Public Watchdog.org

It’s Not The Event But The Cover-Up

02.13.18

In our previous post we wrote about how the Maine Township Assessor, Susan Moylan-Krey, doesn’t really assess anything but nevertheless runs at least a five-person office (herself included), and how she has crossed swords with The Reformers – new Trustees Dave Carrabotta, Claire McKenzie and Susan Sweeney – over whether the non-assessor’s job truly requires the 1,000 hours annually needed to qualify for one of those sweetheart public pensions.

Today we shed some light on how that battle has been waged – not only outside the public’s view, but also outside The Reformers’ view – by Moylan-Krey and Supervisor Lauren Morask, primarily through correspondence with the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (“IMRF”).

After The Reformers refused in August 2017 to certify that the non-assessing Assessor’s position requires 1,000+ hours of work per year, Township “Bookkeeper” Denise Jajko e-mailed the IMRF’s then-general counsel, Kathy O’Brien, to inquire about Moylan-Krey’s appealing the non-certification and getting back on the pension contribution rolls. That inquiry set off a string of telephone calls and e-mails among O’Brien, Morask and Moylan-Krey from September 2017 into January 2018, some of which Township attorney Dan Dowd was copied on.

But guess what?

Nobody apparently advised The Reformers about the appeal until Morask finally provided them with a copy of her November 20, 2017 e-mail string containing the IMRF’s confirmation that Moylan-Krey’s appeal was successful – but not until the January 23, 2018 Board meeting, two months after she received that confirmation e-mail.

In other words, Morask, Moylan-Krey and attorney Dowd withheld from The Reformers all information regarding Moylan-Krey’s IMRF appeal not only during its two-month pendency but, also, for an additional two months AFTER the appeal had been adjudicated in Moylan-Krey’s favor – and her pension contributions had been reinstated at their customary rate of the Township (a/k/a, the taxpayers) matching Moylan-Krey’s monthly contribution by a ratio of more than 2.65 to 1.

Can you say “Unethical, dishonest and sleazy political gamesmanship”?

Of course you can!

Not until one of The Reformers, McKenzie, contacted IMRF and explained how Moylan-Krey’s situation had been concealed from The Reformers – and arguably misrepresented by Morask, et al. – did the IMRF’s new general counsel, in a January 26, 2018 letter, conclude that “all members of the Maine Township Governing Body have not been adequately informed of the IMRF administrative inquiries and decisions”; and that the Board, presumably acting through The Reformers’ majority, can appeal the results of Moylan-Krey’s secret appeal.

The seeming conspiracy of silence by Morask/Moylan-Krey/Dowd reeks so badly on so many levels that it’s hard to imagine how any of them could muster the chutzpah to continue in their respective positions. But from everything we’ve seen, heard and read about those three, they are nothing if not shameless when it comes to preserving their hegemony over the Township fiefdom.

Maybe it’s because Morask has been feeding at the Township trough for 17 years, while Moylan-Krey has spent the last 12 years rubbing elbows with her there. That kind of tenure generates an air of invincible entitlement that may explain why the fact that both of them have full-time private-sector jobs – Morask as a criminal trial attorney and principle in the Law Offices of Laura J. Morask, Moylan-Krey as a RE broker with Century 21 Langos & Christian – did not cause them even a fleeting concern about how incredible it looks for each of them to claim that their Township position requires at least 1,000 hours a year.

Instead, they appear to be blithely doubling down on their claims, challenging The Reformers to prove the negative: That those Township positions don’t require 1,000 hours.

Hopefully, the IMRF and its new general counsel see through that ruse.

And Dowd? He’s been the Township’s attorney since he was appointed – without any bidding or request for proposal – in 1994. Township paychecks have become like an annuity for him since the days when the likes of Mark Thompson, Gary Warner, Bob Provenzano, Carol Teschky and Bob Dudycz owned Maine Township government. Dowd knows on which side his bread is buttered, and by whom.

And he knows it’s not by The Reformers. Hence, his deafening silence about Moylan-Krey’s under-the-radar appeal.

Unfortunately, such perverse tenure virtually guarantees that Morask, Moylan-Krey and Dowd will not just slink away after being caught with their hands in the IMRF cookie jar.

But it should be interesting to see how much of a shelling those three take if/when the IMRF gets around to considering both sides of the Moylan-Krey issue, not just Moylan-Krey’s (and Morask’s) side presented while The Reformers were kept in the dark.

Hopefully the IMRF will demand that Moylan-Krey actually prove, with real evidence and not just the typical bunch of warm-and-fuzzy anecdotes, that the duties of her non-assessing Assessor’s job require 1,000 hours or more to perform, especially given that her office employs at least four deputy non-assessors; and given her self-proclaimed status as “a full time real estate professional.”

The same goes for Morask, whose criminal trial practice would similarly appear to be incompatible with a Supervisor’s position whose duties require 1,000 hours to perform.

As for Dowd, we can’t wait to hear him explain, on the record, whether his failure to report Moylan-Krey’s appeal to the full Township Board – including The Reformers – was the product of dishonesty, blatant favoritism, incompetence, or (with a nod to the late great Mike Royko) “aggravated mopery with intent to gawk.” Whichever explanation it turns out to be, however, this sordid situation is a clear indication that Dowd has outlived his Township annuity.

Exactly how much we taxpayers hear about these IMRF proceedings, however, will depend on whether The Reformers have finally and fully removed their training wheels and are willing to insist upon the kind of transparency and accountability that have been anathema to Morask, et al. and their predecessors for at least the past two decades. 

Meanwhile, attorneys Morask and Dowd should remember one of the lasting lessons of Watergate, as articulated by the late Tennessee Senator (and attorney) Howard Baker:

“It is almost always the cover-up rather than the event that causes trouble.”

To read or post comments, click on title.

