Public Watchdog.org

D-64 Board Charges Taxpayers To Pay Parents…And Themselves?

07.21.14

The main reason we have boards of elected officials overseeing all those paid-to-play bureaucrats who operate our various local governmental bodies on a day-to-day basis is to ensure that the taxpayers who pay the bills are getting fair value for their money.

One of the reasons we have been highly critical of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 is because it keeps on hammering the taxpayers with ever-escalating teacher and administrator pay, and ever-escalating per-pupil costs, without any commensurate increase in student performance as measured by those standardized tests our teachers and administrators love to hate.

Worse yet, D-64 is the principal “feeder” school system for Maine South, which has seen its academic ranking drop from the top-5 around 1990 to the mid-20s – suggesting that D-64’s under-performance may be contributing to Maine South’s decline, despite the latter’s own escalating teacher, administrator and per-pupil costs.

Against that backdrop comes last week’s flip-flop decision by the D-64 Board to have the taxpayers pick up the tab for $500,000 of Chromebooks for its middle school (grades 6-8) students. That half-million is in addition to the cost of Chromebooks and other tech hardware for grades K-5 added to the taxpayers’ tab in April in connection with Board approval of the District’s “1:1 Technology Initiative.”

According to the District’s announcement on its website, this Chromebook-fueled initiative is “a further investment in student learning.” But don’t expect the Board to identify any measurable return on investment (“ROI”) from this latest $500,000 tech buy. D-64 has a long history of disdain for objective performance measurements, so this Board wasn’t about to require measurable ROIs for which its members, the administrators, and/or the teachers might be held accountable.

Shifting this $500,000 expense from middle school parents to the taxpayers at large ostensibly was based on the July 14, 2014 Updated Recommendation of D-64’s new Director of Innovation & Instructional Technology, Mary Jane Warden. Like almost everything that comes out of D-64 these days, however, it reads like it was quarried, cut, polished and set by the District’s minister of disinformation, Bernadette Tramm: phrases like “an exciting 21st Century Learning Plan” and a “21st century learning ecosystem” with “appropriate controls [on Chromebook use] in order to establish classroom and cultural expectations” are classic Tramm-a-ganda.

“Learning ecosystem”? “Cultural expectations”? C’mon!

Back on April 28th the Board approved the 1:1 Learning Initiative by a one-vote majority: Heyde, Zimmerman, Lee and Cameron v. Borrelli, Paterno and Collins. For reasons that appear to have been arbitrary and purely political rather than policy-based, however, that resolution included “cost-sharing” that hit the taxpayers for the cost of the Grades K-5 devices but had middle school parents paying for their kids’ Chromebooks.  And with typical D-64 secrecy the relevant portion of those meeting minutes discloses nothing – NADA – about either the total cost of the new devices or the costs to the taxpayers and parents, respectively.

The “political” nature of that arbitrary April baby-splitting exercise, however, was confirmed with last Monday’s do-over vote, which demonstrates how D-64 blithely increases spending just because it has the money to do so.

In this case, a mid-year budget review by the District’s $200,000/year wonder girl, business manager Rebecca Allard, revealed that the year-end deficit she had projected had somehow morphed into a surplus of $1.7 million. Given the spend-and-spend-some-more mindset at D-64, the effect of that kind of revelation was tantamount to a drunk stumbling out of a tavern with an empty wallet, only to discover a crumpled hundred in his coat pocket.

So with that newly-found $1.7 million burning a hole in their pockets, the Board members promptly shifted the responsibilty for that $500,000 of middle school Chromebooks from the parents to the taxpayers by a 5-1 vote (Zimmerman absent).

Dan Collins cast the only “no” vote and was the only Board member who expressed any concern about the taxpayers funding what effectively are $322-per-Chromebook gifts to middle school parents. Notably, Collins also was the only Board member to identify himself as the parent of kids in D-64. So his “no” votes back in April and last week not only could be viewed as pro-taxpayer but also were against his own economic self-interest, to the tune of $644 worth of Chromebooks for his two kids.

Collins’ disclosure and his “no” votes got us thinking about the other Board members who have children in D-64 schools, specifically whether 5 of them may have had conflicts of interest when they voted last Monday to shift Chromebook costs from parents to the taxpayers – and maybe also back in April when 4 of them voted to place the costs of the Grades K-5 computing devices on the taxpayers instead of the parents.

Shouldn’t those Board members with children in the District’s schools have abstained from voting in favor of something that would directly benefit them economically?  Or, at the very least, shouldn’t Board members announce before voting that they have children in the District’s schools and will directly benefit financially by how they cast their votes?  Isn’t that what the taxpayers deserve from their elected officials?

Didn’t these Board members comprehend the possibility of such conflicts of economic interest, or is it that they just didn’t care?

It can’t be that they considered $322 per Chromebook such a nominal amount as to be irrelevant, especially with Borrelli quoted in a Park Ridge Herald-Advocate article as having “felt the addition of the fee of the computer on top of student fees was going to be a burden for some folks.” (“District 64 to pay for student Chromebooks,” July 18) Unfortunately, he produced no data or other evidence to prove that what he “felt” was actually true and not just misplaced empathy for the greedy impersonating the needy.

If there are parents who truly can’t afford to buy Chromebooks for their middle school kids, why not let them petition the District for financial assistance and demonstrate the legitimacy of their hardship claims with sworn financial statements and signed income tax returns? Or let the Elementary Learning Foundation (“ELF”) help out?

But, as best as we can tell, means-testing wasn’t even discussed - perhaps because these Board members are afraid of the vocal minority who demand free Chromebooks because the $13,000+ per kid worth of education they’re already getting for the $2-3-4-5,000 they pay in property taxes to D-64 just isn’t a good enough ROI for them.  And maybe because these Board members are simply dismissive of the battered and beleaguered taxpayers for whom THEY are supposed to be looking out.

Or have these Board members simply become so financially jaded that they view $500,000 as just another slice off a cut loaf that won’t be missed?

To read or post comments, click on title.

Referendum Demands The Whole Truth About The Library

07.17.14

Years ago, the late Sen. Patrick Moynihan said: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

Making up one’s own “facts” – by editing or manipulating accurate information, or by fabricating information out of whole cloth – has been an especially pernicious problem in government, where it often seems like the bureaucrats and politicians are brazenly trying to mislead the very people they’re supposed to be representing and working for.

In the world of government and politics, truth is usually a scarce commodity.

