Public Watchdog.org

Selection Processes Distinguish City Democracy From D-64 Oligarchy

02.24.17

If you want a simple example of just how different – how more honest, transparent and accountable – City of Park Ridge government is compared to that of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64, look no farther than the way the City chose a successor to Ald. Dan Knight versus how D-64 chose a successor to Dathan Paterno.

Following the very same protocol that has been in place since, at least, the selection of Jim Allegretti as successor 4th Ward alderman to Howard Frimark when the latter was sworn in as mayor in May 2005, a committee of five community-active Fifth Ward residents – 3 women (Judy Barclay, Sue Knight and Joan Sandrik) and 2 men (Mike Reardon and Sal Raspanti) – publicly interviewed and then publicly deliberated the qualifications of 8 applicants before recommending Charles Melidosian to Acting Mayor Marty Maloney.

And Maloney’s appointment of Melidosian was publicly deliberated and debated by the entire Council – in an open session, with citizen input – on Monday, February 6, before the Council approved that appointment by a 4-2 vote.

D-64’s process?

Surprisingly, it started out okay, with public interviews of the 8 applicants for the appointment. But then, in typical Tony Borrelli-led fashion, the Board retreated into…wait for it…closed session, where the real deliberation (at D-64, that’s primarily a bunch of winks and nods) took place with no prying eyes or ears, and no pesky input from the citizenry, before the white smoke signaled the unanimous anointing of former Board member Terry Cameron as the designated chair-filler for the next 10 weeks.

Was the City’s transparent process messier than D-64’s Star Chamber? Of course!

Transparency is almost always messier than secrecy – which is why transparency is a fundamental underpinning of democracy, either direct or our representational/republican version, while secrecy is a fundamental underpinning of oligarchies and dictatorships.

Which pretty much describes the difference between the City Council and the D-64 Board.

But the messiness at City Hall was almost entirely the product of Alds. Rick Van Roeyen (3d) and Roger Shubert (4th) figuratively throwing up on their own shoes by deciding, at the 11th hour and 59th minute of the process, to object not only to the appointment of Melidosian but, also, to the entire process – after it had gone on for over two weeks with their full knowledge.

Such last-minute empty grandstanding not only was an insult to all the good-faith time and effort put in by the committee members but, also, to all the equally good-faith effort of the applicants who submitted to that process.

It was also borderline absurd, given that Van Roeyen got his current position on the Council through the same exact ward recommendation process. Either he and Shubert believed Third Ward residents were more capable of picking an interim replacement alderman than Fifth Ward residents, or their objections were of a more “political” nature. We’re going with the latter, but if they want to publicly own up to the former we’ll take their word for it.

They were initially joined by Ald. Nick Milissis (2d) before he had a welcome epiphany, if only “to show [his] intentions are not to stack the council or [make] a power grab” – and only after committee members Barclay and Sandrik personally defended the committee’s efforts, Melidosian defended his own qualifications, and Gareth Kennedy, one of the two runners-up (with Helen Fanning), spoke in favor of both the fairness of the process and the choice of Melidosian.

But no matter how bone-headed the objections to the Fifth Ward process may have been, every last second of them – in full view and hearing of the taxpayers, memorialized by video – was infinitely less insulting to the taxpayers than the D-64 Dwarfs’ secret conclave.

Unless, of course, if you’re one of those “mushrooms” who enjoys being kept in the dark and covered with manure.

You know who you are.

To read or post comments, click on title.

D-64 Board Attacks Free Speech, Ignores Conflicts Of Interest (Updated)

02.21.17

Yesterday we wrote about the stupid (Paterno’s tweets), the ridiculous (women proclaiming themselves “screaming” or “screeching, raging” vaginas) and the absurd (Tom “Tilted Kilt” Sotos claiming to be offended by “vagina”) aspects of the January 23, 2017 meeting of the Park Ridge-Niles District 64 School Board.

Today we’re going to focus on that Board’s “thought police” plans to crack down on a member’s exercise of his/her free speech rights by adopting the new “Policy 2:81” at tonight’s Board meeting. That new policy, as drafted, allows a majority of the Board to pass a “Resolution of Censure” against any member for saying or writing things (such as on social media, a la Paterno) that the majority finds objectionable or offensive.

One of those censure resolutions and two bucks won’t even buy you a latte at Starbucks. In other words, it’s useless.

But that totally arbitrary standard also can be applied by the Board majority to justify its request to the Regional Superintendent of Education that he/she remove the member from the Board if that majority deems the member’s comments to be “a failure to fulfill the member’s official duties.”

That’s another crock of hooey.

Borrelli sprung this bogus Policy 2:81 at the February 6 meeting without even the courtesy of first publishing it in the Board meeting packet so that residents might come out and speak to it. Then he and Sotos spent the better part of an hour discussing it in such an obtuse manner that its boredom value actually may have exceeded its stupidity. Borrelli tried to buy himself some time by saying that he’d need to “vet” the policy with the Board’s legal beagle, Tony Loizzi, before moving its adoption.

But the fact that it’s on tonight’s “Consent Agenda” suggests that this legal beagle blessed it. Which means this legal beagle can’t hunt.

Why?

Because a 10-minute Google search revealed that the Regional Superintendent can’t lawfully remove a school board member for something as benign as blogging and/or tweeting things that a majority of board members don’t like, or find offensive. Rather, 105 ILCS 5/3-15.5 gives the Regional Supt. the authority to remove a school board member only for “willful failure to perform his official duties.”

