Criminal Background Checks: Good Idea But No Panacea


The Park Ridge City Council is considering requiring criminal background checks for residents appointed to the City’s various boards and commissions.

The simple question to ask when considering this idea is: Are there any advantages to having board and commission members who have criminal records?

We don’t think so.

According to a story in the current edition of the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Park Ridge exploring background checks for board, commission volunteers,” Sept. 29), more than 100 residents serve on 17 boards and commissions by mayoral appointment.

That means that more than 100 residents are making significant decisions for our community while, unlike the mayor and the aldermen, not having been subjected to direct scrutiny by our community’s 24,000 or so registered voters – even if only 11,000 or so of those voters ever actually bother to show up and cast their votes. Instead, prospective board and commission appointees are vetted by the “Mayor’s Advisory Board” comprised of the chairs of the Council’s four standing committees, serving as the peoples’ representatives.

That vetting and selection process is all well and good by us. But it requires at least four conscientious aldermen who will make the effort to select, if not the “best of the best, sir!” (“MIB”), at least the tallest midgets in the circus – and not a collection of the usual suspects appointed primarily because they are somebody’s buddies who can be counted on to rubber-stamp whatever the mayor, aldermen and/or City bureaucrats, or some developers or business owners, want.

Having conscientious aldermen at all times, however, can’t be guaranteed.

Back when Ron Wietecha (1990-2003) and Howard Frimark (2005-2009) were mayor, a number of aldermen were so dependent on being told how to vote that they probably still bear faint traces of their respective mayor’s thumbprints on their backs or bellies. And we remember at least one alderman regularly taking his seat at The Horseshoe before tearing open his meeting packet for the first time – back in the days before transparency, when the packets were delivered on Saturdays and their contents weren’t available on-line.

So criminal background checks might also compensate, at least a little bit, for a lack of diligence by any phone-it-in aldermen.

Background checks would create reports that most likely would be public documents discoverable through FOIA requests, however, so we agree with new City Attorney Adam Simon that they should be required only for those applicants who actually are recommended to the mayor for appointment AND whom the mayor actually intends to appoint. [NOTE: Under the City Code, the mayor is free to reject such recommendations and, after two such rejections, he/she can appoint whomever he/she chooses.] That way, all those unsuccessful candidates will not have their privacy invaded unnecessarily.

But while such a process makes sense, it will not immunize the City from bad appointments who do stupid things because…well…they are stupid and/or ignorant individuals; or because they are “pleasers” for whom a pat on the back or a rub of the belly can suspend any semblance of good judgment.  Nor will it shield the City from appointees without criminal records who – when given the opportunity – might decide to do somebody a “favor,” either gratuitously or on a quid pro quo basis.

Remember: Dixon, Illinois’ appointed treasurer/comptroller (and quarter horse breeder extraordinaire), Rita Crundwell, didn’t have a criminal record when she ripped off Dixon’s taxpayers for $53.7 million over 22 years.

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Let’s Pretend…That The D-64 Board Was Transparent To Its Taxpayers (Updated)


Today we’re going to play a game of “Let’s Pretend.”

Let’s pretend you’re a member of the board of directors of a $70 million service company that employs a few hundred people.

One day someone at the company discovers that a particular employee “engaged in dishonest and unprofessional conduct” during a one-year period that cost the company thousands of dollars. And upon this discovery being made, the company conducts an internal investigation that confirms the employee’s dishonesty and extent of the company’s loss.

And let’s pretend that, upon receiving the investigator’s report, the company’s CEO – whom you and your fellow board members consider such a superstar that, after only one year into her original 3-year contract, you unanimously extend her contract another year at its $250,000-plus salary – recommends the employee be fired.

Would you review the investigation report, accept your superstar CEO’s recommendation, and authorize the firing of that dishonest employee?

If you said “No!” then you’re qualified to be Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Board member.

Because, as reported in an online Park Ridge Herald-Advocate story (“School officials mum on Park Ridge teacher’s $16,500 fine.” September 22, 2015), that $70 million “company” is D-64; the employee reportedly is D-64 middle-school teacher Kate De La Pasqua; and the superstar CEO is Supt. Laurie Heinz.

Since this was a D-64 Board decision, you don’t have to read the H-A story to know that every important discussion and decision related to it was held in closed session.

When it comes to hiding from the taxpayers, Board president Tony Borrelli’s transformation into predecessor John Heyde is almost complete: watch the opening minutes of a few Board meeting videos and you can almost feel Borrelli’s delight over running into closed session – which seems to have become a permanent feature of every Board meeting – so that he and his fellow backbone-challenged fellow Board members [Mark Eggemann cast the only “no” vote on this closed session] can talk with the kind of candor they’re afraid to express in open session.

Or maybe they just don’t want a public record of their cluelessness and/or spinelessness.

According to the H-A article, the District cut a deal with De La Pasqua that includes a “remedial warning” and a $16,500 “fine.” And because the deal was cut in D-64’s Star Chamber, not only did the District fail to post even a redacted copy of the settlement agreement or any details of the settlement on the District’s website prior to the August 27th meeting when the deal was approved, but it made sure the settlement agreement contained a confidentiality clause.

The better to make sure that not only would no member of the press or public get any advance warning of this latest pre-cooked morsel of Board business-as-usual, but that they would have trouble learning about it even after the deal was done.

