Public Watchdog.org

Biagi Explains, Defends Vote For Heinz’s $75K In Administrator Raises

09.21.17

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today we are posting what was submitted by D-64 Board vice-president Rick Biagi as a comment to our 09.18.17 post and Update.

While we disagree with him on some key points, we respect this effort to apprise his constituents of the reasons behind his vote for Supt. Heinz’s $75,000 of raises for District administrators. We also appreciate his persistence in trying to bring H.I.T.A. to a Star Chamber-like unit of government that has been bereft of it for decades.

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I don’t expect a pat on the back for what transpired the other evening but I would like to provide a bit more detail than the Trib gave – if I still disappointed everyone after hearing me out, then I’m prepared to take my lumps.

Prior to the public tantrum I threw at a Board meeting several weeks ago, Dr. Heinz was poised to receive a $75,000 bucket of money to apportion out to 19 principals and assistant principals, at her sole discretion, without any oversight whatsoever. Had I not pitched a fit over three separate Board meetings, the vote would’ve been 6-1 or 5-2 at best, to hand her the cash. In the end, I would’ve stood on principle and your and my $75k would’ve been spent with absolutely no transparency or accountability.

Until I loudly complained, there was no comparable data for the public to see, there was no detail regarding how these administrators’ performance was being objectively evaluated, and there was no explanation whatsoever for how the money was to be apportioned…it was just Borrelli Doctrine on full display…”sometimes, we just need to trust our Superintendent”.

Let’s talk facts for a moment – as a result of my cajoling and insistence, Dr. Heinz publicly detailed the formal process by which administrators are, in fact, reviewed. The State requires her to place these folks into one of four buckets – 1) unsatisfactory, 2) needs improvement, 3) proficient, and 4) distinguished. Dr. Heinz went on record to state that anyone falling into the first two buckets will not have their contract renewed with the District…the other two buckets contain people whom she wants to see grow and to be retained. Dr. Heinz went on to publicly explain the rubric she uses to review the performance of the administrators and how they are placed into one of these four buckets.

The role of the Board, in this case, is to insure that the Superintendent is evaluating these folks with objective criteria and following her methodology in a fair and consistent manner, rather than evaluating people arbitrarily and rewarding the sycophants while condemning her detractors. In my opinion, Dr. Heinz established, publicly, that she is, in fact, conducting objective performance appraisals of these folks.

So, with that established in my mind, the remaining question centered on the validity of the “comparable” data. Rather than take an average of all school districts in northern Cook County, as Dr. Heinz wanted to do, I complained loudly enough that she changed course and relied on the 5 “comparable” districts that the Board had previously identified during the last PREA negotiation. The Board, at the time, took into account such things as EAV, student population, number of low-income and ESL students, among others. Are these districts truly comparable to D64? I have absolutely no idea – there, I said it – I’m not sure. But, the alternatives I had in front of me were: 1) accept the northern Cook County average, 2) come up with my own list of comparable districts, 3) hire a consultant who knows far more than the Board to come up with a list of comparable districts, at a great expense to the taxpayers, or 4) go with the 5 districts that the previous Board identified after much consternation. Again, I have no clue whether these five districts are truly comparable – and my guess is that if we asked 10 “experts” to opine on it, we would get ten different answers.

In the end, it was through my leadership that the Board unanimously approved a structure which requires that Dr. Heinz publicly disclose the rubric for her performance evaluations and then allocates $57,000 amongst 19 people, BASED ON THEIR PERFORMANCE (with the average coming in at around 2.6%). At my request, we also gave Dr. Heinz $18,000 to use for a handful of administrators that had been hired long ago, far under market levels, and who remain under their peers in pay (based on years of service, performance, etc.).

I run a law firm for a living and I know, all too well, the difficulty in finding, grooming and retaining good talent. While it doesn’t all boil down to money, certainly workplace environment, challenging projects and pleasant colleagues all play a role – but, most of the time money is the motivating factor in most employee’s decisions to stay or go. Paying my staff appropriately for the job they perform proves to them that I value their work and that they are a appreciated and important part of my team, without whom I would not be able to serve my clients. I suspect that Dr. Heinz looks at her staff in much the same way.

If you watch the video from this Monday evening, you will see me sitting there, head in hands, for a good part of the “pay raise” discussion. I wasn’t doing it for show or to look like I was some pompous blowhard who was thoughtfully weighing the facts before handing down my judgment…instead, I was truly torn. I had previously demanded data for the public to see, which would make the whole process transparent and hold Dr. Heinz and her staff accountable. I didn’t get everything I asked for, but they came pretty close. I was uncomfortable with the notion of not giving these folks a pay raise – I’ve seen many of these administrators in action and, in my opinion, most are doing a very good job of running their respective schools and managing a bevy of teachers. I personally don’t think that we can equate test scores with administrator performance – in my opinion, take it for what it’s worth, I think that student success, test scores and the like, are affected almost solely by Dr. Heinz, her Superintendent of Curriculum, and the teachers who carry out their orders. Again, in my opinion, the administrators are more like managers of large institutions – they have budgets to meet, people to manage, and facilities to oversee – all on a micro, rather than macro level…and, in my opinion, most of these folks are doing a pretty good job of it.

So, after that longwinded explanation, if you still feel I failed the taxpayers of the District and didn’t score a victory for HITA, then I’m willing to accept the blame and the criticism. Thanks for hearing me out.

Richard “Rick” Biagi

Vice-President

Park Ridge-Niles School District 64

Tribune Editorial Shows Folly Of The “Borrelli Doctrine” (Updated)

09.18.17

In our last post we reported how Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Board president Tony “Who’s The Boss?” Borrelli attempted to defend Supt. Laurie “I’m The Boss!” Heinz from criticism over her slush fund by insisting: “We have to trust Dr. Heinz that she is being fiscally careful with our money.”

From here on out we will refer to that bit of abject cluelessness as the “Borrelli Doctrine.”