And guess what, Borrelli and beagle: blogging and commenting on social media don’t qualify.

Which is why Warren Twp. High School District 121’s board was unable to do more than censure board member Liz Biondi when she refused to resign after creating a furor back in 2014 by saying she did not want that district to hire a gay superintendent. We can only assume Borrelli and his legal beagle couldn’t find the news stories about that situation, but you can read them for yourself here, here and here.

Also on tonight’s agenda is the first reading of an amendment to the Board’s conflict-of-interest policy, which was drafted so lamely that even Borrelli – in one of his rare moments of candor – admitted: “There is [sic] no teeth in it, and it’s that way for a purpose.” Seriously? Is that so Board candidates Greg Bublitz, Norman Dziedzic and Michael Schaab, if they get elected, can vote to give their wives raises and better benefits when the next PREA contract is negotiated in 2020?

But we couldn’t end this post without a shout-out to the Tilted Kilt himself, Sotos, who is quoted in yesterday’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate article (“District 64 considers addition to conflict of interest policy,” Feb. 20) as being “super torn by this” policy and claiming to “need every minute…to really sit with myself in a quiet place and try to figure out how to move forward.”

In the cartoon world that is the D-64 Board, the 7 Dwarfs draft, discuss and adopt toothless policies.

And one of them is so “super torn” over that toothless policy that he needs to lock himself away to think deep thoughts about it.

Yep, he’s “Dopey” du jour.

Update (02.27.17) Over this past weekend D-64 finally posted the video of last Tuesday (02.21.17) night’s Board meeting.

Yes, the toothless conflict of interest policy was approved, unanimously (Cameron stepping seemlessly back into the rubber-stamp role he previously played in his initial tenure on the Board), so Messrs. Bublitz, Dziedzic and Schaab will be free to vote their teacher-wives raises and better benefits in 2020 if the taxpayers are clueless enough to elect them to the Board in April.

And, yes, Borrelli’s Star Chamber anti-free speech Policy 2:81 was approved, unanimously, even if the removal-from-the-Board provision is legally unenforceable.

Just more business-as-usual from the lesser transparent of our two most expensive and under-achieving local units of government.

To read or post comments, click on title.

“Screeching Vaginas” + Shameless Board = Thought Police

02.20.17

It has been a few weeks since Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Board member Dathan Paterno launched some boneheaded tweets about the Women’s Marches, including his description of some of the marchers as “vagina screechers.”

So although this editor’s day job may have cut into his civic duties vis-à-vis this blog for the past month, something as bizarre as Paterno’s tweets and the similarly bizarre responses they generated, deserve a decent critique before we wade into the last six weeks of this hotly-contested political season.

Paterno’s a psychologist, not a gynecologist, so we doubt that his use of “vagina screechers” was any kind of clinical term. But his tweets brought about 40 more people to the January 23 School Board meeting than usually show up for those bi-weekly exercises in shameless oligarchy – and turned it into perhaps the most ridiculous D-64 Board meeting we’ve ever seen.

Which is saying something for a Board that seems to strive for the ridiculous…and the shameless, simultaneously.

For those who haven’t been paying attention, Paterno wasn’t even at that meeting. He resigned earlier that day after being lambasted on social media. That didn’t stop a number of the assembled multitude from stepping up to the podium and barbecuing him in absentia, starting at the 21:10 mark of the meeting video

But it wasn’t long before the real goal of most of those in attendance became evident: Leveraging Paterno’s indiscretions into demands for official restrictions on Board members’ social media usage – to prevent them from engaging in what a majority of Board members might deem to be unpopular or offensive speech, no matter how tenuously related, or even unrelated, that speech might be to the Board member’s performance of his/her Board duties.

Take Stacy Kelly, for example, whose comments start at the 38:14 mark of the video. For someone ostensibly offended by Paterno’s comments, it was interesting to hear her promptly proclaim herself “one of those screaming vaginas in Washington, D.C.” And then she went on to accuse the Board of knowing about, and acquiescing in, Paterno’s uber-conservative views over the past four years of his Board tenure – before calling for “an independent review of the Board to ensure the community of Park Ridge that behavior [like Paterno’s tweets, a/k/a his political speech] will no longer go unchecked.”

For those of you who, like Ms. Kelly, may have forgotten about the First Amendment, you can find its text HERE

But that was nothing compared to Daisy Bowe (starting at the 38:14 mark), who kicked Stacy Kelly’s “screaming vagina” up another notch or two by proclaiming herself “a screeching, raging vagina” – although we suspect that “raging, screeching vagina” would have been the better syntax.

Bowe’s angry proclamation proved more than the delicate sensibilities of Board member Tom Sotos could bear.

“Can we not have to hear [‘vagina’],” interrupted the suddenly-sensitive Sotos, before going on to explain that the word “upset [him]” because it was “a bad word in this context” and “not being used in a positive way.”

How’s that for irony: A “screaming vagina” and a “screeching, raging vagina” claiming to be offended by a former Board member’s use of “vagina screechers” who, in turn, offend the guy who owns a Loop gin joint called the Tilted Kilt – think of it as Hooters-meets-Braveheart, but with much skimpier kilts and far more cleavage.