The recognized benchmark in this country for getting at the truth is the oath by which a person swears to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. To many people these seem to be redundant pledges, but all of them are essential to the task of truth-seeking because they each play a separate but important role.

“The truth” is an accurate factual account of what the witness experienced. “The whole truth” means not leaving out any relevant material facts above and beyond the core “truth.” And “nothing but the truth” means not including any untruths in addition to the whole truth.

A fairly recent article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Park Ridge library chief: Fees for DVDs, activities aren’t answer for budget cuts,” June 27) illustrates how the public can be misled when public officials don’t provide the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth – especially when the reporter is unfamiliar with the substance of what he is reporting and doesn’t adequately investigate.

The article basically parrots information released by the Park Ridge Library in the form of two reports intended to demonstrate that charging certain types of user fees would not generate enough net revenue to make it a worthwhile undertaking. The two reports in question – the June 12, 2014 “Library Revenue for DVDs and Video Games” report, and the June 13, 2014 “Fees for Programs” report – contain enough deficiencies that we have identified the more flagrant ones with annotations that should be self-explanatory.

The first report violates the “nothing but the truth” test in several respects. Item C, for example, raises a question of discrimination based on the means/needs of users, even though the Library staff has never attempted to ascertain the means/needs of its patrons. Similarly, Item D suggests a “trickle-down effect” of the Library on Uptown businesses, even though the Library staff has never attempted to quantify the amount of revenue, if any, Library users generate for Uptown merchants ancillary to their Library usage.

The second report, on the other hand, contains several violations of the “whole truth” requirement. Items 1 through 4 fail to mention that the Library’s revenue calculations based on a universe of 182 programs ignores the fact that the Library actually offers over 900 programs, for which it isn’t even considering trying to generate revenue from more than 700 of them. In other words, the report’s attendance and revenue projections are rigged to reflect a mere 20% of the potential program revenue that might be generated if all programs were included.

And, as with the other report, this one asks (at Item 6) whether attendance will decline if any fee at all is charged – without addressing the question of how the Library can justify committing its limited resources to presenting programs so bereft of value that attendees won’t even pay a $1 admission fee.

Another “whole truth” missing from both reports is that the Library Director and a majority of the previous Library Board voiced such strong philosophical objections to charging user fees that they preferred to see the Library dark and shuttered for 14 Sundays this summer rather than charge modest user fees for such things as program attendance and log-ins on the Library’s computers.  And we pointed out in our 04.14.14 and 05.29.14 posts how those summer Sunday closings proposed by the Library’s senior staff were a political, rather than a facility/budget management, decision.

The 62,414 computer log-ins during FY2013-14 would have raised over $60,000 at just $1 per log-in. Even if one-half of those users were to choose to waste their time and gas money driving to the Des Plaines or Niles libraries to avoid paying that $1 fee here in Park Ridge (where the Kinko’s on Northwest Highway charges $18 per hour for computer usage), the remaining 31,207 uses would still have generated enough revenue to have covered the cost of this summer’s Sunday operations and half of next summer’s Sundays.

The same result might have been achieved by charging as little as a $1 admission fee for ALL Library programs, for which attendance hit a five-year record of 30,213 during FY2013-14.

Unfortunately, all that fee revenue information was missing from the Library’s two reports and, therefore, from the H-A story.  And that kept the H-A story from telling its readers the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about user fees and how they could have been used to make the Library more accessible to the community this summer, and better overall.

As the Library gears up for its first referendum in 12 years – this November, to raise property taxes to maintain the current level of Library materials and services, and to restore some materials and services that were cut in recent years for budgetary reasons – taxpayers should demand the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth when considering the information that will be disseminated relative to that referendum.

Because, as Thomas Jefferson understood: “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.”

To read or post comments, click on title.

Park Board Approves Unseen Contract “The Mountcastle Way”

07.10.14

Would you sign a multi-million dollar contract to employ a number of people for several years without reading it closely and carefully?

Neither would we.

But that appears to be what four of our elected Park Ridge Park District commissioners – Board president Mel Thillens and commissioners Joan Bende, Richard Brandt and Mary Wynn Ryan – did at a “special meeting” on June 26th that mysteriously started at 5:30 p.m. rather than the Park District’s customary 7:30 kick-off for Board meetings.

That odd kick-off time, alone, should have raised a question about what was going on. Another attention grabber should have been the Agenda, which consisted primarily of 4 innocuous-sounding amendments to the District’s personnel and administrative policies that didn’t seem to implicate any sense of urgency worthy of a “special” meeting.  Until Item 7, which should have been the red flag.

“Closed Session.”

Those two words on a local government meeting agenda should be viewed by every taxpayer as interchangeable with “WARNING!” and “DANGER!”

If you’re looking for something kinky in any local government meeting, you’ll rarely go wrong by investigating closed sessions. That’s where scheming bureaucrats and feckless elected officials run and hide anytime they’re trying to conceal things from the taxpayers – even though the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”) doesn’t require closed sessions for anything, or require that anything said or done in closed session be treated as secret or confidential. And because bureaucrats and politicians hate it when anybody points that out about IOMA, we take every opportunity to do so.

Defenders of closed session usually argue that any “official action” (i.e., a vote) resulting from closed-session maneuvering still must be taken in an “open” meeting after the closed session, which is true as far as it goes. But often that public vote is on some vague-sounding motion or resolution that reveals little, if anything, to the average listener about the substance of what actually is taking place – or what took place in the closed session.

In this case, the Park Board’s “Closed Session” agenda item carried no reference to the IOMA section under which it was being conducted, so Item 8 served as the only hint: “Reconvene…to take action, if any, on the matter of approval of a collective bargaining agreement between the Park Ridge Park District and Service Employees International Union Local #73.”

What collective bargaining agreement, you might ask?

Who knows? No collective bargaining agreement/contract was part of the Board packet published on the District’s website on June 26, and none is there even now as this post is being published.  And if that’s not bad enough, watch the Special Meeting video and you will discover that the Board hadn’t seen it, either!

If that sounds to you a lot like Nancy Pelosi telling Congress it needed to vote on the ACA before its members could read the whole act – which has become known in some circles as “The Pelosi Way” – you’re not alone.

At the 10:49 mark of the meeting video Thillens moved to go into closed session to discuss the collective bargaining agreement. Biagi immediately voiced an objection to the closed session, however, which started a 7-minute discussion during which Thillens, several staff members and the District’s counsel tap-danced around what they could/should and couldn’t/shouldn’t say in open session; and whether they could run into closed session any time something problematic popped up.

