Public Watchdog.org

A New Library Director, If We Can Keep Her

04.10.18

Recently the Park Ridge Library Board of Trustees unanimously (Trustee Mike Reardon absent) approved the hiring of Heidi Smith as the new director of the Library. Smith is currently the assistant director of the Waukegan Public Library.

Smith, a Highland Park resident, will be paid $110,000 and receive health insurance and pension benefits.

She will assume her new position on April 16, relieving the three interim co-directors – Laura Scott, Anastasia Daskalos and Angela Berger – who have done an outstanding job holding down the fort since the sudden retirement last June of the Library’s long-time director, Janet Van De Carr, who was paid $140,000+.

The serendipity of Smith’s availability and selection is noteworthy for a few reasons.

After Van De Carr retired, the Library Board hired John Keister – who runs a recruiting service for library bureaucrats – to find a new director. Keister promptly persuaded a majority of the Board (with the notable exceptions of Trustees Joe Egan, Char Foss-Eggemann and Mike Reardon) to run the search process in closed-session semi-secrecy, thereby producing two “finalists” that the taxpayers could finally be trusted to know.

One of those finalists, Jeannie Dilger, withdrew her name almost immediately after becoming a finalist in order to take the director position at the Palatine library, a position for which Keister was simultaneously recruiting her – reportedly without telling our Library Board. We wrote about that seeming lack of integrity on Keister’s part in our 12.15.17 and 12.26.17 posts.

And Keister’s other finalist, Aaron Skog, mysteriously withdrew his name almost immediately after a public meet-and-greet on November 27 of last year.

That commenced a round of hand-wringing from the likes of Go Green gadfly Amy Bartucci, who talks and acts like taxpayers exist for the government’s benefit; and who seems to consider public employment as the work of the angels, notwithstanding the good pay, job security and Cadillac constitutionally-guaranteed pensions that can be taken years earlier than the rest of us can collect our modest Social Security benefits. We wrote about Bartucci’s strange obsession with Library Board member meeting attendance in our 03.05.2018 post.

With Keister’s first flight of candidates having either crashed and burned or flown the coop, the Library Board authorized Keister to tender four new candidates from his stable of usual suspects.

Two of those, reportedly, were just plain unqualified non-starters who may have been thrown into the mix by Keister solely to create a plausible field of four candidates. And a third suspiciously pulled his name the moment he was designated a finalist – although the fact that he lived with his family way out in DeKalb suggests that he may have been little more than a stalking horse for the candidate whom Keister wanted the Library Board to accept: Ms. Smith.

This blog’s editor attended both the November 2017 meet-and-greet for Aaron Skog as well as the March 15 meet-and-greet for Ms. Smith, and Smith looked and sounded like a far better choice than Skog. So that’s a good thing for our Library.

But let’s not be naïve here.

The serendipity of Ms. Smith’s availability appears to have been the product of her being passed over for the top job in Waukegan in January, despite the strong endorsement of Waukegan mayor Sam Cunningham. Instead, the WPL board imported an Hispanic candidate, Selina Gomez-Beloz, from the Crown Point, Indiana library where she had served as director since 2014. Given that more than 50% of Waukegan’s population is Hispanic, with many having ESL needs, we can see how identity politics may have shaped the WPL board’s decision.

But we have to wonder whether the Park Ridge Library directorship is merely a resume-builder for Ms. Smith that Keister can use in a couple/few years to better market her to other libraries for another fee and even greater influence over the Chicagoland public library hiring market that he already seems to dominate.

In light of that possibility, we are reminded of when Benjamin Franklin was asked about what form of government was being proposed for the United States, and he answered: “A republic…if you can keep it.” His point was that a republic, although less factional than a democracy, was still a demanding form of self-government – the success of which would depend on an informed and committed electorate.

If Ms. Smith is accepting the directorship of our Library in order to position herself for her (and Keister’s) next move, the Library Board and we taxpayers need to be wary of any “new” Library programs and initiatives instituted by her more for their resume enhancement value than to meet the legitimate needs of our community. And the Library Board also needs to start thinking about ways to retain her, assuming she does a good enough job to deserve retention.

Because when you live in Highland Park, there are a number of public libraries requiring shorter commutes than the one to Park Ridge, starting with Deerfield, Lake Bluff, Lake Forest, Northbrook, Glenview, Winnetka, Wilmette, Buffalo Grove, Vernon Area and Indian Trails (Wheeling).

With that caveat, however, it looks like Ms. Smith has the potential for being a welcome breath of fresh air for a Library bureaucracy that had embraced a this-is-how-we’ve-always-done-it performance benchmark for much of the past decade, if not longer. And for that reason we encourage all Park Ridge residents – and especially Park Ridge Library users – to welcome Ms. Smith with open arms.

And with wide-open eyes.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Why The Park Board Should Adopt A Transparent Shibley Oaks Acquisition Process (Updated)

04.04.18

In a comment to our 03.26.2008 post (“Why Is The Park Board Discussing ‘Shibley Oaks’ In Closed Session?”), an anonymous reader asked:

“Is there never a place for closed sessions at the Park Board meeting? What about if they wanted to talk about negotiation tactics to acquire the land? What if they wanted to discuss a deal that is part City / part Park District for acquiring the land? What if they want to discuss maximum offering price that is lower than the $2.2 million; should that be none [sic] to the other side of the transaction? While I agree there is abuse of closed sessions, do you never see a reason for them?”