Susan Moylan-Krey: The Maine Township Non-Assessor

02.08.18

Only two weeks ago we wrote our first-ever post about the Bizarro World of Maine Township government where (with apologies to Ray Davies and his iconic “Lola”): “Rs will be Ds and Ds will be Rs, it’s a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world” that, at least here in Illinois, Tribune columnist John Kass has dubbed “The Combine.”

The Combine is populated by politicians like Maine Twp. Supervisor Laura Morask and Assessor Susan Moylan-Krey, two RINOs who support more-and-bigger Township government.

Recently they and their questionable (if not outright profligate) style of government have been challenged for the first time by new trustees Dave Carrabotta, Claire McKenzie and Susan Sweeney, whom we’ve dubbed, collectively, “The Reformers” because they have refused to mindlessly rubber-stamp whatever Morask, Moylan-Krey and the other Township officials shove in front of them.

For example, at the August 22, 2017 Township Board meeting they refused to certify that the Township Assessor position required at least 1,000 hours of work per year, thereby entitling Moylan-Krey to continued participation in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (“IMRF”) pension program. For those of you who may not have been paying attention, the IMRF is one of those Cadillac public-sector pension plans whose defined benefits are guaranteed by Illinois taxpayers because of a sweetheart provision inserted into the Illinois constitution in 1970.

Moylan-Krey stated under oath that the Assessor’s position required 1,000 hours of work. That’s an average of 20 hours/week for 50 weeks a year, assuming two weeks of vacation. In typically non-transparent, unaccountable Illinois bureaucrat fashion, however, she failed to supply any evidence of why 1,000 hours were needed for that position.

Why shouldn’t The Reformers have trusted her sworn statement?

Let’s start with the fact that the Maine Township Assessor does not appear to actually “assess” anything. As we understand it, all property assessments in Maine Township are done by the County Assessor.

If Moylan-Krey doesn’t do any assessing, what exactly are her job functions, and those of her office?

According to the Assessor’s profile on the Maine Township website: “The main role of the Assessor’s office is to serve our residents.” Seriously, it really says that – which is why we embedded it so you could see for yourself, before they change it.

Have you ever seen a more disingenuously nebulous description of what a bunch of bureaucrats do than “serve our residents”? We know we haven’t, and we’ve been paying attention for quite a long time.

But, as legendary t.v. pitchman Ron Popeil might say: There’s more!

In addition to Moylan-Krey, the Township – meaning we, the Township taxpayers – employs at least four other folks with the title of “Deputy Assessor,” according to the Maine Township Staff Directory. That sure seems like a lot of payrollers in an Assessor’s office that does no assessing.

And it gets even better – or worse, depending on your perspective.

Although Moylan-Krey claims that the Assessor’s position that does no assessing requires at least 1,000 hours of work (Remember: 20 hours/week for 50 weeks), and that she personally puts in more than 1,000 hours a year, Moylan-Krey’s “Personal Profile” on the Century 21 Langos & Christian website trumpets her as “a full time real estate professional…fully committed to serving the needs and interests of both sellers and buyers in all aspects of residential real estate.”

So even though Assessor Moylan-Krey doesn’t do any assessing, Broker Moylan-Krey apparently does sell real estate, full time.

Does Century 21 Langos & Christian have a defined-benefit pension plan as good as, or better than, the Township’s IMRF plan? We highly doubt it, which might explain why Moylan-Krey – with the rock-solid backing of Morask – is fighting tooth and nail to have the IMRF over-ride The Reformers’ refusal to certify the non-assessing Assessor’s position as requiring 1,000 hours of annual work.

We’ll tell you more about that IMRF battle in our next post.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Moving In The Right Direction – Albeit Too Slowly – On SRO Program

02.02.18

Contrary to the collective belief of our critics, we actually enjoy writing about our public officials doing good things, or at least not screwing up.

Today is one of those few days we get to do that.

The reason?

A Park Ridge Herald-Advocate article reports that three members of the Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 School Board are re-thinking their previous support for what appears to be a highly-suspect plan to put Park Ridge Police officers in both D-64 middle schools on a part-time basis in the guise of “School Resource Officers,” or “SRO”s. (“District 64 board members reconsider placing resource officers at middle schools,” Jan. 30).

Before you get your hopes up that this SRO idea is heading for the ash can, however, we must warn you that while Board vice-president Rick Biagi, member Fred Sanchez and member Eastman Tiu reportedly had this epiphany after reading the well-written 36-page “Report & Recommendations” (the “Report”) about SROs by the law firm of Ekl, Williams & Provenzale (the “EWP Report”), they remain one member short of a Board majority.

We encourage you to read the entire EWP Report so that you can appreciate just how impetuous the Board and Administration appears to have been in their rush to implement an SRO program that: (a) fails to reconcile or even properly consider the conflicting “police” and “educator” roles of the SRO and the nature of any SRO intervention; (b) lacks any specific training requirements for the SROs; (c) lacks not only some of the most basic data to justify adopting such a program but, perhaps more importantly, lacks any data collection plan on a going-forward basis by which to evaluate the program; and (d) lacks even a “Mission Statement” or “Memorandum of Understanding” identifying for the D-64 Administration, the PRPD, the parents of D-64 students and the taxpayers exactly what problems the SRO program is supposed to address.

If the motto of “This Old House” is “Measure twice, cut once,” D-64’s and the Police Department’s motto for the SRO program so far appears to be: “Put away that damned yardstick and pass the chain saw!”

Since the Board previously voiced unanimous support for the SRO program, we can only wonder whether members Mark Eggemann and Larry Ryles might still be drinking the SRO Kool-Aid. But no guessing is necessary for Board president Tony “Who’s The Boss?” Borrelli and Board secretary “Tilted Kilt Tommy” Sotos, whose comments as reported in the H-A article suggest they both are on their second Big Gulp.

Borrelli, the sock-puppet of Supt. Laurie “I’m The Boss!” Heinz, continues to laud the SRO pilot program as having “a lot of merit”– without explaining exactly what that alleged “merit” consists of, other than 8-10 hours per week (out of approximately 35 school hours per week) of soft duty in a clean, well-lighted place for whatever police officers are lucky enough to get it.