It was during that discussion that Commissioner Mary Wynn Ryan asked the $64,000 question:

“What is more important, transparency or getting the best deal for the taxpayers?”

While it’s a great question, it causes us to wonder whether Ryan thinks those two things are mutually exclusive?  Or was she just buying into the “sizzle” being sold by the bureaucrats who negotiated the new contract, H.R. Director Diane DiGangi and Building & Grounds Supt. Terry Wolf (in whose department most of the SEIU-represented employees work), who self-servingly (?) proclaimed it “a great contract” and seemed to suggest that it might somehow be jeopardized without immediate Board approval?

Ryan’s question was initially answered at the 18:10 mark of the video, when the Board voted 4 (Commissioners Thillens, Biagi, Ryan and Brandt) to 1 (Commissioner Bende, with Commissioners O’Brien and Phillips absent) against going into closed session.

That led to about 35 minutes of open-session discussions during which we learned, among other things, that the SEIU wanted to dump three positions from its bargaining unit, thereby perhaps costing those employees their jobs.  Dumping bargaining unit members is almost unheard-of because most unions normally push the limits of the law to add members to their bargaining units. But further along in that discussion it came out that those employees being dumped favored the decertification of SEIU as the bargaining unit’s representative.

So much for how the SEIU deals with dissent in its ranks.

But that must have been just a bit too much transparency for the Board, including Ryan, because at the 52:10 mark Biagi inexplicably made a motion to go into…you guessed it!…closed session. And despite no explanation of why closed session was desired, the Board voted 5-0 to run and hide.

When the Board members emerged approximately 25 minutes later they promptly voted 4 (Thillens, Bende, Brandt and Ryan) to 1 (Biagi) to approve the contract they apparently still hadn’t read, before adjourning.

What went on during that 25-minute closed session is a mystery. We assume it involved the contract that the Board at that point still hadn’t seen. But unless the Board votes to make the recording and/or the minutes of the closed session public, we likely will never know what was said and done in that closed session.

We sincerely hope the contract the Park Board approved in such a NON-“transparent” fashion truly turns out to be the “great contract” DiGangi and Wolf insisted it is. But voting to approve a multi-year collective bargaining agreement without seeing the final contract, and without giving the taxpayers an opportunity to read and comment on it before it is voted on, is a totally horse-bleep way to do The People’s business.

And since such an insult to transparent government occurred under the watchful eye, if not at the behest of, the Park District’s executive director, we’ve got a name for it:

“The Mountcastle Way.”

To read or post comments, click on title.

And When They Get Behind Closed Doors…Then They’ll Let Their Hair Hang Down (Updated)

07.07.14

Beginning at 6:00 p.m. tonight the Board of the Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 will interview 8 applicants to fill the seat recently vacated by former Board member Terry Cameron.

The original field consisted of 12 applicants, although D-64 has not explained why or how that field was reduced to the final 8: Vicki Loise, Kristin Gruss, Jennifer Kuzminski, Kimberly Miller, Patrick Moon, Holly Schneider, Katherine Ranalli, and Robert Johnson.  Their names are, literally, all we know about them, even though the interviews are only 4 hours from kick-off.

Why?

Because despite all sorts of claims to the contrary, D-64 remains the closest thing to a secret society among any of our four local governmental bodies – thanks in large part to its minister of disinformation and propaganda, Bernadette Tramm, and a complicit School Board that seems to equate anything less than a total information blackout with crystal-clear, well-lit transparency.

How did we find out the names of these finalists? Not from the D-64 website but from a story that was published in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate at 11:40 this morning – “District 64 School Board conducting open meeting to select new member” – barely more than six hours in advance of the meeting at which those 8 finalists will be interviewed in what D-64 is billing as a “public” hearing.

Except that the only “public” part of it will be the applicant interviews themselves.

Once those are over, the six remaining Board members will disappear into…wait for it…closed session “to deliberate and possibly select the new board member,” according to the H-A article.  Secret deliberations are the way D-64 has always rolled.

That’s where the horse-trading and deal-making will go on, well beyond the eyes and ears of the taxpayers and the press who should be entitled to see and hear, either in person or on videotape, every last word of those deliberations - because the person getting Cameron’s old seat will be getting a free pass from the kind of public scrutiny an actual candidate for that office, including Cameron, endures during the course of a normal political campaign. The press and those taxpayers also should get to hear all the reasons for and against each candidate, and get to know which reasons came from which of the six board members.

But D-64 is Chinatown, Jake.  It doesn’t operate out in the open.

In fact, D-64 so revels in its culture of secrecy that, as of 2:00 p.m. today, we still couldn’t find any of the applications for those 8 finalists – or the 4 applicants who mysteriously dropped (or were dropped) out of the running – either on the D-64 website or on the H-A website. So much for any members of the public or the press being able to show up at 164 South Prospect at 6:00 p.m. with even the barest minimum of information from those applications or from the applicants’ answers to three questions which reportedly were sent to them on July 1 and were due back to the District by 6:00 p.m. on July 5, right smack in the middle of the 3-day 4th of July holiday weekend.

The questions:

1. What do you perceive to be the most pressing challenge that District 64 faces and what ideas or strengths would you bring to the Board, if appointed?

2. Additionally, what do you feel is a particular strength of the District and why?

3. Should you be selected, how have you or will you prepare for this position?

Frankly, we’re not impressed with the breadth or the depth of these questions, which seem like they were thrown together between a trip to the grocery store and the beginning of a World Cup game.  We also have to wonder how much more insight into the candidates’ knowledge, views and philosophy of public education can be gained in the scheduled 15-minute interviews, given the shallowness of these initial inquiries and the cumulative 500-word limitation on the answers to all three questions.

But in the end we suspect that, like so many of the ostensibly “public” things D-64 does, those interviews will be more for show than for dough.  The really important stuff will take place where those taxpayers who contribute one-third of their property taxes each year to D-64 won’t get to see or hear it.

Behind closed doors.

UPDATE (07.09.14) D-64 reports that its Board has selected Robert Johnson of Park Ridge to fill the Terry Cameron vacancy.

Johnson has an undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame and an MBA from the University of Chicago’s Booth School.  He is a senior vice president at Northern Trust who manages relationships with non-profit organizations, including universities, foundations and endowments.  He is the father of an Emerson 8th grader and two D-64 graduates, and previously served on the elected board of a Chicago parochial school.

