Public Watchdog.org

A Couple Of Basic Ways To Screen Local Candidates

01.19.17

Nominating petition challenges are a good thing.

They serve as a basic, first-level screening to identify those candidates who are at least competent, committed and conscientious enough to gather sufficient petition signatures so that no reasonable challenge can be posed.

And to identify those who are not.

So when someone like Patrick DeStefano files only the bare minimum 67 petition signatures to get on the 6th Ward aldermanic ballot, and then gets bounced because 17 of them are disqualified by the Cook County Clerk’s office, voters can legitimately wonder whether his candidacy was anything more than a lark, or the product of some late-night gripe session ending with a “Screw this, I’m running for alderman!”

The same can be said for incumbent Maine Twp. High School Dist. 207 Board member Jin Lee, who reportedly filed only 55 signatures – a mere 5 more than the required minimum – and then had to gather several affidavits to prove to the election board that enough live registered voters actually signed his petitions. Instead of owning his ineptitude, however, Lee whined – according to a recent article in the Park Ridge Journal (“Maine High School Candidates Names Will Be Placed On April 4 Ballot,” Jan. 15) – that he “wish[ed] there was more of a way for first-timers to know how to handle objections.”

Here’s a thought: Try getting 25 or 50 signatures more than the bare minimum, so you don’t have to “handle objections.”

That should also be the lesson for Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 candidate Monica Wojnicki, who reportedly has been knocked off that ballot by filing 52 signatures, only 2 above the required minimum, of which 32 were successfully challenged. And a lesson for Park Ridge Park District Board candidates Jennifer Barcal and Carol Becker, whose ballot challenges are still being sorted out.

But getting on the ballot is the bare minimum level of competence, commitment and conscientiousnous. At least one more level of screening is necessary to determining whether a candidate might be worthy of the office.

Motive.

For example, you can immediately write off any candidate who claims to be running to “give something back to the community.” That’s the default answer for all those empty-suit candidates trying to avoid admitting that they “got nothin’ ” in the way of ideas or agendas. And it’s those kinds of empty suits who end up becoming puppets or stooges for some special interest – assuming they aren’t already some special interest’s puppets or stooges trying to fly below the radar with their “give back” mantra.

If you want to know one reason why the D-64 School Board consistently ends up with so many puppets and/or stooges for the Park Ridge Education Association (the “PREA,” a/k/a the teachers union) and the PREA-beholden administrators, check out the sixth page of the recruiting handout for prospective D-64 Board candidates who attended Supt. Laurie Heinz’s dog-and-pony show last October 12, and you’ll see “give back” as one of the four reasons for Board service.

And if you can stomach wading through the rest of that propaganda piece (on which we detect the fingerprints of D-64 propaganda minister Bernadette Tramm as well as Heinz’s), we dare you to find the words “taxes” or “taxpayers.” That’s because Heinz and her current D-64 Board puppets/stooges don’t want nobody the taxpayers sent – or anybody that’s going to hold all those very well-paid PREA members and those overpaid administrators like Heinz and Tramm accountable for the boatloads of tax dollars being spent on what seems to be, by all objective measures, relatively modest educational quality.

Barely one notch above the empty-suited give-backers are the “teasers.” They’re the candidates who try to win over those clueless and/or stupid voters by teasing and tantalizing them with vague or veiled suggestions about what they might do about some situation or other…if only they were to be elected.

For example, this past Tuesday night mayoral challenger Lucas Fuksa posted news about the closing of the Jos. A. Banks store in Uptown and then (a) suggested there are “real reasons” for that retailer’s closing, which he teasingly chose not to identify; and (b) claimed Park Ridge needs to be made “business friendly” (How?), zoned “appropriately” (How?) and with improvement to “our parking situation” (Like what?).

But since that might not be quite enough teasing for some voters, Fuksa added – in a comment to a comment to his post – that we need “infrastructure improvements [Paid for how?], less restrictions [On what and why?], zoning changes [What kind?], branding [For the City’s cattle?], and long term future planning” [Gee, now that’s original!]. For a candidate who is already viewed as mostly a pawn of certain developers, that’s a whole lot of foam but very little beer.

Our favorite, however, is his teaser claim that he “spoke to Jos. A. banks [sic] so I know what some of those issues are” – presumably related to its closing – but he apparently is keeping those secrets to himself for now.

Doesn’t that just make you tingle with suspense?

It sounds to us like Fuksa is channeling 2013 mayoral challenger Larry Ryles’ business development strategy which – as we wrote about in our 03.19.13 post – consisted in large part of hugs and handshakes. But at least Ryles actually named some of the businesses he wanted to bring to Park Ridge: Urban Outfitters, Forever 21, Ann Tayor, Clarks and GameStop.

As best as we can tell, Fuksa was MIA four years ago during that last mayoral race, so we can understand how he may have missed such a failed campaign strategy and now considers it his original.