Bowe and the rest of the audience were having none of Sotos’ newly-discovered sensitivity, however, and Bowe went on to insist that “there needs to be a new code of behavior” restricting Board members’ publicly expressing their thoughts and opinions.

Not surprisingly, neither Kelly nor Bowe explained where it says that school board members – or any other elected officials, for that matter – give up their First Amendment rights upon taking office. But they didn’t have to because none of the 7 Dwarfs sitting at the big table, or Supt. Laurie Heinz, cared enough about such rights to even raise the issue, including attorney Sotos.

That’s what we get for electing an attorney who was wrapped up in Kilt Law when he should have been studying Con Law.

While that January 23rd meeting was merely bizarre, the February 6 special Board meeting is where the First Amendment was pushed in front of the speeding bus.

Starting at the 8:04 mark of that meeting videoBoard president Tony Borrelli led the Board in a lengthy discussion of a “new Board Policy 2:81” – which he smugly claimed to have borrowed from some un-named “north shore district,” as if that were some king of imprimatur – that would permit a majority of the Board to censure and even seek the removal of a fellow Board member for saying or writing things the majority didn’t like.

Or at least that’s what we were able to glean from listening to Borrelli, the foot doctor, educate Sotos, the attorney, about the legality of that new Policy 2:81. Their dueling bloviations consumed roughly 2/3 of the discussion that ran from the 37:25 mark to the 1:05:54 mark of the video. And listening was all we could do because the Board oh-so-conveniently failed to include the “NEW” Board Policy 2:81 in the Board packet published in advance of the meeting, making it impossible for any meeting attendees or the public generally to actually read the proposed new policy in advance, or even during the meeting, and to ask pesky questions.

As this Board and its predecessors have demonstrated time and time again, they couldn’t spell “Transparency” if somebody spotted them 5 of the 8 consonants and let them buy 2 vowels. And did it as a group project.

But Borrelli and the other 6 Dwarfs finally got up the nerve to publish the language of “2:81 NEW” in the packet for tomorrow (Feb. 21) night’s meeting, presumably because it’s already set for final approval on the “Consent Agenda.” No muss, no fuss, just your typical day at the office for the Dwarfs.

If there were any truth in advertising, they’d march in and out of the meeting room wearing sock hats and singing “Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho.”

We’ll talk more about what a stupid, insulting and apparently unenforceable policy 2.81 is in tomorrow’s post. And we’ll also break down Borrelli’s equally stupid amendment to the Board’s conflict-of-interest policy – which Borrelli shockingly had the honesty to admit, in an article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“District 64 considers addition to conflict of interest policy,” Feb. 20), has “no teeth”!

Maybe Borrelli thinks he can gum perceived offenders into submission.

Meanwhile, if you decide to watch the meeting videos, try to figure out which one of the 7 Dwarfs is “Dopey”…du jour, of course, because the casting can change.

To read or post comments, click on title.

A Couple Of Basic Ways To Screen Local Candidates

01.19.17

Nominating petition challenges are a good thing.

They serve as a basic, first-level screening to identify those candidates who are at least competent, committed and conscientious enough to gather sufficient petition signatures so that no reasonable challenge can be posed.

And to identify those who are not.

So when someone like Patrick DeStefano files only the bare minimum 67 petition signatures to get on the 6th Ward aldermanic ballot, and then gets bounced because 17 of them are disqualified by the Cook County Clerk’s office, voters can legitimately wonder whether his candidacy was anything more than a lark, or the product of some late-night gripe session ending with a “Screw this, I’m running for alderman!”

The same can be said for incumbent Maine Twp. High School Dist. 207 Board member Jin Lee, who reportedly filed only 55 signatures – a mere 5 more than the required minimum – and then had to gather several affidavits to prove to the election board that enough live registered voters actually signed his petitions. Instead of owning his ineptitude, however, Lee whined – according to a recent article in the Park Ridge Journal (“Maine High School Candidates Names Will Be Placed On April 4 Ballot,” Jan. 15) – that he “wish[ed] there was more of a way for first-timers to know how to handle objections.”

Here’s a thought: Try getting 25 or 50 signatures more than the bare minimum, so you don’t have to “handle objections.”

That should also be the lesson for Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 candidate Monica Wojnicki, who reportedly has been knocked off that ballot by filing 52 signatures, only 2 above the required minimum, of which 32 were successfully challenged. And a lesson for Park Ridge Park District Board candidates Jennifer Barcal and Carol Becker, whose ballot challenges are still being sorted out.

But getting on the ballot is the bare minimum level of competence, commitment and conscientiousnous. At least one more level of screening is necessary to determining whether a candidate might be worthy of the office.

Motive.

For example, you can immediately write off any candidate who claims to be running to “give something back to the community.” That’s the default answer for all those empty-suit candidates trying to avoid admitting that they “got nothin’ ” in the way of ideas or agendas. And it’s those kinds of empty suits who end up becoming puppets or stooges for some special interest – assuming they aren’t already some special interest’s puppets or stooges trying to fly below the radar with their “give back” mantra.

If you want to know one reason why the D-64 School Board consistently ends up with so many puppets and/or stooges for the Park Ridge Education Association (the “PREA,” a/k/a the teachers union) and the PREA-beholden administrators, check out the sixth page of the recruiting handout for prospective D-64 Board candidates who attended Supt. Laurie Heinz’s dog-and-pony show last October 12, and you’ll see “give back” as one of the four reasons for Board service.