More information can be found at: http://www.d64.org/news/District-64-Board-of-Education-to-Appoint-Robert-Johnson-to-Vacant-Seat.cfm

To read or post comments, click on title.

Celebrating “Life, Liberty, And The Pursuit Of Happiness”

07.04.14

Every person who calls him/herself an “American” knows, or should know, that the Declaration of Independence was drafted principally by Thomas Jefferson, with a little help from his friends: Benjamin Franklin and John Adams.

That Declaration lays out a series of grievances against the king of England, while also stating what some historians have called the “American creed”: the natural right to political independence and self-governance based on the consent of the governed – which right, in turn, is founded on the individual human rights to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Years later, Jefferson wrote that these principles were the common-sense “expression of the American mind” – an expression clearly unique to its time and place, yet ultimately transcendent of both.

Two hundred thirty-eight years later, those principles still serve as the cornerstone of our republican form of government, embodied in a Constitution that has required the sustenance of only 27 amendments, 10 of which form the Bill of Rights enacted within two years of the Constitution’s ratification.

This country’s Founders were not without personal flaws, most of which have already been well-documented and critiqued. For example, although the initial draft Declaration presented to the Continental Congress by the “Committee of Five” (Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston) included a condemnation of Britain for introducing the slave trade to the colonies, that passage was rejected by a combination of northern and southern representatives – the former because of economic interests in the slave trade itself, the latter because of the use of slaves to maintain their agricultural economies.

But despite their flaws, they were exceptional men who fortuitously came together at the same time and in the same place to chart a new course of human existence, growth and development unequalled before or since. And they did it at mortal risk to themselves, their families and their friends.

How many of us, finding ourselves in a sultry Philadelphia during the summer of 1776, would have pledged “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor” in support of the Declaration’s principles?

How many of would do so today?

To read or post comments, click on title.

The Uncertain Effects Of Dropping EAVs

06.30.14

If you read the local papers last week, two headlines might have grabbed your attention: “Property Values Here Take A Hit” (Park Ridge Journal, June 25); and “Park Ridge city taxes could rise more than 16 percent (Park Ridge Herald-Advocate, June 26).

According to those articles, City Finance Director Kent Oliven is reporting that the numbers coming out of the Cook County Clerk’s office show a 17.8% drop in the equalized assessed value (“EAV”) of all Park Ridge property collectively. That’s the biggest drop of any taxing body in Cook County, and it is accompanied by Maine Township’s having the largest drop of any Cook County township.

Solely for comparison purposes, Niles’ EAV dropped 14%, Glenview’s 11.6% and Des Plaines’ 16.8%. And the average drop for the entire group of northern Cook County suburbs subject to the triennial reassessment of values for the years 2010 through 2012 was 12.8%.

One saving grace, according to Oliven, is that some of Park Ridge’s larger new developments – like the new Whole Foods store – do not appear to have been counted as part of the 2013 reassessment.  But, according to Oliven, the EAV of properties within the Uptown TIF have “fallen more than the rest of the city” throughout the past decade, and he expects that to be the case this time around as well.

What does that mean for the typical Park Ridge homeowner?

If we’re lucky, perhaps nothing.

Viewed in the most simple way, the City and our other local governmental bodies still need to collect a certain number of tax dollars to operate. So if the value of the taxable property declines, the tax levy rate needs to increase to produce the same tax revenues. Conversely, when the EAV goes up, a smaller levy rate can generate the same amount of tax dollars.

So if each of our local governmental bodies operated the “wise and frugal” government Thomas Jefferson envisioned and advocated, both the new EAV and the resultant new levy to be passed this December would probably be little more than a footnote – with a higher levy being assessed on a lower EAV. But as we keep on pointing out, none of our local governing bodies appear to be all that “wise” or all that “frugal” – although the City in recent years seems to have been doing a better job than the other local governmental bodies, especially the two school districts that keep spending and spending with no increases in objectively measurable performance vis-à-vis the upper-echelon comparable communities to show for it.

And despite the Park District seemingly doing a good job at aligning its operating expenses with its operating revenues over the past few years, we’re hoping “no” but betting “yes” that the debt service for the new non-referendum Centennial water park and the new referendum-based Youth Campus Park will start turning the District’s black ink into red.

But that likely won’t happen until most, if not all, of the current Park Board members responsible for both projects have left the Board; and until the mastermind of those projects, Director Gayle Mountcastle, has either leveraged her dubious achievement into a move to another District, or retired.

That’s what occurred with the perpetrators of the Uptown TIF who ordered the whole menu of bonded debt and subsidies for the private developers, then disappeared into private life while sticking the taxpayers with the bill – and leaving Mayor Schmidt and the current Council to unravel the mess and take the public shelling for all the bad financial news about the TIF and its adverse effects on the rest of the City’s activities like flood control.

It reminds us of that line from the movie “Under Siege,” where the Tommy Lee Jones character (a former CIA agent) succinctly explains his going rogue on the U.S. with: “I got tired of coming up with last-minute desperate solutions to impossible problems created by other [%$#@ing] people.”

The Uptown TIF may not be an “impossible” problem, but it’s unlikely to be solved in any better way than through one of those hold-your-nose deals that are becoming increasingly familiar to Illinois residents as they struggle to cope with the effects of at least 30 years of virtually non-stop corrupt governance by the likes of Mike Madigan, his Democratic toadies in control of the General Assembly, and the occasional Republican accomplices like former Govs. Thompson, Edgar and Ryan.

With the Uptown TIF, we can only hope that it was merely a stupid idea.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Measure Public-Sector Compensation With Private-Sector Benchmarks

06.25.14

Once, just once, we’d like to see somebody, A-N-Y-B-O-D-Y, in a management position within one of our four main local governmental bodies actually offer something insightful and constructive about how to compensate their – or, more correctly, OUR – public employees.

And we don’t mean by simply increasing the previous year’s pay by the cost of living, or by some arbitrary percentage.

Heck, we’d even offer a trophy for the accomplishment, something at least as tall, shiny and expensive as those silly faux self-esteem “participation” trophies given to kids just for showing up – or sometimes even just for signing up – for a sport or activity.

Unfortunately, City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton won’t be winning any trophy this year, judging by his “Compensation Study” dated June 23, 2014 – the basic premise of which is that the best way to determine fair and reasonable compensation for our public employees is to look at what other communities are paying their public employees.

