Public Watchdog.org

D-64 “Freeloaders” Have Legit Beef About Unexplained Fees

05.28.15

Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 is in near the end of the first go-round on its new proof-of-residency registration process. This process is intended to reduce, if not eliminate, the non-resident parasites who enroll and keep their kids in D-64 schools even though they don’t live in the District and pay taxes for its schools.

The process seems pretty straightforward and understandable, as demonstrated by the form employed.

Which may explain why we have yet to hear any of the wailing and gnashing of teeth about how such a process would be “too burdensome” and a “pain in the neck” for parents/guardians to prove the D-64 residency of their students. That was what former (Hallelujah!) Board member John Heyde and Scott (Mini-Heyde) Zimmerman predicted when arguing against the District’s implementing the residency check several months ago.

But while complaints about the residency checks seem to be missing, we are hearing the annoying call of that not-rare-enough species of D-64 resident whose scientific name is cheapskatias Park Ridgianis, which for shorthand purposes we have nicknamed “freeloader.”

The freeloader’s call is a piercing screech which it emits whenever it is charged for anything related to the “free” $14,000/year education to which it believes each of its kids is entitled by virtue of the payment of $3-4-5-6,000 a year in property taxes to D-64. And it is being heard earlier than usual because, as part of the new registration process, D-64 is requiring the payment of next year’s student fees by June 1 instead of by the customary July 31.

According to the District’s website and fee schedule, the fees “[f]or the 7th consecutive year…will remain unchanged” at $84 for Pre-K/K, $227 for Grades 1-5, and $315 for Grades 6, although for some undisclosed reason they will cover only about 52% of the District’s annual costs for instructional resources and technology – with the balance presumably being hung on the taxpayers. If you’re financially strapped, however, you can apply for a Student Fee Waiver by filling out this form, although the District’s legal counsel either wasn’t consulted or was asleep at the switch for not requiring it to be sworn and notarized like most commercial financial statements.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: only shameless freeloaders would beef about having to pay those relatively nominal fees for educations costing $14,000 per student per year.

As best as we can tell, even the owner of the most expensive house in town doesn’t pay $14,000 a year in property taxes to D-64, so he/she is money ahead even with only 1 kid in D-64 schools. And those residents who run multiple kids through the schools and pay considerably less than $14,000 a year in taxes to D-64 – anybody whose total tax bill is less than $21,000, of which less than $7,000 goes to D-64 – might be able to game the system for tens of thousands of dollars of subsidized education, especially if they pack up and move out of the District once they’ve used up all the free schooling.

Hence the term “freeloaders.”

But just because they’re freeloaders doesn’t mean they aren’t right about D-64 being tone deaf, inept, or just plain arrogant for continuing to ignore the freeloaders’ call for a “line item” description of the components of those fee amounts.

We can think of no justification whatsoever for the District’s continuing failure to provide such detailed information. Nor can we, frankly, think of any justification for the District’s charging parents only 52% of the total cost of whatever expenses those fees are supposed to cover, especially if the taxpayers are picking up 48% of those expenses.

So it’s time (actually, it’s well past the time) for Board president Tony Borrelli and a majority of the D-64 Board to demand that grossly-overpaid Finance czarina Becky Allard put together a line-item listing of exactly what charges comprise those annual student fees.  And once that mystery is solved, Borrelli and the Board should explain what particular public policy considerations demand that only 52% – and not 100%, or 90%, or even 20% – of those charges are assessed to the parents.

We’re confident that won’t shut up the most vocal freeloaders, but it’s still the right thing to do.

And the Board has put off doing it long enough.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Memorial Day 2015

05.25.15

Memorial Day is supposed to be a day of remembrance of our many fellow Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, and for each of us.

But for too many of us beneficiaries of that sacrifice, Memorial Day is just a three-day weekend – the start of summer, an excuse to eat the extra hot dog or hamburger and to drink the extra beer. Memorial Day ends up being all about us, our families and our friends.

That’s wrong, but here’s a simple and easy way to make it right.

The traditional Park Ridge Memorial Day parade steps off this morning from South Park at 10:00 a.m. and ends at City Hall. Show up along the parade route. Applaud the veterans who will be marching in place of those whom we honor.

But don’t let it end there.

Following the parade there will be a short memorial service at the monument in Hodge’s Park. Spend a little extra time to attend that service.

Firing up the grille, or pouring that first Bloody Mary, can wait another half-hour.

But if that just doesn’t fit in the schedule, how about swinging by one of our many cemeteries and stopping by the grave of just one fallen soldier. They aren’t hard to find: all veterans’ graves should be marked with a fresh American flag, and you can pretty much tell by the date of death whether or not the soldier fell while in the service.

We can do that, and we should do that.  Because we are free men and women.

And those honored dead helped keep us that way.

To read or post comment, click on title.

When Too Many Isn’t Quite Enough, Add More

05.19.15

Last year the City of Park Ridge suffered a bit of a national black-eye when a video of a middle-aged Park Ridge man being beaten by a few young thugs in the midst of a gathering of local (?) youths at Hinkley Park went viral.