And Sotos? He still “really support[s] the SRO program” – for reasons also not explained in the H-A article or that can be ascertained from watching the SRO portion of the January 22, 2018 Board meeting video.

But if you think you can tolerate more spun saccharine than you’d find in a cotton candy factory, read the SRO program’s eight “objectives” on page 2 of Heinz’s SRO memo for the D-64 Board’s January 22, 2018 meeting and then ask yourself: “How are they going to measure whether, and to what degree, any of those objectives have been achieved?”

If you answered “by using unverifiable warm-and-fuzzy anecdotes,” you’re a winner.

After reading the EWP Report we still have the same questions and objections we raised in our o8.31.2017 and 12.29.2017 posts, starting with: Is there really a need for stationing police officers in our schools – officers who are bound by oath to enforce child pornography (e.g., sexting-by-minors) laws, drug and underage alcohol laws, and underage smoking/vaping laws – but expecting them to behave like glorified counselors or home-room teachers?

Unfortunately, the three newly-enlightened Board members don’t yet appear quite ready to call for an end to further time-wasting discussions of the misbegotten SRO program even though it becomes clearer and clearer that (as we wrote in that 12.29.2017 post) “the real reason the SROs are being brought in is because the teachers and/or administrators at those schools aren’t willing or capable of maintaining order and discipline when left to their own devices” – especially when D-64 needs to create distractions from things like test scores and other measures of academic achievement (like ratings and rankings) which suggest that the teaching and administrating being done is neither worth its high cost nor competitive with the schools in comparable communities:

“What do you mean our academics aren’t as good as they should be? Look at that wonderful million-dollar secured vestibule…and let me introduce you to our new SRO.”

According to Pages 7-8 of the EWP Report: “[T]here is no data that correlates the presence of an SRO to a reduction in…[shooting] incidents” or “to lower instances of weapons, drugs and violence within a school….”

So instead of wasting more time, effort and money on an unnecessary SRO program, the D-64 Board should focus on improving the quality of the expensive education provided to its students, and especially those special needs students whose treatment by the Administration has sparked what seems to be justifiable concern, if not outrage.

If D-64 middle-school students – basically 13 and 14 year olds – can’t reasonably be controlled by the teachers and administrators during school hours, that’s a failure of the teachers and administrators; and a failure of the students’ parents.

Let’s not compound those failures with s half-baked, wrong-headed SRO program.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Ald. Melidosian’s Dangerous Liaison With The Library

01.29.18

Why are Park Ridge residents Alice Dobrinsky and Amy Bartucci so concerned about the attendance at Park Ridge Library Board meetings of the City Council’s liaison to the Library Board, Charles Melidosian (5th)?

And why did those concerns prompt such a lengthy article in last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate: “Residents voice concerns over Park Ridge Library Board attendance,” January 23, 2018?

Historically, the attendance of aldermanic liaisons at City board and commission meetings was irregular-to-rare. That changed in 2009 when mayor Dave Schmidt – in response to the Council’s new Committee of the Whole (“COW”) structure following its reduction from 14 aldermen to 7 in Spring 2007 that also cut the number of monthly regular Council meetings and Council committee meetings from around 12 per month to 4 per month – encouraged aldermanic liaisons to become more pro-active in their interactions with their respective boards and commissions, especially when significant issues might be on those meeting agendas.

But Schmidt, who himself was the Council’s liaison to the Planning & Zoning Commission while he was the First Ward Alderman, realized that aldermanic liaisons didn’t need to attend every meeting of their respective boards or commissions to do their jobs. A lot of the liaison’s duties can be accomplished just by the liaison’s reading the minutes and board packets, and by being accessible to its members.

It’s against that historical backdrop that we consider the significance of Dobrinsky’s and Bartucci’s complaints about Melidosian’s – and certain Library Trustees’ – meeting attendance.

According to that article, both Dobrinsky and Bartucci were troubled by Melidosian’s absences – he reportedly attended 12 of 26 regular board and COW meetings since being appointed Library liaison in February 2017 to replace the late ald. Dan Knight. Ostensibly their beefs arose from the Library’s failure to fill the Library Director vacancy since Janet Van De Carr retired in June 2017.

We wrote about that goat rodeo in our 12.15.17 and 12.26.17 posts, including about how hired-gun library recruiting consultant John Keister fed our Library Board two candidates, one of whom he was simultaneously recruiting for the Palatine Library Director position – apparently without telling our Board – that she accepted just as soon as she was announced as a finalist for our position. And the other finalist, Aaron Skog, withdrew right after his first public vetting, although his qualifications were so questionable we have to wonder how he even got to be a finalist, other than by being the last midget standing.

According to the H-A article, Bartucci faulted Melidosian for not attending the November 27 public vetting of Skog even though the City Council was meeting that night: “If there is a [City Council] liaison not attending and [the library board] is in the process of finding an executive director, I felt this deserved more attention.”

Seriously?

Melidosian belonged exactly where he was that night – at 505 Butler Place – instead of at the Library auditorium listening to Skog. But apparently that concept doesn’t jibe with Bartucci’s view of City, and Library, government.

Yes, we know – thanks to the Jennifer Johnson’s curiously incomplete cite to the City’s Handbook for Elected Officials – that aldermanic liaisons are “expected” to attend the meetings of their respective boards and commissions. The Handbook, however, does not set any specific requirement for liaison attendance, nor should it – because the duties of a liaison can be accomplished in many ways, some far more effective than by sitting at an uneventful meeting.

And, not surprisingly, Ms. Johnson overlooked that other provision in the very same paragraph of the Handbook (at page 10) that states: “It is not the role of the liaison to express opinions on any issue before the Board or Commission in the liaison’s capacity of Alderman.”