And if you want an example of what can happen when school boards, or any other public governing bodies, subscribe to the Borrelli Doctrine, you need look no further than last Thursday’s (09.14.17) Chicago Tribune editorial titled: “How unique was Lincoln-Way? And where was the school board?”

That editorial addressed the indictment of former Lincoln-Way High School District 210 Lawrence Wyllie on federal fraud and embezzlement charges. Wyllie is accused of surreptitiously pocketing $85,000, and of fraudulently inflating the district’s financial outlook that resulted in the district’s undertaking of an additional $7 million of debt – even though none of that debt appears to have wound up in his pocket.

But the $50,000 he put into a dog training school, the $368,148 infusion into his annuity account, and the $30,000 of charges on his district credit card – all of which were approved by the Lincoln-Way school board members – caused the Trib’s editorial board to ask whether those board members were “daydreaming” or “asleep for the three-year period” when they voted their approval of those expenditures.

We’ll quote the most salient part of the Trib editorial verbatim:

Being a member of a village or school board shouldn’t just be an ego trip — it requires serving as firewall to the kind of alleged mismanagement that, in Lincoln-Way’s case, got the affluent district on the state’s financial watch list.

There’s also a crucial lesson here for taxpayers. It’s their money that’s getting pocketed in these scandals, their kids’ education that’s at stake, and their votes that can make all the difference between a school board member who cares and one who couldn’t care less.

Too often, suburban municipal and school district elections amount to popularity contests that steer clear of assessing a candidate’s acumen for sound governance and skeptical oversight. All too often, voters blindly check the familiar ballot names of incumbents. Or they pick a name that simply has a nice ring to it. Or, specifically in school board races, they rely on endorsements from the local teachers union, which has reasons to want friends on the board.

Ah, yes, the board.

Maybe when prosecutors and defense attorneys finish telling their stories, all of us will know the answer to a question with implications larger than Lincoln-Way: Where was the school board?

That editorial dealt with the indictment of Supt. Wyllie, but it could also serve as an indictment of the Borrelli Doctrine that encourages the bobbleheaded rubber-stamping of which we’ve been so critical over the past decade that this blog has been regularly posting about local government, its occasional successes, and its many failings.

The see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil approach to school board service has been the standard operating procedure not only at D-64 but also at D-207 for as long as one can remember, but Borrelli deserves the dubious distinction of being the namesake of the Borrelli Doctrine because he actually articulated it publicly.

For that, we thank him.

We expect that doctrine to be on display again this evening when the Board is scheduled to take up, once again, the approval of Heinz’s slush fund, now that she has provided the “data” and what passes in her world as an “analysis” of how D-64 administrators’ pay stacks up against certain allegedly “comparable” districts.

If you’re interested in that discussion, however, don’t plan on showing up at the Jefferson School Multipurpose Room until 9:00 p.m., because that’s when that part of tonight’s festivities are scheduled to kick off. That will be 2.5 hours into the proceedings, presumably after the Board members have already been sufficiently pounded down and fatigued by a “Facilities” presentation and, therefore, less inclined to aggressively spar with Heinz and Finance Czarina Luann Kolstad over their attempted justifications for the slush-funded administrator raises which can be found at pages 79 through 89 of the Report, starting with the somewhat confusing explanation that these raises are based on “comparable” districts rather than being “market adjustments.”

Not surprisingly, Heinz and Kolstad have chosen to work with the average “comparable” salaries rather than the medians of those salaries, the better to more easily skew the results using the outlier salaries of the most highly-paid individuals; e.g., two of Glenview’s three elementary principals are reportedly making $161K and $148K, respectively, (although no “years of service” are shown for them) compared to D-64’s highest one of six, who is knocking down a paltry $133K.

But guess what? Heinz and Kolstad don’t even include their calculations of the averages they came up with, so even that defective measure can’t be independently verified.

According to the Borrelli Doctrine, however, the Board – and the taxpayers they represent – should just trust Heinz, Kolstad and their numbers despite the numerous unexplained anomalies, such as a D-64 middle school Assistant Principal with 20 years of service making $107K while another D-64 Assistant Principal (with unidentified years of service) is making $117K.

Looking at all the numbers individually rather than by average, however, suggests that D-64 salaries are already pretty competitive. So why the increases?

Is D-64 losing its administrators to other districts? Is Heinz having trouble recruiting that 5-year Assistant Supt. Curriculum (“ASC”) from Glenview making $177K who won’t come to D-64 because the current 5-year ASC is getting only $155K? If so, why doesn’t Heinz recruit the 4-year ASC from Deerfield making only $108K, or the 4-year ASC from Libertyville making only $147K?

We don’t know.

But the real problem is that this “analysis” looks like a half-baked apples-to-oranges-to-grapes-to-cantaloupes effort – with incomplete (e.g., years of service) and anomalous data – thrown together by Heinz and Kolstad just to make it look like they have responded to Board concerns expressed at the August 28 meeting, so that they can push an already-weary Board to just say “Yes!” to slush tonight.

It looks like garbage in. The question remains whether it will result in garbage out.

Updated 09.20.17.  The result is “garbage out”: The D-64 Board voted unanimously to approve $75,000 that Heinz will distribute to 19 administrators – $57K based on performance evaluations, $18K as “market adjustments” in relation to 5 allegedly “comparable” districts, all of which appear to be performing at significantly better academic levels than D-64.

We have yet to watch the meeting video – because it’s still not posted on the D-64 site – but our stringers in attendance report that both Heinz and Kolstad, in the face of questioning by Biagi and fellow Board members Larry Ryles and Tom Sotos, responded with a barrage of purported “data” that had not previously been furnished to the Board members or posted on the District’s website for review by the taxpayers.

Unfortunately, rather than responding to that ambush by tabling the discussion until all that new “data” could be digested and evaluated, the Board caved.

Over two centuries ago Sun Tzu observed: “Secret operations are essential in war; upon them the army relies to make its every move.”

Once again, Heinz and Kolstad proved Sun Tzu correct. By keeping all that apparently decisive information secret until the 11th hour before dumping it on the over-matched Board and goading it into a premature vote, they won another battle of the public purse.

