where an often union-friendly arbitrator decides contract terms when negotiations of police and fire contracts reach impasse, due to the police and firemen being legally prohibited from striking – are around 2.25%. Hamilton’s implication was clear: the City can save money by voluntarily grabbing its ankles rather than hanging tough and risking that a pro-union arbitrator will ram home a bigger increase, on top of whatever legal fees and other costs the City will have incurred in connection with such an arbitration.

As best as we can tell from the materials Hamilton presented to the Council on August 3, by the last year of the proposed sergeants contract (2017) a newly-minted sergeant will make $100K, and over $105K with 4 years’ experience – while by the last year of the Teamsters contract (FY 2018) newly-minted patrol officers will be making $61K-plus, with a top-end of $88,500.

Oh, yeah…one other thing: 37 0f the 41 patrol officers currently on the force are already at the maximum base salary under the existing contract, which is $82,164.

To put these salaries in perspective, a patrol officer currently makes over 87% of the median Park Ridge household income. Yes, that’s right: 37 of 41 patrol officers are already making over 87% of what half of entire households of Park Ridge taxpayers currently earn.

And if we understand the pension deal, both the sergeants and the patrolmen will be able to retire at 75% of their final salary, and 3% annual COLAs, by around age 50, assuming sufficient years of service.  Under the proposed new salary schedules, that calculates out to over $75K/year for the sergeants, and more than $66K/year for the patrolmen.

Should they live to age 85, each of those pensions will likely be worth upwards of $2 million!

Can you say “Suh-weeet”?

And just in case the public employee unions haven’t beaten it into you sufficiently by now, remember that most public employees here in Illinois don’t get Social Security. That means they don’t get that whopping $45K/year of S.S. benefits those of us in the private sector will be raking in…assuming we can keep working until age 70 and max out our contributions and benefits before we start drawing on them.

Just because the Council is willing to conduct its discussions about what it can afford to offer the unions, and why, however, doesn’t mean the unions have to reciprocate.

Don’t expect them to try to justify their demands for higher pay for no additional, or better, work when they can simply chant “inflation” and throw around “comparables” from other communities that really aren’t all that comparable to Park Ridge when you actually look at each community’s unique facts and figures beyond what they pay their police and firemen.

But by taking the transparency high-ground, the City Council stands in stark contrast to the secretive unions. And as Ald. Milissis pointed out, there doesn’t appear to be any true benefit to the City’s contriving secret negotiating strategies when those strategies never seem to work – as demonstrated by the unions always walking away with some kind of non-merit based raise.

The bottom line is that secrecy has NEVER worked for the taxpayers of Park Ridge, just like it hasn’t worked for any other Illinois taxpayers. So there’s no need to keep doing it and expecting different results.

Unless, of course, you are the D-64 and D-207 school board members who act as if they are owned – lock, stock and barrel – by the teachers’ unions and the school administrators.  Then you run into closed sessions and give away the store.

To be clear: these arguments are not intended to be anti-police or anti-firemen.  Nor are they anti-teacher or administrator.

They are pro-taxpayer.

By being transparent and accountable to the taxpayers concerning these labor relations matters, the City Council will now be able to enlist those taxpayers’ support for what it offers the employees and how the City bargains with the unions representing those employees.  And the taxpayers can judge for themselves whether their representatives are treating the City’s employees fairly.

As Thomas Jefferson wrote in September of 1820:

I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society, but the people themselves: and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their controul with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is, not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.

Like with more open-session discussions and fewer closed ones.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Jon Stewart’s Parting Lesson About School District 64

08.11.15

Comedian Jon Stewart’s valedictory performance on last Thursday (08.06.15) night’s “The Daily Show” contained a segment that should be “must watch” for anybody who wants to understand American (and Park Ridge) politics and not be an unwitting dupe of all those elected and appointed officials, as well as the career bureaucrats whose stock in trade is, in a word, “bullsh*t.”

If you saw the show, or if you listen to the clip of it embedded here (because Viacom keeps shutting down the videos we have been posting),

you may recognize what Stewart described as “premeditated institutionalized bullsh*t designed to obscure and distract” when you read this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate article (“District 64 seeks community input from new council,” August 10) about Park Ridge-Niles School District 64’s latest transparency charade called the “Community Relations Council.”