So riddle us this, Ms. Dobrinsky, Ms. Bartucci and Ms. Johnson: What did you expect Ald. Melidosian – or Mayor Maloney, or any other alderman – to do had they been in attendance at the November 27 public vetting of Skog, hours before he withdrew his candidacy for the director’s position: Wave goodbye?

As best as we can tell, Ald. Melidosian has attended virtually all of the Library Board’s regular meetings and a few of its COWs. And, frankly, on occasion he has over-stepped the role of an aldermanic liaison by expressing his opinions about matters before the Board. But we don’t hear Ms. Dobrinsky, Ms. Bartucci and Ms. Johnson beefing about that.

So what exactly is their agenda?

To read or post comments, click on title.

Is “Reform” Finally Coming To Maine Township Government?

01.24.18

Illinois has almost 7,000 units of government – a whopping 2,000+ more than first runner-up Pennsylvania. In contrast, Florida deserves the taxpayers’ Miss Congeniality award for serving 6 million more residents than Illinois with only 1,650 units of government.

Critics of our banana republic (formerly known as the “Land of Lincoln”) correctly attribute its nearly bankrupt condition to our surfeit of taxing/borrowing/spending entities. And one of the bigger contributors to our fiscal buffoonery is township government.

Illinois has 1,432 individual units of township government, even though 17 of Illinois’ 102 counties have none at all. That leaves 85 counties with an average of 16.85 townships apiece. And because all townships sit within county borders, there are two higher layers of government – state and county – already in place to address the needs of township residents.

But all townships also contain municipalities (Park Ridge is home to portions of Maine, Norwood and Leyden townships) that provide yet another layer of government services to township residents within those municipalities’ borders, to say nothing of the park districts, school districts, library districts and even mosquito abatement districts that do the same.

Against the backdrop of such perversely-comical redundancy we offer today’s post, our first ever that focuses exclusively on Maine Township government and on how three newly-elected (in April, 2017) trustees – Dave Carrabotta (R), Claire McKenzie (D) and Susan Sweeney (R) – have forged a bi-partisan majority to challenge the Township’s sclerotic business-as-usual operations and shake it loose from its historical Illinois Combine-style politics.

We’ll refer to them collectively as “The Reformers.”

To illustrate what they are up against, we direct your attention to a January 2, 2018 article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate: “Maine Township trustees set property tax levies amid pushback” – which captures some of the half-truths, “what ifs” and wrong-thinking that have made Maine Twp. government a sluggish political backwater for decades.

Back in November The Reformers voted 3-2 (Supervisor Laura Morask and Trustee Kim Jones voting no) to lower the Township’s general town fund and general assistance levies by 5 percent, arguing that the Township was sitting on substantial reserves and did not need the higher levy Morask was seeking.

Imagine that: A majority of Maine Twp. elected officials actually voting to reduce a tax levy. They must be taking lessons from the Park Ridge City Council, which last month reduced its levy for the second consecutive year – this time by 8.99% – as Mayor Marty Maloney credited the late mayor Dave Schmidt and the late alderman Dan Knight for starting the do-more-with-less effort that City staff and the current Council have built upon.

Although The Reformers won that November vote, at the Township Board’s December 19 meeting Morask argued vigorously against the reduction while her long-time ally, Township Highway Commissioner Walter Kazmierczak, insisted on a 2 percent increase in his road and bridge levy that would push his department’s annual revenue to over $2 million.

That brought a rebuke from Sweeney, who pointed out that Kazmierczak’s department had spent approximately $1.8 million the previous year, and well below $2 million in previous years.

But Morask and Kazmierczak weren’t giving up.

They threw every single uncertainty, contingency and catastrophe they could imagine against the Town Hall wall: Uncertain health care costs, successful property tax appeals, increased user fees, the potential for a cold and snowy winter, increased overtime costs, possible increases in commodity costs, an increase in the CPI – even the possibility of the General Assembly approving a property-tax freeze.

When that didn’t appear to be swaying The Reformers, however, Morask and Kazmierczak insisted that the Board was legally required to approve Kazmierczak’s road and bridge levy request – with Morask telling them: “You guys really don’t have a choice.”

Fortunately, The Reformers are learning that Morask is often wrong, even if never in doubt.

McKenzie, an attorney, pointed out the absurdity of the Board’s having to vote on a levy without being able to vote “no” – especially given Kazmierczak’s admission that his department “had plenty of money left over” from last year due to a mild 2016-2017 winter. Maybe he’s looking to create a slush fund (pun intended).

That left it to Morask to provide the night’s biggest whopper in trying to impose her will on The Reformers:

“Right now, we have the perception of being good government.”

We can only wonder where Morask acquired the delusion that “good government” consists of spending almost $700,000 a year to give out less than $200,000 of general assistance benefits.

That’s right, folks: According to the the Township’s own report, the Morask Administration – which more accurately should be called the “Morass Administration” – it appears that last year the Township paid $697,804 out of its “General Assistance Fund” (presumably in staff salaries and related expenditures) in order to distribute $183,833 of benefits to the needy residents of the Township. By our calculation that’s an efficiency rating of 21%.

If Maine Township were a private charitable organization it would be flagged as one to avoid because of its excessive overhead expenditures!

Hopefully that kind of inefficiency factored into The Reformers once again approving a 5% reduction in the general town fund and general assistance levies, and a flat road and bridge levy, by a 3-2 (Morask and Jones again voting “no”) majority.

We realize Maine Township, with an annual budget of around $7 million, absorbs less than 2% of our RE tax bills – even as the City of Park Ridge and the Park Ridge Library combined take about 13%, and the schools grab the lion’s share of approximately 69% (with a majority of that going to Park Ridge-Niles School District 64). At the December 19 meeting, Sweeney noted the Township’s relatively small RE tax bite while correctly observing: “[T]hat doesn’t mean we should go without scrutiny or [not] look at saving whatever tax dollars [we can].”