This time it was only $75K. But emboldened by knowledge of this Board’s weakness, you can bet Heinz and Kolstad will employ the same tactics to shoot for a whole lot more next time.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Can D-64 Board Melt Heinz’s Slush?

09.14.17

Recently we wrote about the roughly $33,000 that Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 would be spending the remainder of this budget year to put a modern-day “Officer Friendly” in Lincoln and Emerson Middle Schools from 8 to 10 hours per week – for what appears to be palliative reasons, at best.

Today we write about the latest boondoggle from D-64 Board president Tony “Who’s The Boss?” Borrelli and Supt. Laurie “I’m The Boss!” Heinz: A $70,000 slush fund so that Heinz can give raises to subordinate administrators of her choosing.

As reported by the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“District 64 holds off on superintendent’s request for pay hikes to administrators,” Sept. 5), at the August 28th Board meeting Heinz insisted the money was needed to bring those administrators up to “market” rates, presumably to keep them from jumping to higher-paying jobs in other districts. The 2.62% average bump that $70,000 of slush give to the administrators just happens to approximate the 2.60% bump D-64 teachers are scheduled to get this school year.

Don’t you just love these kinds of coincidences?

How many of you taxpayers are getting a 2.60% raise this year for doing the same job you did last year? For that matter, how many of you: (a) work for employers who can’t pick up and move to another state or another country; (b) never have to travel more than a few miles to your job; and (c) have defined benefit pension plans that dwarf the equivalent Social Security benefits, include annual COLAs, are guaranteed by the constitution of the State of Illinois, and that you can start receiving by age 60, if not earlier?

If you work in the highly-competitive private sector, we’re guessing darn few of you. In the non-competitive public sector, it’s the rule rather than the exception.

We suggest that you watch the discussion of Heinz’s slush fund on the meeting video, starting at the 3:35:18 mark and running for slightly more than an hour. If you do, you’ll hear Borrelli say things like: “If you get a 2% raise when the CPI is 2.5, you’ve lost money in reality because you’re not keeping up with the CPI.”

In other words, Borrelli and Heinz want D-64 taxpayers to foot the bill for annual raises for administrators NOT because those administrators are working harder or better but, instead, simply so this special class of public employees doesn’t have to suffer the pinch of inflation like the rest of us do.

When was the last time you heard the directors or officers of a private-sector employer demean a 2% raise that way – assuming they were giving out raises at all?

Not surprisingly, Heinz mocks the idea of performance-based raises: “There are no schools in this area that do merit-based increases [because] that is not a productive way to encourage collaboration.”

Let that be a lesson to all you non-collaborative private-sector workers who bust your humps to earn your merit-based raises!

In past years under previous school boards, Heinz’s blind-pig funding requests were heartily endorsed by Borrelli and rubber-stamped by his fellow bobble-heads with nary a question or whimper. But back in July when Heinz first brought up this slush fund bearing a $75,000 price tag, Board vice-president Rick Biagi – elected just this past April – refused to buy Heinz’s and the District’s alleged financial guru Luann Kolstad’s representations about administrative pay “targets” based on “comparable” school districts, and the “bumps” needed to hit those “targets.” He actually demanded the underlying data.

Data? Heinz and Kolstad don’ nidd no steenkink data!

As with most of Illinois’ dysfunctional local governmental units, glorified bureaucrats like Heinz and Kolstad rule by a perverse kind of Divine Right – like English kings, pre-Magna Carta. And if they rely on any data at all for their decisions, they never voluntarily share it for fear that the few competent and diligent elected officials overseeing them, or motivated taxpayers who are underwriting their follies, will realize that the bureaucrats’ edicts and fiats are factually suspect, if not totally baseless.

So even the most benign taxpayer inquiries and criticisms are regularly met with the witheringly defiant tagline: “IT’S FOR THE KIDS!”

By the August 28 Board meeting the imperious Heinz still had not provided Biagi and the rest of the Board with the data requested a month earlier. Nevertheless, she seemed to be expecting a rubber-stamping of her $70,000 of slush until Biagi let her know at least one Board member would not go gently into that dark night – no matter what his fellow Board members wanted to do.

Rather than join in Biagi’s insistence on getting the data that allegedly supports Heinz’s bald-faced conclusion that her administrators were underpaid by “market” standards, Borrelli (at the 4:41:26 mark of the video) predictably leapt to her defense:

“So I think what it comes down to is trust: We have to trust Dr. Heinz that she is being fiscally careful with our money.”

“Trust, but verify” obviously is a foreign concept to Borrelli, especially when it comes to Heinz.

Fortunately, new Board member Fred Sanchez and, amazingly, even “Tilted Kilt Tommy” Sotos provided enough support for Biagi that, with Larry Ryles MIA, Borrelli and Heinz realized they didn’t have the four votes they needed. So action on the $70,000 and another $43,000 of slush (for about 25 non-union staff members) was deferred to this coming Monday (Sept. 18).

Before the D-64 Board votes to give one more dime of CPI-based raises or embarks on Heinz’s/Kolstad’s grand plan to push those allegedly underpaid administrators up to whatever “market” salaries are in comparable districts, however, we hope that Biagi, Sanchez and Sotos – and at least one more member of the Board, in order to create a majority – force open-session debates on the following policy questions:

  • Why should D-64 taxpayers have to provide District employees with inflation/CPI-based raises?

 

  • How many administrators (or teachers, for that matter) have left D-64 for the same or an equivalent position in another district over the past five years for money reasons – or for ANY reason?

 

  • If these administrators have been so “underpaid” for so long why hasn’t there been an exodus of them from D-64?

 

  • What specific criteria were used to identify the five “comparable” districts as “comparable” for determining the newly-sacred “market” for administrators in which D-64 allegedly competes?

 

  • Why is Kolstad trying to use “average” administrative salaries – which can be skewed by outlier numbers – from those comparable districts instead of median salaries?

