Public Watchdog.org

“Good News” From D-207? Yes…But, Then Again, Maybe Not

08.13.18

For the first time in a long while we have good news coming out of Maine Township High School District 207.

At last Monday (08.06.2018) night’s meeting, the D-207 School Board voted to place a referendum question on the November 6 ballot seeking voter approval of the District’s issuing $195 million of bonds – that will cost D-207 taxpayers $300 million to repay – to help fund the District’s $241 million facility improvement plan.

The approved referendum language:

Shall the Board of Education of Maine Township High School District Number 207, Cook County, Illinois, improve the sites of, build and equip additions to and alter, repair and equip existing buildings, including, without limitation, constructing security improvements, increasing accessibility to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, replacing electrical, plumbing and mechanical systems, renovating classrooms and labs, improving the Library Media Center and renovating special education spaces, and issue bonds of said School District to the amount of $195,000,000 for the purpose of paying the costs thereof?

By calling it “good news” we’re not saying such a mega-project is necessary or reasonable. As we’ve pointed out in our 05.07.2018 post and our 05.08.2018 post, Supt. Ken Wallace and every member of the D-207 Board since Wallace became superintendent in 2009 should be figuratively horse-whipped for letting the schools fall into the state of disrepair Wallace now claims they need $241 million to remedy.

That kind of mismanagement is, in a word, inexcusable. And as we’ve previously pointed out, that’s squarely on Wallace and Sean Sullivan, the only Board member whose tenure matches Wallace’s stint in the big chair.

If Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability (“H.I.T.A.”) meant anything to Wallace and all the current and past D-207 Board members (save for, perhaps, semi-newbies Aurora Austriaco and Linda Coyle) who spent the past 9 years neglecting the maintenance, repair and replacement of the infrastructure of the District’s three high schools, Wallace would tender his resignation; and members Carla Owen, Terry Collins, Paula Bessler, Jin Lee and Sean Sullivan would perp-walk out the door after him.

But to Wallace, et al. H.I.T.A. is a foreign language – and apparently more difficult to learn than Mandarin Chinese. Their preferred language is prevarication, often spoken with a shameless dialect. Which is why the feckless Board members will sigh and wring their hands while letting Wallace off the hook yet again for his continuing mediocrity.

In the face of that kind of unaccountability, we have to take our “good news” wherever we can find it.

In this case, that’s a referendum on this November’s ballot – if only because turnouts for November elections regularly are several thousand voters higher than for our local elections in April. And that’s just in the City of Park Ridge: It might mean as much as a ten thousand vote difference, or even higher, given the much larger D-207 boundaries.

More voters exercising their franchise always makes for better citizenship than a smaller turnout, no matter what the outcome. That’s because it’s well understood that the smaller the turnout, the easier it is for special interests to manipulate the process. Which is why the public officials seeking to pass a referendum always prefer an April election if they can finagle it.

Hence our bet that the D-207 Board would drag its heels until after the August 20 deadline for putting their referendum question on the November ballot – just like the Park Ridge Park District Board appears to be doing with a referendum on the uber-foolish purchase of the Shibley Oaks property.

Which is why the D-207 Board surprised us with its 6-1 vote to go to a November referendum – with the only dissent coming from, even more surprisingly, Sullivan.

Given Sullivan’s virtually spotless record of wrong-headed voting, his dissenting vote caused us to start wondering whether there might be something anti-H.I.T.A. about the Board’s November referendum decision that we might be missing.

So we checked out the 08.06.2018 meeting video and attempted to listen to Sullivan’s explanation of his dissent, which starts at the 43:40 mark and ends at the 45:50 mark. That was more difficult than one would expect because of a poor sound system, compounded by noise from what sounds like the air conditioning and the clacking of a few computer keyboards that rendered some of what he said inaudible.

As best as we can tell, however, Sullivan’s main beef with the November referendum question is that the cost is too high.

We can’t recall when, if ever, Sullivan balked at the high cost of anything at D-207, which is one of the oddities about this situation that suddenly causes us to suspect there may be another sub rosa strategy at play here, one that is anti-H.I.T.A. and which we’ll write about in our next post.

Meanwhile, we’ll leave you with a few hints about that other anti-H.I.T.A. strategy: (a) the D-207 Board already has a back-up, $135 million “Plan B” in the can; (b) the Board recently hired Brett Clark as its co-propaganda minister to work with current propagandist Dave Beery, reportedly until the latter retires in December; and (c) the possibility that Wallace and/or the D-207 Board clandestinely engaged a prominent public opinion research firm to drive this referendum.

All of which may just go to show how even “good news” can turn bad in the hands of Wallace and this D-207 Board.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Maine Township Investigation Report Released: Another Victory For H.I.T.A.

08.07.18

Last night a majority (barely) of Maine Township Trustees supplied the quorum for a special meeting, and then voted unanimously to release to the public the July 30, 2018 “Investigative Report” of the complaint of Trustee Kim Jones against Trustee Dave Carrabotta.

And before dawn’s early light today that Report was posted on the Township’s website – along with an August 5, 2018 letter from Jones to one of the Township’s attorneys, Keri-Lynn Krafthefer, ripping the Report, the “investigating attorneys” – even the court reporter’s transcripts of witness statements.

We recommend that you read both, especially if you have been following The Journal editor/publisher Todd Wessell’s regular pot-stirring articles/editorials about this situation over the past several weeks, or if you read the famous/infamous July 7, 2018 letter from the “10 Maine GOP Women”- including Jones herself, Supervisor Laura Morask, and non-Assessor Susan Moylan-Krey – to Maine Twp. Republican Committeeman Char Foss Eggemann, with copies to Gov. Bruce Rauner and several other notable Republicans.

We intend to share our views of this soap opera in greater detail in the coming days. This incident has many aspects that deserve something more than the slogans, sound-bites and rimshots that too often characterize what passes for public discourse these days. 

But for now we wish to remind our readers that it was Thomas Jefferson who wrote: “Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.”

And that’s why we wish to thank “The Reformers” – Carrabotta, Claire McKenzie and Susan Sweeney – for insisting on holding last night’s special meeting, for showing up to provide the necessary quorum, and for having the courage to vote to release the Report to the taxpayers who are paying for that Report, along with this particular drama and everything else that goes on at Maine Township.