We quoted scripture in our 03.17.2011 post about how D-64’s bumbling of its lunchtime supervision program did not bode well for its bigger decisions: “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much.” Luke 16:10 (King James Version). That same passage could apply to Maine Township if not for The Reformers.

Here’s hoping Carrabotta, McKenzie and Sweeney stick together and remain faithful to both the Township’s taxpayers and its neediest residents by even more aggressively calling out the business-as-usual incompetence (if not outright waste) that has been SOP for Township government for too long.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Maybe Not “Fake News”…But Nowhere Close To The Whole Truth

01.05.18

In our most recent post we wrote about our wish for more H.I.T.A. from our units of local government in 2018. We also observed how televised and videotaped meetings have compensated for “sketchy” reporting by our local newspapers.

Not surprisingly, an anonymous commenter to that post accused us of being unfair to our local press on our way to playing the “fake news” card.

So what a fortuitous coincidence it is that an article in this week’s Park Ridge Journal just happens to provide a timely illustration of how the local press subtly – or not so subtly – attempts to influence opinions rather than just report the facts.

The article in question, “Library Board Gears Up For New Director Candidates” (Jan. 3), is by Anne Lunde, who has covered local government in Park Ridge for as long as we can remember.

Throughout her career Ms. Lunde has displayed a decided bias favoring governmental bodies – the bigger, more expansive and more expensive, the better – first at the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate and currently at the Journal. This being Illinois, and Ms. Lunde being an unapologetic Chicagophile, that means her views are about as anti-H.I.T.A. as possible.

To which, of course, she is entitled as a citizen.

As an experienced journalist, however, she has learned how to promote her bias in nuanced ways intended to be undetected by the casual reader, which she gets to do from a media platform not generally available to the ordinary citizen. It’s not what the current POTUS criticizes as “fake news,” but it’s also a far cry from what legendary WaPo reporter Carl Bernstein described as good reporting: “[T]he best attainable version of the truth.”

In order to understand and fully appreciate Ms. Lunde’s advocacy in what should be objective fact reportage, one needs to deconstruct and analyze her article, virtually paragraph by paragraph.

The first two paragraphs subtly attribute the Library Board’s “losing their top finalists” for the director position to its “[e]fforts to be very transparent.”

What’s her favored remedy to prevent losing future finalists? A third paragraph that extols “interviews in closed session” followed by “deliberat[ing] in closed session” before “return[ing] to deliberate in a separate closed session and determin[ing] a salary offer in closed session” – the process adopted by a majority of Library trustees at their December 19th meeting.

That might be a record for use of “closed session” in one paragraph, at least when the author is not condemning them. And Ms. Lunde isn’t about to condemn a closed session: In her view of government, which she has shared with this blog’s editor on several occasions over the past decade, closed sessions and behind-the-scenes schmoozing are how government gets things done.

Which is why her final paragraph attempts to excuse those secretive closed sessions by pointing out that the Library Board – after interviewing the candidates outside the public’s view, after deliberating about the candidates’ qualifications and suitability outside the public’s view, and after debating and deciding the salary and benefits to be offered the candidate outside the public’s view – still has to conduct the actual vote on hiring the chosen candidate in open session.

Big whoop. That’s the absolute barest minimum transparency required by the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”). But IOMA’s bare minimum is apparently what a utopian government looks like to Ms. Lunde.

In our opinion, however, Ms. Lunde’s most devious journalistic device resides in her shortest paragraph, of only five words, about those closed sessions: “There was not universal agreement.”

What’s so “devious” about that? Because it is the truth but not the whole truth.

The lack of the whole truth advances Ms. Lunde’s political agenda at the expense of honest journalism – about which conservative public intellectual Thomas Sowell warned thusly:

“If people in the media cannot decide whether they are in the business of reporting news or manufacturing propaganda, it is all the more important that the public understand that difference, and choose their news sources accordingly.”

How does she advance her political agenda at the expense of her journalism?

Simple: By not identifying the dissenters – Library trustees Joe Egan, Char Foss-Eggemann and Mike Reardon, whom we identified in our 12.26.17 post – and thereby marginalizing them and their dissent.

She knows that Egan, Foss-Eggemann and Reardon are the Library Board’s strongest H.I.T.A. proponents. She also knows that they are well respected by many members of this community. Because of that, she knows that identifying them by name would likely cause folks who know and respect them to question the legitimacy of those closed sessions, as well as the judgment of the members of the Board majority – Karen Burkum, Steve Dobrilovic, Josh Keim, Garreth Kennedy, Pat Lamb and Judy Rayborn – who prefer to hide from their constituents in such sessions.

So she reports the bare fact of the dissent but leaves the dissenters numberless and nameless. That also helps their fellow trustees escape scrutiny for their anti-H.I.T.A. beliefs, policies and conduct – like the bogus, chicken-bleep “survey” of their closed-session hiring process instead of an actual vote on adopting it. That way, the majority gains the political cover of not having a public record of their actual votes for more closed sessions.

You can watch that discussion on the meeting video, starting at the 29:45 mark and ending at the 53:45 mark.

So while we hope for more H.I.T.A. from our local governments in 2018, the same is sorely needed from our local press. Which reminds us of a quote from Pres. John F. Kennedy that Ms. Lunde and the Library Board should consider:

“The very word ‘secrecy’ is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths, and to secret proceedings.”

If Lunde and the Library Board majority actually care about “a free and open society” – or, at least, care about it more than they do about pandering to the anti-H.I.T.A. propensities of mercenary headhunter John Keister and about hiding from their constituents – they sure have an odd way of showing it.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Our Wish For 2018: More H.I.T.A.

01.02.18

It was back in 2009 that then-alderman Dave Schmidt, with less than two years’ of City Council experience under his belt, decided to challenge first-term mayor Howard Frimark’s bid for re-election. Schmidt’s political platform became embodied in the acronym: “H.I.T.A.”: Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability.