This new Council is the brainchild of Supt. Laurie Heinz, who said it’s something she wanted to do since she came to D-64 a year ago. And since Heinz is already accepting applications for the 20-30 membership slots, we can only assume she got the idea rubber-stamped by the bobble-headed Board majority.

As Heinz is quoted in the article: “I understand that I’m accountable to the community and I want them [sic] to be well informed.”

Premeditated? Check.

Institutionalized? Check.

Designed to obscure and distract? Check.

Heinz so badly wants the community to be “well informed” that, during her rookie year at the helm of D-64, its Board – with not a peep of objection from her – appears to have led all our local governmental bodies (City Council, Park Board and D-207 Board) in those secretive closed-session meetings designed not just to obscure the taxpayers’ view of what the D-64 Board is doing but to conceal it altogether.

As a result, Heinz has had no problem with keeping the community in the dark by what seems like a closed-session at every meeting – and especially not with all those closed sessions Board president Tony Borrelli called leading up to her recent contract extension and raise. An extension and raise based on those reportedly outstanding mid-year and year-end written reviews that never saw the light of day.

An extension and raise that the community didn’t know any details about until the moment they were called for a vote by the Board.

She also has failed to provide details of the mysterious student fees the District keeps billing parents.  The roughly $300/year/kid ones those freeloader parents don’t want to pay without an itemized list of every pencil, paper clip and Dixie Cup that comprises them – even though they’re getting $14,000/year/kid of “free” education that they will never come close to repaying through their RE taxes, even if they don’t bolt from Park Ridge the minute their youngest graduates Maine South, as a D-64 mom bragged about in a comment on the Park Ridge Citizens Online Facebook page.

And let’s not forget the chirping crickets coming from her office at even the merest mention of D-64’s modest rankings and the stagnant student achievement on the standardized tests that help keep those rankings depressed.

So don’t be fooled when Heinz says she wants a “well informed” community. What she wants is a clueless, docile community that keeps paying her $250K-plus per year until she finds herself another district offering an even better deal, all the while demanding no measurable improvement in D-64’s rankings or its students’ performance.

And that’s going to take a public relations machine of 20-30 gullible rubes, preferably well-known and with large circles of friends and acquaintances, who are willing to serve as naïve endorsers and mindless conduits of whatever propaganda Heinz, the D-64 Board and its minister of disinformation, Bernadette Tramm, crank out.

Think of them like those paid shills at old-time traveling medicine shows who could barely limp up to the wagon with their last dollar to buy a bottle of Doc Watson’s Magic Elixer – which they would guzzle down right then and there before almost immediately proclaiming themselves miraculously cured of the gout, lumbago and the grippe.

Except that those 20-30 Community Relations Council members will be doing their shilling for free.

To read or post comments, click on title.

The School Boards Of Districts 64 And 207: Partners In Profligacy

08.05.15

The pop quiz today has only one question: Name the two units of local government that, in the past two months, have rewarded their No. 1 bureaucrat for what appears to be average performance, at best?

If you answered “Park Ridge-Niles School Dist. 64 and Maine Twp. High School Dist. 207,” you’re a winner – even if, as a taxpayer, you might actually be more of a loser.

As we wrote about in several posts culminating in those of 07.01.15 and 07.06.15, the D-64 Board fell all over itself in unanimously voting to give rookie CEO/superintendent Laurie Heinz a one-year extension to her original three-year contract. That ensured that Heinz will be able to draw an additional $250,000+ from D-64 taxpayers despite not one shred of documentary evidence (or, at least, none that the D-64 Board chose to share with the taxpayers) of any significant improvement in D-64’s chronically lackluster student performance, as measured by objective statewide testing rather than D-64’s self-congratulatory navel gazing.

Three of the seven Board members (Mark Eggemann, Dathan Paterno and Tom Sotos) voted against giving Heinz an actual “raise” that we understand (because, of course, the details were not published) is worth between $10,000 and $20,000 – although, frankly, we don’t see the sense of giving away a $250,000+ contract extension but then denying a $10-20,000 raise.