And if you can stomach wading through the rest of that propaganda piece (on which we detect the fingerprints of D-64 propaganda minister Bernadette Tramm as well as Heinz’s), we dare you to find the words “taxes” or “taxpayers.” That’s because Heinz and her current D-64 Board puppets/stooges don’t want nobody the taxpayers sent – or anybody that’s going to hold all those very well-paid PREA members and those overpaid administrators like Heinz and Tramm accountable for the boatloads of tax dollars being spent on what seems to be, by all objective measures, relatively modest educational quality.

Barely one notch above the empty-suited give-backers are the “teasers.” They’re the candidates who try to win over those clueless and/or stupid voters by teasing and tantalizing them with vague or veiled suggestions about what they might do about some situation or other…if only they were to be elected.

For example, this past Tuesday night mayoral challenger Lucas Fuksa posted news about the closing of the Jos. A. Banks store in Uptown and then (a) suggested there are “real reasons” for that retailer’s closing, which he teasingly chose not to identify; and (b) claimed Park Ridge needs to be made “business friendly” (How?), zoned “appropriately” (How?) and with improvement to “our parking situation” (Like what?).

But since that might not be quite enough teasing for some voters, Fuksa added – in a comment to a comment to his post – that we need “infrastructure improvements [Paid for how?], less restrictions [On what and why?], zoning changes [What kind?], branding [For the City’s cattle?], and long term future planning” [Gee, now that’s original!]. For a candidate who is already viewed as mostly a pawn of certain developers, that’s a whole lot of foam but very little beer.

Our favorite, however, is his teaser claim that he “spoke to Jos. A. banks [sic] so I know what some of those issues are” – presumably related to its closing – but he apparently is keeping those secrets to himself for now.

Doesn’t that just make you tingle with suspense?

It sounds to us like Fuksa is channeling 2013 mayoral challenger Larry Ryles’ business development strategy which – as we wrote about in our 03.19.13 post – consisted in large part of hugs and handshakes. But at least Ryles actually named some of the businesses he wanted to bring to Park Ridge: Urban Outfitters, Forever 21, Ann Tayor, Clarks and GameStop.

As best as we can tell, Fuksa was MIA four years ago during that last mayoral race, so we can understand how he may have missed such a failed campaign strategy and now considers it his original.

Besides, it’s so teasing and tantalizing.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Hinkley’s High-Priced Out-House

01.10.17

Make no mistake about it: The Park Ridge Park District needs to repair or replace the bathroom building at Hinkley Park.

But at a project cost of $746,000 – $563,000 for an unheated/un-air conditioned, five-stall, 16’ x 30’ out-house, and another $183,000 for an adjacent picnic shelter and rainwater harvesting system?

Why will such a project cost as much or more than most Park Ridge homes? Blame something called the Prevailing Wage Act, another boondoggle perpetuated by the Democrats in Springfield that requires our local governmental bodies to pay what amounts to the highest cost for construction labor – as much as one-third (in the case of the Hinkley bathroom, that’s around $188,000) more than the price private citizens and businesses might pay for the same labor.

But that’s not the whole story.

To compound the problem, the Park District gave a no-bid contract to FGM Architects to design and manage this project. And FGM’s fee will be based, in part, on a percentage of the total cost of the project.

Can you say: “An incentive to maximize costs”? We knew you could.

FGM has a history of feeding – if not gorging – at the public trough. Unfortunately, Park Ridge has become one of its favorite feedlots, with Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 giving FGM virtual carte blanche over its “secured vestibules” project, which is (a) an ill-conceived/unnecessary/stupid and wasteful palliative for those parents who insist on bubble-wrapping their kids at the taxpayers’ expense; and (b) what passes for an “achievement” by Supt. Laurie Heinz and those D-64 administrators and school board members who don’t seem capable of doing their “Job 1”: significantly improving the quality of education and academic performance of the District.

As best as we can tell, that “secured vestibules” project also was no-bid, presumably because D-64 gave FGM a Willy Wonka-style golden ticket over a year ago when it made FGM its “architect of record” – which also gives it the inside track on another $20 million or so of construction projects the District already has queued up. Rumor has it that the Park District gave a similar golden ticket to FGM, thereby making it legal for the District to seek and accept a single, no-bid proposal for the Hinkley project and any other construction projects that come down the pike.

By that measure, that piddly $746,000 for the Park District’s glorified out-house – including FGM’s cut – is chump change. But that doesn’t mean that Park Board members Rick Biagi, Jim O’Brien and Mel Thillens weren’t right in challenging the wisdom of that kind of expenditure at the Board’s meeting on December 15, 2016.

Not surprisingly, Biagi led the charge in demanding that the Board seek input from other architects and construction managers in order to determine whether FGM is on or off the mark with its proposal. The result of Biagi’s diatribe – which you can watch on the meeting video, starting at the 42:20 mark – is that the Board will now hold a hearing on January 26 so that the public can voice its concerns or support for the project, and about the perverted process that birthed this boondoggle.