To its credit, however, the H-A issued a FOIA request and, in response, D-64’s minister of propaganda and disinformation, Bernadette Tramm, produced a highly-redacted copy of the agreement and notice of remedial warning that blacked out any information about the charges against De La Pasqua – other than that she “failed to adhere” to a D-64 employee ethics policy and some unspecified Board policy.

So if you pretend you’re a D-64 Board member who actually believes in honesty, integrity, transparency and accountability in D-64 governance, would you say: “Gee, Ms. Tramm, can’t you publish the redacted version of the settlement agreement on the City’s website so that no FOIA request is required?”

Apparently not.

And when the H-A asked for an un-redacted copy of the settlement, Tramm pled privacy concerns and cited the Illinois School Student Records Act, 105 ILCS 10, et seq.  So the H-A reportedly is taking its case to the Illinois Attorney General. And good for it.

Naturally, this kind of backroom deal-making has led to a lot of speculation and rumors, with the most interesting one being that De La Pasqua and her hubby may have scammed D-64 out of thousands of dollars in tuition by lying about the residency of some un-named (wink, wink) student(s).

Based on the 2-year old D-64 salary data we could find, De La Pasqua should be making over $100,000. And she is listed as the owner of a condo at 1301 W. Touhy Avenue that she purchased for $125,000 in 2014. But public records also show a “Katherine De La Pasqua” at 5024 Nagle Ave., Chicago.


We also find it interesting that the settlement included a $16,500 “fine” which – SURPRISE!– D-64 apparently has not explained. Does that amount represent D-64’s total loss from whatever “dishonest and unprofessional conduct” De La Pasqua allegedly engaged in, or just a small fraction of it – with the remainder having been negotiated away by the Board and, consequently, eaten by the D-64 taxpayers?

And if she ripped off D-64’s taxpayers for that much, is she being charged interest for the one year (until June 2016) she and her hubby are getting to pay it back?

A few years ago we published a post about how D-64’s botching of small tasks – at that time, the school lunch supervision program – very well may portend the botching of much bigger tasks. This $16,500 backroom deal with De la Pasqua is another one of those small tasks.

Meanwhile, the same Board members who just a few months ago unanimously proclaimed Heinz a superstar, and extended her contract like one, have signaled that on a small matter such as this they might not really trust her judgment.

With teacher union contract negotiations on the horizon, that does not bode well for D-64 taxpayers who can count on nothing more than being kept in the dark by this decidedly non-transparent Board.

UPDATED 09.27.15.  On of our readers in the real estate business has advised us that Ms. De La Pasqua sold the Nagle property in 2010 and purchased 6234 N. Olcott (Norwood Park, Chicago) that same year.

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A Valedictory Address Worth Watching


In our last post we wrote about how the Park Ridge Library Board was enhancing its transparency and accountability by broadcasting its meetings live on WOW and posting the videotape on its website.

Little did we know that the very first televised meeting last Tuesday (09.15.15) would provide such a wonderful teaching moment, compliments of the departing Children’s Dept. Service Mgr., Kelly Durov – whose valedictory address (starting at the 17:35 mark of the meeting video)

illustrates a number of the things about the Library and local government generally that need to be changed and corrected if local government facilities and services are going to improve to where they should be.

The main premise of Ms. Durov’s remarks was that she would have preferred to have continued adding to her “longevity” at our Library but that “[t]here are some real issues that made leaving [her] job, a job that [she] loved, a reality.”

Whenever you hear public employees (or their union reps) talk about how much they “love” their jobs, you can be pretty sure they’re talking about the pay, the constitutionally-guaranteed pension that they often take years earlier than Social Security kicks in for the rest of us, the lack of accountability, the virtual inability to be fired, the virtual certainty their employer won’t pack up and move to Indiana or Guadalajara, or various other advantages they have over private employees.

And Ms. Durov didn’t disappoint.

“It would be disingenuous for me to say that salary were not a large part of my decision to leave.“

You’ll note that Ms. Durov didn’t say what her current salary is, how much she will be getting at her new job, or how many more Benjamins in her pay envelope would have persuaded her to stay. That wouldn’t have fit into her anti-Library Board narrative.

Similarly, while she applauded Director Janet Van De Carr’s “strong leadership,” she curiously forgot to mention that it is Ms. Van De Carr – and not the Library Board – who has full authority over all employees’ raises, including Ms. Durov’s. Nor did she mention whether she even asked Ms. Van De Carr for a raise, or whether she was turned down.

That wouldn’t have fit into her anti-Board narrative, either.

Fortunately for anyone looking to understand the true priorities of many public employees, Ms. Durov didn’t stop after having expressed the primacy of her pay check.

“I would urge the Library Board…to respect the management of the Library to set goals for our staff that will better the Library and the community, and to trust us when we deem those goals have been achieved.”

In other words, the Library Board should see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil – but just let “management” (a/k/a, Ms. Van De Carr) continue to do whatever it darn well pleases, at whatever cost and to whatever effect. And then the Board should let Staff decide for itself how good a job it’s doing.

Yes, folks, that IS the inmates running the asylum.

In Ms. Durov’s bureaucrats-gone-wild world, that means rejecting “squishy numbers such as circulation and door count” and embracing whatever un-measurable warm-and-fuzzies make Staff less accountable while also boosting its self-esteem – even as a metric like “circulation” (how many books and other items are checked out, so how “squishy” can that number be?) is at its lowest level since FY2007-08, down more than 112,000 items from its FY2012-13 high; and a metric like “door count”(how many patrons physically visit the Library, which IS a “squishy” number because management and Staff want it that way) is at its lowest level in at least a decade, down almost 115,000 from its FY2009-10 high.