Because those questions demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of both closed sessions and the ability of the Park District to acquire land irrespective of the owner’s desire to sell it, we have decided to take this opportunity to address that misunderstanding in advance of tomorrow (April 5) night’s Park Board meeting for which the District’s acquisition of Shibley Oaks is an agenda item.

As we understand it, the Board will discuss – in open session for a change – whether there is a need, or even a significant want, for spending as much as $2.2 million of taxpayer money acquiring the Shibley Oaks property from its current owner. Given that the principal feature of that property appears to be nothing more than the 15 old oak trees situated on less than 1 acre of land in a commercially-zoned area along Busse Highway, the fundamental questions that need to be asked are:

(1) “Does the Park District’s mission include the acquisition of private property for the primary purpose of preserving that property’s nature and character”; and

(2) “Does the District need or want a park at Shibley Oaks?”

If you look at the District’s “Environmental Policy” the answer to question No. 1 may be: “Yes.” That leaves the Park Board to answer question No. 2

Assuming for the sake of argument that some reasonable justification can be made for the property’s acquisition by the District, what purpose would closed-session negotiations serve?

The Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”) expressly provides that: “(1) It is the intent of this Act to protect the citizen’s right to know; and (2) The provisions for exceptions to the open meetings requirements shall be strictly construed against closed meetings.” That’s why even the recognized exceptions to IOMA’s open-meeting mandate, such as discussions about the acquisition of land, are merely permissive rather than mandatory. In other words, unless some other non-IOMA statute requires non-public debate and deliberations by the Park Board, NO closed sessions are ever required.

According to the commentator, closed session discussions of “negotiation tactics” would enable the Park Board to deliberate and decide in secret on a maximum offering price and a negotiation plan (presumably starting with a lowball offer followed by a series of escalating offers and counter-offers) that might result in the property’s acquisition below the owner’s asking price.

That would be a reasonable idea IF the acquisition process was your typical voluntary arm’s-length one between a private seller and a private buyer.

But the District’s acquisition of private property for a public purpose does not need to be a typical arm’s-length negotiation between a willing seller (i.e., the Shibley Oaks owner) and a willing buyer (i.e., the District). That’s because the District, like most other governmental bodies, has the legal authority under eminent domain laws to acquire the property for its fair market value (“FMV”) by the process of condemnation even if the owner doesn’t want to sell.

What does that mean from a practical standpoint?

Simply, that the Park District can call ALL the shots and, therefore, doesn’t need to hide its acquisition efforts and “negotiation tactics” in closed sessions.

Assuming the Park Board decides that buying the Shibley Oaks property makes sense, it should go about getting the property appraised (by a certified MAI appraiser) to determine its true FMV; i.e., the maximum price the District would have to pay for the property if it instituted a legal condemnation proceeding.

Once the Board has the FMV it can formulate an initial offer to the owner – presumably lower than the FMV and expressly conditioned on voter approval of its acquisition via a referendum question on this November’s ballot.

Assuming the PRPD’s initial offer is not accepted by the owner, the Board should then invite the owner to a special meeting convened for the sole purpose of “negotiating” – IN OPEN SESSION – a purchase price less than the FMV. That way, should the owner tender any counter-offers, the Board could discuss – IN OPEN SESSION – and vote on whether to accept or reject each of those counter-offers, and what amount the District might offer in response. Any such back-and-forth would occur in full view of the taxpayers who deserve to see just how competently the Board is negotiating on their behalf.

This process could continue until either the parties reach agreement – once again, subject to voter approval in November – or the “negotiations” reach the FMV, at which point both the owner and the taxpayers would know that the District can compel the property’s sale under eminent domain/condemnation. And so would any prospective private purchaser, thereby deterring such a purchaser from insinuating itself into the situation.

Of course, such a transparent process is nightmarish to the bureaucrats and elected officials who fear the taxpayers and loathe having any accountability to them – as well as to those folks who want the Shibley Oaks property for a park but rightly fear that its acquisition, even if approved by the Board, would never pass via referendum. All those folks would prefer a secretive process – much like the Roman Catholic College of Cardinals runs for electing a pope, where nobody on the outside knows jack until the white smoke starts pouring out of the Sistine Chapel’s chimney.

While that might work for picking the religious leader of the estimated 1.2 billion Roman Catholics worldwide, it’s a perverted way of acquiring private property for a public purpose in a community of less than 40,000 residents where IOMA mandates the open and transparent process of government.

Unfortunately, opacity and unaccountability has been standard operating procedure not only here in Park Ridge but throughout Illinois, whose motto should probably be changed from “Land of Lincoln” to “Land of 7,000 Secretive Governmental Units.”

So we’ll be curious to see how many Park Board members can grasp the foregoing analysis and adopt a transparent, open-session acquisition process – assuming a majority of them can discern any kind of value to the District and its taxpayers from acquiring the Shibley Oaks property in the first place.

Updated 04.07.2018. According to yesterday’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate story about Thursday night’s Park Board meeting (“Referendum, grants suggested for buying Park Ridge land for park,” 04.06.2018), the Board already has an appraisal for the Shibley Oaks property.