Kind of like former Park Ridge alderman Don Bach’s (3rd) telling Bill Napleton back in January 2008 that the latter’s disrespect for Park Ridge ensured that Bach would never buy another $40,000 Cadillac from him – before voting to give Napleton up to $2.4 million of public dollars in environmental clean-up funding and sales-tax sharing revenues.

Not to be outdone by D-64’s drunken sailors, on July 16 the D-207 Board approved a one-year extension to the contract of superintendent Ken Wallace. This extension could push his pay up to $280,000 or more by the 2019-20 school year, once the built-in annual increases and available merit bonuses are included. And that also doesn’t count the additional thousands of dollars the District will pay to cover Wallace’s required pension contributions.

Besides paying premium prices for stagnant (or worse) performance, however, the other thing both school boards have in common is how they hid all the important discussions about Heinz’s and Wallace’s contract extensions and raises from the taxpayers through the BFF of every shameless and gutless politician: the closed session.

Frankly, there is no more effective and disrespectful way for our elected officials to trample transparency and accountability than by hiding in closed session – especially if all members of the governing body are co-conspirators who will make sure that, like Vegas, whatever happens in closed session stays in closed session. Although the Illinois Open Meetings Act does not require that closed session matters remain secret, not even one school board member has in the past two decades has displayed the integrity to publicly disclose closed-session proceedings the way then-ald. Dave Schmidt did by blowing the whistle on some kinky Council real estate maneuvering over the 720 Garden property back in 2008.

We’re still optimistic that D-64 newbie Eggemann, and maybe even newbie Sotos, might have their own “720 Garden Moment” over at D-64, hopefully sooner rather than later.

But we have no such hope for the Star Chamber that is the D-207 Board, where president Margaret McGrath leads a chorus of rubber-stampers – Sean Sullivan, Carla Owen, Paula Bessler, Mary Childers, Jin Lee and Teri Collins – in what has long been a pattern and practice of anti-transparency and un-accountability.

If you have any doubt about that, Exhibit A is the fact that while the City Council, the Park Board and the D-64 Board all post their meeting packets on-line prior to their meetings, the D-207 Board doesn’t.  Heck, the D-207 Board lacks the basic honesty, integrity, transparency and accountability to post its meeting packets on the District’s website even AFTER the meetings.

Instead, all D-207 provides its taxpayers is an agenda like the one for the 06.09.15 Board meeting, which advised that there would be a “CLOSED SESSSION” involving the “Appointment, Employment, Compensation, Performance Discipline or Dismissal of Employees.”

Such a vague explanation is a pretty effective way of discouraging taxpayers from showing up and asking any tough questions.

If you watch the very end of Part I of the meeting video, you’ll see and hear the Board adjourn to closed session one hour into the meeting, or about 8:30 p.m.; and if you watch the beginning of Part II of the meeting video, you’ll see and hear the Board return from the closed session about an hour later.

What went on during that “secret” hour is anybody’s guess. But one can safely assume it had something to do with the events beginning at the 3:57 mark of Part 2, when Sullivan moves to give Wallace $51,000 of additional merit compensation for meeting both his “target goals” (whatever they are/were) and his “stretch target goals (whatever they are/were). And at the 5:03 mark, McGrath reads a statement in which she declares that Wallace had met all his performance goals, and does so with an almost-regal self-assurance that suggests it is “beyond contestation”:

We would not have been surprised to hear her tell any doubters to “go put that in your pipe and smoke it.” But as the room full of empty chairs confirms, there were no doubters – pipe-smokers or non – to be found at that point in the proceedings.

Watching that video and contemplating those proceedings gave us a major case of déjà vu, as it called to mind our 10.22.13 post in which we remarked how the D-207 Board was giving Wallace a 5-year contract extension for…er…um…we aren’t quite sure what – even as Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was getting only a 3-year extension after winning his second Stanley Cup.

Silly us, comparing the leadership of an unaccountable, un-competitive bureaucracy to the leadership of a what-have-you-done-lately, highly-competitive business enterprise where objectively measurable results actually matter; and compensation is merit-based.