Well done, people!

To read or post comments, click on title.

 

Tonight: A New Episode Of “As The Township Turns”

08.06.18

For those of you who might be following the continuing saga of the “As The Township Turns” soap opera, the Maine Township Board is holding a special meeting TONIGHT– 6:30 p.m. at Township Hall (1700 Ballard) – that might lead to a big reveal: The results of the Township’s attorneys’ investigation into whether Trustee Dave Carrabotta did, or did not, grope, grab, touch or brush Trustee Kim Jones’ derriere during Township functions on three separate occasions.

We say “might” lead to a big reveal because the sole purpose of the special meeting is for the Board to vote on whether or not to release the investigators’ report to us taxpayers who presumably paid several thousand dollars (if not much more) for that investigation and, therefore, deserve to know whether Carrabotta is some kind of sleazebag, whether Jones made the whole thing up, or something in between.

But unofficial Jones media flak Todd Wessell, the editor/publisher of The Journal newspapers, released an article last evening (Sunday, although the computer version is dated August 3) reporting that neither Jones nor Supervisor Laura Morask will be attending tonight’s meeting due to “prior commitments” (“Several Maine Twp. Officials Unlikely To Attend Monday’s Meeting On ‘Harassment’ Report”).

According to the Journal article, “only three trustees will likely attend”: Carrabotta, Claire McKenzie and Susan Sweeney. That would constitute a quorum for a legal meeting, and we believe that a vote by all three to release the investigators’ report would be lawful Board action.

Morask reportedly wants the meeting postponed until she and Jones can attend because she claims there is information in the report that needs clarification or correction, although she hasn’t identified any such information or why it needs clarification/correction.

So even before the Board gets to the issue of whether the report will be released, we may need to wade through a few preliminary dramas, such as: (a) Will Morask and/or Jones actually stay away or show up; (b) if Morask and Jones stay away, will Carrabotta, McKenzie or Sweeney decide not to show up so that there’s no quorum; (c) even if there is a quorum, will Carrabotta, McKenzie or Sweeney back down and vote to postpone a vote on releasing the investigators’ report; or (d) will something else occur that, while unpredictable, is clearly intended to keep the report hidden from the taxpayers, even if only for a short while longer?

Tune in to tonight’s episode of “As The Township Turns” and find out.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Thank You, Shibley Oaks Owner! (Updated)

08.03.18

We’ve made no secret of our opinion that the Park Ridge Park District’s purchase of the postage-stamp parcel of land at 815 Busse Hwy – recently branded the “Shibley Oaks” property, presumably for “marketing” purposes – is a waste of taxpayers’ money, an opinion we’ve expressed in our 03.26.2018 postour 04.04.2018 post and our 05.23.2018 post.

Since then we have spent hours reading the Park Board’s meeting packets and watched the meeting videos of those few discussions of Shibley Oaks that the Board has not hidden from the taxpayers by running into closed session. You remember closed session, don’t you: That anti-transparency tactic our public officials use to hide stuff from us taxpayers even though closed sessions are not required but are merely permitted under the Illinois Open Meeting Act (“IOMA”).

And even though such closed session meetings can be conducted outside the view of the taxpayers, nothing in IOMA requires that what goes on in those closed-session proceedings must be kept secret – although the public officials who scurry into closed session whenever possible rarely, if ever, tell us what went on in them, or post the minutes of those closed-session meetings for us to read. 

One of the Park Board’s champions of closed-session secrecy is president Mel Thillens, who – to the best of our knowledge – has never met a closed session he couldn’t vote for. Both he and Jim O’Brien have been on that Board long enough to know that IOMA makes closed sessions permissive rather than mandatory, assuming they actually cared as much about transparency as they seemingly care about talking and acting in secrecy.

SIDEBAR: Yes, we endorsed both Thillens and O’Brien for their positions on the Park Board…twice. But the first time we endorsed them was as an alternative to an SEIU-backed slate of candidates, and the second time we endorsed them was as an alternative to Cindy Grau. We chalk both of those up to the lesser of two evils, even though we realize that’s “still choosing evil.” (per the late Grateful Jerry Garcia).

But, frankly, we can’t recall seeing or hearing about any of the seven current Park Board members actually voting against a closed session. We would love to be proved wrong about that, really we would. But we aren’t going to hold our breath waiting for that to happen.

Unfortunately, all those secretive closed sessions prevented us taxpayers from hearing the Board members discuss the reasons, if any, why buying Shibley Oaks made any sense, considering that: (a) the District had no plan for creating a park in that part of town; and (b) we can’t recall the last time the District even considered acquiring such a tiny parcel of land. Those kinds of discussions could have been held – and should have been held – in open sessions.

So thank you, NOT, Park Board members, for gratuitously hiding those discussions from us taxpayers.

We also didn’t get to hear if those Board members secretly discussed how neither the Shibley Oaks neighbors nor any of their tree-hugger allies suggested making Shibley Oaks into a District park until after the parcel’s owner posted “No Trespassing” signs on the property – and then built a fence around part of it – that annoyed the heck out of those neighbors whose kids had been using that property as their own private park/playground for years.

So thank you again, NOT, Park Board members, for also hiding that discussion from us taxpayers (assuming you actually even had such a discussion).

But what really peaks our curiosity is how and why the Board gave Director Mountcastle the authority to make such a bogus purchase offer of a piddling $1.15 million that the owner wouldn’t even dignify with a counter-offer, as reported in last week’s Park Ridge Herald Advocate (“Park Ridge Park District: $1.15 million purchase offer for ‘Shibley oaks’ site rejected,” July 24).

Why do we call that offer “bogus”?

Let’s start with the H-A’s report that the listing price of that commercially-zoned property is $2.35 million, or double the District’s offer. And if that doesn’t make the offer bogus enough for you, consider that the District reportedly has some sort of an “appraisal” (secret, of course, and most likely not a formal MAI version that any responsible land purchaser would require) that puts the property’s value at $1.43 million, or almost $300,000 more than the District’s offer.

But what makes the District’s lowball offer truly bogus is that it was made even though the District, because of its eminent domain powers, can legally force the owner to sell the property to the District at its fair market value (“FMV”) anytime the District wants.