Besides, it’s so teasing and tantalizing.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Hinkley’s High-Priced Out-House

01.10.17

Make no mistake about it: The Park Ridge Park District needs to repair or replace the bathroom building at Hinkley Park.

But at a project cost of $746,000 – $563,000 for an unheated/un-air conditioned, five-stall, 16’ x 30’ out-house, and another $183,000 for an adjacent picnic shelter and rainwater harvesting system?

Why will such a project cost as much or more than most Park Ridge homes? Blame something called the Prevailing Wage Act, another boondoggle perpetuated by the Democrats in Springfield that requires our local governmental bodies to pay what amounts to the highest cost for construction labor – as much as one-third (in the case of the Hinkley bathroom, that’s around $188,000) more than the price private citizens and businesses might pay for the same labor.

But that’s not the whole story.

To compound the problem, the Park District gave a no-bid contract to FGM Architects to design and manage this project. And FGM’s fee will be based, in part, on a percentage of the total cost of the project.

Can you say: “An incentive to maximize costs”? We knew you could.

FGM has a history of feeding – if not gorging – at the public trough. Unfortunately, Park Ridge has become one of its favorite feedlots, with Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 giving FGM virtual carte blanche over its “secured vestibules” project, which is (a) an ill-conceived/unnecessary/stupid and wasteful palliative for those parents who insist on bubble-wrapping their kids at the taxpayers’ expense; and (b) what passes for an “achievement” by Supt. Laurie Heinz and those D-64 administrators and school board members who don’t seem capable of doing their “Job 1”: significantly improving the quality of education and academic performance of the District.

As best as we can tell, that “secured vestibules” project also was no-bid, presumably because D-64 gave FGM a Willy Wonka-style golden ticket over a year ago when it made FGM its “architect of record” – which also gives it the inside track on another $20 million or so of construction projects the District already has queued up. Rumor has it that the Park District gave a similar golden ticket to FGM, thereby making it legal for the District to seek and accept a single, no-bid proposal for the Hinkley project and any other construction projects that come down the pike.

By that measure, that piddly $746,000 for the Park District’s glorified out-house – including FGM’s cut – is chump change. But that doesn’t mean that Park Board members Rick Biagi, Jim O’Brien and Mel Thillens weren’t right in challenging the wisdom of that kind of expenditure at the Board’s meeting on December 15, 2016.

Not surprisingly, Biagi led the charge in demanding that the Board seek input from other architects and construction managers in order to determine whether FGM is on or off the mark with its proposal. The result of Biagi’s diatribe – which you can watch on the meeting video, starting at the 42:20 mark – is that the Board will now hold a hearing on January 26 so that the public can voice its concerns or support for the project, and about the perverted process that birthed this boondoggle.

Biagi, O’Brien and Thillens also were the ones, along with Commissioner Dick Brandt, to vote “no” on adopting the Democrat-dominated Illinois Dept. of Labor’s tricked-up-and-inflated “prevailing wage” schedule at the June 16, 2016 Board meeting. Unfortunately, the District’s panicked general counsel almost immediately was able to scare O’Brien and Brandt into a do-over vote and a flip-flop, with dire warnings of fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, rivers and seas boiling, forty years of darkness, earthquakes, volcanoes, the dead rising from the grave, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together.

And law suits, even though Biagi and Thillens offered to secure pro bono counsel to defend any such suits.

So the District likely will spend that $750,000 or so for that glorified out-house and attendant amenities. And FGM will pick another shrimp or two off the public barbie thanks to the inflated labor costs due to the prevailing wage.

Because that’s the way “Fleece the Taxpayers” is played in our deep blue State of Illinois, Michael J. Madigan proprietor.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Hello, 2017 – A Critical Local Election Year (Updated)

01.06.17

As we sail into 2017 with some people predicting Armageddon and others hoping for Greatness, we’ll assume – as history has tended to prove – that both will be equally wrong.

Meanwhile, back here is sleepy ol’ Park Ridge (or “Pleasantville” if you prefer) 2017 is shaping up to be an interesting year, primarily because of local elections that are already producing enough sparks to suggest that some real fireworks aren’t far behind.

The main event is the mayoral race, where Acting Mayor and 7th Ward Ald. Marty Maloney is seeking to retain the seat his fellow alderman voted him upon the death of Mayor Dave Schmidt in March 2015. His challenger is political rookie Lucas Fuksa, grabbing for the brass ring on his very first carousel ride.

Although only three aldermanic seats were scheduled for races in 2017, a fourth became so with the death of 3d Ward Ald. Bob Wilkening in August 2015, just four months into his first term of office. Of those four races, only 2d Ward Ald. Nick Milissis lacks an opponent. Milissis has indicated, however, that he will be an active participant on the campaign trail, something to which we look forward.