Frankly, we don’t expect these policy questions to get resolved, or even addressed, before Heinz and Kolstad bend a  majority of the Board to their wills and walk away with their slushies, even if they have to give their solemn assurances – wink wink, nod nod – that they will “dive deeper into the data” before next year’s slush season.

But maybe, just maybe, this slush fund discussion is a sign that some real reform is starting to get traction at D-64. After all, hope does spring eternal.

At D-64, unfortunately, hope pressure is dangerously low.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Labor Day 2017

09.04.17

Last Labor Day our post discussed all the good things private sector labor unions have achieved for American workers – including today’s national holiday – while also noting the bad things public sector unions have foisted on taxpayers, most of whom are private sector union and non-union workers.

Because public sector union members almost exclusively provide services rather than goods, the global economy does not provide the same checks and balances on that sector that it does to the private sector dominated by manufacturing and retail. Hence, 34.4% of public sector workers are unionized compared to only 6.4% of private sector workers, according to a 2017 report by the U.S. Dept. of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And most, if not all, of those public sector workers get their wages and benefits from the taxpayers, who  pay for them with the fruits of their own labor.

Which makes it more important than ever that, on this Labor Day, we remember the words of Thomas Jefferson from his first inaugural address in 1801, in which he advocated for “a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”

Two hundred sixteen years later that principle of government is truer than ever – especially here in the mismanaged, corrupt, tax-happy yet almost-bankrupt State of Illinois.

To read or post comments, click on title.

School District 64: Not-Really-Secured Vestibules Meet “Officer Krupke”

08.31.17

“Dear kindly Sergeant Krupke,

You gotta understand,

It’s just our bringin’ up-ke

That gets us out of hand.

Our mothers all are junkies,

Our fathers all are drunks.

Golly Moses, natcherly we’re punks!”

If you’re over 21 and have received a proper education you should instantly recognize Stephen Sondheim’s opening lyrics of “Gee, Officer Krupke” from the iconic musical “West Side Story.”

Park Ridge isn’t the upper west side of New York City of the mid-1950s. And, mirabile dictu, The Ridge isn’t poverty-stricken, or dominated by two rival street gangs of “punks” whose mothers are junkies and whose fathers are drunks.

So why, exactly, did the Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Board vote unanimously at this past Monday night’s meeting to approve a “pilot program” at both of the District’s middle schools that will have a uniformed “school resource officer” (“SRO”) stationed at each school, but only part-time?

According to a story in this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“School resource officers to be stationed part-time at District 64 middle schools,” August 29), a rotating “core group of Park Ridge police officers” will spend up to 8 hours per week at Lincoln, while one “dedicated school resource officer from the Niles Police Department” will be stationed at Emerson for “four hours per day for two and a half days per week” – which we assume means 10 hours per week. That’s 8-10 hours out of the roughly 35 school hours per week.

Can you say “tokenism”? How about “charade”?

The cost of this “pilot program”: A measly $32,950. That’s not even a blip on the D-64 $70 million-plus radar, although the H-A article pointed out that the per-hour cost for the Park Ridge officers is reportedly “roughly $65 per hour” but only “$46.02 per hour” for the Niles officer, a $19 per hour delta.

And even though the H-A article reports that the idea of these school resource officers wasn’t proposed to Board president Tony “Who’s The Boss?” Borrelli and his fellow Board members by Supt. Laurie “I’m The Boss!” Heinz and her staff until July 17 – approximately one week after a Lincoln student and one from Maine South posted on social media a threat to use a gun at Maine South during summer school – D-64 officials insist that the “pilot program” is not related to that incident.

The real reason for this “pilot program”: That’s a little less clear, other than that its main purpose appears to be (according to the H-A article) “building positive relationships between students and the local police departments” in order to restore “the trust that has been destroyed over the years” between D-64 youth and the police.

The article also quotes Niles Police Cmdr. Robert Tornabene’s description 0f the SRO’s role as “a teacher and a counselor to students” who will “deal primarily with bullying issues and internet safety.”

What if that bullying occurs during the 25-27 hours per week the SROs won’t be at their posts? Nobody’s saying.

But it gets even better.

If an Emerson or Lincoln student engages in certain criminal behavior at the school – like, oh, say, dropping a bag of drugs in the hallway in front of an SRO – the SRO apparently won’t be allowed to do his/her police duty. Instead, he/she will act “like a staff member at the school…[and] not arrest someone for having something at school,” according to Cmdr. Tornabene.

Would that same standard apply if, instead of drugs, the dropped item was a Glock? Or a Bushmaster? Once again, nobody’s saying.

According to Supt. Heinz, however, school administrators would get first crack at any such “disciplinary issue” before it “reach[es] the police departments.” And both Tornabene and Park Ridge Police Chief Frank Kaminski acknowledged that SRO’s “would serve at the direction of the middle school administration while on duty at their respective schools.”

Does that mean that D-64, with the assistance of two different police departments, is instituting a program that basically requires an officer sworn to uphold and enforce our laws to refrain from doing his/her police duty but, instead, to delegate it – at least in the first instance – to an unsworn, untrained school administrator who may have the authority to tell the SRO what to do or not do?

Brilliant!

We can only hope that a lot of important details about this “pilot program” are missing from that H-A article, because from that account this sounds almost too stupid to be true. However, if you read the three-page memo about the program on the D-64 website (“Report” at pages 8-10), you won’t find anything that makes it sound any smarter.

Then again, for a District that is blowing millions of dollars on not-really-secured vestibules – which won’t prevent the entry of a kid with an Uzi in his North Face backpack, or a dad with a Glock in his Burberry trench coat pocket, or a mom with a 9mm Beretta Nano in her Gucci purse, or a delivery man wearing a suicide vest under his green windbreaker – putting cops in schools for a few hours a week while effectively neutralizing their police powers sounds like par for the course.

Or more like 18 holes of double and triple bogies.

To read or post comments, click on title.

J.D. Kadd’s Should Not Become Low-Hanging Condos

08.22.17

Within the past few years Park Ridge has filled some significant holes in its commercial and retail space base.