That dichotomy at least partially explains why D-64 and D-207 taxes keep going up while the ranking of D-207’s “flagship” school, Maine South, has slid solidly into the 20s from a decade ago when it was in, or close to, Illinois’ Top 10 – and D-64 school rankings rarely even crack the Top 50.

That makes us wonder how any sane D-207 Board member can justify these regular contract extensions and raises for Wallace.

And it makes us wonder even more about the sanity of those D-64 Board members who are paying Heinz almost as much as Wallace is getting, even though she’s managing less than 4,400 students compared to Wallace’s 6,400; and she oversees a budget of less than $80 million while Wallace manages a $160 million budget.

Meanwhile, you Park Ridge taxpayers with no kids in either district but whose home is one of, if not the, largest asset you own can wonder about just how much longer that “Park Ridge has GREAT schools” sales pitch can lure in new residents (and what kind of new residents they might be) when, year after year, the various school rankings show our schools firmly behind those in Glenview, Northbrook, Evanston, Arlington Hts., Buffalo Grove, Libertyville, Vernon Hills, Mt. Prospect, Deerfield, Highland Park, Lincolnshire.

How soon will it become commonplace for current residents – like the mother commenting on John Bennett’s August 2 post on the Park Ridge Citizens Online FB page – to shamelessly proclaim how they will be packing up and moving out of Park Ridge just as soon as their kids suck the last ounce of “free”/subsidized education out of their fellow Park Ridge taxpayers:

“We still pay the highest fees than almost every other higher class suburbs around. And still never got a clear answer on where the money goes. Everything they supposedly told us are things the PTO supposedly pays for. And the PTO gets alot of money through those directories, every hot lunch and slice of pizza they make money off of. But at least they stopped charging for Lunch supervision! Its total BS! I cannot wait until my youngest finishes Maine South, we are outta here.”

For those of you at all uncertain about our definition of the term “freeloader,” you’ve just read the embodiment of it.

That’s the kind of attitude that, if it proliferates, will create a downward spiral for this community – aided and abetted by feckless, fiscally-irresponsible elected officials whose idea of “transparency” is conspiring in secret with the bureaucrats they’re already overpaying with OPM.

Ours.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Mayor Dave’s Fine Arts Barbecue Tonight At Hodges Park

07.31.15

Four years ago we published a post about a barbecue the late mayor Dave Schmidt and Ald. Dan Knight (5th), with the help of a handful of “civilian” volunteers, threw to raise funds for the Park Ridge Fine Arts Society after Schmidt and the Council cut funding to the FAS and various other community groups as part of an effort to get the City’s financial house in order.

They raised over $1,200 that first year.

Over the next two years the entire City Council became involved, along with an additional handful of civilians. And the donations grew as well – aided considerably by our local Whole Foods Market which this year is donating all the food for what is being billed as “Mayor Dave Schmidt’s 4th Annual Grilling for the Arts” that kicks off at 6:00 p.m. tonight in front of City Hall.

For the first time in the brief history of this event, however, Mayor Dave won’t be manning a grill dressed in his standard-issue cargo shorts and Hawaiian shirt, topped off by a chef’s toque or a Detroit Tigers cap. But he will be there in spirit, watching over the aldermen as they briefly increase City Hall’s carbon footprint by incinerating 300 hamburgers and 100 hot dogs.

In honor of Mayor Dave’s penchant for Hawaiian shirts, we understand that Acting Mayor Marty Maloney has declared today Park Ridge Hawaiian Garb Day, and is encouraging residents to show up tonight dressed in Hawaiian style.

WARNING: This isn’t a Jimmy Buffett concert. Males arriving in grass skirts and coconut-shell bras will be prosecuted.

As has been the custom for this event, the food is free but donations are very welcome – all of which will go to the Fine Arts Society to help defray the costs of putting on its summer concerts in the park.  Last year the barbecue raised over $2,000 for the FAS, so the Council is hoping to bump that up a good bit this year.

And at 8:00 p.m. the renowned Brian Patti Orchestra will present a musical “Tribute to Frank Sinatra” in celebration of Old Blue Eyes’ 100th birthday year.