Amazingly enough, the 3d Ward – Park Ridge’s political land that time forgot which, in 2011, elected the first aldermanic write-in candidate in decades when no other ballot-worthy candidate stepped forward – has FOUR candidates trying to finish the last two years of Wilkening’s term: current Ald. Rick Van Roeyen, who lost to Wilkening in 2015 but was appointed by the Council to fill his seat; Wilkening’s widow, Gail, who served two terms (1997-2005) on the Park Ridge Park District Board; Vicki Lee, who spent the past four years on the Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Board; and Pasquale Laudando, rumored to be running as part of an unofficial Fuksa “ticket.”

Incumbent 4th Ward Ald. Roger Shubert faces Jack Barnette, seeking to return to the Council after a 30-year absence.

And in the 6th Ward, Incumbent Ald. Marc Mazzuca is being challenged – at least for the time being – by Patrick DeStefano, another rumored member of the Fuksa “ticket.” Mazzuca is challenging 22 of DeStefano’s bare-minimum 67 nominating petition signatures, however, so the disqualification of just one signature will sack DeStefano’s candidacy.

The signatures need to be verified by the Cook County Clerk’s office as belonging to duly qualified, registered and legal voters of the 6th ward, with the results of that verification scheduled to be heard by the City’s electoral board – comprised of Acting Mayor Maloney, City Clerk Betty Henneman and 4th Ward Ald. Roger Shubert – on January 9.

Meanwhile, the race for the four available Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 board seats has received the most attention to date, if only because three of the eight candidates – Gregory Bublitz, Norman Dziedzic and Michael Schaab – are married to D-64 teachers and, therefore, have potential conflicts of interest on a number of issues that could greatly limit the votes they can lawfully and/or ethically cast if elected. Other candidates include current two-term Park Ridge Park District Board member Rick Biagi; Biagi’s fellow Park Ridge Holiday Lights Committee member Alfred Sanchez; 2013 mayoral candidate Larry Ryles; Willowbrook H.S. teacher Eastman Tiu; and Monica Wojnicki.

This race has long-term importance because the successful candidates this year will be members of the Board when the next teachers contract is up for negotiation in 2020 – a fact apparently not lost on the Park Ridge Education Association, a/k/a the teachers union, who reportedly are backing (quietly, of course) the three teacher spouses and at least one other candidate (we’re betting on Tiu, or maybe Ryles) in the hope of locking-down the necessary four-seat majority of accommodating ankle-grabbers for those 2020 negotiations.

At Maine Township School District 207, incumbents Carla Owen and Jin Lee are vying with former Park Ridge Planning & Zoning Board member Aurora Austriaco, current P&Z member Linda Coyle, and recent state representative candidate Dan Gott, for the four available board seats.

And at the Park Ridge Park District, there’s a virtual jail break with incumbents Joan Bende and Jim Philips being challenged by Jennifer Barcal, Carol E. Becker, Harmony Harrington, Jim Janak, H. Robert Leach, Laurie (Pegler) Mallin and 2012 state senate candidate Jim O’Donnell for the four available seats on that seven-member board.

Meanwhile, another task confronting the City Council within the next several weeks is filling the seat of 5th Ward Ald. Dan Knight until the 2019 election. Acting Mayor Maloney has indicated that he will follow the recent practice for filling aldermanic vacancies by forming a committee of 5th Ward residents to interview prospective appointees and then recommend Knight’s successor to Maloney and the Council.

While there’s a lot more going on in local government, expect these races to (as the pundits on “Morning Joe” are fond of saying) “suck up all the oxygen in the room” for the next three months. And if that ends up being the case, it’s up to all of us taxpaying voters to pay attention and make darn sure the winners truly EARN their seats.

So here’s hoping for three months of spirited, issue-oriented campaigning.

UPDATE (01.09.17):  This morning the City of Park Ridge Electoral Board – Acting Mayor Marty Maloney, City Clerk Betty Henneman and 4th Ward Ald. Roger Shubert – ruled in favor of the challenge by 6th Ward Ald. Marc Mazzuca to candidate petition signatures of challenger Patrick DeStefano, who filed the bare minimum 67 signatures.

Mazzuca challenged a number of the petition signatures as being inconsistent with those on file with the County Clerk’s office, or of people not registered at the addresses placed on the petitions.

With this successful challenge, it appears that the only alternative for DeStefano is a lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Cook County. But because DeStefano would have to pitch a perfect game in any court case in order to stay on the ballot, it’s hard to imagine him or his backer(s) spending the money on that kind of windmill tilt.

The lesson, campers, is: If you want to run for something higher than homeroom rep to the student council, get a whole lot more nominating petition signatures than the bare minimum.

Because if you don’t, your petitions likely will be challenged and you will be thrown off the ballot.

And you’ll also end up looking like someone who wasn’t really a serious candidate. Or a mope.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Goodbye For Now, Ald. Knight

12.29.16

Dan Knight never really wanted to be an alderman.

He was content doing the things many 50-something suburban dads do when not working, such as coaching their kids’ sports teams and doing charity work – both through his church, St. Paul of the Cross, and through other organizations.