The biggest win in that regard was filling the empty Dominick’s space at Cumberland and Higgins with Mariano’s.

Right behind that comes Shakou, which filled the large space vacated by the Pioneer Press several years earlier. Holt’s took over the prominent space vacated by Pine’s men’s apparel at the corner of Prospect and Summit. And Harp & Fiddle combined the old pharmacy space with the adjacent space formerly occupied by Garden on the Run.

On the other hand, the Pickwick/Pick/Pickwick saga ended badly and, as a result, one of the most prominent retail spaces in Park Ridge sits empty, along with a few more storefronts in Uptown. Those are the spaces people should be concerned about because they are the draws for what our retailers like to call the “vibrant” Uptown.

But recently a lot of attention has been paid to the old J.D. Kadds complex on Northwest Hwy. by the folks holding court on the Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners FB page, provoked by a post by one Sara Brown-Povis at 10:00 a.m. on August 12 bemoaning how “[t]he old JD kadds lot is SUCH an eye sore” and proffering her wish list of “a bar And grill and Starbucks” or even “another nail shop.”

That set off a string of comments containing other people’s wish lists, such as a Buffalo Wild Wings (Jackie Baldur), a “Bakery + Coffee shop” (Jennefer Martin), a Chick Fil-A (Mary Moore Becker), a drive-through “Dunkin’” (Lauren Hall and Ashley Hawkes), a “Jimmy and or Papa John” (Max Power), “Green space” (Park Commissioner Cindy Grau, twice), a BBQ place (Karen Ley), a barber shop (Malcom Hawkes), a lacrosse field (Sarah Sohl Post), or “some sort of indoor facility for sports and fun! Ninja warrior, climbing, tumbling, whatever” (Michelle Tullett Charley).

As the saying goes: “If wishes were horses, all beggars would ride.”

But one of the reasons this country became the most free, successful and powerful one this planet has ever known is because, with a few notable exceptions, capitalism – with its inherent risks and rewards – provides the environment most conducive to achieving the highest and best use of its resources, including property.

So while the J.D. Kadd’s site is currently fallow and an “eye sore,” the chances are pretty good that at some point in the not-too-distant future the current owner or a new one will come up with an idea to make that land more profitable and, presumably, more attractive.

More likely than not it will involve some sort of investment (i.e., “capital”) that carries with it some degree of risk and an equal or better prospect for reward.

And, more likely than not, the person(s) making that investment and taking that risk won’t be any of the folks who have shared their wish lists on the Concerned Homeowners page. Instead, it will be the Bob Marianos, the Declan Stapletons and the Ed Berrys, the Matt Ranallis, the Tim Griffins and the Frank Ernestos who are willing to put their (and/or their investors’, or their lenders’) money on the line and commit their effort to taking their shots.

Until then, however, the J.D. Kadd’s site will remain an eye sore while those pickers of low-hanging fruit – the condo developers and real estate brokers – will lobby the City for zoning changes so that they can make a quick buck.

Just like they are trying to do with the Mr. K’s site on Higgins.

Hopefully the City will resist those low-hanging fruit pickers so that maybe, just maybe, some entrepreneur will find a way to keep that J.D. Kadd’s property commercial, like it has been for decades.

And maybe, in the process, even grant one or more of those wishes.

To read or post comments, click on title.

More Ice At Oakton? Take It To Referendum

08.16.17

It was public intellectual George Santayana who penned that well-known aphorism: “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

That’s the thought that popped into our mind the other day when we read a string of comments to a Facebook post on the Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners page about how the Park District’s Oakton complex NEEDS a second ice surface.

Why?

Because “[t]he demand for ice time in this area is astronomical”; and “[h]ockey players, figure skaters and coaches are being forced to look elsewhere for ice time (Which translates to finances leaving Park Ridge),” according to the FB post’s author, Teresa Smith Nelson.

Those of you who have been around Park Ridge and who actually can “remember the past” may recall how the issue of a second ice surface at Oakton has popped up every so often over the past 20 years, usually wrapped in the same rhetoric: A huge demand for ice time, “finances leaving Park Ridge” and how the facility will pay for itself. That rhetoric is advanced primarily by parents who are tired of schlepping their kids to other towns for early morning or late night ice time, as well as those who object to paying the higher non-resident rates for the ice-time and/or programs.

Government-owned recreational facilities rarely pay for themselves even on merely an “operating” basis, much less by covering the debt service for their construction costs. Consequently, even preventing all those “finances leaving Park Ridge” rarely, if ever, generates enough revenue to turn the ledger ink for that facility from red to black.

Which is why there are so few purely private ice rinks (a la Johnny’s Ice House on West Madison in Chicago) being built in the Chicagoland area. And why many/most of the private rink complexes still in operation have gone through one or more foreclosures and/or bankruptcies until vulture investors could pick them up at deep discounts (a la Seven Bridges in Woodridge).

This blog’s editor played hockey from age 7 to age 40 so, frankly, we have no problem with a second, or even a third, ice surface being added at Oakton. Heck, throw in a major renovation and expansion of the current locker rooms, team rooms, etc. Maybe go whole hog and add a restaurant, bar, gift shop and parking deck!

But unless some private developer shows up with a grand plan and a check big enough to pay for it, we hope the Park Ridge Park District Board sends any proposal for more ice at Oakton to referendum.

That way, the taxpayers who will end up on the hook for a facility only a small fraction of our residents seem to want – an amenity, not a necessity – can get the chance to express their support or lack thereof at the voting booth.

We already have two second/third-rate Park District facilities that were foisted on the taxpayers without referendum, both coincidentally at Centennial Park: The Fitness Center (formerly the “Community Center”) and the water park, each one costing the taxpayers over $10 million, give or take a million or so once the debt service is added in.

The Fitness Center was so undersized and so badly designed from the day it opened back in the early ‘90s that, fifteen years ago, an executive of a major fitness chain took a tour of the place before concluding that his company wouldn’t accept ownership or management of it even if they could get it for free!