That’s a good thing.

The H-A story doesn’t say whether the District has an MAI appraisal or just a half-baked “market analysis” some broker threw together – although Commissioner Rob Leach’s comment that the appraisal was higher than the property’s actual value because Uptown properties were used as comparables suggests the latter.

That’s disappointing. But even more disappointing is the Board’s refusal to publicly disclose the amount of the appraisal/market analysis, on the grounds that it’s “confidential.”

Why? What’s so “confidential” about it?

In a word: Nothing. Which is why this appears to be just more of the same kind of anti-transparent, unaccountable secrecy that had the Park Board inexplicably discussing Sibley Oaks in closed session over the past several months.

The taxpayers deserve better.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Good Riddance To Maine Twp. Attorney

04.02.18

If anyone wonders just how sclerotic and out-of-touch the Maine Township government establishment has become, look no farther than an article in this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Maine Township attorney resigns, citing ‘disagreement and controversy’ on divided board,” April 2), which reports that Dan Dowd has resigned as the Township’s attorney after more than 25 years in the position.

His alibi: He’s uncomfortable being “put in the middle” between the Board’s new majority – Trustees Dave Carrabotta, Claire McKenzie and Susan Sweeney, whom we have labeled “The Reformers” – and the Board’s old-line business-as-usual minority of Supervisor Laura Morask and Trustee Kim Jones.

In reality, Dowd is not “in the middle” of anything: He’s firmly in the corner of Morask, Jones, non-Assessor Susan Moylan-Krey, Clerk Peter Gialamas and Highway Commissioner Walter Kazmierczak; and he’s firmly opposed to The Reformers.

As reported in the H-A story, Dowd acknowledged he would be “uncomfortable” representing The Reformers’ majority in appealing a seemingly kinky deal cut by Morask and Moylan-Krey with the outgoing general counsel of the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (“IMRF”) that granted a secret appeal by Moylan-Krey of The Reformers’ refusal to certify that her position requires at least 1,000 hours of work per year, thereby qualifying her for continued pension participation.

We wrote about that rancid situation in our 02.13.2018 post.

Fortunately, the new IMRF general counsel, upon being apprised of the secretive skullduggery, re-opened the process by which the Township can appeal the Moylan-Krey deal, via a majority vote of The Reformers.

That Dowd is pulling the pin on his Township gig is one thing. That he has been the Township’s attorney for more than 25 years – having been handed the position on a no-bid basis back in 1993 by then-Supervisor Mark Thompson and then-Trustees Carol Teschky and Jim Reilly, and having remained a Board majority lackey until The Reformers became the majority last May – is quite another.

With either Dowd’s advice or acquiescence, Morask has orchestrated Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”) violations for such boneheaded maneuvers as having Clerk Gialamas vote as a trustee on a motion to destroy a closed-session audio recording; and conducting Township bill review meetings without keeping official minutes. That would be unacceptable from a rookie municipal attorney.

The H-A reports that Morask has a candidate for Dowd’s replacement that she intends to present at the Board’s April 17 meeting.

Given her track record, anybody Morask suggests should be considered as radioactive as Polonium-210. Now is the time for The Reformers to demand the issuance of an RFP for Dowd’s replacement.

And if Morask resists, she should follow Dowd out the door.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Why Is The Park Board Discussing “Shibley Oaks” In Closed Session?

03.26.18

Running the east side of Busse Highway from Shibley Avenue on the north to Seeley Avenue on the south sits a non-descript, commercially-zoned parcel in the middle of a stretch of other commercially-zoned property.

At the Seeley end of the parcel sits a building that formerly housed the Maine Center, a mental health treatment center that closed down in April 2015 when its planned merger with the Elk Grove-based Kenneth Young Center fell through. The north roughly 3/4 of that parcel is vacant land bearing centenarian oak trees.

Until last year when the parcel’s owner, reportedly Park Ridge Development LLC, posted “no trespassing” signs on the property to the irritation of the neighbors who treated it as their own “park,” that parcel was not even a blip on the rest of the community’s radar.

But then those neighbors and a group of local tree huggers decided that the parcel – and the 15 old oak trees sitting on it – needed to be preserved as a vital remnant of a larger oak savanna that allegedly pre-dated European settlement of this area.

The parcel’s size: Approximately 3/4 acre.

The parcel’s price: Reportedly $2.2 million.

As is usually the case in situations such as these, the neighbors and the tree huggers aren’t offering to purchase the parcel and preserve it. Nor are they offering to purchase it and donate it to the City of Park Ridge or to the Park Ridge Park District.

Instead, it should come as no surprise that they have gathered petition signatures with which to cajole and/or pressure the Park District Board into prioritizing the purchase of the Shibley Oaks property. As in with Other People’s Money (“OPM,” i.e., the taxpayers’ money).

They’ve named the parcel “Shibley Oaks,” created a Facebook page for it, and are assembling a history of warm-and-fuzzy vignettes – presumably for public relations and marketing purposes. Among those vignettes: Shibley Oaks has served as an unofficial “park” for the neighbors, with water ponds in the summer and snow forts in the winter; and it has been, and can continue to be, a valuable storm water retention area.