It should be a great night and a great event for a great cause in memory of a great mayor.

In the immortal words of Det. Steve McGarrett: “Be there. Aloha!”

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Will Chamber Lead Way On Wonderful Lights? (Updated)

07.22.15

Sometimes it’s easy to become jaded about what a wonderful community we live in.

So wonderful, in fact, that at last week’s (June 13) Park Ridge City Council COW meeting newly-minted First Ward Ald. John Moran evoked images of the fictional Bedford Falls in Frank Capra’s classic movie “It’s A Wonderful Life” to support his and Fourth Ward Ald. Roger Shubert’s plea for the City to reinstate its holiday lights program that was suspended back in 2009 for financial reasons.

We are suckers for several of the movies some critics have dubbed “Capra-corn,” including classics like “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and “Meet John Doe.” And, frankly, we can’t imagine a Christmas season without at least one (or preferably two) viewings of “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

Similarly, we can’t imagine anybody not appreciating the joyous quality those holiday lights used to bring to the Uptown area each year.

Back when the lighting program was suspended, the City was spending around $50,000 annually. As The Recession took a toll on property values and residents’ incomes, however, the City Council wisely adopted a number of austerity measures to keep property tax increases in the 3-5% range – including the elimination of the City’s donations to private corporations like the Center of Concern, the Maine Center for Mental Health, the Park Ridge Fine Arts Society and Brickton Art Center.

And, back then, nobody seemed inclined to argue for spending tens of thousands of City dollars on holiday lights instead of on those community groups – a continuing budgetary and policy nuance that seems to have escaped the lights advocates’ attention.

For a few years thereafter various local groups tried to fill the gap with donated lights and volunteer efforts. But even at its best, the effect didn’t come close to what the professional decorators provided. And with each passing year, the volunteer effort diminished to the point where the results became more pathetic than joyous.

So Moran, joined by Shubert, proposed that the Council revisit its decision of earlier this year not to include holiday lighting in the FY2015-16 budget.

That proposal didn’t sway a majority of the Council, even at the bargain-basement – and, it would appear, the totally unrealistic – price of $5,000-7,000 for lights and another $5,000 for City employee overtime to help a group of volunteers install them. And, frankly, we can’t believe that such a paltry sum will create anything remotely close to the Bedford Falls effect about which Moran reminisced.

If Park Ridge is going to do this, let’s do it right. That means a price tag of closer to $50K than $15K. And professional light hangers rather than 9-year olds and their parents on tippy-toes.

But Moran is definitely onto something, even if he seems to have missed the central theme of Capra’s “wonderful life” message that the private charity and good works of the people, not government, make the difference.

Many of those less well-off Bedford Falls residents were able to buy their homes not because of some Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac loan program or government handout but because of the privately-run Bailey Bros. Building & Loan. In fact, we don’t recall any mayor, alderman, or city official having a role in the movie; and the only “government” folks of any significance are the bank examiners looking to throw George in jail.

In the climactic scene when George and the Building & Loan are saved from prison and financial ruin, it’s the people – common folks like Bert, Ernie and Violet; local business owners like Mr. Gower and Mr. Martini; and the affluent Sam Wainwright – who transcend any class warfare and, instead, together dig into their own pockets to bail out their neighbor and his business.

So instead of expecting an already-strapped City government to fund the holiday lights, we think the better way to go is for a civic organization to lead and coordinate the fundraising needed to hire a professional lighting company to do the job right, like Ald. Moran and the rest of us remember.

That should be the Park Ridge Chamber of Commerce.

After all, nobody benefits more from an attractively-lit Uptown or South Park than the merchants, business owners and building owners in those areas. And nobody’s in a better position to tap into the financial support of those folks than the Chamber.

Just think if the roughly 350 Chamber members each donated a mere $100…that’s $35,000 right there with no real effort to speak of. And if the ones with storefront presences on Prospect, Northwest Hwy., Main, Summit, Fairview and Devon tossed in an additional $100 for the extra ambience they’ll get from the lights, the total would be at $40-45,000.

That’s without even counting any community group and individual donations that should come in, especially if an individual, family or community group wants to “sponsor” a tree.