Honesty, as in telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Schmidt, a trial attorney, was familiar with that concept because it’s part of the oath witnesses take when testifying in a court of law. Too many politicians don’t seem to discover it until they hear it repeated by the witnesses testifying against them or their colleagues in federal corruption trials.

Integrity, as in firm adherence to a code of conduct or ethical values. Schmidt’s code of government was simple: The best government that Park Ridge taxpayers are willing to pay for.

Transparency, as in an openness characterized by the sharing of important information with the citizenry so that it can hold its governing officials accountable. Even before he came up with H.I.T.A., Schmidt walked his transparency talk by blowing the whistle on questionable Frimarkian closed-session discussions about the City’s acquisition of 720 Garden.

Accountability, as in the assumption of responsibility for the policies, decisions and actions; and the obligation to be answerable to the citizenry for them. Schmidt proved how that works on several occasions by admitting, and publicly apologizing for, mistakes he made; and promising not to make them again. And he didn’t.

H.I.T.A.’s an easy philosophy to understand and implement – assuming that you actually believe in the concepts and want to abide by them. But if you’re a “politician,” it’s your worst enemy. Which is why so few embrace it, and why others fear it so much that they mock it in the hope of undermining its legitimacy in the minds of the citizenry.

There was a bit of mockery (“Who would ever want to watch that?”) almost two decades ago when this editor, who served on the Park Ridge Park District board from 1997 to 2005, led that body in becoming the first unit of local government to videotape meetings so that taxpayers no longer had to rely solely on slanted and/or sketchy newspaper articles, or sketchy meeting minutes.

Schmidt followed that lead when he became mayor in 2009, using some of his mayoral salary to buy the camera that was mounted on the back wall of the Council chambers; and using some of his mayoral goodwill to enlist a couple of supporters to run the camera and upload the videos onto the Internet before the City’s website could accommodate them.

Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 followed suit in August 2011 after Marshall Warren, Char Foss-Eggemann, Susan Sweeney and friends showed up at a meeting with their own video camera, embarrassing a reluctant school board into doing what it had previously resisted. And, as we recall, the Maine Township High School District 207 board finally jumped on that bandwagon a couple/few years later.

This editor also spearheaded bringing video to the Library Board meetings in 2015. And Ms. Sweeney – with the assistance of fellow newly-elected trustees Dave Carrabotta and Claire McKenzie – was instrumental in getting that backwater of local government, Maine Township, to videotape its board meetings after they were elected to that board last April.

Why is H.I.T.A. so important when it comes to government?

Because, unlike in most organizations where the people at the bottom are accountable to the people at the top, in government it’s supposed to be the reverse: The people at the top are supposed to be accountable – at least in theory – to the people at the bottom.

What’s problematic about that situation, however, is that it’s the people at the top – the elected and appointed officials, and the public employee bureaucrats – who have most of the resources (money provided, ironically, by the people at the bottom; and manpower provided by public employees both on and off the taxpayers’ clock) needed to manipulate the information flowing to the people at the bottom, thereby manipulating their beliefs and opinions.

That’s why H.I.T.A. and its accoutrements – like published-in-advance meeting packets, videotaped meetings and keeping closed sessions to the barest legal minimum – are essential if we are to avoid what has been recently been described as a “post-truth society”: Where special interests at both ends of the political spectrum wallow in their own (usually woefully incomplete) facts and create their own ideological “echo chambers” such as can be observed on both Fox News and MSNBC, and even from time to time in our own local newspapers.

Which is why we concur with Glenn Greenwald: “Secrecy is the linchpin of abuse of power,…its enabling force. Transparency is the only real antidote.”

Along with Honesty, Integrity and Accountability, of course.

To read or post comments, click on title.

SROs May Be More Problem Than Solution

12.29.17

There was a time when the term “SRO” commonly meant “Single Room Occupancy.” As in cheap hotels, a/k/a “flophouses.” Or “Standing Room Only” at concerts and sporting events.

Nowadays, however, in suburbs like Park Ridge the term SRO means “School Resource Officer.” Or, as we noted in our August 31, 2017 post, modern-day “Officer Krupke”s from “West Side Story” – a post we encourage you to read so that we don’t have to recount the problems with the whole SRO goat rodeo we previously identified.

From the perspective of taxpayers who see a District rife with neglected buildings and a recent history of suspect educational achievement, spending the money it will take to stick a revolving core of Officer Krupkes in each of the District’s two middle schools for 8-10 hours a week makes about as much sense as the millions it is spending on not-really-secure vestibules.

None whatsoever.

But we were alerted by one of our stringers to a post on Kathy (Panattoni) Meade’s Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners Group Facebook page – by Ginger Pennington – raising questions about the very concept of an SRO program in the light of the suicide earlier this year of a 16-year old Naperville North honor-roll student hours after being confronted by two school deans and a Naperville Police Dept. SRO about his cellphone audiotape of himself and a female classmate having a consensual sexual encounter.

Also on his cellphone: Photos of other partially nude girls and videos, according to Associated Press accounts.

The SRO reportedly told the teen that his cellphone contained what may be illegal “child pornography” that could result in his criminal prosecution and, if convicted, the requirement of registering as a sex offender. As we understand it, that’s a pretty accurate statement of the current law. The SRO reportedly also told the teen that the matter could be kept out of court if the teen cooperated.

After a reported 20-minute interview, the teen was told to wait in the student-services office until his mother arrived. But before she arrived her son left the school, walked up a nearby parking deck ramp to the fifth level, and jumped to his death – less than 3 hours after he had been called to the dean’s office.

Tragic? Absolutely. A needlessly permanent solution to a temporary problem, as youth suicides are so often described.

The result of legally-actionable misconduct by the school administrators and/or the SRO?

Yes, say the parents of the teen in their $5 million suit against the District in DuPage County Circuit Court – in which they allege that administrators ignored Illinois law requiring them to attempt to notify a student’s parents before conducting interviews such as the one in question.

The Naperville school district reportedly disagrees, but we’re betting a settlement is achieved before the district’s actual legal duties and possible breaches thereof ever go to a jury.