News outlets around the county got to watch and listen to our callow youth triumphantly chant “U-S-A!” as the father, searching for his son in the crowd after Taste of Park Ridge (“TOPR”) had closed down for the night, was verbally abused and physically tuned up.

As we wrote about in our 07.25.14 and 07.31.14 posts, our local police did a pretty horsebleep job of dealing with that Lord Of The Flies scenario and its group psychosis, despite being called out on two separate occasions within a couple/three hours of the incident. And that policing charade was followed by what could best be described as pathetic hand-wringing and buck-passing that we wrote about in our 08.12.14 post.

Almost a year later, the criminal charges against the four local darlings who assaulted and/or battered the dad are still wending their way through the Cook County justice system, with two of the “young men” scheduled to appear in court on May 26.

But as Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel once was famously quoted: “You never let a serious crisis go to waste.

So this year the Maine Community Youth Assistance Foundation (“MCYAF”) – in conjunction with the TOPR promoters, the Park Ridge Park District, the Police Departments, Maine South High School and Lincoln Middle School – is organizing even more events to…wait for it…“draw a bigger crowd” of youths to the Park Ridge Library lawn and the TOPR/Uptown area, according to a May 12, 2015 article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Group planning new activities aimed at teens during Taste of Park Ridge”)

That’s right, campers: The same Police Department and Park District that, together, couldn’t handle the reported 40+, 75+ and then 100+ youths who ended up at Hinkley Park, including the contingent of about 50 who migrated there from the Library lawn after TOPR closed for the evening at 10:00 p.m. last July 12, are part of an effort to encourage an even “bigger crowd” of youths to show up for activities at and around the TOPR this year.  But only until TOPR closes at 10:00 p.m.

Brilliant!

And the outgoing Park District president Mel Thillens, who also wears the TOPR chairman’s chapeau, is looking to get the Park District to have an “open swim” at Hinkley, just in case there are some aquatic-oriented youths whom might otherwise not be drawn to the area and miss out on the mob action…er, we mean fun.

To quote MCYAF’s (and newly-elected Maine Twp. H.S. Dist. 207 Board member) Teri Collins: “We think part of the problem is that kids don’t have things to do that are age appropriate.”

Sure they do, Teri: What’s more “age appropriate” for teenage kids than hanging out with friends, preferably somewhere their parents and other responsible adults can’t keep an eye on them?

And occasionally beating the tar out of some parent who foolishly invades their turf after TOPR closes at 10:00 p.m., two full hours before the City’s curfew goes into effect?

Given last year’s apres-TOPR fiasco, however, this year the Police Department is promising to deploy more troops to Hinkley. And maybe, unlike last year, the gendarmerie that shows up might actually stick around for awhile instead of stopping by, smiling, and leaving the growing crowd to its own devices despite two separate telephone complaints about repeated incidents of fireworks discharge, vandalism and aggravated mopery with intent to gawk.

Doing things to bring even more teenagers into Uptown on the Friday and Saturday evenings of TOPR makes us wonder what exactly are these folks thinking – besides the obvious special-interest benefits of more traffic and revenue for TOPR, and a higher public profile (and more donations?) for MCYAF.

It also makes us ask: Hey, Mel and Teri…are TOPR and MCYAF going to be footing the extra cop costs, or will the taxpayers get stuck with those while your organizations just reap the benefits?

To read or post comments, click on title.

Oath Reaffirmation By Police The Right Idea

05.14.15

Today we’re giving a Watchdog bark-out to the Park Ridge Police Department for having all 54 of its sworn officers reaffirm the oath they took when they first became officers. (“Park Ridge police officers reaffirm oath to community,” Park Ridge Herald-Advocate, May 12, 2015)

According to the H-A article, the officers reaffirmed not only their official oath of office but, also, the Law Enforcement Oath of Honor – which includes vows such as never betraying the officer’s badge, or his/her integrity, character, “or the public trust”; and the vow to hold themselves and other officers “accountable for our actions.”

This reaffirmation of oaths reportedly came as a reaction to the highly-publicized incidents of questionable police conduct in various places around the country. And although Park Ridge and all of Illinois has, so far, been spared such highly-charged incidents, those of us here in Crook County have witnessed enough political and police corruption (e.g., drug dealing, burglary rings, shakedowns, bribery, the “blue wall,” etc.) to realize that no community is immune.

Additionally, while the H-A article mentioned incidents like the officer charged with DUI, a commander facing reinstated aggravated battery charges related to a 2006 beating of a teenage suspect, and an officer’s suspension for sexting, those three incidents involved off-duty officers – it failed to mention the 2010 FBI seizure of police department records and computers (at least some of which were related to the 2006 beating), or the 2008 Ekl Report that identified other instances of questionable police conduct.

That’s why we think that a reaffirmation of those oaths should be an annual event.

We’re not suggesting that as any slam on the police department and its personnel. We believe Park Ridge, on an overall basis, has a solid – and perhaps exceptional – police department. And while the mean streets of Park Ridge don’t regularly present the kinds of challenges that other communities present, even the most benign traffic stop carries the kind of risk that most of us do not want to face; and which we appreciate the police facing on our behalf.