Little did Dan know what path he was starting down that day back in 2008 when he agreed to support some of his neighbors in challenging the misguided installation of a homeless shelter in the basement of St. Mary’s Episcopal, just a block from Dan’s home.

The instigators of locating such a shelter – operated by a private, Palatine-based not-for-profit corporation called PADS to Hope, Inc. (“PADS, Inc.”) – in Park Ridge were some prominent residents and a group of local clergy calling themselves the “Park Ridge Ministerial Association” (“PRMA”). And, not surprisingly, they were backed by opportunistic local politicians such as then-mayor Howard Frimark.

Like many of his neighbors, Dan didn’t buy into the idea of strangers – most of them acknowledged or suspected alcoholics, drug abusers and/or emotionally disturbed – being trucked into their quiet residential neighborhood one night a week from October to April just so PADS, Inc. could add another shelter to its roster, the better to leverage even more public and private grant funding. So Dan not only joined his neighbors, he became one of their leaders. He attended City Council meetings and other public hearings, asking tough questions and voicing his neighbors’ concerns, even to the point of calling out his own pastor for using religion to play politics.

But Dan also objected to the idea of treating such disadvantaged people like cattle, herding them night by night from a church basement in Park Ridge to a school gym in Evanston, to a church hall in Morton Grove, etc. So he tried to enlist PADS shelter supporters in an effort to provide longer-term housing, either by renting vacant local residences or by booking blocks of rooms in a nearby motel so that the homeless could actually have a “home”: the same place to go to, night after night, for the six months per year the PADS shelter program functioned.

Not surprisingly, that longer-term concept didn’t fly with either the PADS operators or their PRMA allies. But by the time PADS, Inc. and the PRMA walked away from Park Ridge rather than comply with the City’s requirement that PADS, Inc. obtain a special use permit in compliance with the City’s Zoning Code, Dan was hooked.

He became a trusted advisor to then-ald. Dave Schmidt (1st Ward), especially on financial issues. And when Schmidt decided to take on an incumbent Frimark in the 2009 mayoral election, Dan became not only a key part of Schmidt’s policy team but also his campaign treasurer.

Dan’s advice was instrumental in the creation of Schmidt’s noteworthy campaign platform of “H.I.T.A.” – Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability – that helped Ald. Schmidt become Mayor Dave in an upset victory over Frimark; and it was a hallmark of Schmidt’s administration until his sudden and untimely death last year.

For the initial two years of Mayor Dave’s first term virtually every financial policy initiative he proposed, and virtually every financial position he took, was informed and/or vetted by Dan. So valuable were Dan’s contributions that Mayor Dave encouraged him to run for 5th Ward alderman in April 2011. And so strong was Dan’s support in that ward that nobody ran against him.

Ald. Dan continued to be Schmidt’s sounding board on City issues great and small.

Just weeks into his aldermanic tenure Dan began working closely with the City’s relatively new Finance Director, Allison Stutts, to unravel the City’s arcane and sometimes misleading finances which were in shambles – in no small measure because of that white elephant known as the Uptown TIF that nobody previously had attempted to really understand.

Dan spent countless hours not only with Stutts but also with her successor, Kent Oliven, and his successor, Joe Gilmore, analyzing how best to address all those TIF deficits that kept sucking up money faster than City taxpayers could supply it – and that caused a downgrade in the City’s bond rating.

Once Dan and the finance directors went as far as they could go on their own, Dan advocated for bringing in TIF consultant Kane McKenna to provide the City with the first informed and honest assessment of what the TIF had done to City finances, and it was an eye-opener: as of year-end 2012, the City was still on the hook for over $39 million in TIF-related debt service; and the best-case scenario was that the TIF would end up costing the City over $7 million rather than producing the $20 million in profits the TIF perpetrators had predicted back in 2003-05.

But finally understanding the situation ultimately led to some TIF-related bond refunding that already has saved the City several million dollars of debt service, with the possibility of more to come. And that refunding, along with the policy of “prudent austerity” combined with “reasonable…tax and fee increases” (according to Moody’s Investors Service) instituted by Schmidt, not only helped put the brakes on the decline in the City’s bond rating but, also, caused Moody’s to remove the “negative outlook” for the City’s Aa2 general obligation bond rating.

Yet all this is only a fraction of what Ald. Knight did for this community in his slightly more than five years in office – most of which the general public will never know or appreciate. Which is the way he wanted it.

Dan never shied away from telling it like it is, often displaying the candor of his South Side Irish origin by calling “B.S.” on any public official or special interest lacking the proper respect for the City and its taxpayers. That’s why you could find no more honest and genuine a public official – in any branch of Park Ridge local government – and why he earned the respect and trust of his Council colleagues and of his constituents, who re-elected him without opposition in 2015.

“The pipes” called Danny Knight last week at age 58, leaving a legacy of service and accomplishments not unlike those of his friend and ally, Mayor Dave. Although they were public officials, they most definitely were not “politicians” because they would rather be right, and do right, than be popular.