How does that play into the D-64 SRO narrative and Ms. Pennington’s concerns?

We’re not exactly sure.

But it’s got to be more than a coincidence that a December 22, 2017 Park Ridge Herald-Advocate story (“Second law firm to evaluate rules for officers to be stationed at District 64 middle schools”) reports that D-64 has paid the Lisle law firm of Ekl, Williams and Provenzale $2,500 to suggest revisions to the proposed SRO intergovernmental agreement between D-64 and the Village of Niles (for the SRO at Emerson Middle School), and between D-64 and the City of Park Ridge (for the SRO at Lincoln Middle School).

That’s the same law firm, led by prominent former DuPage County prosecutor Terry Ekl – who, back in 2008, was paid $75,000 to author the “Ekl Report” about problems in the Park Ridge Police Dept. under former chief Jeff Caudill – that is representing the parents of the Naperville student in their lawsuit.

There actually may be something worthwhile in the D-64 Board’s obtaining legal advice on such a significant issue from both specialized school district attorneys (such as the Board’s regular legal counsel) and from attorneys looking to blow holes in the school district attorneys’ arguments.

But the real problem here, as we noted in our August 31, 2017 post, is the whole notion of bringing SROs – police officers sworn to enforce child pornography laws, drug and alcohol laws, and smoking/vaping laws – into schools with the expectation that they will act like school administrators rather than law enforcement officers.

What research we’ve been able to do suggests that the benefits of SROs in school districts such as ours are anecdotal, at best. Yet Supt. Laurie “I’m the Boss!” Heinz reportedly has presented the idea as a clear and unqualified win/win for the District and the Police Department. That’s problematic.

It becomes even more problematic where, as we understand it, the real reason the SROs are being brought in is because the teachers and/or administrators at those schools aren’t willing or capable of maintaining order and discipline when left to their own devices.

Instead of “Officer Krupke,” maybe D-64 should be looking for no-nonsense coaches, teachers and administrators like the legendary Paterson (NJ) principal Joe (“Lean on Me”) Clark, Kristyn (“No-Nonsense Nurturing”) Klei Borrero, Richmond (CA) coach Ken (“Coach Carter”) Carter and St. Petersburg (FL) principal Nikita Reed.

Or anybody – other than sworn law enforcement officers – who won’t be terrified and intimidated by incorrigible 13-year old suburban punks.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Better Results Require Better Choices – Part II

12.26.17

Our previous post left off with our intrepid Library Board having lost one of its two finalist director candidates to the Palatine library – to which she was lured for the seemingly bargain price of $122,000 almost immediately after being designated a finalist here, notwithstanding a salary range for our Library’s directorship reportedly running from $101,558 to $142,181.

This post picks up the tale from that point.

Having been stood up by Ms. Dilger, the Board staged a public meet-and-greet session for sole finalist Aaron Skog on Monday evening, November 27, 2017, in the friendly confines of the Library’s lower-level meeting room. A number of residents attended, as is shown in the meeting minutes.

Skog put on his best dog-and-pony show, fielding questions from the audience with a surfeit of aplomb and a dearth of substance.

But a funny thing happed on the way to Skog’s offer.

After Board president Pat Lamb predictably moved to go into closed session to discuss Skog’s hiring, and Trustee Judy Rayborn predictably seconded it, Board treasurer Mike Reardon said that he would be voting against the closed session and suggested deferring any decision on Skog’s hiring for several days to give Board members a chance to think through the situation.

And then, in what can only be described as a pre-Christmas miracle, six of the eight assembled trustees – Karen Burkum, Steve Dobrilovic, Joe Egan, Garreth Kennedy, Josh Kiem and Mike Reardon (Char Foss-Eggemann MIA) – actually voted against the closed session.

Say whaaaaaaaaat?

We don’t recall Burkum, Dobrilovic or Kiem ever voting against a closed session, so the headline on that one has to read: “Trustees bite dog!”

Even such a mild slight, however, appears to have been was more than Skog could bear: Less than 24 hours later he withdrew his name – sending the Board and its hired-gun consultant, John Keister, back to square one.

At the Board’s December 19th meeting (and reportedly at Keister’s urging), the Board “surveyed” itself – an action of no legal validity, but something that Keister wanted – about what hiring activities should be conducted in secretive closed sessions rather than in sessions open to the public: (1) All initial interviews, “Closed,” 6 to 3; (2) the Board’s initial deliberations about those candidates for purposes of cutting down the field, “Closed,” 5 to 4; (3) the Board’s deliberations about the finalists following a public forum (like was held on November 27 for Skog), “Open,” 5 to 4; and all discussions of salary and “negotiating strategy,” “Closed,” 6 to 3.

Only Trustees Egan, Foss-Eggemann and Reardon voted against the secretive closed sessions on all four issues. Conversely, Trustees Burkum, Dobrilovic, Kiem and Rayborn voted for all four closed sessions. Trustee Kennedy voted against closed sessions as to (2) and (3). And Trustee Lamb voted against closed sessions as to (3).

Although that “survey” is legally meaningless, Kiem touted the results as “an act of good faith” on which Keister can, and will, tell the candidates they can rely – even though none of these four results are necessarily in the best interest of the taxpayers. And expect to hear that “good faith” argument loudly raised by Kiem and others when the actual closed-session votes come up for each of those steps of the hiring process.

Yes, the Board will have to emerge from those closed-session discussions to actually vote in open session. But that’s the absolute barest minimum of transparency that they can legally get away with under the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”), so hold your applause.

Frankly, without that IOMA requirement, we’d bet a tidy sum that at least 5 members of the closed-session majority (the possible exception being Kennedy) would gladly hold the actual votes themselves in closed session – before sending wafts of white smoke out of the Library’s chimney to signal the clueless taxpayers that we have a new Library director.

“Habemus directorem!”