That means the owner of Shibley Oaks most likely KNOWS that if he isn’t stupid enough or desperate enough to jump at a lowball offer, the worst he’ll ever get –even if the District ever has the stones to employ its eminent domain power – is the property’s FMV, or $300,000 more (based on the District’s rumored $1.43 million “appraisal”) than the District’s $1.15 million lowball offer.

In other words, the Board authorized that bogus $1.15 million offer either out of ignorance of how its eminent domain power could guarantee an FMV purchase price, or because it actually wanted a rejection of the offer and no counter.

If the bogus offer was the product of ignorance of eminent domain, then shame on those Board members for not doing their homework and asking the right questions of Director Mountcastle and Attorney Tom Hoffman. And double shame on Mountcastle and Hoffman for not adequately advising those Board members of what we just stated in the previous two paragraphs. This wasn’t Mountcastle’s or Hoffman’s first rodeo, so they most certainly knew better and should have advised better.

If ignorance is not the culprit, however, then why did the Board want a rejection of the offer and no counter?

Because we weren’t privy to any of those closed sessions, we can’t say for sure. But if we had to place a small wager on it, we would suggest that a majority of Board members wanted the offer to fail without a counter because:

  1. Grau definitely wants the District to buy Shibley Oaks, and Thillens, O’Donnell, O’Brien and Harrington apparently don’t have the stones to tell the Shibley Oaks folks that buying the property is stupid and a waste of the taxpayers’ money;
  2. the District doesn’t have the financial ability – due to the $20 million or so of bonding power the District spent on the Centennial Water Park and Prospect Park – to buy Shibley Oaks without a tax increase that requires a binding referendum;
  3. a couple/few of the Board members previously indicated on the record that they preferred that the deal go to referendum in November;
  4. since then, both those Board members and the Shibley Oaks folks have figured out that such a referendum is unlikely to pass even at the questionable $1.43 million “appraisal” price, so neither group wants it to go to referendum in November and fail; and
  5. neither group wants to publicly admit that they know a November referendum would fail, because that would effectively be an admission that the Shibley Oaks purchase IS a stupid waste of taxpayer money that a majority of voters do not support.

So…by secretly authorizing Mountcastle to make a bogus, lowball $1.15 million offer that likely wouldn’t even get a counter, those Board members and Shibley Oaks folks can now blame the owner for not negotiating a realistic price that the Board could take to referendum this November.

And, guess what? That’s exactly what they did.

Per the H-A article, “Grau called the outcome of the real estate talks ‘very unfortunate’…[and]…the park district’s offer ‘a fair price’,” while branding Shibley Oaks’ owner “an unwilling seller.” Not surprisingly, Grau wants to end any current attempt to buy Shibley Oaks because: “We don’t have that kind of money.”

Gee, Cindy, isn’t not having that kind of money why the District was going to have to go to referendum in the first place?

Putting off any November referendum is the dishonest way of preventing Shibley Oaks from getting blown out of the water in a higher-turnout November referendum while also giving the Shibley Oaks folks more time to build a public relations campaign to sway a much smaller voter turnout for an April 2019 referendum.

Which is why Shibley Oaks leader Rob Bowe is quoted in the H-A article as stating: “We’ll continue to do what we have to do and grow support and increase awareness that this is our only park in that whole area.” And, presumably, they’ll get to that point just in time for…wait for it…an April referendum.

But that’s what we get when cowardly politicians prefer pandering to special interest groups and hiding their pandering discussions from us taxpayers in secretive closed sessions.

Dishonest? Check. Anti-transparent? Check. Anti-accountability? Check.

Unfortunately for us taxpayers and for anyone who believes in honest government, it works – at least for those pandering politicians and the special interests to which they pander.

By having all these closed-session Board discussions and secret “negotiations” with the Shibley Oaks owner, the Park Board has delayed the matter until it now has only one more meeting, on August 16, for the Board to vote to put a Shibley Oaks referendum question on the November ballot before the August 20, 2018 deadline for doing so.

If this Park Board had even an ounce of H.I.T.A. it would put the tax-increase referendum question on the November ballot at a purchase price of $1.43 million, the FMV of the District’s own unseen “appraisal.” But we’re not betting the ranch on that happening.

So all we can do is say “Thank You, Shibley Oaks Owner!” – for being the only person connected to this Shibley Oaks boondoggle with enough common sense and backbone to just say “No.”

UPDATE 08.05.2018. After reviewing the minutes from the Park Board’s meetings we discovered that Commissioner Leach was the sole “No” vote against going into closed session to discuss the Shibley Oaks acquisition at the meetings of 12.07. 2017, 01.25.2018 and 03.15.2018 – which appear to be the only votes against any of the closed sessions at which Shibley Oaks was discussed.

And although the Board, at its April 19, 2018 meeting, unanimously passed a motion by Thillens “to authorize the Executive Director [Mountcastle] to apply for the waiver from the National Park Service, to allow for negotiation with the seller, and to negotiate a contract with the seller for the best possible deal for purchase of the Shibley Oaks property contingent on the passing of a referendum in the November election for the purchase price, plus the development of the property,” less than a month later – at its May 17 meeting – Grau tried to bail on her earlier November referendum vote; Leach continued to push for it; and Thillens was almost comical in pirouetting around the issue so as to avoid taking any stand.

You can find the meeting video here, with the Shibley Oaks follies starting at the 00:09:30 mark and ending at the 00:17:00 mark.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Guest Essay: D-207 Gearing Up Propaganda Machine For Funding Referendum

07.24.18

Today we are posting a letter to this blog’s editor by Kenneth Butterly, a Niles resident (Elementary School District 63) who nevertheless lives within Maine Township High School District 207. It addresses many of the points made in our 07.19.2018 post; and it is published with the permission of its author. FWIW, Mr. Butterly’s reference to his and this editor’s past disagreements might be better understood, at least in part, by reading our 12.12.2011, 01.19.2012 and/or 11.03.2015 posts. 

__________________________________________

Robert, you and I have gone nose to nose on several occasions regarding local subjects. And we’ve hardly ever agreed. However, this is not going to be one of those times. 

