Public Watchdog.org

Not Even A Batboy (Updated)

03.23.17

Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon never got past Class A in four years as a minor league catcher in the California Angels organization.

But after retiring as a player he became a scout for the Angels, then a hitting instructor and, finally, a manager in the Angels’ farm system where he had an undistinguished 279-339 record in 6 seasons before ending his 15-year stay in the “bushes” and being promoted to a coaching position with the parent club in 1994. In 11 years with the big-league Angels he was a first-base coach, bench coach and interim manager.

He was given his first big-league managerial job with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for the 2006 season, 27 years after his playing days ended.

Despite 2 World Series appearances, the Cubs’ first championship in over a century, and recognition as one of the best managers in MLB today, his major league managerial record is a relatively modest 981-852, for a .535 winning percentage – including last season’s stellar 103-58 (.640).

We were reminded of Maddon’s apprenticeship and journeyman roles as we considered the current Park Ridge mayoral campaign, where Lucas Fuksa is challenging Acting Mayor Marty Maloney for the right to lead City government for the next four years.

Maloney’s road to the “big leagues” has not been nearly as lengthy as Maddon’s, but it is significant: elected twice to the Park Ridge Park District Board – serving 8 years (2003-2011), including 2 separate 1-year stints as Board president; and elected twice as 7th Ward alderman – serving 6 years (2011-2017), including the last 2 years as Acting Mayor.

That’s 14 years as an elected public official, with a 14-year record not just of ideas and positions but, also, of actual real-world decisions and countable votes, both winning and losing ones.

To slightly paraphrase the estimable Yankee manager Casey Stengel: “You can look it up.”

During his first four years as alderman, Maloney, along with the late Ald. Dan Knight (5th), proved to be the staunchest of allies of the late Mayor Dave Schmidt and his “Honesty, Integrity, Transparency & Accountability” philosophy of City government. When Mayor Dave died suddenly in March 2015, Maloney was so respected by his Council colleagues that they selected him as the Acting Mayor.

As best as we can tell, Maloney has continued Mayor Dave’s H.I.T.A. legacy for the past two years. That offends those special interests looking for personal advantage and profit from local government, but delights the majority of Park Ridge voters looking for good government and good value for their tax dollars. Consequently, the City has continued its recovery from the many failures and general boneheaded-ness of City administrations from 2001 through 2011.

Challenger Fuksa’s record? Non-existent.

No service in a local elective office. No service in a local appointive office. And after a fairly exhaustive Google search, we could find no record of his showing up at any local government meeting or otherwise taking any public position on ANY local governmental issue – City, Park District or School District – until his announcement late last year that he was running for mayor.

In other words, he’s been MIA for his career as a Park Ridge resident.

If one considers Maloney’s 8 years of Park Board service as the “minor leagues” (if only because its budget is just a fraction of the City’s), his first 4 years of aldermanic service as major-league “coaching,” and his 2 years of Acting Mayor as “interim manager,” that’s still a 14-year journey to the “manager” position.

Fuksa, on the other hand, hasn’t even been a batboy.

So what does Fuksa bring to the table in the way of grand plans or great ideas that might counter-balance, even slightly, his having been MIA from every aspect of local government since his days as a student at Maine South?

We’ll talk about that in our next post.

Update (03.24.17) We must correct our statement that Mr. Fuksa has been “MIA for his career as a Park Ridge resident.”

In April 2011 he and his wife appeared before the Zoning Board of Appeals seeking a zoning variance for a pergola that was six feet too close to the home they had purchased six months earlier even thought the property had no full certificate of occupancy and the pergola had been built by the previous owner without a permit. The ZBA denied the variance.

So his MIA status has been only in connection with City issues unrelated to his own direct personal interest.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Don’t Vote Early.

03.20.17

Early voting for the April 4, 2017 local election starts today.

Once upon a time Election Day was what the name described: The single day when elections were held and voters voted.

Election Day was intended to be the day when Americans could come together as a community for the purpose of casting ballots for those who will govern us. It served in many respects as a secular “holy” day, a kind of mini 4th of July for the celebration of our right to vote.

Back then you could vote early, but only if you requested an absentee ballot after stating under oath that you reasonably expected to be out of your voting district on Election Day. And only a small percentage of voters availed themselves of that option.

But not anymore.