C’mon, Chamber, step up and lead the way instead of looking for excuses to pawn this off on the City.

That way, by Christmas Day 2015, you will have earned your wings. And the whole community can echo George Bailey with a heartfelt:

“Attaboy, Chamber!”

UPDATED (07.31.15)  Chamber of Commerce member (and Park District commissioner) Rick Biagi has offered to chair a Chamber holiday lights committee – and pledged $500 from his law firm, which promptly brought a matching pledge from Ald. John Moran’s company.  That’s exactly the kind of CIVIC-MINDED LEADERSHIP we would expect from a local institution like the Chamber.

Biagi reportedly is still waiting on official authorization from the Chamber hierarchy, so we can’t yet say “Attaboy, Chamber!”

But we can say “Attaboys, Rick and John!”

And put us down for $200…to cover the City’s “share” as a Chamber member, plus a bit more.

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With Charges Filed, Will Stonewalling End?

07.17.15

More than a month ago, on June 3 to be exact, a high-speed collision of two automobiles occurred at the intersection of Devon and Cumberland, resulting in four people being injured.

Yesterday it was announced that the criminal investigation into the accident resulted in charges against Park Ridge resident William J. Kivit, 20, for three counts of felony aggravated reckless driving and one count of felony aggravated fleeing and eluding in connection with that accident. That announcement was made via a Park Ridge Police Department press release.

With that investigation now out of the way, we can only hope that the Police Department will finally stop stonewalling the Park Ridge City Council and City taxpayers, and provide an explanation of why it took almost four days, and an ABC7 I-Team investigative report based on a tip from a PRPD insider, to finally admit that a Park Ridge police officer was involved in that crash – after the department had issued several (we hear it was three) press releases about the incident that made no mention that it occurred in connection with a police chase.

You can get the background on that from our 06.10.15 post, “‘Whole Truth Goes Missing In Police Dept. Account Of Crash.”

The PRPD’s radio silence about those false press releases is a troubling sign for a department that already has shown itself to be at least a quart or two low on transparency, yet high on self-promotion and congratulation – as evidenced by all those fluff-and-stroke “Complimentary Letters” Police Chief Frank Kaminski keeps on sticking in the record at every Public Safety COW meeting.

Despite Chief K’s assurance to the I-Team investigators that those press releases were not intended to cover up the involvement of the officer, more than a month later he has said and done nothing to dispel the impression that he and his department are stonewalling all inquiries about how and why they repeatedly handed out misleading information until they were caught by a t.v. news team, based on an insider’s tip.

To the contrary, at every turn Chief K seems to conflates the “internal investigation” of the accident itself (i.e., did the officer act properly in participating in the police chase) with whatever “internal investigation,” if any, is being done of who lied about the incident, albeit by omission, in those press releases.

That’s simply not right, and it’s not even close to transparent.

Worse yet, the City Council is letting him get away with it, if the Public Safety segments of the last two Committee Of the Whole (“COW”) meetings are any indication.

Chief K’s first report to the Council about the accident starts at the 3:50 mark of the June 8 COW meeting video. Although it kind of sounds (from the 6:05 mark to the 7:05 mark) like maybe he’s alluding to the press releases when using words like “gap” and “inconsistencies,” one cannot tell for sure. Unfortunately, neither Committee Chairman Ald. Nick Milissis, an attorney, nor any other alderman asked for a more substantial explanation.

And this past Monday’s COW meeting was just the same old same old, with Chief K offering (beginning at the 7:10 mark of the July 13 meeting video) more palaver about an “internal investigation” involving “interviews and interrogations,” without even mentioning the press releases or answering the two basic questions that could have, and should have, been answered a month ago:

  • Who issued the erroneous press releases?
  • Why wasn’t the police officer’s involvement mentioned?

Ald. Milissis has repeatedly shown himself to be a vigorous and relentless advocate for his constituents when it comes to issues like flooding, so we were both puzzled and disappointed with his meek, almost apologetic, tone in posing a few lightweight questions to Chief K as the rest of the Council sat silently.