That kind of thinking is seriously flawed because it assumes three key facts not in evidence: (1) that what other communities are paying their employees actually is fair and reasonable for those communities, rather than inflated amounts; (2) assuming it is, that the job duties and conditions of specific positions in those other communities are directly comparable to specific positions in our community; and (3), assuming they are, that such “comparable” compensation is fair, reasonable and affordable for our community and its taxpayers.

Interestingly enough, Hamilton’s Agenda Cover Memorandum suggests that his own study fails to satisfy all three of those criteria, as he writes:

“Not all the communities [in the study] are of similar size, nor would each community be considered comparable to our City. In addition, employees with similar job titles do not necessarily perform the same duties and may be treated differently for overtime purposes in some instances.”

So what’s the point, Shawn? Did you set up that compensation study as one of your goals for this just-concluded fiscal year, and then figured you had to provide some kind of deliverable no matter how worthless it might actually be?

Setting appropriate public employee compensation has become more difficult in the past decade or two, as the membership and power of public-sector unions has far outstripped that of their private-sector counterparts. The union-directed wages and benefits also have trickled down to the non-union employees, who seem to keep getting raises for nothing more than holding their jobs for another year – as do their counterparts in neighboring communities, presumably because all the bureaucrats managing those staffs sing from the same hymnal.

Which is why the idea of basing what we pay on what other communities pay is just plain foolish.

First of all, does anybody but our own public employees think they are being paid too little and/or receiving too few benefits?  If so, can you identify the City (or D-64, or D-207, or Park District) employees who have voluntarily left their employment here to accept a comparable position in any of those neighboring communities – and by “neighboring” we mean the greater Chicagoland metropolitan area?

We can’t think of many. In fact, we can’t think of ANY.

Second, the pay and benefits our community offers its public employees should be viewed in light of the fact that when any public-sector jobs open up here, there reportedly are far more than enough quality applicants, especially for police and fire jobs.

And why not? Not only is the pay good, but the work isn’t all that difficult or dangerous, relatively speaking. For example, our police don’t have to ride herd on groups of gang-bangers shooting it out every Saturday night in front of the Pickwick, or play real-life Grand Theft Auto; and with no building other than Lutheran General topping 5-stories, firemen don’t have to worry about battling prospective Towering Infernos.

That’s not meant to disrespect either department but, rather, to highlight how fortunate we (and they) are to be living and/or working in such a safe and affluent community – one where the crime rate actually keeps dropping to the point where Location, Inc., a leading location-based data and risk analysis firm, last year ranked Park Ridge the 72nd-safest community in the nation, based on the number of reported property crimes and violent crimes per 1,000 residents in 2011.

In light of these happy facts, we have a suggestion for Mr. Hamilton:

Instead of wasting time studying what neighboring communities pay their employees, try studying what it would cost the City to outsource as many of these services as possible. And once you’ve done that, correlate those costs with the fully-loaded (i.e., including the costs of pensions, sick days, vacation days, uniform allowances, etc.) costs of the City’s in-house people who currently provide those services, to determine what the economic differential is between in-house and out-sourced.

We can’t find anything in the Illinois statutes, or in the City Code, that requires all of these services to be performed by City employees.  So with the Uptown TIF albatross chained around the City’s neck for at least another 11 years, multi-millions of dollars of flood remediation to be done, and the recent report that Park Ridge’s collective property value has dropped 17.8%, all City costs need to be put on the table if our community is to stay afloat financially without extremely painful tax increases.

That’s why the “this-is-the-way-we’ve-always-done-it” management style of years gone by no longer cuts it. If City taxpayers can’t get the best price AND the best value from the current system of in-house public employee staffs, then it’s time to look at private-sector alternatives.

Maybe exploring the private-sector option will show that we’re already getting a bargain from our public employees.  Maybe not.  But it’s time for an outside-the-box approach to what has become a chronic problem of ever-increasing personnel costs with no end in sight.

And if our $155,000/year City Mgr. – who just happens to be the third lowest-paid city/village manager on his list of 27 comparable communities – can’t figure that out on his own, then it’s high time the Mayor and City Council told him so.

In no uncertain terms.

To read or post comments, click on title.

The Time Is Now To Step Up For Change At School Dist. 64

06.22.14

For those of you who are regular readers of this blog, you know that we write a majority of our posts about City of Park Ridge government.

One reason for that is that City government is the most transparent of the four principle local governments; i.e., City, Park District, D-64 and D-207. Another reason is that the issues are generally easier to understand, and because the current mayor and many of the current aldermen seem to try to simplify them more than do their counterparts running the other governmental bodies.

But the City represents only about 10% of our property tax dollars, while the two school districts combine to take almost a 70% bite and the Park District grabs around 5%.

So today we’re going to take a look at D-64 – specifically the topic of a June 17 article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate titled “District 64 school board approves 112 salary hikes, kills bonus program” – which reports that 112 D-64 staff members will get raises ranging from 2% to 3.75%, costing D-64 taxpayers approximately $157,000.

Why?

What have those administrators done that has measurably improved the quality of education at D-64?  What have they done to deliver even the same quality of education more cost-effectively?

Don’t expect to have those questions answered if you watch the video of the June 9, 2014 D-64 Board meeting.

If you jump to the 15:09 mark and watch to 42:15 , you will see the Board vote on 6 salary increases and one bonus payment, 5 of which were passed with barely a whisper of discussion by the Board members. And although Business Mgr. Rebecca Allard claimed the raises were tied to both performance and the Consumer Price Index (“CPI”), as best as we can tell only the $40,636 in raises for “Building and District Administrators” and the $18,500 of “Merit Awards” were anything even arguably merit-based.

All $18,500 of “Merit Awards” – including the $2,000 award departing Supt. Phil Bender tried to toss Allard’s way for alleged “exemplary performance and leadership” – were cancelled by a 4 (Board president Tony Borrelli, Dathan Paterno, Terry Cameron & Vickie Lee) to 2 (John Heyde & Scott Zimmerman, predictably) vote of the Board. But at least each of the proposed recipients of those awards, and the amount of his/her proposed award, was specifically identified in a June 9 memo of Supt. Phil Bender.

Neither the recipients nor the individual amounts of the $40,636 of raises passed by a 5-1 vote (Borrelli the only dissenter), however, were identified. And when Allard was asked about them, the H-A article reports that she effectively told the questioner to pound sand, stating that the information should be obtained through a FOIA request.

That’s what far too often passes for “transparency” at D-64.