Both of them left us far too early and with much still to be done. But they also left behind colleagues committed to H.I.T.A. and to putting the taxpayers first.

James Madison said: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” 

So we take some small comfort in believing that where Danny now is, no further duties will be required of him. 

Slán, Dan…do anois.

Hail To The Champions! – Part 2

12.10.16

In a span of less than one week the Maine South High School Hawks captured two state titles.

Most residents know about the football team’s upset of the Loyola Academy Ramblers for the Class 8A championship the Saturday after Thanksgiving down at Urbana-Champaign. And they recognize names like Leongas, Jarvis and McNulty, as well as that of Coach Dave Inserra.

But on December 2nd the Hawks’ Constitution Team also brought home the state title in the “We The People: The Citizen and the Constitution” competition at the Dirksen Federal Building in Downtown Chicago. Unlike their gridiron classmates, however, names like Boyce, Kreger and Touhy, and even that of Coach Andy Trenkle, aren’t as readily recognizable – so you can see the team’s roster here.

Also unlike their gridiron classmates, their season isn’t over: they will be heading to Washington, D.C. to compete in the national competition at the end of April, 2017.

Just as championship football has become a tradition at Maine South, so has championship civics as demonstrated by knowledge of the United States Constitution. The Hawks have “won state” in the Constitution competition every year since 1991, except for 1993; and they won the national championship in 1999. The team also has had a number of Top 10 finishes in the national competition.

The questions presented at the recent state competition were every bit as challenging, in their own right, to the Constitutioneers as any Loyola Academy pass rusher or ball carrier was to the Hawk gridders.

These teenagers’ accomplishments should serve as an inspiration to all of us, especially those of us who, over time, may have lost some of our knowledge and appreciation of perhaps the second greatest secular governing document – after the Magna Carta – the world has ever known.

Which is why Lincoln famously said: “We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.” And why Calvin Coolidge reminded us that: “To live under the American Constitution is the greatest political privilege that was ever accorded to the human race.”

But while our Constitution provides the basic framework for the rest of our government at every level, we also need a better understanding of the nuts and bolts of local government, the civic “ground game” that is played not in Washington or in Springfield but right here in our own community.

Many/most voting-age residents would be hard-pressed to name both their mayor and their alderman. And they probably would have to guess well to get the names right of just two of the seven-member boards of the Park District or School Districts 64 and 207 – which combined account for approximately 80% of our property tax bills.

That level of civic ignorance tends to make the chances of getting effective local government as much a matter of luck as of skill. One need look at City government no farther back than a decade or so, however, to see that “luck” in local government can be bad as often, or more so, than it can be good.

Fortunately, our late mayor Dave Schmidt established H.I.T.A. – Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability – at City Hall, where it has retained its vitality since his sudden death in March 2015. Unfortunately, H.I.T.A. is most notable for its absence at D-64 and D-207, whose Board members view taxpayers and critics as enemies to be fought and overcome with spin, blatant propaganda, and secretive closed session meetings.

The State Champion Maine South Constitution Team members deserve this shout-out, therefore, not only for their achievement but also for the interest in the Constitution and local government that such an achievement might kindle or rekindle in the rest of us.

Ben Franklin announced our newly-formed government as being: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

That pithy description belies both the inestimable value of a government based on the consent of the governed, and the immense need for the informed and active participation of the governed in their government.

Especially at the local level.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Salons, Sushi And Banks, Oh My!

11.30.16

Not all that many years ago the most consistent comment about Park Ridge, especially its Uptown business district, was criticism of the lack of commercial and retail tenants to occupy the vacant storefronts.

Not anymore. Today’s laments now run toward the kinds of businessses: too many salons, sushi restaurants and banks. And those laments are not totally unjustified.

According to an article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“New hair salon proposed for Uptown Park Ridge,” Nov. 25), 16 addresses in the Uptown area are listed as the sites of hair salons or barber shops. We don’t know if that includes the ubiquitous nail salons, but you get the picture.

We also count 4 sushi restaurants in Uptown, not including the grab-and-go sushi available at Whole Foods and Jewel on Uptown’s periphery.

And by our count Park Ridge is home to 13 banks, with the prospect of yet another one going in next to the new Walgreen’s at South Park’s Talcott Terrace shopping center – a prospect that has already met with criticism by residents who have a variety of preferential businesses but no interest in putting their own money where their mouths are.

Then there also are some business owners who don’t like the idea of competition. Or at least not when that competition moves in next door, or even down the block. Those businesses would like our City government to step in and protect them from competition by every way imaginable, including by denying the new competitors business licenses.

But as the interim director of community preservation and development noted: “Competition should not be a consideration” in business licensing decisions.