But both elected and appointed City officials reaffirm their oaths of office every time their term of office is extended – and they don’t carry guns or have to make split-second, potentially life and death decisions for their own safety and the safety of others.

With regard to an annual reaffirmation, we’re encouraged by the comments of officer and police union steward John Dorner, who not only reported no negative response to the reaffirmation but also indicated that “every officer embraces it and…look[s] forward to hopefully doing it on a yearly basis, if not more.”

Exactly right.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Breaking The Government-As-Usual Mold At Park Ridge Public Library

05.08.15

Abraham Lincoln, in his Gettysburg Address, famously invoked a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

If you’ve been paying attention to the adventures of Illinois’ new governor, Bruce Rauner, you know that he has been learning a painful lesson: In the state that calls itself the Land of Lincoln – a sick joke, considering the pervasive dishonesty and corruption for which Illinois has become infamous – we seem to have become a government of the bureaucrats, by the politicians, for the special interests.

And those special interests often include both the bureaucrats and the politicians.

Gov. Rauner is finding out just how entrenched those bureaucrats and special interests really are, and how determined they are to maintain Illinois’ continuing road-to-bankruptcy status quo: No matter what it is that Rauner wants to cut, it always seems to be somebody’s indispensable program, service or entitlement.

So it should come as no surprise that a variation on that same theme is playing out here in Park Ridge. And although there are many examples we could point to, today we will look at the Park Ridge Public Library – specifically the $43,738 in raises recommended for some of the Library’s 90 employees that the Library Board nixed last month.

That $43,738 is around 1% of the Library’s annual budget. In government, both that dollar amount and that percentage are treated as little more than rounding errors. And small ones at that.

But that $43,738 represents a principle much more significant than the dollars or percentage: Whether the Library exists primarily for the benefit of its taxpayers/users, or for the benefit of its employees?

Last summer that question was answered loudly and clearly by Library Director Janet Van De Carr and a majority of the then-Library Board (Trustees John Benka, Audra Ebling, Margaret Harrison, Dorothy Hynous, John Schmidt and Jerry White) when it chose to slam the doors – literally – on the Library’s Sunday users for 14 summer Sundays, rather than use the roughly $20,000 earmarked for employee raises to keep those doors open. You can read the gory details in our our 04.04.14 postour 04.14.14 post and our 05.29.14 post.

And those doors stayed shut until the July 15, 2014, Board meeting, when new Trustees Pat Lamb and Dean Parisi, replacing Benka and Schmidt, joined with Trustees Joe Egan, Char Foss-Eggemann and myself to provide a majority vote to overturn the Sunday closings.  With that handwriting on the wall, Ebling, Harrison and White grudgingly flipped – leaving only Hynous insisting that shutting down the Library on summer Sundays wasn’t wrong and provided a more consistent referendum message.

With the new Board has come more oversight, a more pro-active approach to management, and a more exacting focus on Library finances than existed in past years.

So when increases to employee compensation came up at the April 14 Library Board personnel committee meeting, a majority of the Trustees in attendance voted to convert Van De Carr’s recommended $43,738 merit salary increase pool into a $25,000 merit bonus pool.  And then at the April 21 Library Board meeting, a majority of the Trustees present rejected any additional compensation for employees, indicating that neither Van De Carr nor the employees themselves had made a persuasive case for such additional compensation.

Not surprisingly, that exercise in financial stewardship whacked the hornets’ nest.

Not only did Van De Carr express her indignation at the temerity of the Board to reject one of her recommendations, but so did some employees and a collection of folks from the Citizens Supporting the Library Referendum, who were on hand that night to be honored for their efforts in running the successful Library referendum campaign. The employees and referendum folks accused the “no”-voting Trustees of not valuing the employees, of ruining morale, and of ignoring the will of the voters who passed the referendum.

Of course the Library employees are valued.  But just like the rest of us mortals, they are not irreplaceable. They can die, become disabled, move to another state, or simply change jobs or careers.  So if their morale is so fragile that it can be crushed by not getting a raise or bonus this year, then it’s far too fragile to count on under any circumstances.

Moreover, nothing in the referendum question itself mentioned employee raises or bonuses.  Neither did anything in the Library’s own Funding and Budget FAQs, or in its Referendum Information sheet, or in the campaign mailer sent out by the referendum folks.  And for good reason: neither the Library employees nor the referendum folks wanted the taxpayers/voters even to think about whether any of the extra $4 million in total funding would go for employee raises and bonuses.

Just like the way the Director, the former Board majority, and the employees emphatically denied and ridiculed any suggestion that last summer’s Sunday Library closings were in any way related to last year’s employee raises.

As one of those trustees who cast a “no” vote at that April 21 meeting, the easiest thing to do would have been to rubber-stamp whatever the Director proposed. That’s what past Library boards had been doing for over a decade, even if it meant deficit spending to the point of closing the Library’s doors on summer Sundays,and cutting other hours.  And the reason they did that is because they never cared enough to ask the basic questions that should be sine qua non inquiries before taxpayer money is used for additional employee compensation:

“Is the Library better today than it was a year ago?”