Shortly before the Board’s December 19 meeting, this blog’s editor sent an e-mail to all the Board members urging them to reject closed sessions for these vital actions. Having read the meeting minutes of the Board’s December 11, 2017 personnel committee meeting, however, this editor knew the outcome was already foreordained – Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability (“H.I.T.A.”) be damned, just like they are almost everywhere else in Illinois government. Which, not surprisingly, explains in no small part why Illinois is the banana republic of the United States.

With only three Trustees committed to H.I.T.A. and another three apparently thinking it’s “Bulls-H.I.T.A” – according to Park Ridge Park Board member and situational-socialist Cindy Grau – there’s no reason to expect H.I.T.A.-inspired majorities from this Library Board, notwithstanding that one aberrational “Trustees bite dog!” vote on November 27.

Just like there’s no reason to expect H.I.T.A.-inspired majorities on many/most Illinois governmental bodies, starting with the toadies who roam the halls of our state capital constantly hoping for the slightest glimmer of recognition by their anti-H.I.T.A. lord and master, The Speaker, Darth Madigan.

So our Library Board is back at square one, still under the thumb of consultant Keister – who may have a keister-full of undisclosed conflicts of interest every bit as problematic as the one he had with Park Ridge and Palatine over candidate Dilger. Whether he discloses them or not remains to be seen.

Depending, of course, on whether the Library Board chooses to hide from the taxpayers in yet another sightless, soundless closed session.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Better Results Require Better Choices

12.15.17

On June 12, 2017, then-Library Director Janet Van De Carr advised the Park Ridge Library Board that she would retire after 37 years with the Library, the last 17 as executive director.

That sent the Library Board on a search for Van De Carr’s replacement. Meanwhile, despite the trepidation of several Board members, the Board entrusted the Library’s management to two senior staffers to serve as acting directors on an interim basis.

And guess what? For the past six months the Library has continued to run smoothly.

Just like the Children’s Dept. continued to run smoothly after supervisor Kelly Durov noisily resigned in September 2015 to take a higher-paying position with another library – and then lambasted the Library Board for having the gall to demand transparency and accountability from then-director Van De Carr and the Library staff. That caused certain patrons and Library staffers to wail and gnash their teeth over what woes would befall that department and the children.

Those woes turned out to be…none. Bupkes. Zero. Zip. Nada.

But government bureaucracies being what they are, and thinking outside the box being anathema to bureaucrats, the Library Board embarked on a conventional search for a new full-time director. It hired an executive search firm that bills itself as specializing in library personnel: John Keister & Associates (“We Help Libraries Hire Exceptional Leaders”), a family business that seems to have cornered the Chicagoland market for this particular employment niche.

So the Library (a/k/a, the taxpayers) paid $16,000 to Keister to find and screen “qualified” candidates. It signed his Keister-friendly “Executive Search Proposal” – in lieu of a fair and balanced bi-lateral contract – that we can’t believe the Library’s attorneys (if they even were consulted) would have approved.

We understand that Keister attempted to un-nerve the Board with warnings of how the Park Ridge Library had acquired a toxic reputation among the librarian fraternity/sorority throughout the area, presumably because of the way its Board had begun: (a) challenging the director and staff on actual performance metrics and holding them accountable for their performance; (b) televising/videotaping meetings; (c) publishing its Board packets online so the taxpayers could see them in advance of meetings; (d) actually charging non-residents for premium Library usage like computers and program attendance (How terrible!); and (d) charging tutors and other for-profit businesses for using the Library as their taxpayer-funded office space (Heresy!).

Ironically, a few years ago Park Ridge’s then-mayor, Dave Schmidt, and the then-City Council reportedly acquired a “toxic” reputation after they sacked city manager Jim Hock in 2012 for with a no-confidence vote and a laundry list of performance fails. He was followed by Shawn Hamilton, who jumped ship one step ahead of another performance review that likely would have weighed, measured, and found him wanting.

But guess what?

The City turned to finance supt. Joe Gilmore. And, so far, Gilmore has proven himself a superior city manager to both of his two most immediate predecessors – and light years ahead of Tim Schuenke, the prince of darkness whose incompetence was exceeded only by his deceptiveness, both of which flaws were not only tolerated but even rewarded for more than a decade by mayors Ron Wietecha, Mike Marous and Howard Frimark, along with their complicit councils.

That was before Schmidt introduced H.I.T.A. to City government, a concept that even made some inroads at the Library over the past few years.

But transparency and accountability aren’t what a headhunter like Keister is about. His thing is generating fees while maintaining and gaining influence – the influence that comes from placing modestly-talented bureaucrats in secure, over-paid public jobs with Cadillac pensions, thereby creating a pool of once-and-future job seekers who not only become Keister’s captive “inventory” but are also beholden to him for their future job moves.

He reportedly insisted on controlling the hiring process if our toxic Library was to have any chance of landing a qualified director. And the Library Board bent to his will: It screened the four finalists in the secretive closed session Keister demanded before choosing the two finalists: Jeannie Dilger, the executive director of the LaGrange public library, and Aaron Skog, the executive director of a library consortium known as SWAN.

Board president Pat Lamb acknowledged Keister’s secretive preferences in a Park Ridge Herald-Advocate article on the subject (“After candidates withdraw, Park Ridge Library Board starts over on leadership search,” December 6), saying that Keister was “very concerned that candidates are not comfortable with some of the things that we do in open session versus what other libraries may do in open session.” That’s because most bureaucrats despise transparency and accountability.

Despite the Board’s accommodations to most of what Keister wanted, one of his two finalists – Jeannie Dilger, the executive director of the LaGrange library – dropped out almost immediately to accept a $122,000 offer from the Palatine library? (which serves 90,000 patrons).

Guess who was running the Palatine library’s director search?

Yep.

And guess who reportedly didn’t disclose to our Library Board that he was serving at least two masters?

Yep.

But that’s barely the half of this farce. We’ll share the other half in our next post.

To read or post comments, click on title.