The “Public Opinion Survey” was District 207’s attempt to finesse its way toward its goal; the $240.7 million referendum. The questions were obviously designed to solicit a positive District-leaning response. And yes, we’ve not seen the results of those surveys, nor in my opinion, were we ever meant to. The “Public Opinion Survey” technique is a commonly used marketing gimmick designed to make target audience members feel as if they are part of the show. This same method is being utilized elsewhere by districts engaged in similar referendums.

Now to your question. Is the District planning a November 2018 or April 2019 vote?

On June 29th, D207’s Superintendent and his Board hired Mr. Brett Clark as D207’s Co-Director of Communications for $150,000+. Sean Sullivan and Teri Collins moved and seconded, respectively, the motion. Results: Aye: Austriaco, Collins, Coyle, Lee, Owen, Sullivan; Nay: None; Absent: Besler.

What does this mean? Two things I think.

First, D207 now has 2, yes I said 2, Co-Directors of Communications: (1) Long time Director of Communications, $85,000+ Mr. David Beery; and (2) $150,000+ Mr. Clark, to work toward the referendum. That’s $235,000+ in propaganda-creating talent.

Second, D207 intends to go for broke and, at this moment, it’s still unclear as to whether that will occur this November or in April 2019.

Mr. Beery, to my understanding, has never fought a referendum battle. It’s also unclear if Mr. Clark has done so, either. On the other hand, if you believe Mr. Clark’s work history, this is not his first rodeo.

Mr. Clark’s “Linkedin” page states the following:

“Summary

Experienced educator with more than 20 years experience in the areas of communications, marketing and human resources. Skilled in Crisis Communications, Editing, Public Speaking, Media Relations and Publications. Earned the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) designation from Public Relations Society of America.”

Under the “Experience” section he displays the following job titles: 

  • Adjunct Faculty, Governors State University (Feb. 2017 – Present – 1 yr. 6 mos.);
  • Director of Communications and Marketing, Consortium for Educational Change (Sep. 2015 – Jul. 2018 – 2 yrs. 11 mos.);
  • Executive Director of Human Resources, Glenview D34 (1 yr. 3 mos.);
  • Executive Director of Communications and Strategic Planning, Glenview D34 (4 yrs. 1 mo.);
  • Director of Community Relations and Grants, Glenview D34 (7 yrs. 11 mos.);
  • Public Relations Director, Ladue SD (2 yrs. 3 mos.);
  • Lead Public Information Specialist / Public Information Specialist, Parkway SD (2 yrs. 5 mos.);
  • Publications Coordinator, Missouri Society of CPAs (8 mos.);
  • Information Specialist U. of Missouri, St. Louis (6 mos.); and
  • Public Relations Coordinator, McCann Erickson Public Relations (9 mos.).

If you want to see it all, go to: https://www.linkedin.com/in/brett-clark-apr-0b69126.

So, what’s the bottom line?

The fact that Dr. Wallace and Board President Carla Owen see a need for this much public relations fire-power says a lot about their fear of being rebuffed by the taxpayers/voters, and a heightened determination to get the money.

The plot thickens!

P.S.  For those of you who might be interested, please take notice of the following:

SUBJECT:      D-207 Building & Grounds Committee mtg. Monday, July 30, 2018 at 5:15 p.m., 1177 South Dee Rd.

AGENDA:      “…3. Public Comments  4. Facility Master Plan  5. Financing Facility Master Plan….”

Kenneth Butterly

To read or post comments, click on title.

Silence On D-207’s POS Likely Means No November Referendum

07.19.18

Back on May 30, 2018, we published a post about the “Public Opinion Survey” (the “POS”) in support of the massive $240.7 million boondoggle/scam/“con job” being run by the Maine Township High School District 207 School Board and Administration, against the D-207 taxpayers.

The last day for responding to that survey was reportedly May 18, yet as we publish this post more than two months later we have neither seen nor heard any of the results of that POS.

As we wrote back then, the answers to the POS would almost certainly be used to: (a) guide the D-207 Board’s spinmeisters in crafting their elevator pitch to prospective referendum voters; and (b) help that Board decide when to hold the referendum vote, which we predicted would most likely be in April 2019 – when the turnout is expected to be much smaller (and, therefore, more easily manipulated by the Board’s spinmeisters and sycophants) than the turnout for this November’s election.

FYI: Because of the difference in turnout, passing a local referendum in any of the last four mayoral election years could have been done with no more than 4,510 votes, while doing so in any of the corresponding November elections would have required at least 7,001 votes. And because the April 2019 ballot won’t even include a Park Ridge mayoral race, the turnout is almost certain to be even less than in mayoral election years.

That’s why we suggested back on May 30 that despite the District’s holding a bunch of “community engagement meetings” (i.e., propaganda sessions) about the project, the Board would delay disclosing the POS results or acting on them until it blew the August 20, 2018 deadline by which the District could put the necessary funding referendum question on the November ballot.

As we are now 2/3 through the 3-month referendum window (from May 18 to August 20) with only deafening silence from D-207 about the POS results or a referendum question for the November ballot, it looks like our prediction is coming true – compliments of Supt. Ken Wallace, who has proven himself much more of a politician than an educator or administrator by not only keeping his job but getting salary increases, even as the ranking of the District’s flagship school, Maine South, has plummeted while Maine East’s and Maine West’s rankings have risen only in consideration of their increasingly minority and/or low income student bodies.

And compliments of clueless and/or dishonest School Board members Sean Sullivan, Carla Owen, Jin Lee, Paula Besler, Teri Collins, Aurora Austriaco and Linda Coyle, all of whom appear to believe that the best way to represent their constituents is the “Mushroom Policy”: Keep those constituents in the dark and covered with manure. Hence, the minutes of those May, June and July Board meetings make no mention of drafting or passing one or more referendum questions for the November ballot.

We take a measure of pride in the fact that we never endorsed the first six listed above, or most of their predecessors whose mismanagement of D-207 contributed substantially to the quasi-criminal neglect of the District’s buildings and grounds for at least the past decade.

We did endorse Coyle, however, calling her a “star by far” in 04.03.2017 post based on what we saw of her service on the Park Ridge P&Z Commission and on the D-207 Community Advisory Council; and based on her support of our late mayor Dave Schmidt and his H.I.T.A. platform. We were confident she had the intelligence and the spine to break free from the bovine herd-think that has been the hallmark of the D-207 Board since at least the time Sullivan first sullied the D-207 Board room with his presence back in 2007.