You may recall from our 02.19.14 post that Allard herself is the recipient of a major sweetheart deal: she’s going to get $212,063 for the upcoming school year, allegedly her last before retiring with a guaranteed pension of what we understand will be upwards of $125,000 a year. For those of us who haven’t made a career of feeding at the public trough, that’s about $3 million worth of 401(k), assuming it’s well-managed.

Why does all this matter? Because D-64 taxpayers are paying premium prices, starting with the price of its personnel, for what is nowhere near a premium education.

Although you’d be hard-pressed to find the information on the D-64 website (we tried for 20 minutes and struck out), a list of D-64 full-time personnel and their compensation published on the Better Government Association website reveals that 79 teachers are paid over $100,000 a year (orange highlight), another 64 are paid over $90,000 a year (yellow highlight), and another 61 are paid over $80,000. And that’s for only 8-9 months of work, meaning it annualizes out to over $130,000, $120,000 and 100,000, respectively.

That’s more than Park Ridge’s median household income of approximately $90,000.

That’s with no risk of their employer relocating to another state or country, virtually no risk of their services being outsourced to private providers, and basically no chance of being fired.  Those great salaries also come with guaranteed defined benefit pensions that generally start at around 75% of the final years’ salaries, and increase annually by a cost of living allowance.

For those teachers who become administrators it gets even better, especially on the pension end.

According to the BGA website, our former D-64 superintendents are doing just fine, thank you: last year Elaine Rieger, who retired in 2000, drew $83,612, while Fred Schroeder, who retired in 2003, drew $170,974; and Sally Pryor, who retired in 2010, drew $183,377.  Meanwhile, former Emerson principal Vicki Mogil, who retired in 2011, drew $133,750; and former Lincoln principal Jim Blouch, who retired in 2009, drew $135,552.

And we believe all of them retired before reaching age 60.

Meanwhile, our elected representatives on the current D-64 Board – like their predecessors for the past 20+ years, at least – keep doling out the cash with no rhyme or reason, just because they can. Without any major qualms, without much in the way of serious debate, without any evidence that our kids got a better education this year than last, and without any demands that our kids will get a better education next year than they did this year.

If you don’t believe that’s acceptable or sustainable for a community such as ours, you can do something about it. But you have to act fast.

Board member Terry Cameron is moving out of the area and must vacate his seat, so the Board will be interviewing for his replacement in the next few weeks.  However, the deadline for applying for that appointment is 4:00 p.m. TOMORROW, MONDAY, JUNE 23!

You can get all the information you need on the D-64 website’s Board member vacancy pageBut you had better act fast, because you can be sure that the Park Ridge Education Association will do its best to fill Cameron’s seat with someone who can be depended on to rubber-stamp higher pay and even less accountability for teachers and administrators - while claiming it’s all “for the kids.”

And because D-64 practices faux-transparency rather than the real thing, the Board claims it will be conducting the candidate interviews during an open Board meeting – but then will adjourn to the ostensible secrecy of CLOSED session to deliberate over its members’ choice of who gets the vacant seat.

Because a majority of the current Board members have no desire to share their decision-making process with the taxpayers who got to elect Cameron but aren’t getting a vote on his successor.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Referenda Provide The “Public Voice” Everyone Needs To Hear

06.16.14

Tonight’s Park Ridge City Council meeting has two significant issues on the agenda: (1) final approval of the language of the binding Library tax levy increase referendum; and (2) further discussion of an advisory referendum for flood remediation for Mayfield Estates and the Northwest Park neighborhood.

The simplistic view, seemingly shared by more than a few residents, is that these are just individual one-off decisions about the Library and a couple of Second Ward flood projects. Worse yet, these are nothing more than attempts by the Council to pawn off on the voters tough decisions on two very different issues, with the victory or defeat of each being the only consequence.

The real take-away from these two exercises should be how they enhance our City’s representative (i.e., republican with a small “r”) form of government. Both of these referenda demonstrate how giving the taxpayers a voice on major issues in the most objectively measurable way – through their countable votes – actually adds even greater transparency, accountability and legitimacy to the process.

Let’s start with the Library referendum, which was initiated by the City Council because the Library (i.e., senior Staff’s and Library Board majority’s) refused to live within its statutory taxing authority. Rather than propose a tax increase referendum, however, the Library administration chose to demonize the Council for ignoring the will of what it claimed to be the vast majority of residents who purportedly wanted more City funding of the Library. And when that didn’t cause a majority of the aldermen to cower and buckle, the Library amped up the pressure by intentionally and irresponsibly inflicting gratuitous pain on Library users and its own staff by closing the Library on 14 Sundays this summer.

But thanks to the Council, this Library referendum will give all taxpayers who choose to vote this November the chance to tell the Council(and the Library administration) in no uncertain terms whether they are willing to pay higher taxes for certain Library amenities. And because it will be a binding referendum, even the slimmest-majority – 50.00001% of the vote – will give the Library the extra cash it wants for each of the next four years, without having to sway a Council majority on that issue.

So although the Council said “no” to the Library, it was willing to give the Library – and the voters – a chance to prove a majority of aldermen wrong. And even if a majority of voters say “no,” the Council still has the ability to reconsider and give the Library more money, albeit without any illusion that such a handout is what a majority of voting taxpayers wants.

What could possibly be wrong with that?

That is representative/republican government in action, in one of the ways Madison described in Federalist No. 10:

[T]o refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations. Under such a regulation, it may well happen that the public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people, will be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves, convened for the purpose.

Whether the referendum passes or fails, the Council will have the benefit of having heard the “public voice…pronounced by the people themselves, convened for the purpose.”

While a Library referendum will be on the November ballot, the mere thought of obtaining a similar “public voice” on flood control for Mayfield Estates and the Northwest Park neighborhood seems to have inspired fear and loathing from the residents of those areas.

Like the Library administration, those Second Ward folks would prefer to browbeat the Council into simply handing over $20 Million in bond proceeds, plus interest, for flood protection for less than 450 homes – even though that $20 Million figure is “soft” because no “hard” cost for turning Northwest Park into a temporary detention area (assuming the Park District will permit it) has been determined.  And as is so often the case when a small group of people claim entitlement to Other People’s Money (“OPM”) for their own personal benefit, those Second Ward folks are insisting that a referendum would be “divisive” and pit one area of town against the others.

That’s what’s known as the pot calling the kettle black. Or, in this case, the takers calling the payers “cheap.”