But, bless her, Ms. Durov didn’t stop there, either.

“My integrity as a librarian has been compromised as we have implemented user fees, stopped supporting Food for Fines, and now are examining charging people to use Library space.”

Ironically, each of those three things Ms. Durov criticized was intended to make more non-tax dollars available for Library use, and they have done so – two facts that also didn’t fit into her narrative. More importantly, none of those three things implicates her actual “librarian” duties, although we confess to having no knowledge of any code of librarian “integrity” and couldn’t find one with a quick Google search.

If there is such a thing as librarian “integrity,” however, we would have expected it to have been severely “compromised” when Ms. Durov’s favorite director and a previous library board of bobbleheaded rubber-stampers decided to close the Library on Sundays during summer 2014 as a political stunt to embarrass the City Council and enrage the citizenry into coercing the Council into giving the Library more money, thereby avoiding the referendum that the Council nevertheless thrust upon a reluctant and unappreciative director, Staff and board.

But neither Ms. Durov nor ANY of her fellow Library Staffers showed up at any Board meeting to voice even the slightest complaint or objection to locking out all those patrons who regularly made Sundays the Library ‘s single busiest day of the week, based on average per-hour attendance.

That’s because when one cuts through all the bogus rhetoric, the Library’s “patrons” are little more than props that employees like Ms. Durov use for their own purposes, like arguing for more money in their pockets. So invoking the welfare of the Library’s patrons is just empty lip service designed to sucker those patrons into thinking that many/most(?) Staff members aren’t just mercenaries.

And thanks to a small-but-vocal minority of easily-bamboozled patrons and a complicit local press, that tactic usually works…until someone like Ms. Durov shows her true colors, captured on video, before selling herself to a higher bidder.

As the fictional Vincent “Vinny” Gambini might say: “Thank you, Ms. Durov. You’ve been a lovely, lovely witness.”

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and publisher

Member, Park Ridge Library Board

To read or post comments, click on title.

Park Ridge Library Takes Another Step Toward Full Transparency And Accountability


Our 4th president, James Madison, wrote:

A popular Government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or perhaps both.  Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

A similar note was sounded by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis in his 1932 article “What Publicity Can Do”: “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” 

So it’s time that “light” – along with “camera” and “action” – is finally coming to the Park Ridge Library Board, starting tomorrow (Sept. 15) night at 7:00 p.m. when it holds its first-ever meeting in the City Council chambers at 505 Butler Place. 

One reason for moving Library Board meetings to the Council chambers is that a television-quality camera and sound system already is in place. So not only can those Board meetings be videotaped and archived on the Library’s web page, but they also can be broadcast live on the Wide Open West cable network. 

Nobody’s expecting a 30 share and a 20 Nielsen rating for these meeting videos. But some people – reportedly including former 2nd Ward ald. Rich DiPietro, until he moved to a WOW-less part of town – do watch the live WOW feeds of City Council meetings, so they might occasionally watch a Library Board meeting. And the ability to view an archived video to see and hear exactly who said what about a particular issue should also be a valuable asset for anybody who shares the wisdom of Monroe and Brandeis.

That televising and videotaping meetings is finally coming to the Library Board also speaks volumes about the current Library Board members’ commitment to transparency and accountability.

Although the Library Board is late to the video party, expect it to act more like the City Council – which didn’t start videotaping meetings until the late Mayor Dave Schmidt bought a camera with part of his first-year’s (2009’s) mayoral stipend and had friends run that camera and upload the videos to a YouTube site – than like the School Boards of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 and the Maine Township H.S. District 207, whose not-ready-for-prime-time-players look for every possible excuse to run and hide in secretive closed sessions whenever anything even remotely controversial is on the agenda.

Like giving their superintendents contract extensions and spending ever-greater sums of tax dollars on teacher and administrator salaries while academic performance and rankings remain stagnant or even decline.

But broadcasting and videotaping meetings is not the only thing that distinguishes the current Library Board from its predecessors.

The current Library Board majority, under the leadership of president Joe Egan, conducted a first-ever legitimate review of the Library’s director which actually took into consideration such objectively measurable performance factors as circulation (which last year dropped to its lowest level since FY2009), patron visits (which dropped to their lowest levels in at least a decade) and program attendance (ditto).

And those patron visits declined even with the Library giving at least 20 (and likely more) for-profit tutors thousands of hours of free “office space” that generate thousands of additional patron visits by students and their parents who might not otherwise use the Library.

No wonder the director and Staff are so indulgent with such tutors and their customers.

Under previous boards – who treated regular deficit spending almost as an art form – that kind of performance consistently drew “excellent” or “outstanding” ratings that were used to justify raises not only for the director but for staff members. And such deficit spending, the raises it funded, and the declining performance metrics easily flew under the radar of a disinterested local press which rarely even bothered to show up at Library Board meetings.

These days reporters from both the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate and the Park Ridge Journal are regulars at Library Board meetings. And they’ve also started taking in the occasional Committee Of the Whole meeting.

What a difference a couple of years and a competent, diligent Board make.

A majority of the current Board also proved to be the only adults in the room when they promptly reversed the previous board majority’s irresponsible decision – recommended by the director and tacitly endorsed by Staff despite their incessant faux-altruism, naturally – to close the Library on Sundays during Summer 2014 rather than defer $20,000 of raises to about 40 Staff members.