Among his many deal-breakers: Only two basketball courts; no exercise room; not enough racquetball/handball courts; a swimming pool too short and too narrow to hold swim meets; and access to that pool area that required walking through the middle of the men’s locker room showers, where curtain-less showers (at that time) created an interesting dilemma for dads taking their young daughters into the pool area for swimming lessons.

Similarly, by keeping the cost of the 3-month-a-year water park within the District’s non-referendum debt limit so that it didn’t have to go to referendum, the 2012-13 Park Board limited its borrowing to just over $6 million of 15-year non-referendum bonds by cutting out some features, including a lazy river – the feature most desired by the District’s 682 survey respondents.

Fortunately for District taxpayers and fans of good government, this past April the voters elected Harmony Harrington, Jim Janak, Rob Leach and Jim O’Donnell, thereby creating a Board majority which already has demonstrated – with their anti-perks vote – that they are a more fiscally-responsible majority than the profligate Board majorities that built the Fitness Center or the water park.

If the drumbeat for more ice surfaces at Oakton continues, expect to hear the traditional war cry of those folks who doubt their pet project can actually win a referendum and, therefore, need to avoid it: “You Board members were elected to make these kinds of decisions!”

They weren’t, of course – because over the past two decades none of them actually campaigned by promising multi-million dollar special-interest amenities without voter approval. Even tone-deaf candidates who believe in spendthrift government know that such overt disrespect for the taxpayers would be political suicide.

So they wrap themselves in the mantle of “fiscal responsibility” and solemnly insist that they “respect the taxpayers”… until they get elected.

Hopefully we now have a Park Board majority whose members really are what they campaigned as, and who really do respect the taxpayers.

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Dave’s And Dan’s “Grilling For The Arts” 2017 Keeps The Tradition Alive

08.09.17

It was the Park Ridge Fine Arts Society concert in Hodges Park on August 3, 2012 where then-Mayor Dave Schmidt and then-Ald. Dan Knight, assisted by Sue Knight and Charlie Melidosian, broke out their Weber kettles on short notice and held a barbecue to raise funds for the PRFAS.

The take that night was about $1,200, all of which went to the PRFAS because Schmidt and Knight donated all the hamburgers, hotdogs, buns, condiments and chips.

The following summer every member of the Council signed onto the event, and “Grilling for the Arts” suddenly became an established annual fundraiser for the PRFAS.

In 2014, Whole Foods demonstrated its community spirit by donating all of the food, helping the event raise $2,400. And Whole Foods has remained the principal sponsor of the event ever since.

Because of Mayor Dave’s sudden, untimely death in March of 2015, that year’s event became semi-officially known as “Mayor Dave’s Grilling for the Arts.” Led by Ald. Knight, the 2015 take was a record $4,000+.

After a down year in 2016 because of oppressively hot and humid weather that curtailed attendance, this year’s perfect weather on July 28 ushered in “Dave and Dan’s Grilling for the Arts” under the leadership of Ald. John Moran, who picked up the baton following Ald. Knight’s death last December. And the 2017 haul reportedly surpassed 2015’s record.

Perhaps even more importantly, however, this year’s edition may have institutionalized the event as a self-sustaining annual fundraiser for the PRFAS, ironically because it now has outlasted both of its co-founders – a key factor in sustainability. Although their deaths have been a double tragedy for City government and the community as a whole, in a lemonade-from-lemons fashion the continuation of the event without skipping a beat may have had some positive effects.

First, the event continues to serve as a reminder of Mayor Dave’s and Ald. Dan’s steadfast belief that, although those PRFAS concerts are a major part of the character and ambience of Park Ridge summers, as a public policy matter they  are amenities rather than necessities and, therefore, should not be funded by tax dollars.

Second, the event demonstrates how a mere dozen or so private individuals  (albeit 7-8 elected City officials), with the assistance of private businesses like Whole Foods, can significantly boost the private funding of our social and cultural amenities.

Third, it directly and immediately engages all those concert attendees – the diners and non-diners alike who donated from $1 to $100 (yes, a couple of those big bills were found in the “Donations” treasure chest) the night of July 28 – in the funding process of an event they would appear (from their attendance) to enjoy, value and, presumably, are willing to support financially.

Granted, $4,000 is just a small dent in the roughly $60,000 it costs to put on six Friday night concerts at approximately $10,000+ per concert. But if only 600 or so of the folks who attend three or four of those concerts every summer would each write just one $100 check a year to the PRFAS, the entire cost for a summer’s worth of concerts would be covered – without the need or temptation to hit up those taxpayers who don’t attend, don’t enjoy and, therefore, don’t value the these particular amenities.

Substantial private support for the PRFAS and all the other private organizations that make Park Ridge a more pleasant place to live is what Dave Schmidt and Dan Knight were trying to inspire with their efforts back in August of 2012. Hopefully, that’s the kind of support their “Grilling for the Arts” will continue to inspire for many summers to come.

And if you find yourself inspired by reading this, click HERE for a shortcut to the donation page of the PRFAS website.

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Ald. Moran Provides Object Lesson On Anti-H.I.T.A. City Government

08.03.17

Today we present another object lesson in bad local government.

Unlike most of our recent bad government lessons which tend to focus on those two Star Chambers that are the Boards of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 and Maine Twp. High School District 207, however, today’s lesson features the unit of local governmental that for the past 8 years has been a bastion of Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability (“H.I.T.A.”): The City of Park Ridge.

This lesson is provided courtesy of Alderman John Moran (1st) via his August 2, 2:19 p.m. comment to our July 26, 2017 post in which we criticized the City Council’s very own Star Chamber secretive closed-session process by which it transitioned Joe Gilmore from “Acting” to full-fledged City Manager. We suggest you read that post and its Comments as context for the rest of this post.

Notwithstanding Ald. Moran’s attempt to pivot from defending a bad selection process to defending the substantive merits of Gilmore’s appointment, such a politician’s maneuver can’t change what we already have said and will say once again: Gilmore has demonstrated the potential for becoming a better City Manager than any of his past three predecessors who under-served (Shawn Hamilton) and outright dis-served (Tim Schuenke, Jim Hock) the taxpayers of this community over the past 30 years.