Early voting is the strategy of political parties, the partisan politicians, and the political class professionals who make their livings by manipulating the electorate. Those folks pushed it through the Illinois General Assembly about a decade or so ago because they found it much easier to herd sympathetic or malleable voters to the polls over a period of weeks rather over a dozen hours on Election Day. Their goal became bringing in more early voters than the competition, and the earlier the better – before late-breaking events or candidate gaffes might stampede the herd in the “wrong” direction.

Because early voting protects the two party system and incumbents above all else, that should be reason enough to oppose it. But in recent years early voting has become more of a factor in our local non-partisan races as well.

So today we make one simple request: Don’t vote early.

And for good measure, don’t respond to pollsters or campaign workers asking you which candidate(s) you might be favoring. Keep ‘em guessing, keep ‘em honest (or as honest as possible), and make the candidates continue to earn your vote until the polls close at 7:00 p.m. on Election Day.

Sure, it might be easier or more convenient to vote on a Saturday morning between now and Election Day, April 4. But seriously, folks, how tough can it be to get to the polling place between 6:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. on Election Day?

How many of us line up in the dead of night to be the first to see a new film, or buy event tickets, or get the latest model iPhone? So why is it such an unacceptable burden to get up a half-hour early, or get home a half-hour later, in order to cast a vote on Election Day? Do we really want our kids to grow up believing we value Cubs or Jimmy Buffett tickets, or an iPhone, more than we value self-government?

Our vote is sacred. But unless you’re a big-dollar contributor, a big-dollar bundler, or active in local government, our vote is the only chip we have in the Big Game.

So why bet it earlier than we have to?

By voting early you effectively are saying that you don’t care about hearing and weighing all the information about the candidates – including whatever information might come out in the last days of the race. That would be like a juror at a trial saying he’s ready to render his verdict while the parties are still putting on their evidence.

Free and fair elections rely on voters being fully informed about the issues and the candidates. And, like it or not, that information often keeps flowing right up to Election Day.

So don’t vote early.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Voting One’s Self-Interest Is Not “Integrity” (And A COLA Is Not A Raise?)

03.15.17

Our post about the 3 Hubbies running for the Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Board garnered some decent attention from commenters on this blog. But it also got a number of commenters from Matt Coyne’s posting a link on a couple of the local Facebook pages: Chris Buckely’s “Park Ridge Citizens Online” and Kathy (f/k/a Panattoni) Meade’s “Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners Group.”

Three comments from the Concerned Homeowners page deserve special mention because they illustrate how seemingly intelligent residents can be painfully superficial, or simply clueless, when it comes to local elective office and local politics. Or maybe they’re simply campaigning for their preferred candidates and superficial or clueless is the best they can do.

We’ll start with local real estate broker William Cline, who admitted in his Concerned Homeowners comment to being “pretty fed up with crap like this” – clearly referring to our post about the 3 Hubbies’ conflicts of interest in running for offices where, if they win, they will be able to vote on raising their wives’ salaries and benefits (and, indirectly, their wives’ constitutionally-guaranteed pensions) when the current contract expires in 2020. And while waiting to vote on that new 2020 contract they can vote on other issues that also might benefit their wives.

Cline also termed as “crap” our questioning the 3 Hubbies’ integrity “without mentioning a single issue.”

Apparently Cline can’t grasp the concept that running for a public office where you get to vote on your wife’s salary for the next four years IS “a single issue” – one that just happens to raise a significant question about the candidates’ integrity.

Fortunately, our post provoked one of the 3 Hubby candidates, “Norm!” Dziedzic, to respond on his own campaign Facebook page by giving us (and Cline) yet another “issue” that shows the inherent problem with him and the other two Hubbies (Bublitz and Schaab) running for the D-64 Board. According to “Norm!”:

“I will also openly and honestly say that I don’t believe a cost of living increase is a raise.”

Now that’s an interesting thought. If it’s not a “raise,” “Norm!”, what do you call it when an extra 1.5% to 3.25% of your wife’s $107,579 annual salary (that’s between $1,614 to $3,496 of extra cash) shows up in her pay envelope, unrelated to her performance or her 8-month work year?

A tip? Walking around money? A bribe? Or just “Ka-ching, ka-ching, baby!”?

Neither Mrs. Bublitz nor Mrs. Schaab will pick up quite as much from their non-merit COLAs, since they reportedly make a mere $92,802 and a paltry $89,411, respectively, for their 8-month work years.

And those COLA raises require no extra hours or effort, which is why Cline’s defense of the 3 Hubbies’ conflicts of interest by suggesting they could improve their household incomes more by “working a little extra with the spare time they would have by not running,” reveals just how clueless he is.