Biagi, O’Brien and Thillens also were the ones, along with Commissioner Dick Brandt, to vote “no” on adopting the Democrat-dominated Illinois Dept. of Labor’s tricked-up-and-inflated “prevailing wage” schedule at the June 16, 2016 Board meeting. Unfortunately, the District’s panicked general counsel almost immediately was able to scare O’Brien and Brandt into a do-over vote and a flip-flop, with dire warnings of fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, rivers and seas boiling, forty years of darkness, earthquakes, volcanoes, the dead rising from the grave, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together.

And law suits, even though Biagi and Thillens offered to secure pro bono counsel to defend any such suits.

So the District likely will spend that $750,000 or so for that glorified out-house and attendant amenities. And FGM will pick another shrimp or two off the public barbie thanks to the inflated labor costs due to the prevailing wage.

Because that’s the way “Fleece the Taxpayers” is played in our deep blue State of Illinois, Michael J. Madigan proprietor.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Hello, 2017 – A Critical Local Election Year (Updated)

01.06.17

As we sail into 2017 with some people predicting Armageddon and others hoping for Greatness, we’ll assume – as history has tended to prove – that both will be equally wrong.

Meanwhile, back here is sleepy ol’ Park Ridge (or “Pleasantville” if you prefer) 2017 is shaping up to be an interesting year, primarily because of local elections that are already producing enough sparks to suggest that some real fireworks aren’t far behind.

The main event is the mayoral race, where Acting Mayor and 7th Ward Ald. Marty Maloney is seeking to retain the seat his fellow alderman voted him upon the death of Mayor Dave Schmidt in March 2015. His challenger is political rookie Lucas Fuksa, grabbing for the brass ring on his very first carousel ride.

Although only three aldermanic seats were scheduled for races in 2017, a fourth became so with the death of 3d Ward Ald. Bob Wilkening in August 2015, just four months into his first term of office. Of those four races, only 2d Ward Ald. Nick Milissis lacks an opponent. Milissis has indicated, however, that he will be an active participant on the campaign trail, something to which we look forward.

Amazingly enough, the 3d Ward – Park Ridge’s political land that time forgot which, in 2011, elected the first aldermanic write-in candidate in decades when no other ballot-worthy candidate stepped forward – has FOUR candidates trying to finish the last two years of Wilkening’s term: current Ald. Rick Van Roeyen, who lost to Wilkening in 2015 but was appointed by the Council to fill his seat; Wilkening’s widow, Gail, who served two terms (1997-2005) on the Park Ridge Park District Board; Vicki Lee, who spent the past four years on the Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Board; and Pasquale Laudando, rumored to be running as part of an unofficial Fuksa “ticket.”

Incumbent 4th Ward Ald. Roger Shubert faces Jack Barnette, seeking to return to the Council after a 30-year absence.

And in the 6th Ward, Incumbent Ald. Marc Mazzuca is being challenged – at least for the time being – by Patrick DeStefano, another rumored member of the Fuksa “ticket.” Mazzuca is challenging 22 of DeStefano’s bare-minimum 67 nominating petition signatures, however, so the disqualification of just one signature will sack DeStefano’s candidacy.

The signatures need to be verified by the Cook County Clerk’s office as belonging to duly qualified, registered and legal voters of the 6th ward, with the results of that verification scheduled to be heard by the City’s electoral board – comprised of Acting Mayor Maloney, City Clerk Betty Henneman and 4th Ward Ald. Roger Shubert – on January 9.

Meanwhile, the race for the four available Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 board seats has received the most attention to date, if only because three of the eight candidates – Gregory Bublitz, Norman Dziedzic and Michael Schaab – are married to D-64 teachers and, therefore, have potential conflicts of interest on a number of issues that could greatly limit the votes they can lawfully and/or ethically cast if elected. Other candidates include current two-term Park Ridge Park District Board member Rick Biagi; Biagi’s fellow Park Ridge Holiday Lights Committee member Alfred Sanchez; 2013 mayoral candidate Larry Ryles; Willowbrook H.S. teacher Eastman Tiu; and Monica Wojnicki.

This race has long-term importance because the successful candidates this year will be members of the Board when the next teachers contract is up for negotiation in 2020 – a fact apparently not lost on the Park Ridge Education Association, a/k/a the teachers union, who reportedly are backing (quietly, of course) the three teacher spouses and at least one other candidate (we’re betting on Tiu, or maybe Ryles) in the hope of locking-down the necessary four-seat majority of accommodating ankle-grabbers for those 2020 negotiations.

At Maine Township School District 207, incumbents Carla Owen and Jin Lee are vying with former Park Ridge Planning & Zoning Board member Aurora Austriaco, current P&Z member Linda Coyle, and recent state representative candidate Dan Gott, for the four available board seats.

And at the Park Ridge Park District, there’s a virtual jail break with incumbents Joan Bende and Jim Philips being challenged by Jennifer Barcal, Carol E. Becker, Harmony Harrington, Jim Janak, H. Robert Leach, Laurie (Pegler) Mallin and 2012 state senate candidate Jim O’Donnell for the four available seats on that seven-member board.

Meanwhile, another task confronting the City Council within the next several weeks is filling the seat of 5th Ward Ald. Dan Knight until the 2019 election. Acting Mayor Maloney has indicated that he will follow the recent practice for filling aldermanic vacancies by forming a committee of 5th Ward residents to interview prospective appointees and then recommend Knight’s successor to Maloney and the Council.