So without further ado, let the lesson begin with Ald. Moran’s own words:

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To compare this process to the Heinz “rolling” contract” is not apples to apples. Also, this contract in its entirety was posted to the city website in advance of any finalization via council vote. How many citizens showed up to complain or ask questions about how were arrived at the proposed contract? How many emails did the council receive questioning the same? NONE We would have gladly explained how and why we came to the contract we did, but no one asked.

As for the 4 year contract, it is not a guaranteed 4 years he can be fired for cause or let go without cause, the later triggers a 4 month severance agreement, a fair deal, and not a windfall for Gilmore by any means(I’ve seen much longer deals in the private sector). Even the COLA only kicks in if the COL actually increases and we have a cap on it. If you are going to argue that it’s “guaranteed” in the fact that we can’t lower his salary, that is correct, but if his performance is so dismal that we want to lower his salary, I would argue we are better off firing him.

In my opinion, we simply could not discuss negotiation points on this matter in open session and still hope to get the best deal possible for the residents… you will only get the minimum acceptable deal.

As for the process the best analogy is this… Compare it to a game of Go Fish where one player has their cards face up and the other is playing them in hand.

There are very few times when the best interest of the taxpayer has to be handled in closed session, by the individuals who were elected to represent them. The council will be judged on the success or failure of the decisions like this. That is the nature of the position.

My comment about the Schmidt/Hamilton process (above) had less to do with the end result(shitty city manager) and more to do with the fact that Mayor Schmidt, the father of HITA, didn’t adhere to those principals when he and Hamilton negotiated on a cocktail napkin. Where was the public involvement there? So, why are we being held to a different standard on the process??

This was not a union negotiation, so again it’s not apples to apples. Labor negotiations can go to arbitration. The only 2 outcomes here were Joe Gilmore takes the job or he doesn’t. We identified him as a very desirable candidate and then attempted to obtain the best terms possible for the city. As for the hindsight on Hamilton vs Gilmore, in the 8 months(or so) he served as action city manager, Gilmore already had proven to be a more competent leader via the strategic planning and budget process.

*                             *                             *

Acceptance of Ald. Moran’s arguments that “the best interest of the taxpayer” has been served by this contract requires that the taxpayers be dumb enough and/or apathetic enough to ignore the following inconvenient truths, none of which Ald. Moran seems to recognize or understand:

  1. The unprecedented 4-year duration of Gilmore’s contract is patently WORSE for the taxpayers (by a full year) than even D-64 Supt. Laurie Heinz’s ridiculous 3-year contract that the D-64 Board reflexively rolls over for another year as each current one expires;

 

  1. The unprecedented 4-year duration of Gilmore’s contract is patently WORSE for the taxpayers than the 9-month initial deal Mayor Dave gave Hamilton, as well as Hamilton’s subsequent at-will deal that required neither (a) cause for the City’s termination of him, nor (b) a 4-month severance entitlement like Gilmore just received; and

 

  1. Gilmore’s $171,000 salary – which cannot be reduced for the full 4-year duration and includes an automatic annual COLA increase – is WORSE for the taxpayers than Hamlton’s ending $160,000 one, which could be reduced and included no automatic raise.

In every material respect, therefore, the contract given Gilmore is bad for Park Ridge taxpayers – and the secretive process by which it came about even worse.

How far has this Council fallen away from H.I.T.A. ideals, and why?

Consider how Ald. Moran attempts to sweep this abuse of H.I.T.A. under the rug by noting that no taxpayers “showed up [at the Council meeting to complain or ask questions about how were [sic] arrived at the proposed contract” for Gilmore, blithely ignoring how the Council hid all Gilmore contract discussions in closed sessions for weeks before quietly slipping the finished contract into a meeting packet – with no advance notice or warning to either local newspaper or to the taxpayers – a mere 72 hours (48 of which were a weekend) before the meeting.

Will that kind of “hiding in plain sight” gamesmanship become the new paradigm for Transparency at City Hall?

Unfortunately, the answer may well be “yes” so long as taxpayers let this Council get away with it like they have let the D-64 Board and the D-207 Board get away with their Star Chamber closed sessions for all these years, even as their schools’ academic performance and rankings have fallen while the costs-per-student have soared.

What Ald. Moran’s arguments basically come down to is: Trust us – “the individuals who were elected to represent” the taxpayers.

That’s exactly the request/command we’ve heard from the likes of Mike Madigan, John Cullerton, George Ryan, Rod Blagojevich, Rahm Emanuel, Richie Daley and every other non-transparent, dishonest and accountability-shirking political weasel throughout this state who have done their part to run it into the ground over the past 30 years.

The reason Mayor Dave came up with H.I.T.A. is because no local taxpayer should have to trust any local public official, much less any local official who fancies himself/herself a “politician.” Instead, H.I.T.A . requires that those local officials trust us taxpayers enough to tell us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth – so that we can judge for ourselves whether they are acting in our best interest or selling us down the river.

But as we’ve seen over and over again, Transparency leads to Accountability. And no politician wants to be held accountable for anything unless it comes with a pat on the back and thunderous applause.

So if Ald. Moran and any other local officials want to talk the H.I.T.A. talk, they had better walk the H.I.T.A. walk.

And what they just did with the Gilmore contract isn’t even the H.I.T.A. crawl.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Gilmore The Right Choice From A Wrong Council Process

07.26.17

Back in 2012 when the Park Ridge City Council sacked then-city mgr. Jim Hock for not performing up to expectations, the chirping began about how the City was getting the reputation as being bureaucrat-unfriendly because Mayor Dave Schmidt and that Council dared to actually demand high performance from the City’s top employee.

The chirping got louder in May 2016 when Hock’s replacement, Shawn Hamilton, resigned rather than be subjected to what was likely to be an unsatisfactory performance review by then-Acting Mayor Marty Maloney and a slightly different Council from the one that launched Hock.