That’s right, folks: when the choice came down to the personal economic interests of the Library’s director and Staff versus keeping the doors open for the Library’s patrons on what often was the Library’s single busiest day of the week (based on visits-per-hour), the director and Staff gave those patrons the Rahm Emanuel finger.

And while the 2013 board majority members consistently deficit spent to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars and then attempted to badmouth the City Council – whom they derisively referred to as “the guys across the street” who didn’t use and didn’t care about the Library – into making up the difference out of the City’s already-tight budget, the current Board majority enthusiastically endorsed the Council’s decision to let the taxpayers vote on a referendum to raise their taxes for the Library.

Finally, this Library Board understands that our taxpayers have given the Library a 4-year and approximately $4 million window to get the Library’s finances in order and start turning a complacent institution into one ready, willing and able to successfully face the financial realities and operational challenges of becoming a self-sustainable, 21st Century library.

Which is no mean feat when you’re adjacent to a borderline-bankrupt city in a borderline-bankrupt county in a borderline-bankrupt state.

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and publisher

Member, Park Ridge Library Board

“Parking Problem” Not The Worst One To Have


From time to time we’ve expressed the sentiment that the public officials who run our local government units often make things a lot harder than they need to be – whether because they don’t think clearly, they are cowed by special interests, or they allow themselves to be bamboozled by so-called (and self-proclaimed) “experts” both within and without those units of government.

Those mistakes often multiply the problems.

A new problem recently has sprung up, however, that local government has not created but which it will need to confront: parking.

The commuters who have been parking in the lot at 36 S. Fairview the City has been leasing from AT&T for years will become nomads on October 1. That’s because AT&T is expanding its Park Ridge operations by about 100 employees and is reclaiming that lot from the City. That loss of parking spaces comes on the heels of the loss of another S. Fairview lot on which a new multi-family residential structure is being built.

One hundred new AT&T employees here is a small boon for Uptown merchants, especially those who expect to serve food and drink to those new employees. Similarly, the conversion of surface parking lots to developed property should substantially increase the real estate taxes the properties generate.

That comes with the loss of public parking spaces, primarily all-day commuter spaces. And as we have frequently pointed out in the past, more residential units may very well mean more school-aged children, which will substantially increase the burden on those taxpayers without schoolchildren who already subsidize more than 50% of the approximately $14,000 per D-64 student, and approximately $17,000 per D-207 student.

But back to the parking problem.

Actually, it’s two problems: a commuter parking shortage and a business parking shortage. The former requires spaces primarily between 6:30 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, while the latter requires more/most of its spaces evenings and weekends.

Evening and weekend parking demands will hopefully increase even more with the addition of the new “Pick” restaurant on the old Pickwick Restaurant site, the new “Holt’s” restaurant on the former Pines site, and the new Irish pub on the former Scharringhausen pharmacy site. And perhaps by a new sushi restaurant on S. Prospect in the former Pioneer Press office building near Hay Caramba.

Those staggered needs suggest that a solution may not be all that complicated. But that solution is looking more and more like a properly-sized parking garage.

Although we’ve already heard calls for a new “parking study,” the City Council and City Staff shouldn’t need yet another “parking study” to figure out that there are two prime sites in Uptown for such a garage that the City already owns: the surface parking lot at Summit and Euclid, and the Library lot. And from what we understand, either site can accommodate a 3-4 story deck that could hold about 125 vehicles per floor.

The main “devil” in the details of such a project is who will pay for it, especially if Public Works guru Wayne Zingsheim’s SWAG of 20,000 – $25,000 per space is in the ballpark.

As we wrote in our post of 06.25.15, if Park Ridge has real parking needs, they should generate interest from private developers who might be willing to pony up the construction costs in return for something like a low-cost, long-term ground lease from the City and the lion’s share of the parking fees.

Failing that, however, the City Council will have to give serious consideration to whether a parking garage is the kind of project, and provides the kind of service, that City government owes its residents and its merchants.

Meanwhile, the Council will need a plan for dealing with the near-term commuter parking shortage. That will likely require some on-street parking in the residential areas near the Uptown METRA station that will likely inconvenience commuters and almost certainly annoy residents in those affected neighborhoods.

That inconvenience and annoyance, however, might be substantially reduced by the City’s setting up – and scrupulously enforcing – marked commuter parking spaces that take up no more than half the available curb space on any given block. Or the City might consider some variation of alternate-side parking for commuters and residents; i.e., commuters will park on the north/east sides of those streets on the first and third weeks of the month, and the south/west sides of those streets on the second and fourth weeks.

The City might even consider pre-paid commuter permit parking in marked spaces on those residential streets.

The short-term fix, however, is the easy part. The tougher, and more important, piece of the parking problem is finding the private developer willing to build the garage.

But not repeating the ankle-grabbing Uptown TIF-style giveaways that will continue to screw our taxpayers for another 12 years.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Labor Day 2014: The Difference Between Private And Public


Back when the State of Illinois actually had a “middle class” worthy of the name, most of its unionized employees worked in the private sector and were heirs to the proud tradition of private-sector trade unionists like William Sylvis (iron molders), Samuel Gompers (cigarmakers), John L. Lewis (mine workers), Walter Reuther (auto workers) and George Meany (plumbers).

But while Illinois ranks 7th (behind New York, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and California) in public-sector unionization with 54.7% of its public-sector employees belonging to unions – up from 38.4% in 1983 – less than 10% of Illinois’ private-sector workers are unionized, down from approximately 22% in 1983. And that’s even as private sector employment has grown by 30% versus only 3% in the public sector.