“Are the employees providing more and/or better service than they did a year ago?”

“Does the Library provide greater value to the taxpayers than it did a year ago?”

None of those questions, or any variants of them, were answered or even addressed by the Director or by the employees, or by the referendum folks, prior to that April 21 vote.  Instead, all that was offered were arguments along the lines of the contents of a letter which the refendum folks sent to the Trustees two days ago, which all boil down to: “Library staff members deserve a modest wage increase in line with that being received by other City employees.”

In public employment that’s what’s known as an “entitlement.”  Because here in Illinois, just showing up for your public-sector job is usually reason enough for a raise, especially if other public employees are getting raises.

What those of us on the Board considered, however, were a variety of facts that suggested the answer to all three of those sine qua non questions was “no” – including the Library’s own reports showing: (a) a consistent decline in Library visits to their lowest level in 10 years; (b) a decline in Library circulation to the lowest level in six years; (c) a decline in Library program attendance to the lowest level in 9 years; and (d) even a slight decline in the number of Library card-holders and the number of cardholders actually using their cards to check out items.

And, as Trustee Pat Lamb pointed out, Library employees had received raises over the past four years that averaged in excess of the increases in the Consumer Price Index.

Those of us who have been entrusted with the stewardship of the Library realize that the additional $1 million/year in referendum money the voters gave us for the next four years carries additional responsibilities for using it wisely. That means making sure that, first and foremost, the Library is put on a sound and sustainable financial footing by the time those four years are up.

It also means improving the Library and its operations so that it looks, feels, and IS a better facility – not only for its regular users but, also, for the occasional user and even those non-user taxpayers who are funding it without getting any direct benefit in return.

That requires more from both the Board and Staff than acting merely as custodians and doing the same old same old for the next four years. That requires improving and even re-inventing what the Library does, how well and efficiently it does it, and the space in which it does it – so that the Library’s performance metrics start demonstrating something better than the lemming-like following of some “national trend” that has become the alibi du jour anytime those metrics are questioned.

If the Director and Staff can figure out ways of doing that, maybe next year they will have some tangible achievements, instead of just a purported entitlement, to justify a request for additional compensation.

Let’s hope so…for the community’s sake.

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and publisher

Member, Park Ridge Library Board

To read or post comments, click on title.

Only City’s Top Bureaucrat Gets Transparent Review

05.05.15

Since 2009 the City of Park Ridge has had the most transparent operations of any local governmental unit, by far. That’s because the late Mayor Dave Schmidt fought tooth and nail to make it so. And because the voters wisely elected a majority of aldermen who joined Mayor Dave in that fight.

One of the fruits of that transparency was on display – naturally, given that “on display” is what transparency’s all about – at the City Council COW (Committee Of the Whole) meeting last Monday (April 27) night when the Council conducted its open-session review of City Manager Shawn Hamilton.

Hamilton is the top City employee and its highest paid one. He’s also, as we understand it, the only City employee whom the Council is legally empowered to directly hire, fire, review and compensate.  And as it has done for the past few years, the Council once again conducted his review in open session, with the press present and the videocamera running.

That’s the way government should work: out in the open, in the bright light of day.

According to the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate story about the process (“City manager receives ‘below average’ performance review,” 04.29.15), Hamilton received less than a ringing endorsement of his past year’s performance.  In the pre-Schmidt, pre-transparency years, there would have been no such H-A story because the process would have been hidden from view in closed session, leaving the taxpayers scratching their heads and wondering why the then-city managers were getting their regular raises and benefit increases.

Not only does the transparency of the City’s process give the ordinary taxpayer an up-close-and-personal appreciation for how their top employee performed over the past year, but it also gives them some insight into how their aldermen came up with Hamilton’s rating – because the aldermen’s actual rating sheets were part of the meeting materials posted on the City’s website.  That way, taxpayers can see for themselves what factors went into that rating.

Unfortunately, at its March 5 meeting the Park Ridge Park District Board took a big step backward from last year’s more transparent process for evaluating the District’s top employee, Executive Director Gayle Mountcastle.  Instead of an open-session discussion like last year, the Park Board waited until the end of its lengthy meeting before running into closed session for its 40-minute evaluation of Mountcastle.  The result: another 4% salary boost (from $149,000 to $155,000) after a 4% bump last year and a 7% bump in 2013.

Not surprisingly, the individual Park Board members’ reviews of Mountcastle were not posted on the District’s website, nor does it sound like any Board members except president Mel Thillens actually saw all the written reviews prior to the Board adjourning, lemming-like, into the closed session.

Call it a cowardly retreat from the promise of last year’s more-open process.

That probably shouldn’t have come as a total surprise, however, given that Board president Thillens and several other Board members have consistently displayed no natural instinct for transparency and accountability – other than when they are on the campaign trail, or when they believe they have no other alternative.

But when it comes to treating the taxpayers like mushrooms, nobody does it any better/worse than both of our local school boards. When they review their respective superintendents – Park Ridge-Niles School District 64’s $240,000+ Laurie Heinz, and Maine Twp. H.S. District 207’s $250,000+ Ken Wallace – those boards are so secretive that Edward Snowden would be challenged to sneak a peek.