Frankly, we love the idea of a bunch of people – neighbors, tree huggers, tree climbers, acorn collectors, even druids – organizing to preserve something that has meaning for them. But just because it has meaning for them doesn’t ensure it has the same meaning, or any meaning at all, for everybody else.

And at $2.2 million for less than an acre of land, that makes it an expensive amenity for what amounts to a special-interest group.

Such an amenity should be the subject of either a binding or advisory referendum question on the ballot this coming November so that thousands of voting taxpayers, instead of just 700-800 petitioners, get to express their opinion of the idea in an objectively-measurable way.

But that’s a discussion for another time.

What concerns us in the here-and-now is an article in this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Residents petition Park Ridge Park District to buy Busse Highway property, preserve oak trees,” March 26) which reports that the Park Board has previously discussed the acquisition of that property in closed session meetings over the past year.

As we’ve repeatedly argued virtually from the time this blog was started, such secretive closed-session discussions tend to be the epitome of bad government for a number of reasons, starting with the fact that while such closed sessions are permissible under the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”) to discuss a fixed range of specific topics, they are never required. That tends to make them into a kind of “safe house” for discussions of often controversial matters by elected officials and bureaucrats without the integrity or the spines to discuss those matters honestly and openly right out of the gate.

Because those discussions are held outside the view and hearing of both the public and the media, and the minutes of those meetings can be indefinitely hidden from that same public and the media, their potential for abuse, stupidity and corruption cannot be understated.

And in the case of the Park District’s wishing to acquire private land, closed sessions are unnecessary as a practical matter because the Park District has the legal right, under eminent domain laws, to acquire the property for its fair market value by condemnation, irrespective of whether the owner wants to sell or not.

Yet the Park Board’s approach to Shibley Oaks to date – as reported not only in the H-A article but as corroborated by a closed-session vote recorded on the video of the March 15 Park Board meeting (with only Board member Rob Leach voting “no,” member Jim O’Brien MIA) – is that the Board apparently has conducted numerous closed session discussions about whether Shibley Oaks should be acquired at all.

Has the Board discussed and decided, in open session, whether the District needs a park at Shibley Oaks?

Has the Board discussed and decided, in open session, whether the District wants a park at Shibley Oaks?

Has the Board discussed and decided, in open session, just what kind of park the District needs or wants at Shibley Oaks?

We don’t think so, times three.

Although IOMA does have an exemption for discussions of the acquisition of land (Section 140/2(c)(5)), why is the Park Board retreating into closed sessions to discuss the questions of need, want and use?

What should the Park Board do going forward?

The best practice would be what Board member Rob Leach is quoted in the H-A article as suggesting: Have an open-session, public discussion on April 5 about whether the District should consider buying the land, on the theory that “[e]verybody has the right to know what we’re talking about.”

Exactly!

And they have the right to know it now, not after all the meaningful discussions have occurred in closed sessions and the “public” discussion is little more than window dressing or Kabuki.

EDITOR’S NOTE (03.27.18): This post was published yesterday with a different title and a different conclusion. Although the basic points of this post remain generally the same, some of the facts stated and conclusions drawn were done so in uncharacteristically cart-before-the-horse fashion, and were erroneous. They have been corrected.

Nevertheless, we apologize for any confusion or inconvenience caused to our readers.

And we especially apologize to the Park Board for the erroneous accusation of IOMA violations.

To read or post comments, click on title.

A Decade Later, City Information Still Being “Sanitized For Your Deception”

03.19.18

Frankly, we’re embarrassed.

On March 14 we published a post about “Sunshine Week” without being aware of the fact that on March 13 the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate published an article about the Park Ridge City Council’s making a mockery of sunshine in government (”Four months after he was placed on leave, Park Ridge police officer’s employment officially ends,” March 13).

According to the H-A article, the City paid $12,800 to REM Management to conduct an internal investigation of what appears to have been the Park Ridge Police Department’s handling of the Jason Leavitt incident back in 2006 and its aftermath. You may recall that Leavitt, while off duty, apprehended a Park Ridge teen and allegedly punched him out while the teen was handcuffed in the back of a squad car. That led to a federal civil rights suit that cost the City a $185,000 settlement and an additional $175,600 in legal fees to get to that settlement.

That incident also may have precipitated the 2010 FBI seizure of Police Department records and computers, and it also was a factor in the City’s commissioning of the $75,000+ Ekl Report, the results of which were published by the City in 2008 and which we wrote about in our 09.17.2008 post. 

Although Police Chief Frank Kaminski was not on the City payroll until June 2009, he was responsible for pursuing Leavitt’s termination before the City’s Board of Fire and Police Commissioners until he mysteriously withdrew those charges, presumably in return for Leavitt’s agreement to retire effective February 21, 2018.

But if you look on the City’s website for any evidence of how this deal played out before that Board or before the Council, you’ll find little more than a Board decision – in the minutes of its Special Meeting of November 16, 2017 – to continue the public hearing on Leavitt’s termination; and the Board decision – in the minutes of that Board’s January 11, 2018 meeting – to approve Kaminski’s dismissal of Leavitt’s disciplinary hearing for reasons allegedly contained in Kaminski’s memorandum dated December 4, 2017.

Would you like to see a copy of Kaminski’s December 4, 2017 memo? So would we.

