Once upon a time Park Ridge was a sleepy little inner-ring bedroom community of single-family homes and “conservative” values – so conservative, in fact, that one of its standout high-school students (who would later become a rich, famous and powerful Democrat running for president) was reportedly a “Goldwater Girl.”
Back then local government was also sleepy, run by something called the Homeowners Party that was more a social club than a political organization. The HOs not only openly ran City Hall but they also indirectly ran the park board and both school boards, the latter two through their unofficial affiliate known as the General Caucus of School Districts 64 & 207.
Park Ridge City government remained sleepy until April 2003, when the HOs lost five out of seven aldermanic races and subsequently went out of business.
Since then, local politics has become much more a contact sport than cocktail party. But the result is that local government has become vastly more transparent and accountable to the taxpayers who fund it. Not as transparent and accountable as it should be, mind you. Just more than it has ever been – even at those bastions of opaque, closed-session Star Chamber government: the D-64 and D-207 school boards.
One shining/glaring example of that “New Way” of government is that the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate published not one but TWO online stories this week about the three recommended appointees to the Library Board that were approved just the night before by the Mayoral Advisory Board (the “MAB”) comprised of the chairs of the City Council’s four standing committees: “Alderman, former trustee clash over Park Ridge Library Board attendance,” (June 7) and “Two incumbents, one newcomer recommended for Park Ridge Library Board” (June 7).
Prior to the 2009 election of the late mayor Dave Schmidt, there was no MAB. Library Board appointments, like virtually all other City board and commission appointments, were the prerogative of the mayor; and his choices were regularly rubber-stamped by docile and complicit councils, with little discussion. As a result, ordinary citizens never read or even heard about the mere “applicants” for Library Board appointments. If they heard anything at all it was usually just the names of the appointees once they were confirmed by the council. And that was only if the citizens were really paying attention, and if the local media even reported it.
Contrast that with the process implemented by Schmidt that, over the past several weeks, saw 11 residents have their applications and resumes posted on the City’s website for all to see and comment on – followed by three nights of open-meeting interviews by the MAB, culminating in the open-meeting discussion and selection of the three recommended nominees before last Monday night’s Council meeting.
Transparent process? Check.
Accountability of the four MAB aldermen? Check.
In fact, the process was so transparent that several residents, led by Walter Szulczewski, showed up to monitor those meetings. And a pre-emptive strike against the reappointment of incumbents Joe Egan and Char Foss-Eggemann was launched by a June 3rd letter to all seven aldermen from three former Library Board members (John Benka, Patricia Lofthouse and Richard Van Meter) and the Library’s former business manager (Kathy Rolsing).
Those cabal members trained their fire on the meeting attendance of Egan and Foss-Eggemann because they apparently didn’t have the nerve or the ammo to challenge those two incumbents on their respective records of performance and policy decisions – records which the cabal strongly disapproved even though the City Council and, presumably, most taxpayers, did not.
Despite the confusing attendance figures presented by the cabal, Egan’s lawful attendance at regular meetings was 30 out of 37, or 81%; and 53 out of 63, or 84% for committee meetings. Foss-Eggemann’s numbers were 31 out of 37, or 84% for regular meetings; and 37 out of 56, or 66% for committee meetings.
Further corrections to, and explanations of, those numbers were submitted to the MAB by both Egan and Foss-Eggemann.
I served on the Library Board with all three of those former trustees: with Van Meter for 1 year (2011-12), with Lofthouse for 2 years (2011-2013), and with Benka for three years (2011-2014). All three of them are smart and affable folks who were perfectly suited for the old-Homeowners style of opaque, un-accountable rubber-stamp government. In fact, Benka ran unopposed as an old-HO candidate for Second Ward alderman and held that office from 2001-2005 before being appointed to the Library Board by then-mayor Howard Frimark.
When it comes to the Library, the collective legacies of Van Meter, Lofthouse and Benka can pretty much be summed up as 27 years of unquestioning go-along-to-get-along deference paid to the Library staff – highlighted by neglect of the Library structure; years of irresponsible deficit spending; open hostility to, and ridicule of, the city council; the endorsement of management without measurement; and “vision” based on 20-70 hindsight instead of 20-20 foresight.
In Benka’s case it also included a vote to close the Library on summer Sundays in 2014 – consistently the busiest or second-busiest day of the week based on average visits per hour – so that the Library could use that money to give raises to some employees. Those closings and raises were tacitly endorsed by the other three cabal members, none of whom voiced even a peep of an objection either in person or in writing.
Not surprisingly, Egan and Foss-Eggemann opposed each and every element of the cabal members’ legacies. And they also opposed giving away thousands of dollars of Library money each year on the foolish Food For Fines program, giving away free office space to for-profit tutors, and giving away free computer and Internet time to non-residents. And unlike the cabal members who preferred to deficit spend and then blame the city council for not giving the Library more money, Egan and Foss-Eggemann supported the 2014 Library tax levy referendum that will provide the Library with an extra $4 million by the time that levy increase expires in 2018.
Fortunately, the members of the MAB aren’t old Homeowners and don’t subscribe to those old-HO principles. That’s why Egan and Foss-Eggemann have been recommended to Acting Mayor Maloney for re-appointment. Should they be reappointed they can be expected to continue to help drive the Library into the 21st Century and make it a better institution for even more Park Ridge residents, especially the many thousands who have not been using it.
Meanwhile, expect Van Meter to keep showing up at Library Board and City Council meetings to demand my resignation or replacement, respectively. Or to rail about Egan’s attending some Library Board meetings by “calling in from third-world countries” like…Phoenix AZ. Or to kvetch about Foss-Eggemann. Or to warn the other Library trustees about agreeing with the three of us on anything.
As a sporting proposition, he’s welcome to bring the rest of his cabal along with him.
Robert J. Trizna
Editor and publisher
Member, Park Ridge Library Board
[DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the editor and are not intended to represent those of the Park Ridge Library, its staff, its Board of Trustees, or any other individual trustee.]
UPDATE (06.12.16): A former alderman has advised that a “Mayoral Appointment Board” was created by former mayor Mike Marous (2003-2005). Although we have not been able to independently verify that fact, we consider this alderman as a credible source of such information; and, accordingly, we deem it worthy of inclusion in this update.
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