We’ve heard all the secrecy arguments, most of which are some variation on the “closed sessions let elected officials speak candidly” theme.

Elected officials who need the secrecy of a closed session to speak candidly about the performance of their government unit’s top executive have no business holding public office.

Too bad so many of them still do.

To read or post comments, click on title.

2020 Vision Doesn’t Work In The Dark

04.26.15

We recently published a post about that night’s Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 “preview” of its new “2020 Vision Strategic Plan.”

“2020 Vision”…get it?

Because a “We’re Finally Going To Try To Get It Right Strategic Plan” just doesn’t have the proper ring to it. Especially when you need a snazzy moniker with which to bamboozle the parents and taxpayers aout what’s supposed to be the guidelines for D-64’s priorities and goals over the next five years.

Besides, when you’re paying consultants based in New Orleans (JJ and Associates) to put together a dog-and-pony show for the locals, “shrimp etouffée” sounds a whole lot better than “smothered shrimp.”

According to the April 21 Park Ridge Herald-Advocate report about that April 15th event (“District 64 previews new strategic plans”), something that passed for a “draft” of the strategic plan was “presented” during the two one-hour meetings. But we haven’t come across anyone who got a copy of that draft, or who even knows anybody who got a copy.

And try as we might, we can’t find a copy on the D-64 website going on two weeks after the event.

As we’ve noted in previous posts, the bureaucrats and School Board members that run D-64 don’t want the average taxpayer to know what they’re up to. That could create difficulties in their herding all those taxpayers whom they see as merely a bag of money to be emptied without annoying questions or complaints.

The H-A article doesn’t report how many residents actually showed up at either session of last week’s dog-and-pony show.  And given those pre-7:00 p.m. time slots and D-64’s penchant for secrecy, it’s also no surprise we can’t find any video of either performance on the District’s website, or a roster of attendees. Based on what the H-A reported, the only two attendees were former D-64 Board member Herb Zuegel and Board member-elect Tom Sotos.

Zuegel’s contributions were half-baked observations like: “If parents don’t want kids to learn, they are not going to learn.” In other words, if kids aren’t learning it’s the parents’ fault, not the District’s. That’s such a convenient excuse for a District that never accepts responsibility or accountability for anything, that we wonder whether Zuegel was the District’s designated shill.

Zuegel’s other most significant observation was how achieving a strategic plan is threatened “[w]hen the adults are squabbling over political views and financial views…[and] when their needs become more important that the children’s needs….” Translation: taxpayers who dare to question what D-64 is doing with all their tax dollars should just shut up and let the professional educators do whatever they please.

Fortunately, Sotos’ comments showed real merit and suggest that he could become something other than the PREA’s Plan B candidate he appeared to be during the just-concluded campaign.

He rightly challenged the new five year plan’s lack of any District commitment to raise its academic ranking among districts in comparable communities – which is the only objectively-measurable way for residents and non-residents alike to compare school districts, such as when considering Park Ridge or some other north/northwest suburb for their future residence.

And when hired-gun consultant Robert Ewy tried to give Sotos the bum’s rush by saying the District’s survey results didn’t place improved rankings among major concerns, Sotos called out Ewy by not only expressing skepticism about those survey results but, also, by noting all the residents who told him about their rating concerns.

Had D-64 done the right and honorably thing by releasing those survey results prior to that event, Sotos would have had the ammunition he needed to brand Ewy an outright liar – assuming Sotos actually has what it takes to call a spade a spade.

That’s because those survey results reveal – in the only survey question which even attempts to inquire about the importance of “[c]omparisons to the results of other high achieving school districts, locally and nationally” (Question No. 4) – that those comparisons came in a razor-thin second behind “Measures of student growth over time as students’ [sic] progress through grade levels,” 56.01% to 56.62%, as the evidence most often used to evaluate the quality of D-64 education.

So much for Ewy’s credibility…and the credibility of the D-64 Board and Administration that cooked up this whole charade of a strategic plan process.

Ewy clearlly was brought in solely to create an aura of legitimacy for those strategic plan conclusions which we are pretty darn sure the D-64 administration already had locked and loaded well before the survey was issued and the committee formed.  Because when Supt. Heinz says that D-64 is “doing outreach all the time” and is “talking to parents and community members,” she means it is reaching out to only those certain parents and community members from whom it expects to hear what it wants to hear.

As “Inspector Renault” in the movie Casablanca would say: “Round up the usual suspects!”

And then spoon feed them a bowl of Survey Monkey chow.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Evanston Water: Betting $60 Million On A Magic 8 Ball?

04.21.15

About a dozen years ago, consultant S.B. Friedman helped Park Ridge’s then-mayor, Ron Wietecha, and its then-city manager, Tim Schuenke, convince Park Ridge’s then-city council – which didn’t take much, considering how shamelessly a majority of aldermen were panting over the deal – that “investing” around $30 million in an Uptown TIF would bring a $20-30 million-plus profit by the time the TIF was scheduled to end 23 years later.