Would you like to see a copy of the contract that likely memorialized the deal Kaminski cut with Leavitt to take retirement in exchange for Kaminski’s dropping of the termination proceeding? So would we.

Would you like to see a copy of the REM report? So would we.

But we can’t find them anywhere on the City’s website.

And when the H-A made a FOIA request for the full REM report, the City denied it.

Why? According to the H-A article:

“[T]he release of the information weighs more heavily toward the harm it demonstrably would create to the reputation of the city, the public confidence in the department, and the morale and efficient operation of the police department.”

Can you say “Cover up”?

After decades of translating the double-talk alibis provided by public officials to justify their secretive misdeeds, what the City’s statement probably means is that: (a) those PRPD officials who handled the whole Leavitt matter (including Kaminski, once he inherited it in June 2009) botched it; (b) they don’t want the taxpayers to know how and how badly they botched it; so (c) they cut a secret deal with Leavitt; and (d) they are now trying to bury all the problematic evidence with some secrecy alibi trumped up by the anti-H.I.T.A. city attorneys, probably relying once again on the Illinois Personnel Records Review Act (the “PRRA”) that, by its express terms, applies only to the FOIA-bility of personnel records by third parties other than the City, the owner of the records.

You can read a more detailed description of Ancel Glink’s misinterpretation/misapplication of the PRRA in our posts of 05.27.2016 and 07.26.2017.

What are those allegedly pro-H.I.T.A. folks around The Horseshoe at City Hall doing about it?

As best as we can tell, nothing.

“Nothing” seems like a billboard-sized message that they are more concerned about giving political cover to Chief K and his department than they are about telling the truth to the taxpayers who pay for Chief K and that department – and who paid $12,800 for that REM report.

Although we don’t agree with the anonymous commentator to our previous post who suggested that what the City is doing with the Leavitt matter is a “Chicago-style Laquan McDonald cover-up,” we do believe what the Council is doing – intentionally or negligently – sure looks, sounds and smells like a cover-up…and for purely political reasons.

A decade ago this coming May 21, we published a post titled “Sanitized For Your Deception” in which we criticized the spin and deception applied by City Hall to the goings on there, both in The Spokeman and in the meeting minutes. But that practice slowly disappeared under the leadership of Mayor Dave Schmidt. Suddenly minutes were accurate (probably because meetings started being videotaped) and The Spokesman’s more creative writing mysteriously started hewing to the facts rather than some City Hall politician’s fiction.

As we see with the REM report and the related information about Chief K’s withdrawal of Leavitt’s termination complaint, however, City Hall isn’t just sanitizing matters for the public’s deception: It’s hiding them altogether.

That should be unacceptable for any Park Ridge public official who talks the H.I.T.A. talk, and even for those who don’t. And it should be unacceptable for the taxpayers for whom those public officials are supposed to work.

But only if our elected officials grow spines and stop covering up for high-priced bureaucratic misconduct and subterfuge.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Sunshine Week 2018: Better Late Than Never

03.14.18

Anyone who has read even a couple of posts on this blog knows that we’re obsessed with “sunshine” in government, our focus being local government here in Park Ridge.

Which is why we’re embarrassed that it’s already halfway through “Sunshine Week” – started in 2005 by the American Society of News Editors to promote a dialogue about the importance of transparency, open government, and freedom of information – and we haven’t even acknowledged it. And even more embarrassed that we’ve overlooked every year since our post of 03.16.2009

Years before the late Mayor Dave Schmidt got elected in April 2009 on the platform of H.I.T.A. – Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability – and made those principles the hallmark of his sadly-abbreviated tenure from 2009 until his sudden death in March 2015, this blog had begun regularly advocating for transparency, starting with its “Statement of Principles” published in its third post, on May 8,.2005:

“Government operations must be transparent so that both our elected and appointed officials can be held strictly accountable to their constituents.”

This blog’s editor, as a member of the Park Ridge Park District Board from 1997 to 2005, was instrumental in getting that public body to become the first unit of local government in our community to videotape its meetings and make the tapes available for public viewing.

Shortly after his election, Schmidt dragged his first City Council into doing likewise, going so far as to donate the camera and enlist supporters George Kirkland and Charlie Melidosian (now the 5th Ward alderman) to, respectively, run the camera and upload the videos to his own Motionbox site until WOW provided a better system as part of its licensing to provide cable service in Park Ridge.

And through the subsequent efforts of Schmidt and his successor, Mayor Marty Maloney, the City applied for, and received, the “Sunshine Award” from the Illinois Policy Institute in both 2014 and 2015 – making it 1 of only 72 Illinois taxing bodies (among the thousands of those in Illinois) to receive that award in 2015, while also increasing its transparency score from 86% to 94.8%.

Not until the summer of 2011 did Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 jump on that bandwagon, but only after being shamed into it by Marshall Warren, Char Foss-Eggemann and Susan Sweeney, who brought in their own camera to tape that School Board’s August 8, 2011 meeting and then upload it to a YouTube site labeled “sunshine4d64.” We understand that Maine Twp. High School District 207 started taping its Board meeting sometime after that

But it took the election of Reformers David Carrabotta, Claire McKenzie and Susan Sweeney (yes, that Susan Sweeney) to the Maine Township Board last April to finally bring videotaped meetings to that previously opaque political backwater.