Whether by selective blindness or outright dishonesty, those Second Ward folks fail to see that THEY are the ones creating an “us v. them” mentality – if one exists – by demanding that all the City’s taxpayers foot the bill for Second Ward flood relief projects costing (in the case of Mayfield Estates) more than TEN TIMES what flood relief for other parts of town is costing ($100,000+ per home v. relief sewers at a cost of approximately $10,000 per home).

Ald. Nick Milissis (2nd), with the help of an analysis by municipal finance expert and resident Shawn O’Leary, has come up with a variety of arguments for why no referendum should be required by the City to take another plunge into the deep end of the debt pool – and the sooner, the better. And, not surprisingly, those arguments purport to demonstrate that adding another $20 Million of bonded debt to the current $30 Million carried by the City won’t have any effect on the City’s bond rating or on future flood relief projects for all those other areas of town experiencing flooding.

We vigorously disagree. But that’s not the point of this post.

If those arguments are legitimate and not just a bunch of municipal finance mumbo jumbo, can’t the taxpayers be trusted embrace them – via an advisory referendum vote? Shouldn’t those taxpayers who choose to vote have a chance to voice their opinion on whether they want the City saddled with another $20 Million of long-term debt, especially when it will provide flood relief to no more than 450 of the City’s 13,000-plus households?

And if this $20 Million of additional bonded debt truly is the great idea its proponents are proclaiming it to be, persuading the voters should be an easy task.  Heck, from the way Mr. O’Leary talks up such debt (“I am…astonished that any city with significant capital needs is not jumping at the opportunity to take advantage of this rate environment”), why aren’t he and Ald. Milissis advocating for $150-300 Million of bonded debt to address ALL the City’s flooding issues – before the rates go up and/or” our bond rating falls any further from its already-downgraded Aa2, with a negative outlook, thanks in large part to the Uptown TIF?

Thomas Jefferson noted that “[w]henever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government.”  So let Ald. Milissis, Mr. O’Leary and their fellow Second Ward residents inform the rest of us about the abiding wisdom of the Mayfield Estates and Northwest Park flood relief plans.

And then let the “public voice…pronounced by the people themselves” be heard via an advisory referendum this November.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Ald. Milissis: PubDog Has “Jumped The Shark” On Second Ward Flood Projects

06.12.14

Today we are posting what was submitted by 2nd Ward Ald. Nicholas Milissis as a comment to our 06.09.14 post.

While we vigorously disagree with many of its “Fact”s (and its conclusions and opinions masquerading as “Fact”s), it is the most thorough and thoughtful argument we have heard, to date, for the City’s undertaking the two flood control projects intended for the Second Ward at the expense of all Park Ridge taxpayers.

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Jumping the shark is an idiom created by Jon Hein that was used to describe the moment in the evolution of a television show when it begins a decline in quality, signaled by a particular scene, episode, or aspect of a show in which the writers use some type of “gimmick” in an attempt to keep viewers’ interest. The phrase is based on a scene from a fifth-season episode of the sitcom Happy Days when the character Fonzie jumps over a shark while on water-skis. The usage of “jump the shark” has subsequently broadened beyond television, indicating the moment when a brand, design, or creative effort’s evolution declines.

Pub dog I count myself as one of your fans but I have to say in this latest post you have jumped the shark.

Without adding to what has become an already emotionally charged conflict I will attempt to address several disturbing positions that have been brought up in council by other aldermen, by you and some of your anonymous posters.

Someone far wiser than me said: Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts. So here we go in no particular order:

MYTH: Northwest Park and Mayfield are projects that will cost 100 million dollars or more.

FACT: Northwest Park and Mayfield are the only two projects that are currently deemed feasible at the 100-year level protection and have engineering designs that are construction-ready. Should the council approve them they could start tomorrow for a combined price of under $20 million dollars (3.3 for Mayfield and 16 for Northwest). Country Club is the third area with the heftier price tag and with a guarantee only against a 10 year flood. The council is not currently considering that option as presented and is seeking better alternatives. Lumping all three projects together, which are at different stages, have different solutions and different levels of protection is merely a tactic to artificially inflate the price tag and create sticker shock.

MYTH: Mayfield Estates refused to install sewers when it was annexed 50 years ago and again refused to install them subsequently when the city approached the residents there and offered them that option.

FACT: The city chose to annex Mayfield in an “as is” condition. The city and its elected officials at the time made that decision knowing full well that Mayfield wasn’t developed with a sewer system. The city at the time had every right to set any requirements and terms it wished as part of the annexation agreement. It didn’t. That point is now moot and the city has been responsible for Mayfield for the past 50 years. The only paperwork that exists from that situation half a century ago is a now expired agreement in which the only provision was that the city couldn’t force the Mayfield residents to install a sewers for the first five years after annexation. Those five years came and went and the agreement expired. Now we seek to punish residents who were not part of that agreement and who have been paying the same taxes everyone else pays in Park Ridge by wanting them to pay for desperately needed infrastructure. The city took on Mayfield, enjoyed the extra taxes it realized by annexing it for five decades and did zero to at least maintain the rudimentary system Mayfield had in place (clean culverts, maintain drainage ditches etc). Now the city officials will turn around and ask that Mayfield shoulder the costs of the only solution there is to prevent it from literally disappearing under the flood waters? I don’t think so. Oh and by the way, Park Ridge Pointe which was developed many years after the Mayfield annexation and which brought the City hundreds of new taxable property parcels, resides on Mayfield land which would not have been part of the City had it decided 50 years ago not to annex. Mayfield residents have been paying their share like everyone else in our city towards hundreds of infrastructure improvement projects over the years that benefited many other places around town. Let’s stop calling those poor neighbors and full fledged Park Ridgians freeloaders.

MYTH: Funding these projects will be the equivalent of another Uptown TIF.