In our post of 05.08.2018, we gave Coyle and Austriaco a half-pass for their under-performance as Board members, on the basis of their having just completed their “honeymoon” year. At the same time we called them out and encouraged them to “demand that D-207 taxpayers get the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about everything D-207.”

Since then, however, neither Coyle nor Austriaco has done anything to shed more light on the POS results or on the $240.7 million boondoggle; or to push the Board to put a funding referendum question on the November 2018 ballot.

And because there’s only one more Board meeting – on August 6 – between now and the August 20 deadline for putting such a referendum question on the November ballot, the handwriting (albeit more like vulgar graffiti) is now on the wall.

It seems like the Boards of D-207 and Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 are engaged in a race-to-the-bottom of incompetent, secretive, disingenuous and/or outright dishonest government that not only extorts their respective taxpayers but, also, deprives their respective students of an education commensurate with all those tax dollars being extorted.

And by kicking the referendum can down the road from the much larger-turnout November election to the much smaller-turnout April 2019 election, D-207’s sad-sack Board has taken the lead in that perverse match race.

At least for the time being.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Could Theater Of The Absurd End “Reformers” Era At Maine Twp.?

07.17.18

Strap yourselves in, campers, because this is one is as long as it is bizarre.

Two articles in last week’s edition of the Park Ridge Journal merit your attention: “10 Maine GOP Women Sign Letter Demanding Trustee’s Resignation” and “If Touching Allegations Prove True, Leading Republicans Say Maine Township Trustee Should Resign.”

Both of them are allegedly written by Journal editor/publisher Todd Wessell, a long-time cheerleader for the RINOs who have run Maine Township government since the days of Mark Thompson, Bob Dudycz, Bob Provenzano and Gary Warner. The online versions of both articles are dated July 12, and both of them address a surreal situation involving two Maine Township Trustees: Kim Jones and Dave Carrabotta.

Both articles involve the accusation by Jones of Carrabotta’s “inappropriately touching her” on three separate occasions during township-related activities over the last several months. Carrabotta reportedly has denied those accusations.

Not surprisingly, neither of those stories even addresses the threshold question presented by this situation: Assuming her accusation is true, why did Jones endure three separate incidents of inappropriate “touching” over several months, dating back to 2017, before finally saying something – and even then only in a secret one-on-one meeting with her alleged harasser?

Although Wessell and certain others appear to want to make this a #metoo moment, it’s not. In fact, it’s poltical theater of the absurd, Maine Township style.

For starters, Jones is a middle-aged career woman, not some naïve aspiring Hollywood starlet looking for her big break. She has been a township trustee since 2014, and a Park Ridge alderman from 2005 to 2007. She also has spent the past 28 years working for the State of Illinois in its Division of Banking. She’s as politically savvy as they come, and not going to be terrorized into silence by even the political equivalent of sleazebag Hollywood power-broker Harvey Weinstein.

Conversely, Carrabotta is a political neophyte whose first foray into public life was his election as Trustee in May 2017. His Township bio describes him as a licensed attorney, a licensed insurance agent, a husband and father of three children, an usher at St. John Brebeuf in Niles, a current Knight of Columbus (and former Grand Knight), and a member of Boards of Review for local Eagle Scout candidates and Judicial Review Boards for the Illinois State Bar Association. That’s hardly a Harvey Weinstein-style resume.

And because Carrabotta is both a newbie and the only male among five Township trustees, the idea that he could conceivably wield any personal or political power over Jones is ludicrous.

Equally ludicrous are the circumstances under which Jones accused Carrabotta of the alleged misconduct: She reportedly asked him to meet privately, one-on-one, in an ante-room behind the Board meeting table during the “bill pay review” meeting (from 6:30 to 7:00 p.m. on May 22), which led to Carrabotta’s seeking an “emergency” closed session to address “an accusation made against him at 6:46 p.m.” – according to the minutes of the General Assistance Budget Hearing

The closed session was approved by a vote of 3 (Carrabotta, Trustee Claire McKenzie and Trustee Susan Sweeney, whom we have dubbed “The Reformers” for their refusal – at least up until now – to play Maine Township RINO politics-as-usual since their election in April 2017) to 2 (Supervisor Laura Morask and Jones). You can watch the run-up to the closed session and vote on the meeting video, beginning at the 40 second mark.

According to Wessell’s “10 Maine GOP Women” story, Jones sought this private meeting with Carrabotta “[o]n the advice of the township attorney” from the Ancel Glink law firm.

Let’s set aside for a moment the utter asininity of an attorney purportedly advising an alleged victim of sexual harassment – especially harassment involving physical contact – to meet privately with the alleged harasser and, instead, focus on the inappropriateness of the Township’s attorneys unilaterally and secretly giving personal legal advice to one trustee who recently voted to hire those attorneys (Jones) about how to deal with alleged harassment by another trustee who voted against hiring them (Carrabotta).

Can you say “conflict of interest”? How about “appearance of impropriety”? Or, in tribute to the legendary Mike Royko: “Aggravated mopery with intent to gawk”?

Whichever it might be, it sure doesn’t sound like unbiased, top-shelf legal advice from attorneys hired a few months ago by the majority vote of Morask, Jones and McKenzie after the prior Township attorney resigned following the disclosure of a secret appeal by Township non-Assessor Susan Moylan-Krey of the Reformers’ refusal to certify that Moylan-Krey’s position, in which she doesn’t actually assess anything, requires the 1,000 hours of work per year minimum for her to accrue pension benefits.

You can read more about Morask’s and Moylan-Krey’s secretive efforts to reinstate Moylan-Krey’s pension in our 02.08.2018 post and our 02.13.2018 post

Compounding the stench of a Township attorney’s giving legal advice to Jones against Carrabotta (on the taxpayers’ dime?) is the odor from the same law firm appearing to have gone off to investigate the situation and prepare a “report” without any formal Board authorization. According to Wessell’s “10 Maine GOP Women” story, the investigation has been completed and the report “will soon be delivered to Morask,” who “will share its findings with the board and possibly the public.”