On this issue, not unlike others that touch on policing and public safety, Chief K seems to exert a Svengali-like influence over a Council that responds like a gaggle of Trilbys.

In his six-year tenure here (after 32 years with the Evanston Police Department) Chief K has shown himself to be, perhaps, the most masterful politician in City government. He holds an MBA from Northwestern’s Kellog School of Management and he clearly knows how to “manage” – or, in this case, withhold – information. He’s like a combination of Teflon and Kevlar, deflecting or harmlessly absorbing whatever comes his way.

At this point we will repeat again, for the record, that we are supporters of Chief K and the Police Dept. We believe they generally do a fine job of policing our community, and they deserve our respect and gratitude.

But that doesn’t mean we should turn a blind eye toward things like the PRPD’s sending out erroneous/false press releases that appear designed to conceal what might be seen as an embarrassing fact, or of stonewalling once the error/fraud is discovered –including by rejecting (so far, as we understand it) a FOIA request by the Channel 7 I-Team.

Just like we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the way the PRPD handled/mis-handled last summer’s Hinkley Park incident where a middle-aged Park Ridge man was beaten by several young thugs egged on by a large crowd of teens – including the PRPD’s rejection (so far, as we understand it) of a FOIA request by the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate.

And just like we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the curious way in which a PRPD officer was found not guilty of DUI when the PRPD arrest report mysteriously failed to include the results of a blood-alcohol test reportedly taken at Lutheran General Hospital following the arrest last October, as reported in a February 10, 2015 H-A article.

John Adams, the 2nd president of the United States, wrote that “Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right and a desire to know.”

So far, Chief K doesn’t seem to understand or feel bound by that right.

And, so far, our elected representatives on the Council don’t seem inclined to hold him accountable for it.

To read or post comments, click on title.

City Re-Visiting Evanston Water “Agency” Tonight

07.13.15

We rarely have anything good to say about that banana republic to the east of Park Ridge known as the City of Chicago. 

Then again, what good can be said about what purports to be a “world-class” city but has been driven to the brink of bankruptcy from decades of pillaging by the Daley Family and its retinue of carpetbaggers and scalawags –and now presided over by Daley Family confidante The Rahmfather? So when somebody suggests a way for Park Ridge to break its shackles to Chicago as its exclusive supplier of Lake Michigan water – a suggestion that is being re-visited by the City Council at this evening’s meeting – our default reaction is to jump at the chance.

That’s probably a mistake.

Park Ridge currently is served by two water lines from Chicago, thereby giving it redundancy in case one line fails. So far, there has never been a failure in the supply of water from Chicago.

The proposed water agency to be formed by Niles, Morton Grove and Park Ridge, on the other hand, would bring in Lake Michigan water through Evanston. But it would do so by only one line, without any redundancy.

The start-up cost to Park Ridge is now estimated at $49.9 Million, which would be funded by a 30-year GO (“General Obligation”) bond, which requires that ALL City assets and income streams be pledged to secure repayment.  The assumed interest rate of 4.5% means that the City would end up paying more than $90 Million over the 30-year loan term – for only 50% of the infrastructure (one water transmission line) that it already has in place with Chicago!

Sorry, folks, but undertaking a guaranteed $90 Million debt for 30 years in order to reap projected savings on water, without any redundancy in the system, sounds like fool’s gold to us.

Kind of like the Uptown TIF funded by GO bonds that were to produce a $24 Million profit after 23 years and are now projected to saddle us with a $15 Million loss.

The bottom line here is that Niles and Morton Grove want at least one more warm municipal body to share the boxcar infrastructure cost, and Park Ridge is it. Which is why they are putting on a full-court press to force Park Ridge to join their club.

As we wrote in our April 21, 2015 post: we’ve seen this movie before, and it’s a horror film.

Except without the popcorn and Raisinettes.

To read or post comments, click on title.

One TIF Problem Solved, Dozens More To Go

07.09.15

Today we’re giving a Watchdog bark-out to the Board and Administration of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 – and the Park Ridge City Council and Staff – for resolving their dispute over that economic black hole commonly known as the Uptown TIF.