Unless you’ve been in a coma for the past several years, however, you know how totally wrong that projection turned out to be: that $20-30 million “profit” is now projected to be a $20+ million loss.

But Wietecha fled to Barrington shortly after getting the TIF passed, Schuenke fled to Wisconsin after the sweetheart development deal was cut with PRC, and not one alderman who rubber-stamped that boondoggle is still on the Council.  In fact, 11 of the 14 didn’t even stand for re-election after then-mayor Howard Frimark led the referendum drive that cut the council from 14 aldermen to 7.

So when we read in last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Park Ridge asked to make water supply decision by July,” 04.14.15) how another consultant – this one paid by Niles and Morton Grove rather than on the City’s meter like Friedman’s was – is claiming the City could save between $74 million and $111 million in water costs over the next 40 years if it spent around $47 million toward the construction of a new water main from the City of Evanston to Park Ridge, our initial reaction was: we’ve seen this movie before.

And it’s a horror film.

Make no mistake about it: our City currently is being gouged on the price of its water purchases from its sole-source supplier, the City of Chicago. And given Chicago’s decades-long self-destructive run toward bankruptcy, we can expect to be gouged even more as Emperor Rahm tries every trick in the book to avoid imposing necessary tax increases on all those mindless serfs (a/k/a Chicagoans) who elected and re-elected him, just like they mindlessly elected and re-elected Rahm’s evil dwarf predecessor whose name Rahm cannot speak.

Consider it the Chicago Way’s equivalent of the Mafia’s code of “omerta.”

So leaving our water supply at the mercy of the ethically-challenged parasites who run Chicago is a very big risk. But so is bonding $47 million when even the consultant trying to separate us from our money can’t come up with a better snake-oil pitch than one that needs 40 years for payback – especially when we’ve already seen just how foolish it is for politicians and bureaucrats to think they can predict a project’s ROI even 10 to 20 years into the future, much less 30 and 40 years out.

For proof, look no further than the Uptown TIF.  And just to show that inept prognosticating isn’t a recent phenomenon, Maine Twp. H.S. District 207 opened Maine North High School in 1970 to accommodate projected enrollment growth, then closed it for good a mere 11 years later when those projections didn’t materialize.

But being wrong, even spectacularly so, has never stopped irresponsible public officials from plowing ahead with bad decisions, especially when they know they’ll be out of office (if not out of town and/or out of state) and, therefore, conveniently non-accountable for those bad decisions by the time those turkeys come home to roost.

Niles and MG are simply looking for deep pockets to share the cost of this major project. And E-Town is just looking for additional revenue sources for itself. None of those three communities cares whether the money they’re looking for comes from Park Ridge, Park Forest, or Park City, Utah.

If the City were to bond the $47 million water line cost (assuming that number is accurate – don’t bet your lunch money on it) at an interest rate of 3% over 20 years – which is the customary term of muni bonds such as these – interest on those bonds would jack that $47 million price up by over $16 million if payments were made annually, or by over $15.8 million if payments were made semi-annually.

That cuts into the $74 million minimum projected savings by around $63 million. Except that the debt service calculation is basically a mathematical lock, while the savings calculation includes a bucket of variables that likely can’t be known with any certainty for a decade, or two, or three.

The H-A article quotes City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton as saying: “We want to make sure the numbers being used in their projections are good numbers and that the assumptions are correct.”

Now there’s a pile of heifer dust that would rival the Augean Stables.  Except Hamilton is no Hercules.

If Hamilton and City Staff actually believe they have a snowball’s chance in hell of coming anywhere close to predicting the cost of water – whether purchased from Chicago or E-Town – for the next 20-30-40 years, they must be smoking the souvenirs of their last trip to Colorado.

For this deal to make any sense at all, the first order of business is to determine whether Evanston is willing to lock in a water rate schedule for enough of those 20-30-40 years that the ROI from water cost savings becomes as close to mathematically certain as the $60+ million cost of building that infrastructure.  Because trading one avaricious water vendor (Chicago) for another (Evanston) without some ironclad guarantees on pricing is just plain foolish.

And one thing we’ve learned from watching Park Ridge government and politics for the past 24 years is that there are rarely any real consequences for bureaucratic foolishness. So when it comes to anything in the nature of long-term predictions or projections, a Magic 8 Ball is about as reliable as any local bureaucrat.

Fortunately, unlike the bobble-headed aldermen back in 2000-2007 who danced to whatever tune Schuenke and the consultants played, the current Council is willing to question and push back against Staff and consultant pronouncements – as you can see with Alds. Dan Knight’s (5th) and Marc Mazzuca’s (6th) interrogations of the Niles/Morton Grove consultant at the Council’s 04.13.15 Committee of the Whole meeting – with the consultant’s presentation starting at 1:11:10 of the meeting video; and Knight ‘s and Mazzuca’s interrogations running from 2:01:10 to 2:22:15.

THAT’s the way elected officials (D-64 and D-207 board members take note!) are supposed to look out for the taxpayers they represent.

Especially when they’re thinking about betting $60+ million of the taxpayers’ money.