Assuming Wessell’s reporting is accurate, why isn’t the report from the Board’s attorneys going directly to the entire Board – including Carrabotta and Jones – and not just to Morask? After all. Ancel Glink is supposed to be representing all the Trustees collectively as a Board, not just Morask (or Jones) individually.

Could it be because a more-transparent process wouldn’t give Morask (and Jones) a preview of the report and the opportunity to consult privately with the attorneys who authored it about its findings and conclusions before they become public? Or give them the opportunity to spin those findings and conclusions if/where needed to aggrandize Jones and/or prejudice Carrabotta?

Let’s try it again: Can you say “conflict of interest,” “appearance of impropriety,” or “aggravated mopery”?

Irrespective of which of those three it might be, it hasn’t stopped those “10 Maine GOP Women” – including…SURPRISE!…Jones, Morask and Moylan-Krey – from proclaiming Carrabotta guilty and demanding his resignation in a July 7, 2018 letter to Maine Twp. Republican Committeeman Char Foss Eggemann, with copies to Gov. Bruce Rauner and several other notable Republicans.

Just like the Queen of Hearts in “Alice in Wonderland”: “Sentence first – verdict afterwards!”

All of this drama strongly suggests that this situation isn’t really about sexual harassment. Rather, it’s about typically-sleazy Illinois politics, being played this time not by Mike Madigan and his henchmen/women but by RINO political hacks Morask, Jones and Moylan-Krey, with the help of those other seven “Maine GOP Women.”

Why?

Because those RINO hacks realize that they will be powerless so long as Carrabotta, McKenzie and Sweeney stick together as a Board majority and continue to vote the interests of Maine Township taxpayers instead of the interests of the bureaucrats trying to build themselves an even bigger fiefdom at Maine Township – complete with those constitutionally-guaranteed pensions like the one over which non-Assessor Moylan-Krey has been fighting The Reformers.

Although we suspect that Morask and Jones already have identified McKenzie – a Democrat and, therefore, a natural ally of RINOs – as the weakest link among The Reformers, they don’t yet appear willing to bet on McKenzie’s becoming their dependable stooge. So getting rid of either Sweeney or Carrabotta, and appointing a Morask flunky to fill that seat, is a pre-requisite for destroying The Reformers’ majority.

Nobody would believe that Sweeney would engage in the “actual groping” (per the “10 Maine GOP Women” letter) of Jones, so Carrabotta became the obvious patsy.

And it seems like he has let himself be played for a patsy – initially by foolishly demanding a closed-session discussion of Jones’ charges instead of publicly calling out her and her accusations in open session, then by hiding from the public and meekly claiming the matter is “confidential” while awaiting Morask’s release of that report by the Township’s new, Morask-friendly attorneys.

That requires us to ask: What’s so “confidential,” Trustee Carrabotta?

Either you did or you didn’t touch/grope Trustee Jones. And Trustee Jones either is or isn’t a stone-cold liar making this whole thing up for rank political purposes.

If you did it, Trustee Carrabotta, you should be drummed off the Board. But if you didn’t do it, why aren’t you publicly standing up for yourself instead of first hiding in closed session, then pleading that everything is “confidential” while Wessell churns out hit-piece after hit-piece, most likely at the bidding of your political opponents? How can the taxpayers of the Township trust you to stand up for them when you seem too timid even to call out Jones and defend yourself?

On the other hand, Ms. Jones, if you really were inappropriately touched or groped, why haven’t you filed a formal workplace harassment complaint against your fellow Trustee and fellow Township employee with the Cook County Dept. of Human Rights, the Illinois Dept. of Human Rights, or the federal EEOC? How can the women of the Township trust you to stand up for them when you aren’t even willing to file your accusations under oath and stand up for your own right to be free from sexual harassment in the workplace?

We’d love to hear each of them answer those questions in an open-session Township Board meeting, with the videotape running.

Because this is political theater, however, our guess is that Jones, Morask and their RINO political handlers are plenty content to rely on “news” stories like “10 Maine GOP Women” and “If Touching Allegations Prove True” from their media shill, Wessell, to figuratively inflict the proverbial 1,000 cuts – in the form of those two articles and six more Wessell has authored (dated May 30, June 6, two on June 13,  June 27 and July 4) – while hoping Carrabotta will continue to just stand there and bleed

And then resign, or course.

Will this be the way The Reformers’ era at Maine Township ends after barely one year – not with a bang but a whimper?

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A Few More Thoughts On Mayor’s Veto Of 104 Main Street Special Use

07.11.18

What do Andrew Duff, Owen Hayes II, John Bennett and Ellen Upton have in common?

All four of them showed up at last week’s Park Ridge City Council meeting to speak against Mayor Marty Maloney’s veto of Pusheen, Inc’s special use for the ground-floor space in 104 Main Street. That veto came after a (4-2) majority of aldermen voted on June 4 to grant the special use, which was approved 7-0 by the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission (“P&Z”) back on April 24.

You can read our take on Maloney’s veto in our June 28, 2018 post.

That Duff and Hayes would show up and argue in support of the special use was expected.

Duff is the owner of Pusheen Corp. and his company already occupies the upper floor of 104 Main. He claims he wants the ground floor of the building so that deliverymen don’t have to hall boxes up to the second-floor.

How thoughtful.

When Hayes addressed the Council last week he initially introduced himself as just the “manager” of the 104 Main building. But beginning at the 27:56 mark of that Council meeting video he reveals himself as “not the owner but a part owner” of the property – as well as both a manager and an owner of other Park Ridge property.

That’s a bit curious because, according to Page 3 of the minutes of the April 24 P&Z meeting, Hayes identified himself as the “real estate agent representing the owner of the [104 Main] property,” as he also did in an April 13, 2018 e-mail to the City’s Senior Planner, Jon Branham. Compare that to the special use “Applicant Disclosure Statement” dated March 15, 2018, in which he lists 104 Main LLC as the property’s owner, while listing only himself in response to the request for “the name of every…[LLC] member.”

Should we just chalk that up as another one of those “Certs is a candy mint; Certs is a breath mint” moments in local government, or is there more to it than that?