As reported by the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“City: New agreement will lower Park Ridge TIF payments to schools,” June 23), it looks like the City and District 64 will be amending their existing intergovernmental revenue-sharing agreement that was entered into back when the Uptown TIF was created in 2003.

Interestingly enough, we believe that H-A article may be the very first time either local newspaper has referred in print to that Uptown boondoggle as being “the failed Uptown Tax Increment Financing District.” [Emphasis added.]

“Failed” is an apt description of was once touted as a once-in-a-lifetime “investment” of tens of millions of dollars of long-term bonded debt by the City’s “ready, fire, aim” cheerleaders back then: mayors Ron Wietecha and Mike Marous; a substantial bobblehead majority of the then-14 aldermen Council; Rasputin-like city manager Tim Schuenke; and all the “buy us more retail” folks populating the Chamber of Commerce.

Ironically, according to some of the financial projections circulated back then by Schuenke and the City’s hired-gun consultant, S.B. Friedman, 2015 was supposed to be the year that the TIF was to have started generating enough revenue to cover all of its debt service payments and actually produce a profit. Instead, the City is currently looking at a projected deficit/loss of over $15 million by the time the TIF expires in 2027.

The good news is that deficit/loss figure is down almost $8 million since the City’s current TIF consultants first calculated it, presumably because of some of the advanced bond refunding already done and taking into consideration the anticipated savings that the City is projecting from revising its revenue-sharing agreements with D-64, Maine Township High School District 207, and the Park Ridge Park District.

D-64 attorney (and former School Board member) Ares Dalianis noted a general consensus by the City and D-64 that “the language of the existing agreement is a little ambiguous” – in no small measure because that agreement contemplated that the Cook County Clerk would annually calculate the Equalized Assessed Value (“EAV”) for the new property growth in the TIF district, apparently without anyone at the City or D-64 actually confirming that fact with the Clerk’s office.

That’s because the mayors and the folks on the Council back then were so intent on getting the TIF passed and the project built that they were like cats in heat (or like folks with personal financial interests?). And the go-along-to-get-along D-64 Board members back then were more than happy to accept the City’s financial bribery and waive their well-founded objections to the TIF.

That apparently resulted in a slap-dash agreement with “ambiguous” terms that was negotiated in…you guessed it…closed sessions and rubber-stamped by both the Council and the School Board without the kind of public vetting that today’s City Council would be expected to require. 

Rubber-stamping is what used to pass for “due diligence” at City Hall. And that’s what still might pass for “due diligence” at D-64 – except that it’s almost impossible to tell for sure because that Board still conceals much/most of its deliberations about the important stuff in closed sessions and/or by not publishing relevant documents.

Unfortunately for all involved, however, the County “only measures new property [growth] at the end of a TIF district and there is not an accepted methodology on measuring new property during the life of the TIF,” according to Dalianis, and confirmed by City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton in slightly stronger terms back in 2013.

“The Cook County Clerk has never and will never, as a matter of fact and law, determine or recognize new property within the Uptown project area.”

Not surprisingly, none of the previous three city managers (Schuenke, Jim Hock and acting-CM Juliana Maller) seems to have made any effort to find that out. Instead, Maller came up with a bunch of mojo calculations of what the City owed to the other local taxing bodies, which now appear to have been flat-out wrong. But because Maller vouched for them and nobody questioned them, they became S.O.P. for the City and D-64 thereafter.

During her short tenure as the City’s finance director, Allison Stutts started looking into Maller’s calculations. But it was her successor, Kent Oliven, who in his even shorter tenure as finance director (relying on his prior experience with TIF and TIF accounting) suspected that those calculations were bogus. That led to the City’s hiring of Kane McKenna and KM’s confirmation of their bogusness.

That led to the dispute between the City and D-64 over the difference between what the City actually owed and what the City had paid based on Maller’s calculations of the incalculable, which payments continued even after she packed up for Hanover Park.

With such a ridiculous history as backdrop, therefore, it’s nothing short of a minor miracle that the current Council and Staff, and the current D-64 Board and Administration, were able to overcome their predecessors’ buffoonery and reach a resolution without resort to costly litigation that would have bled the taxpayers from both sides.

Well done, folks!

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