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D-64 Once Again Shows That It’s “Chinatown”

04.15.15

In our 01.25.15 post we wrote about Park Ridge-Niles School District 64’s announcement of the formation of a 30-35 member “Strategic Planning Steering Committee” to create a new, “community-driven” five-year strategic plan by involving our community’s “stakeholders.”

TONIGHT (04.15.15) D-64 is offering all of us “stakeholders” a preview of its “working draft” of that strategic plan’s “2020 vision” for D-64. Those previews will be held in two one-hour sessions – 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., or 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. – at Emerson Middle School’s Learning Resource Center.

For all you “stakeholders” who regularly commute home to Park Ridge on the 5:47 or 6:30 p.m. METRA trains, don’t worry: D-64 doesn’t really mind that you won’t be attending. When it comes to community involvement, D-64 has operated under a version of the old Chicago Way creed of: “We don’t want nobody nobody sent.”

Those of you “stakeholders” who know how these dog-and-pony shows tend to be run won’t be surprised to learn that these preview sessions will be “led” by the District’s strategic planning consultant, Bob Ewy, formerly the director of planning and quality programs for Palatine District 15 and now a “performance coach…[who] most often works with senior leaders to develop or refine strategic plans, deploy plans, align organizational systems, develop process management and improvement methodology, develop assessment metrics, build district-level scorecards, and apply continuous process improvement principles and practices.”

And, apparently, with a sub-specialty of drafting-creative-and-self-promoting-job-descriptions-and-resume-inserts.

This draft strategic plan reportedly incorporates feedback from “more than 830 surveys” submitted in March, although after looking at the survey form we would love to see the raw data provided by the answers to those questions. A mere 830 surveys sure doesn’t sound like any kind of representative sampling of the views of over 37,000 “stakeholders” in more than 14,000 households, especially if (as we understand it) the “Surveymonkey” process did not prevent one or more people from “stuffing the ballot box” and skewing the data through multiple responses.

And, true to form for the anti-transparency crew running D-64, the “draft” strategic plan cannot be found on the District’s website so that interested “stakeholders” might read it before tonight’s festivities and show up at the preview sessions with at least some familiarity with the subject matter so that they might ask some informed questions.

Heck, we scoured the D-64 website and weren’t even able to find the names of the 40 “stakeholders” who were selected for the strategic planning committee by what seems to have been secret deliberations by the D-64 Board and/or administration until…wait for it…earlier today – when even the shameless D-64 Board and administration couldn’t justify keeping it a secret any longer, and the List was released.

Heaven forbid that the identities of those members might become known – they might suddenly be inundated with unsolicited input from their relatives, friends, neighbors and acquaintances. And THAT, dear readers, could make it a lot harder for Mr. Ewy to herd those committee members in the direction the D-64 administration desires.

Or maybe D-64 didn’t want to reveal those names any earlier than it had to so as to conceal the fact that, in typical D-64 style, the most grossly under-represented group on that Committee is the “Community” –comprised of only 7 of the 39 (18%) members. Ideally, “community” members would be just plain ol’ ordinary taxpayers with no current direct personal or economic ties to D-64 or to the local public education “establishment” – like, maybe, young married DINKs, or parochial school parents, or even a single person or two who did not grow up here.

But, not surprisingly, that’s not the case.

Of those 7 “community” members, one is current D-64 CFC member (and former D-64 board member – 2007-11) Genie Taddeo; another is retired D-207 assistant supt. John Benka; two more are D-64 parents Paul Lisowski and current D-207 Board member Paula Besler. That leaves only Jackie McNeilly, Len Stoga and Police Chief Frank Kaminski to truly represent the “community” – although Stoga appears to be the designated “community” member for every D-64 strategic plan, as demonstrated by the roster from the 2010 strategic planning committee.

Not surprisingly, we also can’t find any trace on the D-64 website of the agendas, committee packets or minutes of the meetings this committee held in order to come up with this draft strategic plan.

Because that’s what passes for “transparency” and “involving the community’s stakeholders” with the current D-64 Board and administration.

“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

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Election 2015 Re-Cap: Reading The Tea Leaves

04.12.15

Another local election has come and gone, and with it a few surprises and not-so-surprises. After listening to both the noise and the silence over the past several days, here’s what we’ve concluded and speculated about Tuesday night’s results.

City of Park Ridge: The first non-surprise is that Seventh Ward Ald. (and Acting Mayor) Marty Maloney and Fifth Ward Ald. Dan Knight won their uncontested races.

Although nobody ran against Maloney, it apparently isn’t for want of interest in that seat: we hear that at least two – and perhaps more – Seventh Ward residents have been chasing Maloney like dogs after a t-bone, pushing him to take the full complement of mayoral powers by relinquishing his aldermanic seat.

Oh yeah… and then appoint one of them to fill it.

Another non-surprise was Bob Wilkening’s defeat of Rick Van Roeyen by almost 300 votes, 418 to 120, in the traditionally apathetic Third Ward – where contested aldermanic races come along about once a generation. Given that the current alderman won by write-in when no conventional candidates filed nominating petitions, it also should come as no surprise that even this rare contested race drew fewer total votes – for both candidates combined – than were cast for just the winner of the First Ward race. And to add insult to insult, the Third Ward had a lower turnout of registered voters (9.58%) for its contested race than did the uncontested races in the Fifth (10.9%) and Seventh (9.79%) wards.