Make no mistake about it: When it comes to government, information is power. And the career bureaucrats who populate so much of government know that if they want to manipulate the opinions or decision-making of elected/appointed officials, or of the general public, they can do so by concealing the relevant information that doesn’t serve their purpose; and, worse yet, they are being paid by us taxpayers to do so.

Unfortunately, too many of our elected and appointed officials either knowingly and spinelessly accede to the bureaucrats’ manipulations, or they cowardly hide information and documents from us taxpayers in order to limit the scrutiny of their own decisions and decision-making. They seize upon every opportunity the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”) provides for them to run into closed-session meetings even though IOMA merely permits, but does not require, any such closed sessions.

Exhibit A: The D-64 Board, which rarely has seen a closed session opportunity it won’t exploit. From what we’ve seen, heard and inferred, those folks – under the thumb of president Tony “Who’s The Boss?” Borrelli, who’s under the thumb of Supt. Laurie “I’m The Boss!” Heinz – have more substantive discussions and do more public business in closed session than in open session, with the latter doing little more than satisfying the barest IOMA requirements regarding the taking of actual votes.

So as we find ourselves in the middle of Sunshine Week, we embed here a guest essay from the editor of the Valdosta (GA) Daily Times and ask you to take a minute to read it, repeating the following lines out loud both for effect and to enhance recall:

“Every action of government is your business.

Every document held in government halls is your piece of paper.

Every penny spent by government is your money.”

Remember: Those low-paid or unpaid “volunteer” elected and appointed officials, just as much as those well-paid and over-paid bureaucrats (including our teachers and school administrators), work for US – not the other way around.

To read or post comments, click on title.

There’s More To Board/Commission Performance Than Meeting Attendance

03.05.18

As a member of the Park Ridge Library Board for six years, I found a recent article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Park Ridge aldermen recommend city track, publish meeting attendance by appointed board members,” Feb. 22, 2018) problematic for a few reasons.

First, during my tenure (2011-2017) on that Board I missed less than five of over 160 “official” meetings – regular full-board meetings, regular committee meetings, and “special” meetings – for a 97% attendance record; and one of those absences resulted from being stuck on a METRA train for 3 hours after it collided with a car near the Armitage overpass on the evening of December 20, 2016.

Consequently, I was never concerned about the City’s mandatory meeting attendance ordinance for City board and commission members, which reads:

4-17-6 ATTENDANCE REQUIREMENT

To remain eligible to serve on any Board or Commission, each member shall attend not less than 75% of all meetings for such Board or Commission during each calendar year. Any member who becomes incapable of attending at least 75% of all meetings for such Board or Commission may be disqualified from serving in that office and can be removed by the Appointing Authority in the manner described in Sections 3.1-35-10 or 11-13-3 of the Illinois Municipal Code, as applicable. Failure to meet the minimum attendance requirement shall be considered good cause for removal of any member appointed to any Board or Commission. (Ord. No. 2016-03 , 2(Exh. A), 1-18-2016)

Attendance at “official” meetings is the simplest, easiest and most objective way for measuring one aspect of a board or commission member’s commitment to his/her office. But it’s a huge mistake to consider just attendance at those “official” meetings as an absolute performance benchmark of any board or commission member – as Library Trustee Mike Reardon so cogently pointed out in his remarks to the City Council at its February 19, 2018 meeting, the text of which can be found here.

Since being appointed to the Library Board in June 2015, nobody – N.O.B.O.D.Y. – on that Board has done more, or better quality, work than Reardon. Whether analyzing staffing, measuring performance both internally and vis-à-vis other comparable libraries, exploring efficiencies from the automation of certain operations, budget numbers-crunching, dealing with personnel issues, or just providing the clear, hard-eyed insight that an engineer with a Northwestern (Kellogg) M.B.A. and an abiding love of this community (and its Library) can provide, Reardon’s contributions demonstrate the foolishness of using “official” meeting attendance as the sole benchmark of commitment or effectiveness.

And because his meeting attendance has consistently been in the 90% range, his opinions in this regard cannot be challenged as self-serving.

Most of what can be said about Reardon also can be said about Trustee Joe Egan, another engineer but with a Chicago (Booth) M.B.A. and a similar love of this community and its Library.

Although Egan’s attendance was a bit below the 75% target because of the travel demands of his job, he also has put in plenty of uncredited overtime on some of the same projects as Reardon, as well as being the Board’s point man in dealing with the Library’s architects on design issues for the proposed renovation; in working with the City on fire and safety issues related to the renovation; and in hammering out an intergovernmental agreement with the City to correct the longstanding, half-baked arrangement whereby the non-home rule Library is supposed to pay for capital repairs and improvements to the Library building – like a new roof, new windows, HVAC, etc. – out of its relatively modest budget even though the building and grounds are owned by the home rule City with a budget 15 times larger.

Despite those extra-curricular projects undertaken by Reardon and Egan often impinging on their day jobs – unlike the more accommodating evening schedules for the “official” meetings – they most certainly have saved the taxpayers thousands of dollars in outside consultant services.