For those who have been following City government for a decade or more, you might remember Hayes as the agent and…wait for it…undisclosed owner of the former Foot and Ankle Surgeons building at 515 Busse that he tried to flip to the City as the site of a new cop shop back in 2004. Had he succeeded, he would have netted a tidy $200,000 profit for only a few days of ownership, as you can read about in our 11.15.2007 post and our 08.14.2008 post

We also have heard rumors, seemingly corroborated by Hayes’ statement to the Council during last week’s meeting, that he is the agent and/or owner (full or part) of various other commercial properties in town. A cursory check of a random sampling of Uptown and vicinity properties shows that their ownership is often hidden – albeit legally, we might add – by title being held in the name of a partnership or LLC, like it is with 104 Main LLC. Consequently, some of the City’s property-related forms (like the special use “Applicant Disclosure Statement”) require disclosure of the “real” owners, not just the legal title holders.

But don’t get us wrong: We’ve got nothing against Hayes personally. He’s a nice enough guy who has been active in the community for many years. And there’s nothing wrong with making an honest buck, whether it be in real estate or any other business – even at the taxpayers’ expense – if fully disclosed. Hayes, however, seems more than a little preoccupied with keeping his (and others’) property ownership under the radar, even when he’s seeking special treatment from the City for one of those properties.

Although Hayes’ ownership of 104 Main explains his advocacy for the Council’s over-ride of Maloney’s veto of the special use, we must confess to being puzzled by Bennett’s appearance and the condescending tone he took from the very beginning of his comments at the 51:57 mark of the meeting video in lecturing/arguing for an over-ride of Maloney’s veto.

As a P&Z member he was one of seven at that commission’s April 24, 2018 meeting who voted – wrongly, as we pointed out in our 06.28.2018 post – in favor of Pusheen’s special use. At that point his work should have been finished. So his appearance before the Council was tantamount to a trial judge showing up before an appellate court panel and arguing that his decision should be affirmed.

That just doesn’t happen, even if nobody appears to have told Bennett.

But the most curious appearance was Upton’s, which immediately followed Bennett’s.

She introduced herself as a former 1st Ward alderman (from the late 1990s, as we recall) who chaired the Uptown Advisory Task Force that promoted the creation of the Uptown redevelopment project – although she conveniently left out her support of the City’s multi-million dollar bonded-debt “investment” in that project that is still on track to cost taxpayers millions of dollars because the revenue generated from that project has rarely come close to covering the debt service on the bonds the City issued to help out the developer. She also was a member of the City’s Ad Hoc Zoning Ordinance Re-Write Committee that made major revisions to the Zoning Code back in 2006, and also may have updated the Comprehensive Plan.

To the best of our knowledge and research, however, she has not addressed the Council on zoning issues ever since. At least not until now.

Is she that much of a Pusheen fan, or did she have other intentions?

If Hayes, Bennett and Upton are so committed to helping Park Ridge’s Zoning Code and/or the Comprehensive Plan move into the 21st Century, we encourage them to formally propose that the Council create another Ad Hoc Zoning Ordinance Re-Write Committee – and we encourage them to volunteer to become members of it.

But until that happens, the current Zoning Code and the current Comprehensive Plan provide the guidelines by which special uses are supposed to be measured. And as we’ve said about various other local ordinances, rules and plans: If you don’t like them, change them. Don’t just ignore them.

Or try to weasel your way around them.

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July 4, 2018: 242 Years And Counting

07.04.18

On this day we honor the passage of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, which is generally considered the founding day of these United States of America.

In order to guard against taking that event – and the principles of freedom embodied in the Declaration – for granted, we encourage you to watch this excerpt about that independence vote from the 2008 “John Adams” HBO mini-series – and to contemplate what it meant for those men in Philadelphia to pledge their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor in the cause of liberty 242 years ago.

That’s 242 years of Federalists, Whigs, Know Nothings, Democrats, Dixiecrats, Republicans, slavery, a Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan, the Weathermen, robber barons, a Trust Buster, two World Wars, terrorist attacks, liberal Supreme Courts, conservative Supreme Courts, Democratic Congressional and Senate majorities, Republican Congressional and Senate Majorities, presidential impeachments, MSNBC, CNN, FOX, and the imprisonment of 4 of the last 7 Illinois governors.

This country survived all of those and far more, and it prospered, because of adherence – albeit imperfect in various respects – to the enduring values embodied in that Declaration and in the Constitution that followed, along with its 27 Amendments.

In this editor’s lifetime this country survived Presidents Harry Truman (D), Dwight Eisenhower (R), Jack Kennedy (D), Lyndon Johnson (D), Richard Nixon (R), Gerald Ford (R), Jimmy Carter (D), Ronald Reagan (R), George H.W. Bush (R), Bill Clinton (D), George W. Bush (R) and Barack Obama (D). And it will survive President Donald Trump (R?).

Because of what those guys in Philadelphia started 242 years ago.

Robert J. Trizna

Editor & Publisher

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Mayor’s Veto Of Pusheen Special Use: Right Decision, Right Time, Right Reasons (Updated)

06.28.18

If you check out any Facebook page discussions about Park Ridge you are likely to find people lamenting the lack of “retail” – and/or their favorite restaurants (e.g., Chick-fil-A) – in town. Often these laments bear a sarcastic “This is why can’t we have nice things?” tone.

So you might think that Mayor Marty Maloney’s recent veto of the City Council’s approval of a special use permit enabling Pusheen Corporation to expand its offices into the first floor of the former Wells Fargo Home Mortgage office at 104 Main Street would be greeted with an outpouring of support.

After all, his veto message correctly notes how that block of Main – home to the successful Harp & Fiddle and Beer on the Wall – is highly visible from the METRA tracks and has attracted train riders from outside Park Ridge to come and patronize not only those establishments but, also, our other local businesses in ways the proposed ground-floor Pusheen offices will not.

But judging by the negative comments (as of 06.27.2018 @ 9:30 p.m.) to a story about Maloney’s veto on the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate’s Facebook page, Pusheen apparently deserves “most-favored-tenant” status. And although those comments might be modest in number, they must be viewed in the context of the deafening silence coming from those allegedly pro-retail tub-thumpers at the Chamber of Commerce.

What gives?

Let’s start with the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission (“P&Z”) and the City Council, both of which seem to be falling over themselves to end-run the Zoning Code and Comprehensive Plan for Uptown in order to give Pusheen the special ground-floor office it wants – even if that means foregoing future opportunities to attract retail or restaurant/bar business to that space.