While there’s a lot more going on in local government, expect these races to (as the pundits on “Morning Joe” are fond of saying) “suck up all the oxygen in the room” for the next three months. And if that ends up being the case, it’s up to all of us taxpaying voters to pay attention and make darn sure the winners truly EARN their seats.

So here’s hoping for three months of spirited, issue-oriented campaigning.

UPDATE (01.09.17):  This morning the City of Park Ridge Electoral Board – Acting Mayor Marty Maloney, City Clerk Betty Henneman and 4th Ward Ald. Roger Shubert – ruled in favor of the challenge by 6th Ward Ald. Marc Mazzuca to candidate petition signatures of challenger Patrick DeStefano, who filed the bare minimum 67 signatures.

Mazzuca challenged a number of the petition signatures as being inconsistent with those on file with the County Clerk’s office, or of people not registered at the addresses placed on the petitions.

With this successful challenge, it appears that the only alternative for DeStefano is a lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Cook County. But because DeStefano would have to pitch a perfect game in any court case in order to stay on the ballot, it’s hard to imagine him or his backer(s) spending the money on that kind of windmill tilt.

The lesson, campers, is: If you want to run for something higher than homeroom rep to the student council, get a whole lot more nominating petition signatures than the bare minimum.

Because if you don’t, your petitions likely will be challenged and you will be thrown off the ballot.

And you’ll also end up looking like someone who wasn’t really a serious candidate. Or a mope.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Goodbye For Now, Ald. Knight

12.29.16

Dan Knight never really wanted to be an alderman.

He was content doing the things many 50-something suburban dads do when not working, such as coaching their kids’ sports teams and doing charity work – both through his church, St. Paul of the Cross, and through other organizations.

Little did Dan know what path he was starting down that day back in 2008 when he agreed to support some of his neighbors in challenging the misguided installation of a homeless shelter in the basement of St. Mary’s Episcopal, just a block from Dan’s home.

The instigators of locating such a shelter – operated by a private, Palatine-based not-for-profit corporation called PADS to Hope, Inc. (“PADS, Inc.”) – in Park Ridge were some prominent residents and a group of local clergy calling themselves the “Park Ridge Ministerial Association” (“PRMA”). And, not surprisingly, they were backed by opportunistic local politicians such as then-mayor Howard Frimark.

Like many of his neighbors, Dan didn’t buy into the idea of strangers – most of them acknowledged or suspected alcoholics, drug abusers and/or emotionally disturbed – being trucked into their quiet residential neighborhood one night a week from October to April just so PADS, Inc. could add another shelter to its roster, the better to leverage even more public and private grant funding. So Dan not only joined his neighbors, he became one of their leaders. He attended City Council meetings and other public hearings, asking tough questions and voicing his neighbors’ concerns, even to the point of calling out his own pastor for using religion to play politics.

But Dan also objected to the idea of treating such disadvantaged people like cattle, herding them night by night from a church basement in Park Ridge to a school gym in Evanston, to a church hall in Morton Grove, etc. So he tried to enlist PADS shelter supporters in an effort to provide longer-term housing, either by renting vacant local residences or by booking blocks of rooms in a nearby motel so that the homeless could actually have a “home”: the same place to go to, night after night, for the six months per year the PADS shelter program functioned.

Not surprisingly, that longer-term concept didn’t fly with either the PADS operators or their PRMA allies. But by the time PADS, Inc. and the PRMA walked away from Park Ridge rather than comply with the City’s requirement that PADS, Inc. obtain a special use permit in compliance with the City’s Zoning Code, Dan was hooked.

He became a trusted advisor to then-ald. Dave Schmidt (1st Ward), especially on financial issues. And when Schmidt decided to take on an incumbent Frimark in the 2009 mayoral election, Dan became not only a key part of Schmidt’s policy team but also his campaign treasurer.

Dan’s advice was instrumental in the creation of Schmidt’s noteworthy campaign platform of “H.I.T.A.” – Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability – that helped Ald. Schmidt become Mayor Dave in an upset victory over Frimark; and it was a hallmark of Schmidt’s administration until his sudden and untimely death last year.

For the initial two years of Mayor Dave’s first term virtually every financial policy initiative he proposed, and virtually every financial position he took, was informed and/or vetted by Dan. So valuable were Dan’s contributions that Mayor Dave encouraged him to run for 5th Ward alderman in April 2011. And so strong was Dan’s support in that ward that nobody ran against him.

Ald. Dan continued to be Schmidt’s sounding board on City issues great and small.

Just weeks into his aldermanic tenure Dan began working closely with the City’s relatively new Finance Director, Allison Stutts, to unravel the City’s arcane and sometimes misleading finances which were in shambles – in no small measure because of that white elephant known as the Uptown TIF that nobody previously had attempted to really understand.

Dan spent countless hours not only with Stutts but also with her successor, Kent Oliven, and his successor, Joe Gilmore, analyzing how best to address all those TIF deficits that kept sucking up money faster than City taxpayers could supply it – and that caused a downgrade in the City’s bond rating.

Once Dan and the finance directors went as far as they could go on their own, Dan advocated for bringing in TIF consultant Kane McKenna to provide the City with the first informed and honest assessment of what the TIF had done to City finances, and it was an eye-opener: as of year-end 2012, the City was still on the hook for over $39 million in TIF-related debt service; and the best-case scenario was that the TIF would end up costing the City over $7 million rather than producing the $20 million in profits the TIF perpetrators had predicted back in 2003-05.