So when residents like Alice Dobrinsky and Amy Bartucci suddenly pop out of the woodwork to make an issue of Egan’s meeting attendance, or the attendance of Library Trustees Stevan Dobrilovic and Pat Lamb – both of whom also have carved good chunks of time out of their day jobs to undertake extra-curricular activities on behalf of the Library – it’s naïve to assume it’s just about attendance.

Just like it would have been naïve to assume it was just about attendance a couple of years ago when another resident, Walter Szulczewski, popped out of the woodwork and attempted – along with former Library Board members John Benka, Patricia Lofthouse and Dick Van Metre, and former Library business manager Kathy Rolsing – to nuke the reappointment of Egan and Trustee Char Foss-Eggemann because they disagreed with Egan’s and Foss-Eggemann’s philosophy of running the Library based on Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability, and with an emphasis on fiscal responsibility.

You can read about their unsuccessful 2016 nuking effort in this blog’s 06.10.2016 post.

Not surprisingly, Bartucci and Dobrinsky – like Szulczewski before them – were notably MIA during all of those years of bad management, even after it led to the closing of the Library on summer Sundays in 2014 – despite Sundays regularly being the busiest days for the Library on a user-per-hour basis – in order to send a political message to then-mayor Dave Schmidt and the then-city council. We wrote about that in our 04.14.2014 post.

So if I had to bet the Vegas line on why Bartucci and Dobrinsky are suddenly beefing about Library trustee attendance, I’d put my money on attendance being the easiest way to pressure the mayor and at least 4 aldermen into getting rid of Egan, Dobrilovic and Lamb – and replacing them with old-style, fiscally irresponsible, go-along-to-get-along trustees who might assist a couple/few old-style trustees currently on the Board in walking back the H.I.T.A. and the fiscal responsibility that have taken hold at the Library.

Make no mistake about it: Meeting attendance is important. I wouldn’t have gone through the effort to attend 97% of the “official” meetings if I didn’t believe it was. But taking the easy way out by making an arbitrary 75% attendance standard the sine qua non of board and commission service, and effectively ignoring the extra-curriculars of board and commission members like Reardon and Egan, is a sham wrapped in a fiction inside a fraud.

And it increases the likelihood that good government can be subverted by bad politics (redundancy intended).

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and publisher

Former Park Ridge Library Trustee

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If Wishes Were Restaurants, All Beggars Would Dine (Updated)

02.26.18

Tomorrow night (02.27.18) the City of Park Ridge Planning & Zoning Commission (“P&Z”) will hold a public hearing, beginning at 7:00 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, on whether the owner of the Pickwick Theater Building – Pickwick Enterprises, LLC, reportedly owned by the Vlahakis Family – will be given a “special use” allowing a lease of the former Pickwick Restaurant (also f/k/a “The Pick”) for a Pearle Vision franchise.

We think an eye-care center would be a serious misuse of that space. But that’s beside the point.

What’s most important is whether enough evidence – not mere opinion but actual facts – will be presented at Tuesday night’s hearing to convince a majority of the P&Z commissioners that:

1. The establishment, maintenance and operation of the special use in the specific location proposed will not endanger the public health, safety or general welfare of any portion of the community;

2. The proposed special use is compatible with adjacent properties and other property within the immediate vicinity of the special use; and

3. The special use in the specific location proposed is consistent with the spirit and intent of the Zoning Ordinance and the Comprehensive Plan.

Those are the points Pearle Vision and/or the landlord need to prove in order for P&Z to approve the special use.

Point 1 is a virtual given, and a finding on Point 2 also seems likely.

Where a Pearle Vision franchise is most vulnerable, however, appears to be on Point 3, given that the “spirit and intent” of the 1996 Comprehensive Plan is to support uses that will strengthen retail, restaurant and entertainment activities in that area.

FYI: A Pearle Vision franchise reportedly is considered a “service” business rather than a “retail” one. And we don’t see how a Pearle Vision franchise, or any eye care facility, will strengthen the area’s retail, restaurant or entertainment features.

But we also can’t ignore the fact that the last two restaurants in that space have failed; and the space has been vacant since July 2017, after the latest restaurant failed in less than a year.

Does that mean that a restaurant can’t succeed there? We can’t say.

The apparent lack of restaurateurs lining up to lease the space, however, suggests that maybe such a space poses more challenges than the folks carping from the cheap seats think when they question why it can’t house a Gibson’s, a Hackney’s, a Bobby’s Deerfield, a Rick Bayless or Lettuce restaurant, some un-named chain restaurant, an ice cream shop, a bar, a coffee co-op, a bakery, a brewery, an art school, some unidentified “small” or “mom and pop” businesses, or some unidentified “destination.”

Not surprisingly, the folks with all those swell ideas don’t seem to have two nickels to rub together. Or maybe they just don’t want to risk those nickels to turn those ideas into reality.

As the old saying might go in this situation: “If wishes were restaurants, all beggars would dine.”

We suspect that if any of the folks running their mouths had been willing to sign the same kind of lease as the Pearle Vision franchisee, the Vlahakis Family would have accepted it.

But like so many folks who prefer to watch the spending of Other People’s Money (“OPM”) rather than spend their own, the idea folks didn’t. And so the Vlahakis Family had to choose between a Pearle Vision and a whole lot of empty in the most prominent storefront in town.