FACT: This is a very deceptive way to compare the Uptown TIF to legitimate capital projects. This argument can be reduced to: “The sewer projects could cost as much as the Uptown TIF and the Uptown TIF is really squeezing the budget!” But this is a false comparison. First, the Uptown TIF identified two payment sources for the bonds: TIF increment from the projects and, if that was insufficient, a citywide property tax levy. When the TIF increment proved to be insufficient the city made the policy decision to abate the property tax levy for the bonds and make up the shortfalls from the city’s existing budget (i.e. the general fund). It’s not that the debt-in and of itself-pressured the budget: it was the combined insufficiency of the increment coupled with a decision by the city itself not to make use of the other available and reliable revenue source (property tax levy). The TIF situation is not analogous to bonds issued for bread and butter capital improvement projects. Whether secured by sewer fee revenues and/or property taxes, to assume the debt would have the same impact on the city’s financial picture is to believe that the city would see both a collapse in sewer fee payments and a spike in property tax delinquencies heretofore never experienced in Park Ridge. Barring such a collapse, why on earth would this council or any future council ever abate a levy for duly issued capital improvement purposes and bring those obligations into the operating budget (such as has been done for the Uptown TIF debt)? It makes no sense at all and simply would not happen under any reasonable scenario. (My thanks to resident Shawn -a municipal financing market professional- for this analysis. For verification purposes I can provide his full name to the editor of this blog who has my contact info).

MYTH: Avoiding these projects will save the city and its tax payers money.

FACT: These problems are not going away and recent experiences show flooding is getting worse and occurring more often. Flooding will continue to affect residents who in turn will continue to seek assistance from the city and their elected representatives. A slim majority of aldermen on this council seem intent on killing these projects and as a result any subsequent ones. However, elected officials come and go and the make up of the council changes every two years. A new council a few years down the line, or as early as 2015, might decide to move ahead with the projects. What will it cost the city to complete these same projects in one, five or ten years? Again I turn to my friend and expert Shawn who says: It is astonishing that any municipality with capital needs would sit on its hands at this point in time. We are living in a period of near generational lows in terms of financing costs for state and local governments. This period won’t last forever-we will revert to the mean at some point. I believe it is likely that if this council passes on this opportunity today the flooding issues will only continue and at some point, a future council will move ahead with the projects. The problem is that interest rates (and likely construction costs as well) will be higher by that time. Shawn goes on to calculate that this delay could end up costing the city 15% to 36% more to complete the same projects. The bottom line is that these projects are necessary, affordable and don’t, by any reasonable analysis, present a threat to this City’s financial future. Delay will only ensure that Park Ridge misses this prime opportunity to finance these projects at rates we are unlikely to ever see again.

MYTH: If these projects are allowed to go forward the city won’t have any money to help those in other areas with flooding issues.

FACT: See analysis above. Projects can be completed in stages much as they have up to now. Northwest and Mayfield are number 10 and 11 in a list of 12 projects 9 of which have already been completed around town. This council is concurrently working with and has asked Burke Engineering to identify additional areas for which to complete flood remediation projects. Don’t listen to the rhetoric and outright lies meant to turn you against your fellow citizens. More projects are being identified and should the elected officials carry out their duties instead of trying to find ways to derail any progress, eventually all will be helped. Preventing the two projects from happening will only bar any other ones from happening down the line, mainly because no other alternative or solutions have been provided. The momentum and substantial money already spent in the studies leading up to these projects will be wasted.

MYTH: My taxes will go up if these projects are approved.

FACT: These projects will be financed through a raise in the annual sewer fee not your taxes. If both projects (Mayfield and Northwest Park) were to be approved that would translate to $9 per month on every household’s sewer bill across town.

MYTH: This is a Mayfield/Northwest Park problem not mine.

FACT: This is a Park Ridge problem. When flooding in those areas is reported in the newspapers people outside our city don’t differentiate between areas in Park Ridge. They only hear and see that Park Ridge (or Flood Ridge as it is now being referred to) floods and now its city government refuses to fix the problem. If you think that doesn’t affect everyone’s property values or how potential buyers decide whether they will move here or not you are sorely mistaken.

MYTH: The people who live in the areas where the projects are to take place are irresponsible freeloaders looking for a handout from the city.

FACT: Many other residents have already been helped by similar (albeit cheaper) projects without being subjected to this level of verbal abuse and animosity on this blog or scrutiny by the elected officials. For example, a project was completed in Alderman Sweeney’s 1st Ward (which of course he voted in favor of) that benefited a miniscule number of houses in the Lahon/Overhill area. Yet now he is denying (through his latest vote) the same relief to a much larger number of residents in the 2nd ward. Interestingly enough he justified his vote in favor of a referendum by saying there are more areas in his ward that need help so he’ll vote against the Northwest Park and Mayfield projects being completed through bond issuance/no referendum (i.e. the way the Overhill/Lahon project in his ward was completed). I guess that somehow seems fair in his mind. The people in the Northwest Park and Mayfield areas are responsible homeowners. They are not simpletons or cheapos who are not aware or don’t want to spring for any possible measure they can install themselves. They have already spent tens of thousands of dollars of their own money on overhead sewers, check valves and even changing the grading of their driveways in order to control flooding on their property. The problem is not on their properties. It’s overland flooding that they have to deal with. Overland flooding is a direct result of inadequate (too small, antiquated or non existent) sewer infrastructure which becomes overwhelmed during rapid and severe storms and the water ends up on the streets. Only the city can address that problem. When your street turns into a river and the water starts coming in from your front door or in from your downward sloping driveway your overhead sewers and check valves are not much good.

It’s indicative that you chose to highlight Ms. Schwieder’s (a resident attending these meetings for the first time) understandably and justifiably emotional outburst but ignored those of residents like Della Burns who spoke poignantly and logically about the issues I covered above.

MYTH: A referendum is the best way to decide this question once and for all.

FACT: A referendum in this case is highly inappropriate and an easy way for those who voted in favor of it to avoid having to make what in their mind is a difficult (not to mention unpopular) decision. This is not a question of public policy. We are not asking the residents whether smoking should be banned, whether a pool that will be used by everyone should be built or a police station that will serve the entire city should be expanded. These are infrastructure projects in specific areas of the city, each with its own set of challenges, solutions and price tags. Trying to compound two or three different projects in one referendum question violates the standards and requirements of a legally valid and acceptable referendum question. Some aldermen have been swept along the excitement of “referendum fever” (there will potentially be three on the ballot this coming November) without giving much thought to its viability and/or feasibility. A compound and confusing question is almost certain to not only get challenged but defeated. So for those opposing these projects it’s a win win. They will either get the voters who are unaware of the above lengthy analysis to vote it down or the referendum will be defeated before it even makes it to the polls. Either way they have detrimentally delayed or outright killed the only viable solution for these areas problems.

I could go on but I won’t since I have already taken up a lot of space. I thank you for indulging me and hope you and some of the anonymous posters here will at least consider the information provided and rethink your positions on this subject.

Nicholas Milissis

Alderman, 2nd Ward.

To read or post comment, click on title.