But finally understanding the situation ultimately led to some TIF-related bond refunding that already has saved the City several million dollars of debt service, with the possibility of more to come. And that refunding, along with the policy of “prudent austerity” combined with “reasonable…tax and fee increases” (according to Moody’s Investors Service) instituted by Schmidt, not only helped put the brakes on the decline in the City’s bond rating but, also, caused Moody’s to remove the “negative outlook” for the City’s Aa2 general obligation bond rating.

Yet all this is only a fraction of what Ald. Knight did for this community in his slightly more than five years in office – most of which the general public will never know or appreciate. Which is the way he wanted it.

Dan never shied away from telling it like it is, often displaying the candor of his South Side Irish origin by calling “B.S.” on any public official or special interest lacking the proper respect for the City and its taxpayers. That’s why you could find no more honest and genuine a public official – in any branch of Park Ridge local government – and why he earned the respect and trust of his Council colleagues and of his constituents, who re-elected him without opposition in 2015.

“The pipes” called Danny Knight last week at age 58, leaving a legacy of service and accomplishments not unlike those of his friend and ally, Mayor Dave. Although they were public officials, they most definitely were not “politicians” because they would rather be right, and do right, than be popular.

Both of them left us far too early and with much still to be done. But they also left behind colleagues committed to H.I.T.A. and to putting the taxpayers first.

James Madison said: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” 

So we take some small comfort in believing that where Danny now is, no further duties will be required of him. 

Slán, Dan…do anois.

Hail To The Champions! – Part 2

12.10.16

In a span of less than one week the Maine South High School Hawks captured two state titles.

Most residents know about the football team’s upset of the Loyola Academy Ramblers for the Class 8A championship the Saturday after Thanksgiving down at Urbana-Champaign. And they recognize names like Leongas, Jarvis and McNulty, as well as that of Coach Dave Inserra.

But on December 2nd the Hawks’ Constitution Team also brought home the state title in the “We The People: The Citizen and the Constitution” competition at the Dirksen Federal Building in Downtown Chicago. Unlike their gridiron classmates, however, names like Boyce, Kreger and Touhy, and even that of Coach Andy Trenkle, aren’t as readily recognizable – so you can see the team’s roster here.

Also unlike their gridiron classmates, their season isn’t over: they will be heading to Washington, D.C. to compete in the national competition at the end of April, 2017.

Just as championship football has become a tradition at Maine South, so has championship civics as demonstrated by knowledge of the United States Constitution. The Hawks have “won state” in the Constitution competition every year since 1991, except for 1993; and they won the national championship in 1999. The team also has had a number of Top 10 finishes in the national competition.

The questions presented at the recent state competition were every bit as challenging, in their own right, to the Constitutioneers as any Loyola Academy pass rusher or ball carrier was to the Hawk gridders.

These teenagers’ accomplishments should serve as an inspiration to all of us, especially those of us who, over time, may have lost some of our knowledge and appreciation of perhaps the second greatest secular governing document – after the Magna Carta – the world has ever known.

Which is why Lincoln famously said: “We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.” And why Calvin Coolidge reminded us that: “To live under the American Constitution is the greatest political privilege that was ever accorded to the human race.”

But while our Constitution provides the basic framework for the rest of our government at every level, we also need a better understanding of the nuts and bolts of local government, the civic “ground game” that is played not in Washington or in Springfield but right here in our own community.

Many/most voting-age residents would be hard-pressed to name both their mayor and their alderman. And they probably would have to guess well to get the names right of just two of the seven-member boards of the Park District or School Districts 64 and 207 – which combined account for approximately 80% of our property tax bills.

That level of civic ignorance tends to make the chances of getting effective local government as much a matter of luck as of skill. One need look at City government no farther back than a decade or so, however, to see that “luck” in local government can be bad as often, or more so, than it can be good.

Fortunately, our late mayor Dave Schmidt established H.I.T.A. – Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability – at City Hall, where it has retained its vitality since his sudden death in March 2015. Unfortunately, H.I.T.A. is most notable for its absence at D-64 and D-207, whose Board members view taxpayers and critics as enemies to be fought and overcome with spin, blatant propaganda, and secretive closed session meetings.

The State Champion Maine South Constitution Team members deserve this shout-out, therefore, not only for their achievement but also for the interest in the Constitution and local government that such an achievement might kindle or rekindle in the rest of us.

Ben Franklin announced our newly-formed government as being: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

That pithy description belies both the inestimable value of a government based on the consent of the governed, and the immense need for the informed and active participation of the governed in their government.

Especially at the local level.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Salons, Sushi And Banks, Oh My!

11.30.16

Not all that many years ago the most consistent comment about Park Ridge, especially its Uptown business district, was criticism of the lack of commercial and retail tenants to occupy the vacant storefronts.

Not anymore. Today’s laments now run toward the kinds of businessses: too many salons, sushi restaurants and banks. And those laments are not totally unjustified.

According to an article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“New hair salon proposed for Uptown Park Ridge,” Nov. 25), 16 addresses in the Uptown area are listed as the sites of hair salons or barber shops. We don’t know if that includes the ubiquitous nail salons, but you get the picture.

We also count 4 sushi restaurants in Uptown, not including the grab-and-go sushi available at Whole Foods and Jewel on Uptown’s periphery.