Unfortunately, we can’t say anything better about Hulting’s “there are much easier ways to make some extra bucks that [sic] giving hours of time and effort on a school board,” and Holmes-Hamilton’s referring to school board service as being “an unpaid long term volunteer position” that “takes countless hours away from family and work”

The time commitment for those offices is not some closely guarded secret, nor is the fact that there is no salary or stipend for that service. And nobody is forced to run for those offices against their will.

So if you don’t want the long hours and no pay, the solution is simple: Don’t run! And if you do run and win, don’t whine about all the reading, or the long hours, or the lack of pay.

As someone who ran and won hotly-contested elections for the unpaid Park Ridge Park District Board in 1997 and 2001 and who faithfully attended lengthy Board meetings and various other District events for 8 straight years without complaint, I can say without a moment’s hesitation or reservation that serving one’s constituents by holding public office is an honor and privilege – not some kind of chore or forced labor.

And that’s the way it should be viewed by every candidate for elective office who is fit to hold that office.

The bottom line is that the 3 Hubbies’ marital status, standing alone, calls into question their integrity by putting themselves – and their constituents – in a no-win position: Either the 3 Hubbies will vote their wives’ (and their households’) economic self-interests, or they will recuse themselves and thereby deprive their constituents of whatever knowledge and other value they allegedly might bring to the Board.

As the estimable Samuel Johnson once observed: “Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, but knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.”

From their candidacies it appears that the 3 Hubbies have a distinct preference for dangerous and dreadful. And from the tone of their comments it appears that Cline, Hulting and Holmes-Hamilton concur.

Presumably they’re hoping a majority of Park Ridge voters do, too.

Robert J. Trizna

Editor & Publisher

To read or post comments, click on title.

Three Shameless D-64 Candidates Fail “Caesar’s Wife” Standard Of Integrity

03.07.17

The ancient historian Plutarch, in his Life of Julius Caesar, related how Caesar divorced his wife Pompeia solely because of rumors of her adulterous behavior – believing that her standard of conduct should be such that it not be susceptible to even the mere suspicion of untoward behavior.

That is the origin of the “Caesar’s Wife” proverb of avoiding even the appearance of impropriety.

Unfortunately, that proverb appears wasted on three of the seven candidates for the Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 school board: Greg Bublitz, Norm Dziedzic, Jr. and Michael Schaab. We’ll call them the “3 Hubbies.”

Each one of them has a wife who is a teacher at D-64 and, therefore, presumably a member of the ironically-named Park Ridge Education Association – a teachers union whose only education-related purpose is to put more money and benefits in the pockets of D-64 teachers while minimizing teacher accountability for student achievement.

If all three of them are elected, they will represent 3 of the 4 votes needed to approve the next PREA sweetheart contract in 2020. In other words, the 3 Hubbies will be in a position to vote on a contract that will increase their respective household incomes by thousands of dollars – while likely raising their respective property taxes only a few hundred dollars.

On Wall Street, that’s what is called an “arbitrage”: a risk-free investment opportunity based on the differential between cost and gain.

They also will represent 3 of the 4 votes needed for any other D-64 Board action addressing such important issues and policies as teacher discipline, accountability, work hours, scheduling and other matters where their decisions could directly benefit their wives and, indirectly, themselves.

In a December 23, 2016 article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“3 school board candidates married to District 64 teachers”), the chairwoman of the Illinois Council of School Attorneys Executive Committee warned that while, in her non-binding opinion, it is not an outright conflict of interest for the spouse of a teacher to sit on the board of the spouse’s school district, it is advisable – but not required – that they abstain from voting on such issues as contracts.

Advisable, but not required.

According to the H-A article, Bublitz said that his “first inclination would be to recuse [himself],” suggesting that recusal would be his “commitment.”

That’s an unenforceable “commitment” that Bublitz can ignore with virtual impunity if he chooses not to stand for re-election in 2021 – like the four current Board members (Vicki Lee, Bob Johnson, Scott Zimmerman and the Screeching Dathan Paterno) who rubber-stamped the latest secretly negotiated, secretly discussed four-year sweetheart PREA contract and are walking away from it without a care in the world.

Schaab reportedly said he “probably would have to recuse [himself],” although he wasn’t ready to offer even Bublitz’s unenforceable “commitment.”

And Dziedzic – whose “Norm” campaign signs either are borrowing from the “Cher” school of first-name branding, or seeking the nostalgia vote in harkening back to the t.v. show “Cheers” – isn’t even pretending that he might recuse himself, relying on the non-binding opinion that there is no legal conflict of interest.