Meanwhile, the public sector expansionists and apologists bemoan the shrinking “middle class” – which in Illinois is generally described as a household income between $37,500 and $112,500.

Which means that here in Park Ridge many/most households with two public-sector incomes exceed “middle-class” status and become “upper-class” after only a few years.

If those incomes were all merit-based and the product of fair arm’s-length negotiations, we’d have no problem with them.

Unfortunately, the proud tradition of private-sector unions got lost in translation as the public-sector unions turned collusion with politicians of both Democrat and Republican stripes into a quasi-pornographic art form – while also becoming adept at manipulating soft-headed “non-partisan” local politicians who lack the backbone to aggressively negotiate contracts on behalf of their taxpayer-constituents.

Yes, invertebrate board members at School Districts 64 and 207…we mean you!

Fortunately, rookie Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s small but significant victory last week over Illinois’ Dark Lord of the Sith, Michael (“Darth”) Madigan, is the first sign in decades that an Illinois governor not only isn’t in the pocket of this state’s public-sector unions but, also, that he might be able to go toe-to-toe with those unions and their Sith co-conspirators.

Rauner was able to beat back Madigan’s and his Dem sycophants’ efforts to override Rauner’s veto of a bill that would have stripped the governor of the authority to negotiate contracts with Illinois public employee unions, particularly AFSCME, and would have empowered some unaccountable arbitrator (very likely a Madigan stooge) to impose on taxpayers his/her idea of what’s a “fair” deal for the unions.

Our local Dem puppet, Rep. Marty Moylan, voted for override while RINO Rep. Mike McAuliffe voted a gutless “Present.”

And that victory over Madigan was essential, considering that the Illinois Senate led by Madigan lackey, Illinois Senate president John Cullerton – assisted by his Senate sub-puppets like Park Ridge’s own, Sen. Dan Kotowski and Sen. John Mulroe, both Dems – had already overridden Rauner’s veto.

Rauner was right to fight that battle, and Illinois taxpayers are lucky he won it. Because every time Illinois’ public-sector employees have their compensation and benefits, including their $100 billion-plus underfunded pensions, juiced up without a commensurate increase in productivity, Illinois becomes less attractive to the private industry and investment needed to pay the taxes that fund such arguably overpriced employees.

But Rauner is dead wrong when he tries to lump private-sector unions together with the public-sector ones and treat them similarly. The former are bound by inherent capitalistic checks and balances of the free marketplace, including real risks such as termination, employer relocation and bankruptcy – while the latter operate on unchecked socialistic principles and captive markets with few, if any, of those risks.

And the longer the public sector continues to dominate the private sector, the tougher it will be for our children and their children to pursue the American Dream.

So as we wrote in our Labor Day 2013 post: “consider spending a few minutes contemplating how we can restore to prominence the private sector labor and management that built this country – while reducing the growing dominance of the collusive public sector labor and politics that is undermining it.

To read or post comments, click on title.

A Tale Of Trainers And Tutors


What do the Park Ridge Park District and the Park Ridge Library have in common?

Freeloaders. That’s the shorthand term this blog has adopted to describe Park Ridge residents who look to take unfair economic advantage of their fellow taxpayers.

Most folks don’t remember that back about 10 years ago the Park Ridge Park District’s “Community Center” (n/k/a the “Fitness Center”) had a “freeloader” problem: private personal trainers were running their for-profit training businesses out of that facility on the taxpayers’ dime.

The Park District’s solution was simple: personal trainers had to register with the Park District, book training sessions through the District, and have their customers pay the District, which would deduct a fee and remit the balance to the trainer.

And when too many of those trainers became adept at gaming that system, the Park District banned private trainers altogether and started running its own training program from which it – and its taxpayers – have modestly “profited”: the District’s 2014 profit on those trainers is currently estimated (pending the final audit) at approximately $15,000, on gross revenues of approximately $50,000.

That’s $15,000 of Park District expenses that its taxpayers don’t have to cover out of their own pockets.

That may not matter to those folks who view “government” as some sort of bottomless wellspring of money to be spent on whatever suits their fancies, but it matters to us. And we believe it matters to the vast majority of Park Ridge taxpayers who keep getting squeezed tighter and tighter every year for the disproportionate benefit of certain special interests, including the freeloaders.

Now the Park Ridge Public Library has a freeloader problem similar to the Park District’s: private tutors are running their for-profit tutoring businesses out of the Library. And at its August 18 meeting, the Library Board listened to several of those freeloaders, along with one non-freeloader tutor, speak to that issue.

Not surprisingly, the freeloaders defended their free “offices” with a collection of warm-and-fuzzies that repeatedly invoked some variation on the “for the children” theme. Their comments and anecdotes got so gooey and cloying at times that, if you closed your eyes, you might have sworn you were at a D-64 School Board meeting – like the one and only public discussion of Supt. Laurie Heinz’s recent $250,000-plus contract extension and $10,000(?) raise that Board president Tony Borrelli couldn’t steer into his beloved secretive closed sessions because the Illinois Open Meetings Act wouldn’t allow it.

Not one of those freeloaders attempted to explain exactly why they should be entitled to free “office” space to conduct their for-profit businesses at the taxpayers’ expense. Nor did any of them attempt to justify the competitive advantage and additional income they were enjoying from having their “overhead” covered by Park Ridge taxpayers, thereby letting a larger portion of their tutoring fees fall down to their personal bottom lines.