And by our count Park Ridge is home to 13 banks, with the prospect of yet another one going in next to the new Walgreen’s at South Park’s Talcott Terrace shopping center – a prospect that has already met with criticism by residents who have a variety of preferential businesses but no interest in putting their own money where their mouths are.

Then there also are some business owners who don’t like the idea of competition. Or at least not when that competition moves in next door, or even down the block. Those businesses would like our City government to step in and protect them from competition by every way imaginable, including by denying the new competitors business licenses.

But as the interim director of community preservation and development noted: “Competition should not be a consideration” in business licensing decisions.

One of the tenets of capitalism, credited to Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter, is “creative destruction” – where new ideas, products and services are constantly rising from the ashes of the old. A classic example is the buggy whip, the manufacturers of which went out of business as horse-and-buggy transportation was replaced by automobiles. More recently, we have seen video stores – which employed approximately 175,000 people a decade ago – extinguished by Redbox, Netflix and streaming video.

The folks who don’t want another bank in South Park, or another salon in the 100 block of Vine Avenue, or another sushi restaurant in Uptown, have every right to object. But those objections should not trump the initiative of entrepreneurs willing to risk their time, money and effort in a new business – whether it be a bank, salon or sushi parlor; and whether it be next door or down the street from a competitor.

From the sound of their comments, some Park Ridge residents (and non-resident Park Ridge business owners?) would prefer that the City engage in a little Soviet-style central planning. You know, the kind where the government puts its public thumb on the scale either by refusing to license competitors or by giving economic “incentives” (i.e., bribes) to certain preferred businesses.

A decade or so ago, a clown-car city council with an uber-clown mayor at the wheel did just that: It wasted tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars giving a few preferred Uptown building owners money for “façade improvements” that produced no measurable ROI (Return On Investment) for the City. And then those same alderdopes fattened the wallets of the Uptown redeveloper by irresponsibly borrowing (i.e., issuing non-referendum General Obligation bonds) tens of millions of dollars which they then irresponsibly “invested” in the Uptown project (also without a referendum) that guaranteed them no additional control of the project and no ROI.

The debt from that non-performing “investment” crushed the City’s finances from 2008 through 2014, and remains a multi-million dollar drain on the revenues the City collects from its taxpayers.

Fortunately, the clowns were swept out of office by Mayor Schmidt and his supporters who believed in letting the free market do its thing. So when the developer working with Whole Foods (Lance Chody, also owner of Garrett’s Popcorn) demanded that the City provide almost $3 million of sales tax revenue-sharing as an “incentive” (a/k/a, a bribe) to do the deal, Mayor Dave and that council wisely called his bluff with spot-on reasoning: If WF needs a multi-million dollar bribe to locate in Park Ridge, they should look elsewhere.

Two weeks later the developer and/or WF folded, leaving Park Ridge and its taxpayers $3 million richer. And since then, WF has been joined by Mariano’s, FFC Fitness, Holt’s, Harp & Fiddle, Shakou and other small businesses willing to take the risk of marketplace competition.

It should come as no surprise that the entrepreneur looking to open the hair salon on Vine is Frank Ernesto, who currently has two businesses on Main Street – Gumba Joe’s and F. J. Ernesto’s – and was a long-time fixture in South Park as the proprietor of Sonny’s restaurant. Here’s a guy who, having made a long term commitment to our business community, suddenly is being vilified for taking the risk of starting yet another business…in an area where his competition is already established.

We need more of that spirit, not less.

As for those who still keep drinking that “Why can’t we get national retailers?” Kool-Aid, a little history lesson is in order.

When that clown-car council was in hot pursuit of Uptown Redevelopment we were told that, if we built that new retail space, the likes of upscale Crate & Barrel, Ann Taylor, The Gap and Barnes & Noble would come. But even before that space was finished, all we had were down-sized Chico’s, Joseph A. Banks and Trader Joe’s. And big-time retailer interest was so low that 15,000 square feet of planned retail space was redesigned into more condos.

Four years ago a mayoral candidate talked about attracting the likes of Urban Outfitters, Ann Taylor, Forever 21 and GameStop. None of them came knocking, either.

Now a reported potential mayoral candidate, apparently slugging down the same Kool-Aid, is talking about Pottery Barn.

The bottom line is that these “national retailers” know what markets they want, where they want to be, and why. They decide on Park Ridge, not the other way around. And until they decide they want to be here because here’s where they can make good money, there’s virtually nothing the City can do about it.

Unless you consider offering multi-million dollar bribes a “marketing strategy.”

To read or post comments, click on title.

Hail To The Champions!

11.26.16

As readers of this blog know, one of our favorite quotes is that of legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden: “Don’t mistake activity for achievement.”

Tonight that lesson was demonstrated, in spades, by the Maine South Hawks football team, which capped a most unusual season – for Maine South, at least – with the ultimate achievement: The state Class 8A championship.

The Hawks’ hard-fought, uber-exciting 27-17 victory over the Loyola Academy Ramblers avenged their early-season 44-43 loss to the Ramblers with what was a “team” victory in the truest sense of the word.

To paraphrase a line from the Wes Mantooth character in the movie “Anchorman”: “Today we spell ‘redemption’… H-A-W-K-S.”

To the players, coaches and everyone associated with the team: Bravo!

You’ve done Park Ridge proud. Again.

To read or post comments, click on title.