One of the tenets of capitalism, credited to Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter, is “creative destruction” – where new ideas, products and services are constantly rising from the ashes of the old. A classic example is the buggy whip, the manufacturers of which went out of business as horse-and-buggy transportation was replaced by automobiles. More recently, we have seen video stores – which employed approximately 175,000 people a decade ago – extinguished by Redbox, Netflix and streaming video.

The folks who don’t want another bank in South Park, or another salon in the 100 block of Vine Avenue, or another sushi restaurant in Uptown, have every right to object. But those objections should not trump the initiative of entrepreneurs willing to risk their time, money and effort in a new business – whether it be a bank, salon or sushi parlor; and whether it be next door or down the street from a competitor.

From the sound of their comments, some Park Ridge residents (and non-resident Park Ridge business owners?) would prefer that the City engage in a little Soviet-style central planning. You know, the kind where the government puts its public thumb on the scale either by refusing to license competitors or by giving economic “incentives” (i.e., bribes) to certain preferred businesses.

A decade or so ago, a clown-car city council with an uber-clown mayor at the wheel did just that: It wasted tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars giving a few preferred Uptown building owners money for “façade improvements” that produced no measurable ROI (Return On Investment) for the City. And then those same alderdopes fattened the wallets of the Uptown redeveloper by irresponsibly borrowing (i.e., issuing non-referendum General Obligation bonds) tens of millions of dollars which they then irresponsibly “invested” in the Uptown project (also without a referendum) that guaranteed them no additional control of the project and no ROI.

The debt from that non-performing “investment” crushed the City’s finances from 2008 through 2014, and remains a multi-million dollar drain on the revenues the City collects from its taxpayers.

Fortunately, the clowns were swept out of office by Mayor Schmidt and his supporters who believed in letting the free market do its thing. So when the developer working with Whole Foods (Lance Chody, also owner of Garrett’s Popcorn) demanded that the City provide almost $3 million of sales tax revenue-sharing as an “incentive” (a/k/a, a bribe) to do the deal, Mayor Dave and that council wisely called his bluff with spot-on reasoning: If WF needs a multi-million dollar bribe to locate in Park Ridge, they should look elsewhere.

Two weeks later the developer and/or WF folded, leaving Park Ridge and its taxpayers $3 million richer. And since then, WF has been joined by Mariano’s, FFC Fitness, Holt’s, Harp & Fiddle, Shakou and other small businesses willing to take the risk of marketplace competition.

It should come as no surprise that the entrepreneur looking to open the hair salon on Vine is Frank Ernesto, who currently has two businesses on Main Street – Gumba Joe’s and F. J. Ernesto’s – and was a long-time fixture in South Park as the proprietor of Sonny’s restaurant. Here’s a guy who, having made a long term commitment to our business community, suddenly is being vilified for taking the risk of starting yet another business…in an area where his competition is already established.

We need more of that spirit, not less.

As for those who still keep drinking that “Why can’t we get national retailers?” Kool-Aid, a little history lesson is in order.

When that clown-car council was in hot pursuit of Uptown Redevelopment we were told that, if we built that new retail space, the likes of upscale Crate & Barrel, Ann Taylor, The Gap and Barnes & Noble would come. But even before that space was finished, all we had were down-sized Chico’s, Joseph A. Banks and Trader Joe’s. And big-time retailer interest was so low that 15,000 square feet of planned retail space was redesigned into more condos.

Four years ago a mayoral candidate talked about attracting the likes of Urban Outfitters, Ann Taylor, Forever 21 and GameStop. None of them came knocking, either.

Now a reported potential mayoral candidate, apparently slugging down the same Kool-Aid, is talking about Pottery Barn.

The bottom line is that these “national retailers” know what markets they want, where they want to be, and why. They decide on Park Ridge, not the other way around. And until they decide they want to be here because here’s where they can make good money, there’s virtually nothing the City can do about it.

Unless you consider offering multi-million dollar bribes a “marketing strategy.”

To read or post comments, click on title.

Hail To The Champions!

11.26.16

As readers of this blog know, one of our favorite quotes is that of legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden: “Don’t mistake activity for achievement.”

Tonight that lesson was demonstrated, in spades, by the Maine South Hawks football team, which capped a most unusual season – for Maine South, at least – with the ultimate achievement: The state Class 8A championship.

The Hawks’ hard-fought, uber-exciting 27-17 victory over the Loyola Academy Ramblers avenged their early-season 44-43 loss to the Ramblers with what was a “team” victory in the truest sense of the word.

To paraphrase a line from the Wes Mantooth character in the movie “Anchorman”: “Today we spell ‘redemption’… H-A-W-K-S.”

To the players, coaches and everyone associated with the team: Bravo!

You’ve done Park Ridge proud. Again.

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State Of Illinois And Dist. 207 Playing “Ready Or Not” With Students And Taxes

11.18.16

We tend to pay less attention to Maine Twp. High School District 207 than to its partner in educational crime, Park Ridge-Niles School District 64. But an article in this week’s Park Ridge Journal with the headline “Measuring ‘College Readiness’ No Easy Task In Dist. 207” (11.10.16) provides some unwelcome data that, unfortunately, highlights concerns we’ve been expressing for years.