They also didn’t want to discuss how the Library might have trouble accommodating tutoring if ALL of our local tutors decided to become freeloaders and effectively turn the Library into one big Huntington Learning Center – only with the profits privatized (i.e., going into the tutors’ pockets) and the expenses socialized (i.e., pulled out of the taxpayers’ pockets).

Those kinds of reality checks were left to non-freeloader Jim Giovannini of Academic Tutoring Center, which has been in business for 25 years and occupies office space at 120 Main Street, a mere block from the Library. That means that, unlike the freeloaders, ATC pays rent to a building owner who, in turn, not only pays taxes to the City but also to School Districts 64 and 207, and to the Park District.

ATC employs approximately 300 tutors, roughly 50 of which regularly work in Park Ridge. So besides questioning the fairness of the Library giving his competitors what amounts to free rent, Giovannini also pointed out that “[t]here simply would be no room at the inn for anyone else” – a/k/a ordinary citizen patrons – if his firm and the other non-freeloader tutoring businesses that serve Park Ridge students were to join the freeloaders and make the Library their base of operations.

Only one of the current freeloaders – Laura Denver – said that she would be willing to pay a fee for the use of the Library. That deserves a Watchdog tail wag, both because it’s the right thing to say/do and because she was unique in that regard.

The others tap-danced their way around that question, babbling predictable nonsense like tutors attracting students and their family members who generate sales tax by spending money in Uptown (totally unverifiable and, at best, likely to be insignificant); tutors could make voluntary donations in lieu of being charged for use (as if the Library already has been inundated with voluntary donations from tutors); the old reliable “I’m a taxpayer so I already pay for the Library” (not unlike all those taxpayers who don’t leech free “office” space off their fellow taxpayers); and our personal favorite, from a tutor named Karen, who employed the “There goes Elvis!” gambit by comparing tutors to those “nannies” who bring their charges to the Library and its programs and thereby earn their income off the Library.

Tutors are like nannies? Seriously?

Nice try, Karen, but nannies on duty are caregivers/babysitters who effectively stand in loco parentis – which doesn’t mean “crazy parents” but, instead, “in place of the parents” – and bring kids to the Library, or to Panera, or to Oberweis, as if the parents were bringing them there.

As the Library trustee who first raised this issue, my only goals were to stop the freeloaders from exploiting a limited-size taxpayer-funded facility, and to level the playing field so that all local tutors can compete on as equal a cost footing as possible.

There may be more than two ways to achieve those goals, and I’d love to hear them. Meanwhile, however, I think either of the following could do the job:

1.  The Library can take the Park District approach and require each tutor to register, book his/her tutoring sessions through the Library, and pay an hourly fee for the use of the Library; or

2. The Library can adopt the Winnetka-Northfield policy and prohibit the “[c]onducting [of] for-profit business between two or more persons (including, but not limited to, sales, interviews, and tutoring).” Because if the Library is going to ban for-profit tutoring it should also ban any freeloading attorneys, accountants, insurance agents, etc. who want to conduct their for-profit businesses on the taxpayers’ dime.

That howling you may already be hearing is likely coming from the freeloading tutors, while the wailing is likely coming from the parents of the kids being tutored by the freeloaders – in anticipation of any hourly fee under Alternative 1 being passed down to them.

In an indirect and limited way, that might make those parents “freeloaders,” too.

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and publisher

Member, Park Ridge Library Board

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Caution: Freeloaders On [The] Board (Clarified)


Back in the early 1980s it seemed like you couldn’t drive more than a few blocks in any urban or suburban area without seeing one or more of those black-on-yellow “Caution: Baby On Board” signs slapped on the back of a mini-van or SUV.

The intent of those signs was an obvious appeal to other drivers to exercise special care and caution around such vehicles, presumably because of some unrealistic expectation that a reckless motorist might be constrained from imitating his favorite NASCAR driver if he thought the neighboring vehicle he was about to “rub” into the concrete divider on the Kennedy was carrying a baby instead of his favorite NASCAR driver’s main rival.

Predictably, those signs were followed by signs with even sillier cautionary assumptions, like “Caution: Mother-in-Law On Board” or “Caution: Rottweiler On Board” – assuming, of course, that those are not redundant or interchangeable warnings.

But after watching the video from last Thursday’s (08.20.15) Park Ridge Park District Board meeting, we’re thinking that the Park District might need to consider making and hanging one of those black-on-yellow signs on the door of the Board room whenever a couple of our Park commissioners are inside. And it should read:

“Caution: Freeloaders On The Board.”

Regular readers of this blog already know that “freeloaders” is a term we use as shorthand for local residents who try to disproportionally profit from their fellow taxpayers’ tax payments, a/k/a “Other People’s Money” or “OPM” for short. They are to be distinguished from “parasites,” which are non-residents who help themselves to the facilities and services paid for by our Park Ridge taxpayers, especially when they can get them for free.

Today’s featured freeloaders are none other than Park Commissioners Joan Bende and Cynthia Grau.

You can see and hear their freeloader arguments against  park commissioners giving up their currently free uses of Park District facilities and programs by going to the Park District’s meeting video at around the 1:51:00 mark where the discussion begins. You’ll need to listen closely, however, because the audio is muddied by the constant rattle/rumble of the Board room’s window air conditioner.

Such freebies have been a bone of contention at the Park District for decades.