And how did the all-talk-no-cash folks respond? Some of them chose to rip the Vlahakis Family for being…wait for it…“greedy” because they chose a real live tenant over leaving the space empty in the hope that a dream tenant might materialize.

Worse yet, one of the loudest carpers, Dena Lucy, went so far as to suggest (over this past weekend, as a comment to Terry Flynn’s 02.11.2018 post on the Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners Group FB page) that a decision by P&Z in favor of Pearle would be the product of some unspecified “corruption.”

Over the years we have disagreed with some P&Z decisions, occasionally with vigor. But we have never seen any evidence of what could reasonably be viewed as “corruption” – just different viewpoints and philosophies of government.

So we hope Ms. Lucy will show up tomorrow night and provide exquisite details of her “corruption” charge at the beginning of the hearing, so that everyone watching those proceedings can be on the lookout for the “fix” and who’s involved in it

But don’t bet on her doing so. Even in a political cesspool like Illinois, it’s a lot easier to claim “corruption” than to prove it.

Updated 02.28.2017. Last night the P&Z denied a somewhat half-hearted effort by the Pickwick’s landlord and a Pearle Vision franchisee to get a special use permit to run an optical service business out of a space intended for restaurant/retail/entertainment. Apparently the “corruption” that was supposed to swing this deal for the Pearle franchisee and the “greedy” Vlahakis family never materialized.

Shocking!

Should the permit-seekers wish to pursue the matter, their next stop would be an appeal of the P&Z decision to the City Council. From the look and sound of things, however, that doesn’t seem all that likely.

So now we look forward to those unidentified restaurateurs – who allegedly want the space but were beaten to the punch by the Pearle Vision franchisee – coming forward with whatever grand plan(s) they have for that restaurant space.

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Florida School Shooting Should Not Panic Park Ridge

02.21.18

One of the more detestable politicians, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, infamously said: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”

It appears that some Park Ridge residents subscribe to Rahm’s philosophy, judging from the February 15 post by Lauren Hall on the Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners FB page in response to last week’s St. Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. Hall’s opening salvo: “Has safety taken a higher priority yet? Perhaps the one vestibule project was too expensive but now what?”

She appears to be referring to Park Ridge-Niles School District 64, which has installed allegedly “secured vestibules” at its Washington Elementary and Lincoln Middle schools but has delayed their installation at the District’s other schools because one or more School Board members might dare to think that our schools are already reasonably secure; and that the District’s limited resources should be spent on…wait for it…education.

The nerve of them!

We suggest you read that post and the string of comments it provoked, which run the gamut from “[W]hy would test scores be a higher [priority than safety] if our kids are dead?” and “I’m not going to complain about the cost of any safety measure if it may save even one life” to “How do you protect against the kid…who carries a gun into school in his/her backpack?” and “If someone wants to commit an atrocity like [the Florida shooting] a vestibule is a false sense of security.”

After you’ve finished, ask yourself: Will a motivated shooter – which each of these school shooters is – be deterred by (a) the not-really-secured vestibules this blog has ripped on several occasions, most recently in our 07.21.2017 post, or by (b) the School Resource Officers (“SROs”) proposed for Emerson and Lincoln middle schools, which we criticized in our o8.31.2017 post? (And, BTW, that Florida high school had an SRO on duty at the time).

If your answer is “Yes,” then answer the trenchant budgetary question posed by Toni Wolf that appears fairly early in that string of comments:

“What are you willing to get rid of or reduce to pay for vestibules?”

Not surprisingly, virtually all of the commentators ignored that question.

Instead, some applauded the vestibules at Washington and Lincoln for giving the folks manning the school office a clear view of everybody who enters the school. But unless those office folks have Superman’s x-ray vision they can’t see the collapsed-stock AR-15 or the MAC-10 in the disturbed kid’s backpack. Or the AR-15 stuck down the pants of some whacked-out dad showing up for a Science Olympiad. Or the Glock with a 30-round clip (and a spare?) in the Dooney & Bourke tote of a looney mom attending a holiday program.

What might prevent those dangers? Metal detectors would help, assuming they would be manned by competent operators and would actually be used all day, every day – even on rainy ones when the line of kids going through them backs up and stretches out the door, ironically providing a prospective shooter with an inviting target in its own right. Metal detectors also wouldn’t stop a shooter from targeting kids on the playground at recess, or leaving school at day’s end.

Fortunately, despite the wailing and hand-wringing of certain Concerned Homeowners, the chances of any of our children dying (or even being wounded) by gunfire anywhere in our community are probably about the same as the chances of any of them dying from a plane slamming into Maine South, a catastrophe certain residents have been warning about since Flight 191 crashed after take-off from O’Hare in May 1979.

That’s a good thing, although apparently not good enough for the Chicken Little brigade.

One of our more revered presidents (at least in some circles), Franklin D. Roosevelt, famously said: “[T]he only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Unfortunately, too many of our residents seem almost addicted not merely to fear but to phobia – a phobia that too often seems to be assuaged only by the irresponsible wasting of the taxpayers’ money on snake oil palliatives that enrich fear-mongering security consultants like RETA Security, Inc. that has been advising D-64.

And architects like FGM who happily, and profitably, re-design our schools.

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It’s Not The Event But The Cover-Up

02.13.18

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

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

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

But guess what?

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

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

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

Of course you can!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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