The chirpers made even more dire predictions about how nobody from the “city manager” class of public employees would apply for the job and subject themselves to…um…er…well, objectively measurable performance standards and a Council willing to demand they be met.

Maloney and the Council chose to make relatively new City Finance Director Joe Gilmore (he didn’t join City staff until early 2015) the acting City Mgr. The appointment was intended to be temporary, primarily because Gilmore saw himself as a “finance guy” and didn’t believe he had the chops for the top job.

It actually took some heavy-duty lobbying by Maloney and the late Ald. Dan Knight, the Council’s then-Finance Committee chairman, to persuade Gilmore to accept the position, even on a temporary basis.

But right out of the blocks Gilmore began showing that he could do the job, in large part by eschewing the political maneuvering and gamesmanship that Hock and Hamilton could not resist and, instead, focusing on the nuts and bolts of his own and City staff’s work product. In so doing he provided the Council with what it needed to do its job better. And on those rare occasions when something did not meet the Council’s standards, Gilmore immediately owned the error and promptly made sure it was corrected.

So we applaud the Council for unanimously removing the “acting” part of Gilmore’s title, which it did at its July 10, 2017 meeting. And we fully expect that Gilmore will prove himself to be a significant improvement over his three predecessors: Hamilton, Hock and Schuenke.

As reported in a July 12 article in the Park Ridge Journal (“It’s Official: Gilmore Named City Manager”), Gilmore’s starting salary as City Mgr. is $171,000 – which Ald. Marc Mazzuca (6th Ward) observed, for some unknown reason, was  approaching the $174,000 salary of a U.S. Senator.

Irrespective of what a U.S. Senator is paid, we believe $171,000 is a reasonable salary for someone in charge of a $70 million-plus enterprise, especially if he does his job better than his three most recent predecessors.

Mazzuca also lauded the Council for its handling of Gilmore’s new contract. But after reading the Journal story and checking some past Council meeting minutes, we have to disagree with Mazzuca and wonder whether this Council is already starting to walk itself back from Mayor Dave Schmidt’s H.I.T.A. (“Honesty. Integrity. Transparency. Accountability.) doctrine.

Let’s start with the Council’s decision to give Gilmore a four-year contract with annual raises based on increases in the cost of living (i.e., a COLA, or a non merit-based raise), which we believe to be unprecedented for a Park Ridge City official. But the real problem is that it appears to have been discussed entirely in closed sessions.

Although the Journal reported “closed session meetings every week to discuss the city manager position and terms of a job offer” since Marty Joyce’s appointment as 7th Ward alderman, our review of the meeting minutes since Joyce’s appointment show only two closed sessions “to discuss the appointment employment, compensation, discipline, performance or dismissal of specific employee(s)” prior to the announcement of Gilmore’s contract: At the June 5 and June 19 meetings.

We know that the City’s attorneys from Ancel Glink consistently panic-peddle their opinion that the Public Records Review Act (“PRRA”) – which expressly applies only to Freedom Of Information Act (“FOIA”) requests for documents – also prohibits any discussion of performance reviews in Council meetings governed by the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”). We took issue with that opinion in our 05.27.16 post, and we still don’t believe that opinion has been endorsed by even one Illinois court. We have to assume, therefore, that the Ancel Glink attorneys assured the aldermen that they could lawfully hide any discussion of Gilmore’s performance in closed session.

Fair enough, at least for the time being – even if hearing how the Council came up with the $171,000 salary, the COLA raise and the car-use deal would probably be more than a little informative to the taxpayers who will be funding that package.

We are aware of nothing in the PRRA, IOMA or elsewhere, however, that would justify or even permit closed-session discussions of the public policy reasons the Council came up with for converting what historically had been a one-year contract (e.g., Jim Hock’s 07.14.08 Employment Agreement), a 2-year contract ( e.g., Hock’s 2010 renewal), or an “at will” employment arrangement (Shaw Hamilton’s) into the four-year contract offered Gilmore, as well as its automatic COLA-based raises.

And from some quick legal research it appears that limiting for-cause termination (other than for criminal or statutory official misconduct) solely to “nonfeasance” – rather than also to “misfeasance, malfeasance, insubordination or a documented pattern of unsatisfactory performance” – is virtually inviting a lawsuit should the City’s employment relationship with Gilmore sour. So it also would be interesting to hear who came up with “nonfeasance” as the operative “for-cause” termination standard, and why.

Yet all that was hidden from the City’s taxpayers – much like how the Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Board hides in closed sessions its annual discussions about why they keep adding another year to Supt. Laurie Heinz’s 3-year contract every time a year expires, and how they come up with her annual raises.

We never thought the City Council would compete with the D-64 Board in a lack-of-Transparency contest. Maybe it’s just the natural progression of what Charles Dudley Warner proclaimed as: “Politics makes strange bedfellows.”

If there were true justice in verbiage, however, “politician” would be a four-letter epithet; and there would be a sizable bounty on the head of every one of them.

If you’re one of those citizens who prefer that their units of local government treat them like mushrooms (i.e., kept in the dark and covered with manure), you probably find these kinds of closed-session deliberations welcome relief from the past seven years of Mayor Dave and post-Mayor Dave “Transparency” and “Accountability.” Such closed-session discussions harken back to the bad old days of Mayors Ron Wietecha, Mike Marous and Howard Frimark, where meetings weren’t televised or video-recorded, council meeting packets weren’t available in advance of the meeting so that the average citizen could knowledgeably participate in the meetings, and closed sessions were the rule rather than the exceptions.

Not surprisingly, Wietecha, Marous and Frimark endorsed Mayor Dave’s opponent in the 2013 election, as did about 25 of the former alder-creatures who couldn’t spell H.I.T.A. if you spotted them both consonants and let them buy a couple of vowels.

Nevertheless, the appointment of the reluctant Gilmore – who truly earned the City Manager job through 14 months of solid performance in his “acting” capacity – is a very positive move for the Council and its taxpayers.

Too bad such a positive move has to be tainted by the unnecessarily secretive and un-accountable way the Council went about it.

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