Once the reader wades through various examples of the State of Illinois’ educational chaos, one significant point becomes clear: Illinois can’t seem to implement any type of uniform testing standards that enable discriminating parents (and education critics) to make meaningful comparisons of school districts, or of individual schools from different districts.

How bloody convenient…for an educational system that has spent decades pandering to the Illinois Education Association by shielding teachers and administrators alike from any meaningful accountability for the ongoing underachievement of their students.

According to the Journal article, the state average of high school juniors (11th graders) ready for the “next level” (Senior year? College?) is 39.2%. Maine South students’ readiness is 43.3%, while Maine East’s is 36.9% and Maine West’s is 35.7%. In other words, less than half of Maine South’s juniors are ready for either senior year or college; and East’s and West’s actually are below the state average.

Should taxpayers who pay approximately one-third of their RE taxes to D-207 find those readiness levels acceptable, especially considering that a District 207 education is reportedly among the most costly in the state at over $17,000/pupil/year?

Only if you like paying filet mignon prices for butt steak.

It’s understandable, however, that those taxpayers paying $5,000 of RE taxes to D-207 for $17,000 (or $34,000, or $51,000, depending on the number of students) of Maine South education might be a bit more sanguine about it than those taxpayers without students getting those benefits, or those taxpayers paying between $12,000 and $16,000 of after-tax dollars to send their kid to St. Ignatius, Loyola, or Resurrection – while also paying their $5,000 to D-207.

Of course, adding those private/parochial students to Maine South’s enrollment would drive D-207’s costs, and the taxpayers’ bills even higher. But that’s a topic for another discussion.

The article also references a “freshman on track” measurement, allegedly gauging student performance after one year in high school. The reported statewide average for that benchmark is a surprising 82.4%, with Maine South freshmen registering a 95% average, Maine East 94%, and Maine West 89.1%.

But let’s stop and think about that for a minute.

Assuming any of these numbers are even marginally credible – an assumption made at your own risk – it would appear that students statewide go from an 82.4% “on track” average at the freshman level down to a 39.2% average for “next level” readiness by spring of their junior year. And at D-207’s flagship school, Maine South, the “on track” to “next level” readiness plummets a stunning 50% – from 95% to 43.3%!

That free fall is occurring despite whatever advantages might come with an enrollment that is 86% white, a mere 8% low income, a tiny 1 % of English learners (formerly ESL/English as a Second Language), albeit with 13% reportedly having some type of “disability.”

Perhaps because of these semi-disastrous scores, it was decreed from on high (Springfield?) that, for 2016 evaluation purposes, any student scoring 21 or above on the ACT is “college ready” – although not necessarily ready for the “next level”? – and the state norm based on this standard was 45% of all seniors. By this alternate one-year measure, Maine South scored a 77%.

Huzzah! Or with props to the late great Leonard Cohen: “Hallelujah!”

So pay no attention to the 23% of Maine South students who don’t meet this latest, and lowest, standard of readiness. Or the 56.7% of them who aren’t ready for the “next level.”

Given the Illinois public education establishment’s fun-with-numbers approach to measuring achievement, we suspect those folks in Springfield will be coming up with yet another set of benchmarks – and generating new false hopes – any day now.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Election Day 2016: Just Say “No!” To Madigan, Democrats

11.08.16

We do our best to avoid government and politics outside the friendly confines of Park Ridge, if for no reason other than partisan state politics makes us even more nauseous than thinking and writing about Park Ridge-Niles School District 64.

But today is election day and we feel obligated to say something about our local races.

Michael Madigan first took his seat in the Illinois House of Representatives in 1971. Richard Nixon was president. The governor was a one-term Republican named Richard B. Ogilvie, who sponsored this state’s first income tax. And Illinois was among the top 15 most prosperous states in the Union.

Over the next 45 years, while Ogilvie and his RINO successors – “Big Jim” Thompson (1977-1991), “Slim Jim” Edgar (1991-1999) and George “No. 16627-424” Ryan (1999-2003) – eagerly jumped into bed with Madigan to form and perpetuate the “Illinois Combine” that has raped Illinois’ economy and stolen its soul, Madigan remained the single constant.

Elected Speaker in 1983, Madigan has held that position ever since, except for two years (1995-1997) when the Democrats lost their House majority. Meanwhile, he has grown enormously wealthy through a law practice that specializes in getting huge property tax breaks for big business, shifting the tax burden from them onto the rest of us.

During his 31 years as Speaker and the single most powerful official in Illinois, our state has plummeted from its Top 15 ranking to battling California for 49th place.

Yet the sheeple of Illinois have kept Madigan in the Speaker’s chair by consistently electing his Democrat stooges like state representative Marty Moylan to preserve Madigan’s House majority. And they also have enabled Madigan to extend his control to the Illinois Senate through his sock puppet, Senate president John Cullerton, by electing and appointing Democrat stooges like state senator Laura Murphy.