They were S.O.P. prior to 1997 when they really came into their own as the Park Board members who railroaded the land acquisition, construction and bonded debt for the $8 million Community Center (n/k/a the “Fitness Center”) promptly rewarded themselves with free memberships to that facility. Meanwhile, the District started issuing short term bonds to pay the long-term CC debt service, but then found itself with insufficient funds to do needed maintenance, repairs and renovation of existing parks and facilities.

But in 1997 a new majority of commissioners (including the editor of this blog) came into office and voted in several changes to business-as-usual, including a ban on those free Community Center memberships and all the other lesser “perks” that commissioners had been enjoying for years on their fellow taxpayers’ dimes.  It wasn’t a game-changer economically, but it sent a message that the Park District wasn’t an “Ubi est mea” (“Where’s mine?”) kind of place.

The proponents of the perks back then howled about how free usage enabled them to better observe and evaluate the facilities and programs they oversaw. But the perks opponents prevailed with their arguments that (a) facilities and programs could be equally, or better, evaluated by commissioners simply observing them and actively listening to the users’ opinions; and (b) that if use of a facility or program was truly necessary for a proper evaluation, a specific freebie use could be arranged…with the expectation of a written status report by the commissioner in return.

We’re not sure when that no-perks policy was rescinded and the freebie commissioner usage of facilities and programs became “encouraged.” But we shouldn’t be surprised that freeloader commissioners found a way to resurrect freebie commissioner perks without fanfare or media scrutiny.

Freeloaders have a knack for ripping off the taxpayers in a variety of stealthy ways.

So when Commissioner Rick Biagi raised the topic of repealing the current freebie-perk policy – and also instituting an anti-nepotism policy to prevent commissioners and their families from obtaining District employment – it should have been expected that some commissioners would hoist their freeloader flags and object

Enter Bende and Grau, stage left.

In arguing to repeal the freebies, Biagi correctly noted that every commissioner was free to audit programs and facilities when such audits were deemed necessary to properly discharge their official duties; and that the greatest benefit of such audits would be for the auditing commissioner to report his/her findings and conclusions to Exec. Director Gayle Mountcastle.

We’d go Biagi one step further, however, by requiring a written report of those findings and conclusions that not only gets sent to Mountcastle but that also gets distributed to every other commissioner and department head. And that gets published on the District’s website so the taxpayers can read it. Otherwise, there’s a clear and present danger of many/most of those fact-finding tours becoming magical mystery ones that merely provide a freebie for the commissioner’s personal/private benefit.

We also concur in Park District Attorney Tom Hoffman’s observation (at 1:54 of the video) that any one commissioner’s audits of any one facility or program should be occasional rather than regular. While there may be a reason to audit a yoga class, there’s no reasonable need for the same commissioner to audit it every Tuesday morning for several months.

If you have a twisted sense of humor you might want to check out the argument between Biagi and Bende beginning around 1:57:30 of the video and continuing to around the 2:04 mark, in which Bende sounds like she is telling Biagi she would be fine with his regularly inspecting the Driving Range by knocking out free bushels of golf balls.

That’s because freeloaders are like Amway salespeople: they love recruiting more freeloaders who, in turn, recruit even more of them.  Call it gaining acceptance by increasing market share.

But the winner of last Thursday’s “Freeloader On The Board” competition was Park Board newbie Grau, who – if we heard her correctly over the air conditioner – had the audacity to actually admit (between 2:03 and 2:04:35 of the video) that, since her election in April, she has decided it was high time to get back into a fitness regimen at the Community Center via the free pass for commissioners…although, not surprisingly, she failed to note that she would be putting those charges on the taxpayers’ tab.

As we’ve said before: freeloaders are extraordinarily shameless.

But the only way they can keep getting away with it is if the rest of us are equally spineless. 

CLARIFICATION (08.26.15)  Commissioner Grau has objected to this post on the grounds that it accuses her of receiving a free Community Center membership that she has not received.  Athough it was not our intention to create that impression, and although we believe that “she would be putting those charges [for that “free” membership] o the taxpayers’ tab” denotes a future event, after re-reading the post we can see how it might be misinterpreted.

As she makes clear in her remarks (from 2:03:56 and 2:04:40 of the meeting video), whether she can use the Community Center for free might be a factor in her deciding whether to work out there or someplace else, but she had not yet made that decision.

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Another Big Step – Or Leap – Toward Transparency At City Hall


We want to offer a big Watchdog bark-out to the Park Ridge City Council, which took a major step – actually a leap – toward full transparency and accountability in its labor relations at its August 3 meeting when it voted 4 (Alds. Milissis, Knight, Mazzuca and Maloney) to 2 (Alds. Moran and Shubert) against going into closed session to discuss the terms of contracts with the police sergeants union (the Federation of Police) and the patrol officers union (the Teamsters).

The seven sergeants are represented by the Fraternal Order of Police, while forty patrol officers and support personnel are represented by the Teamsters.

We applaud the Council for taking this action, which is one part of a more comprehensive plan we advocated in our 06.08.15 post, “Time For A Better Way To Negotiate Public Sector Union Contracts.”

For decades, public sector unions in Illinois have manipulated closed-session negotiations to hide their sometimes/often outrageous demands, as well as their bargaining postures and tactics, from the very taxpayers from whom they are looking for more money without providing additional or better quality services. And for decades they generally got their way with clueless and spineless public officials who, truth be told, were just as happy to keep their cluelessness and spinelessness hidden from their constituents.

The result?

Multi-year contracts locking in annual raises unrelated to measurable improvement in performance or greater economic efficiencies. As reported in a Park Ridge Herald-Advocate story, “City Council skips closed session over for [sic] police contract negotiations” (08.11.15), the proposed four-year contract with the Teamsters provides for pay raises of 2% in years 1 and 2, and 1.5% in the final two years.