The takeaway from this race? If Wilkening can stay awake during meetings, we can call this a “Plus-One” for the City. And that’s more than Third Warders deserve because even with their first contested race this millennium they still found a way – through pathetic turnout – to prove just how badly they suck at Citizenship 101!

The “hot” City race was up in the First Ward, where John Moran posted a 16% win – 590 to 430 – over Andrea Cline.

Cline, backed by the “Go Green Park Ridge” organization/association/club/caucus/coffee klatch, garnered some noteworthy endorsements (e.g., Maine Twp. Clerk Gary Warner, former 1st Ward ald. and 2005 mayoral candidate Michael Tinaglia, D-64 Board president Tony Borrelli, 2nd Ward. Ald. Nick Milissis, and former 5th Ward ald. Rich Whalen) for what was perceived by many to be a flooding-oriented campaign – not that there’s anything wrong with that, given our chronic flooding problems.

Moran, the son of a former alderman, seemed to draw support from some remnants of the defunct Homeowners Party, as well as from a broad network of social contacts. His campaign focused more on the financial side of City government, which may have resonated with more voters because of the City’s emphasis – thanks to the late Mayor Dave – on the financial problems accumulated over the better part of two decades.

The takeaway from this race: flooding does matter, but there appears to be a growing recognition that most/all government problems are rooted in, and must be solved by, financial matters. If Moran walks his finance talk, this should also be a “Plus-One” for the City.

Park Ridge Park District: In the biggest squeaker of the night, two-term incumbent Park Commissioner Jim O’Brien edged two-term incumbent Park Commissioner Mary Wynn Ryan by only 18 votes – 2,330 to 2,312 – for the third and last of three seats on the Park Board. Interestingly enough, both O’Brien and Ryan ran similar low-key campaigns, eschewing yard signs and mailers and, instead, choosing to run on their respective records.

The leading vote getter was the only non-incumbent, Cindy Grau, another “Go Green Park Ridge” candidate who had to overcome a petition challenge to stay on the ballot. She scored a 10-vote win over second-place finisher Mel Thillens, 2,409 to 2,399, and was the leading vote-getter in 14 of the 33 Park District precincts – showing the most strength in Maine Twp. precincts 24, 25, 27 and 42. Thillens, on the other hand, was best of show in Leyden Twp. precinct 23 and Maine precincts 30, 43 and 65.

The takeaway from this race? With Grau and Ryan seemingly singing from the same hymn book, the chanteuse with the signs beat the one without. We’ll call this a “Push” for the Park District, at least until Grau shows whether she can carry a different tune from Ryan’s.

School District 64: In the waning days of the election a flier appeared that encouraged voting for PREA-recruit Greg Bublitz, PREA-maybe Tom Sotos, and Board president Tony Borrelli. The message was clear: Anybody but Mark Eggemann.

But when the smoke cleared early Wednesday morning, Eggemann stood atop the leader board with a 168-vote margin over the second-place Borrelli, whom Sotos trailed by 242 votes. Missing the cut was Bublitz.

Interestingly, Eggemann led the pack in 20 of 36 precincts and finished second in 6 more, while Bublitz won only one precinct: Maine Twp. precinct 36 – and that by a mere 4 votes over Borrelli and 5 votes over Eggemann. Equally interesting was Borrelli’s showing, inasmuch as he conducted a low-key, yard sign-less campaign with only one mailer.

The takeaway? The PREA does a better job of manipulating Gumby-like Board members than it does the voters.  Consequently, the PREA won’t be getting another rubber stamp to replace departing best-boy John Heyde. And Eggemann, hopefully, can contribute some much-needed backbone for the rest of the Board members who have bent to the PREA’s and administrators’ wills and whims for far too long.

School District 207: The size of District 207 tends to make its Board a safe haven for incumbents no matter how inept or profligate they might be. Challengers without significant name recognition have a steep uphill battle, because the District is virtually impossible to attack on a door-to-door walking basis. So a successful challenger needs yard signs and/or mailers to level the playing field.

Only one of the three challengers to the slate of incumbents Sean Sullivan, Paula Besler and Pablo Morales had enough of those to make a difference: Teri Collins, the executive director of MCYAF who ran only 218 votes behind two-term incumbent Sullivan and 604 votes behind front-runner Besler for the third seat.

The odd incumbent out was Morales, who was appointed to the Board late last August and, therefore, had only seven months of Board service to make a name for himself. But despite having his own signs and being included with Sullivan and Besler on their slate’s signs, not only did Morales lose to Collins, but he also lost fourth place to Jill Dolan, a candidate with little name recognition and the ability to create any kind of yard-sign presence only in the last weeks of the campaign.

The takeaway? Expect the same old same old from D-207 for the next two years, even if Collins can muster spine enough to actually challenge the Kool-Aid drinking Board majority to demand better educational achievement from the very well-paid teachers and administrators. And props to Dolan and Patel for making their runs.

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