Regular readers of this blog know that one of our favorite quotes, attributed to Albert Einstein, is the definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

If Illinois is ever to climb out of its sinkhole 45 years in the making, someday its voters need to stop empowering the one man arguably most responsible for digging that hole.

Today’s that day.

Just say “No!” to Madigan by just saying “No!” to his Democrats.

To read and/or post comments, click on title.

Weasels Usually Blame Their Lawyers

11.05.16

Our previous post dealt with some of the lies told to us by our alleged elected “representatives” on the School Board of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64. Today we are focusing on just one of them, uttered by no less than Board president Tony “Not really the Boss” (because Supt. Heinz really runs the show) Borrelli.

Borrelli said this about the consequences had the Board published the new PREA contract to the taxpayers before the Board approved it: “The District would most definitely be on the wrong side of any adjudication to [sic] either a ULP or grievance of these issues with resulting fines, fees and penalties incurred.”

“Liar, liar, pants on fire” doesn’t begin to capture the outright dishonesty of that comment, which Borrelli attributed to advice from the District’s attorneys – because weasels usually blame their lawyers.

Not surprisingly, Borrelli offered no written opinion those attorneys so taxpayers could know, in the first instance, whether Borrelli is even telling the truth about that advice; and, if so, letting that opinion be subjected to taxpayer scrutiny.

That’s because Borrelli and the rest of his lemming Board members are blatantly anti-transparency and equally anti-accountability. They scurry off into closed sessions more frequently than any other local governmental body, with the possible exception of the Maine Township High School District 207 Board – whose members share D-64’s obsession with hiding the truth from its taxpayers. So the D-64 Board’s hiding behind the alleged advice of counsel is the most convenient, and most cowardly, way to justify such a lack of transparency.

As best as we can tell, Borrelli’s alibi is either an outright lie or bad legal advice – starting with the actual language of the 2012 PREA contract under which the most recent negotiations were conducted which reads as follows:

  1. Progress Reports.   General progress reports may be issued during negotiations to the Association or Board. Public releases must have prior mutual consent until either the Board or the PREA declares impasse or submits to mediation. After a declaration of impasse, public releases or statements may be made without mutual consent provided the other party is given 48 hours’ advance notice. Subsequent releases or statements do not require either party to provide notice to the other party. Final offers must be made pursuant to the requirements of the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act.

Nothing in that provision even addresses when a tentative agreement, such as the one Borrelli announced on August 22 as having been reached by the District and the PREA, can or cannot be published. And we could find nothing In the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act (the “IERLA,” 115 ILCS 5) – the statute that governs school district employee disputes – which prohibits a school district or an individual school board member from publishing a tentative agreement before it is ratified by the PREA or approved by the Board.

So Borrelli’s alibi appears to be a lie even at its most basic threshold level.

But there’s more.

Even if any of the feckless members of the D-64 Board were to have suddenly grown a spine and mustered the honesty and integrity necessary to publish the tentative agreement to the taxpayers back in August or early September, the consequences to the District would appear to be…nothing!

Contrary to Borrelli’s dire-but-idle warnings of “fines, fees and penalties” clearly intended to squelch any dissent, nothing would have happened unless and until the PREA filed a ULP or grievance against the District. And if the PREA did so, that would confirm what we already suspect: that the PREA and its member teachers were terrified of the taxpayers finding out the sweetheart terms of the new contract before it becomes a done deal.

So what?

Under 115 ILCS 5/15, all the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board can do in response to a ULP filing is to hold a hearing and, if warranted, enter a cease and desist (“C&D”) order basically saying: “Don’t do that again.”

Ouch!

And while the IELR Board can award “an appropriate sanction” which “may include an order to pay the other party or parties’ reasonable expenses including costs and reasonable attorney’s fees,” that sanction appears to be available only if D-64 makes allegations or denials “without reasonable cause and found to be untrue or has engaged in frivolous litigation for the purpose of delay or needless increase in the cost of litigation….” 115 ILCS 5/15.

In other words, there could have been no “fines, fees and penalties” assessed against D-64 (a/k/a the taxpayers) unless the District acted frivolously and/or irresponsibly.

Although frivolous and irresponsible is this Board’s standard M.O., hopefully its attorneys would prevent this Board’s members from either lying or bumbling into sanctionable conduct. And we suspect the foregoing analysis is pretty close to what the District’s attorneys would have furnished Borrelli and the lemmings – assuming they had actually asked the attorneys for a written legal opinion. But we’re betting no such opinion was even requested.

Because Borrelli and the other lemmings on the Board knew exactly what they wanted to do with this new PREA contract and how they wanted to do it. And the last thing they wanted was anybody – not the District’s attorneys and most certainly not its taxpayers – advising otherwise.

Arrogant cowards holding elective office never do.

And weasels usually blame their lawyers.

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