Remember, first and foremost, that a “special use” is a use not contemplated in our Zoning Code for that space. In other words, it legalizes – even if only temporarily, as in Pusheen’s case – what otherwise would be a prohibited non-conforming use. Consequently, the burden is on the applicant to demonstrate a good reason to grant the special use, not on the City to demonstrate a good reason to deny it.

Think back to when a Pearle Vision store tried to locate in the first floor of the Pickwick Building. P&Z Commissioner Jim Argionis pointedly noted (in the minutes of P&Z’s February 27, 2018 meeting) that such a use, albeit retail, “did not fulfill the spirit and intent of the Comprehensive Plan” – an observation in which Commissioners Chris Zamaites, Jim Coogan and Lou Arrigoni concurred; and which produced a 7-0 rejection (Commissioners Baldi and Hanlon MIA) of the special use needed by Pearle.

But a funny thing happened on the way to P&Z’s consideration of the Pusheen special use application on April 24, 2018, a mere two months later.

The City’s Senior Planner, Jon Branham, issued a memo of that same date acknowledging (at pages 2-3) the existing zoning requirements for 104 Main and the Comprehensive Plan’s recommendations of “retail, restaurant, entertainment [and]…[p]edestrian-oriented commercial service and office uses” for the ground floor of that building. He further noted (also on page 3) that a special use should not be recommended unless evidence presented at a public hearing supports “each of the [three] following conclusions” – one of which being that “[t]he special use in the specific location proposed is consistent with the spirit and intent of the Zoning Ordinance and the Comprehensive Plan.”

But when you get to Branham’s proposed “Findings of Fact” (as page 6 of the memo), there is no mention of the “retail, restaurant, [and] entertainment” requirement for a special use permit. Instead, one of the findings is that Pusheen’s proposed use of the ground floor would be for “a pedestrian-oriented business.”

Can you (in the infamous words of the late Illinois Secretary of State Paul Powell) “smell the meat a-cookin’” yet?

If not, check out page 2 of the minutes of the April 24, 2018 P&Z meeting, where Chairman Joe Baldi asks Pusheen owner Andrew Duff “if there will be any walk-in business” on the ground floor of104 Main, to which Mr. Duff responds that “there would be no walk-in business.”

Translation: Pusheen don’t need no stinking “pedestrian-oriented business” to get its special use for that ground-floor space.

Despite no retail, no restaurant, no entertainment, and the tenant’s admission of no walk-in business, a 7-0 majority of P&Z Commissioners (Arrigoni, Baldi, Bennett, Coogan, Hanlon, Mills and Zamaitas – Argionis and Giannetti MIA) approved the special use.

Can you smell it now?

Not yet? Then listen to the City Council discussion of the Pusheen special use before it was approved by a 4 (Alds. Wilkening, Shubert, Melidosian and Mazzuca) to 2 (Alds. Moran and Milissis – Ald. Joyce MIA) vote at the Council’s June 4, 2018 meeting, starting at the 17:20 mark of the meeting video and running through the 26:00 mark.

Seemingly looking for some way to justify the special deal for Pusheen, Melidosian tried to get Pusheen’s Duff to commit to putting a Pusheen store on the first floor of 104 Main. To his credit, Duff would not – leaving Melidosian with nothing but an “empty storefronts” faux-justification for approving the special use, even though “empty storefronts” is not one of the considerations for granting a special use.

Wilkening and Mazzuca also copped to that easy-but-irrelevant “vacant storefronts” alibi before they, along with Shubert, voted to give Pusheen its special deal.

Can you smell it now?

FWIW, we dislike empty storefronts as much as the next person. But we believe in the need for a Zoning Code and a Comprehensive Plan, as well as the need for the predictability of precedent in how zoning issues are treated by the City.

P&Z’s rejection of the Pearle Vision “pedestrian-oriented business” should have been precedent for its rejection of the Pusheen non-“pedestrian-oriented business.” But it wasn’t, even though the still-empty storefront at six corners could be viewed as much more problematic than the vacant ground floor of 104 Main.

Perhaps those P&Z members and that Council majority forgot that the building that now houses a successful Holt’s was vacant for several years after Pine’s men’s shop moved out. Or that the building that now houses a successful Harp & Fiddle was vacant for a couple of years after the drug store moved out. Or that the building that now houses a successful Shakou was vacant for several years after the Pioneer Press moved out. Or that even the building that now houses a successful Beer on the Wall was vacant for several years.

The City wisely stayed the course and held true to both the Zoning Code and to the spirit and intent of the Comprehensive Plan. And because those storefronts were allowed to remain vacant rather than sold out to boring office space, we now have a much more vibrant and thriving Uptown, especially adjacent to the METRA tracks.

Maloney’s veto shows that he sees and understands how this works. And so do Alds. Moran and Milissis. The other five aldermen: Not so much.

If the Council over-rides Maloney’s veto at the July 2 meeting, 104 Main Street will continue to contribute no entertainment value toward that newly-vibrant dining/drinking/entertainment area.

What an over-ride will do, however, is feed the suspicion that if you know the right people in the right places, you can get a special deal/special use, irrespective of the Zoning Code and the Comprehensive Plan.

Just like Pusheen is on the verge of doing.

Update 07.03.18. Last night three aldermen – John Moran (1st), Nick Milissis (2nd) and Charlie Melidosian (5th) – prevented the over-ride of Mayor Marty Maloney’s veto of the City Council’s approval of the Planning & Zoning Commission’s award of the special use to Pusheen Corp.

Moran and Milissis had previously voted to reject the special use, but it was Melidosian’s conversion that carried the day.

Now let’s see if Pusheen’s owner takes his ball and leaves. Or what 104 Main’s owner, Owen Hayes II, does, or doesn’t.

Meanwhile, if City Staff (Jon Branham), the P&Z Commissioners, and certain aldermen don’t want to enforce the Zoning Code as written and/or wish to disregard certain elements of the Comprehensive Plan in order to hand out special deals (e.g., special uses), let them start the process for changing those Code and Plan provisions –with the appropriate notice and publicity so that the public and existing business owners can meaningfully participate – instead of arbitrarily enforcing or disregarding them.

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