Back in Caesar’s time, and not all that long ago in this country, the appearance of impropriety of a husband or wife running for a public office where they could put public money directly into their spouse’s pocket – and, thereby, indirectly into their own – would be enough to discourage people of integrity from seeking such positions. Unless, of course their name was “Boss” Daley and they were shameless enough to steer millions of dollars of government insurance contracts to their kids while blithely excusing such unethical behavior with: “If a man can’t put his arms around his sons and help them, then what’s the world coming to?

Since the 3 Hubbies are obviously shameless and apparently lacking in Caesar’s Wife-style integrity, their candidacies present D-64 voters with the following questions:

  1. Can they be trusted to actually recuse themselves from the PREA negotiations and voting on a new contract for their wives three years from now?
  2. Do they bring anything to the D-64 Board of sufficient value as to over-ride the substantial risk that they’ll vote their wives’/their own pocketbooks – before riding off into the sunset in May, 2021, with no accountability to the taxpayers?
  3. Does it make any sense to elect candidates who either will negotiate and vote on their wives’ salaries and benefits, or will recuse themselves and thereby deprive their constituents of the unbiased representation they deserve?

Fortunately, there are four other candidates – Rick Biagi, Larry Ryles, Fred Sanchez and Eastman Tiu – for the four D-64 Board vacancies, and none of them are afflicted with either the same conflicts (de facto if not de jure) or the same Caesar’s Wife-style impropriety that’s infecting the 3 Hubbies’ candidacies.

That leaves it up to you D-64 voters to decide whether you are content with the prospect of the 3 Hubbies selling out the D-64 taxpayers to put extra cash in their wives’ (and their joint?) bank accounts, and/or selling out the D-64 students in order to further reduce the already minimal accountability of the PREA teachers for our underperforming schools.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Court Upholds City’s “No” To The Stumphouse

02.28.17

Back on March 9 of last year, we published our post: “A Stump Is Not A Tree, A Shed Is Not A House.”

On February 9, Circuit Court Judge Celia Gamrath effectively agreed in upholding the decision of the City of Park Ridge Zoning Board of Appeals that the stumphouse at 916 N. Western Avenue doesn’t pass muster under the City’s Zoning Code. And she did so without even providing an Architectural Digest critique.

Although the City was victorious, neither side covered itself in glory.

The two City Building Department employees whose greasy fingerprints are all over this debacle – then-Building Administrator Lonnie Spires and then-Zoning Coordinator Ed Cage – would have been hard pressed to screw this up more than they did, assuming their mishandling of the situation was the product of mere negligence rather than some form of Chicago-style winking-and-nodding.

Fortunately, they departed the City for public-sector sinecures in other communities shortly after their Laurel & Hardy act here, so they’re somebody else’s problem now. And their asleep-at-the-wheel superior, Community Preservation & Development Director Jim Testin, followed about a year later. Call it addition by subtraction.

As we pointed out a year ago, this situation identified several flaws in the City’s permitting process that, hopefully, will be corrected under new CP&D chief Jim Brown – who should not wait for direction from the City Council before doing a forensic analysis of what went wrong and how to prevent it from happening again – starting with a BIG BOLD WARNING on every application for a building permit that says something along the lines of: “If it’s not in writing and signed by the appropriate City official it is not authorized or permitted.”

And it might not hurt to re-examine the Zoning Code’s definitions of terms like “deck,” “deck addition,” and any others that might have given aid, comfort or credibility to any of the stumphouse owners’ arguments. Because whether it cost $26,000 or $2.60, the stumphouse would have been an eyesore at even half its elevation – unless it was gracing the backyard of some hillbilly mansion down in Stickney or McCook.

Not surprisingly, the perpetrators of the stumphouse insist they did nothing wrong and that they were just innocently taking their cues from Laurel & Hardy. They also claim to be considering further legal options.

Whatever.

Meanwhile, we’d like to end this post with a Watchdog bark-out to Planner/Zoning Coordinator Howard Coppari, who was hired after Laurel (Spire) & Hardy (Cage) departed. Instead of chalking up this fiasco to their errors and looking the other way, Coppari investigated the stumphouse like a starving dog getting after a t-bone.

We normally don’t applaud people for just doing their jobs, but Coppari stepped up and did his after 3 others failed to do theirs.

Well done, Mr. Coppari!

To read or post comments, click on title.

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.

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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.

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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.

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