Although our local “mainstream” media didn’t report it, the Teamsters contract will have a “net impact” (i.e., increase) on the City’s budget of $153,239, or 1.16% of their annual payroll, while the net increase proposed for the seven sergeants is $116,387, or 6.06% of their annual payroll.

And because this is Illinois where the fleecing of the taxpayers has been institutionalized for at least the past 30 years, City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton pointed out that awards from “interest arbitration” – where an often union-friendly arbitrator decides contract terms when negotiations of police and fire contracts reach impasse, due to the police and firemen being legally prohibited from striking – are around 2.25%. Hamilton’s implication was clear: the City can save money by voluntarily grabbing its ankles rather than hanging tough and risking that a pro-union arbitrator will ram home a bigger increase, on top of whatever legal fees and other costs the City will have incurred in connection with such an arbitration.

As best as we can tell from the materials Hamilton presented to the Council on August 3, by the last year of the proposed sergeants contract (2017) a newly-minted sergeant will make $100K, and over $105K with 4 years’ experience – while by the last year of the Teamsters contract (FY 2018) newly-minted patrol officers will be making $61K-plus, with a top-end of $88,500.

Oh, yeah…one other thing: 37 0f the 41 patrol officers currently on the force are already at the maximum base salary under the existing contract, which is $82,164.

To put these salaries in perspective, a patrol officer currently makes over 87% of the median Park Ridge household income. Yes, that’s right: 37 of 41 patrol officers are already making over 87% of what half of entire households of Park Ridge taxpayers currently earn.

And if we understand the pension deal, both the sergeants and the patrolmen will be able to retire at 75% of their final salary, and 3% annual COLAs, by around age 50, assuming sufficient years of service.  Under the proposed new salary schedules, that calculates out to over $75K/year for the sergeants, and more than $66K/year for the patrolmen.

Should they live to age 85, each of those pensions will likely be worth upwards of $2 million!

Can you say “Suh-weeet”?

And just in case the public employee unions haven’t beaten it into you sufficiently by now, remember that most public employees here in Illinois don’t get Social Security. That means they don’t get that whopping $45K/year of S.S. benefits those of us in the private sector will be raking in…assuming we can keep working until age 70 and max out our contributions and benefits before we start drawing on them.

Just because the Council is willing to conduct its discussions about what it can afford to offer the unions, and why, however, doesn’t mean the unions have to reciprocate.

Don’t expect them to try to justify their demands for higher pay for no additional, or better, work when they can simply chant “inflation” and throw around “comparables” from other communities that really aren’t all that comparable to Park Ridge when you actually look at each community’s unique facts and figures beyond what they pay their police and firemen.

But by taking the transparency high-ground, the City Council stands in stark contrast to the secretive unions. And as Ald. Milissis pointed out, there doesn’t appear to be any true benefit to the City’s contriving secret negotiating strategies when those strategies never seem to work – as demonstrated by the unions always walking away with some kind of non-merit based raise.

The bottom line is that secrecy has NEVER worked for the taxpayers of Park Ridge, just like it hasn’t worked for any other Illinois taxpayers. So there’s no need to keep doing it and expecting different results.

Unless, of course, you are the D-64 and D-207 school board members who act as if they are owned – lock, stock and barrel – by the teachers’ unions and the school administrators.  Then you run into closed sessions and give away the store.

To be clear: these arguments are not intended to be anti-police or anti-firemen.  Nor are they anti-teacher or administrator.

They are pro-taxpayer.

By being transparent and accountable to the taxpayers concerning these labor relations matters, the City Council will now be able to enlist those taxpayers’ support for what it offers the employees and how the City bargains with the unions representing those employees.  And the taxpayers can judge for themselves whether their representatives are treating the City’s employees fairly.

As Thomas Jefferson wrote in September of 1820:

I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society, but the people themselves: and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their controul with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is, not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.

Like with more open-session discussions and fewer closed ones.

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Jon Stewart’s Parting Lesson About School District 64


Comedian Jon Stewart’s valedictory performance on last Thursday (08.06.15) night’s “The Daily Show” contained a segment that should be “must watch” for anybody who wants to understand American (and Park Ridge) politics and not be an unwitting dupe of all those elected and appointed officials, as well as the career bureaucrats whose stock in trade is, in a word, “bullsh*t.”

If you saw the show, or if you listen to the clip of it embedded here (because Viacom keeps shutting down the videos we have been posting),

you may recognize what Stewart described as “premeditated institutionalized bullsh*t designed to obscure and distract” when you read this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate article (“District 64 seeks community input from new council,” August 10) about Park Ridge-Niles School District 64’s latest transparency charade called the “Community Relations Council.”

This new Council is the brainchild of Supt. Laurie Heinz, who said it’s something she wanted to do since she came to D-64 a year ago. And since Heinz is already accepting applications for the 20-30 membership slots, we can only assume she got the idea rubber-stamped by the bobble-headed Board majority.

As Heinz is quoted in the article: “I understand that I’m accountable to the community and I want them [sic] to be well informed.”

Premeditated? Check.

Institutionalized? Check.

Designed to obscure and distract? Check.

Heinz so badly wants the community to be “well informed” that, during her rookie year at the helm of D-64, its Board – with not a peep of objection from her – appears to have led all our local governmental bodies (City Council, Park Board and D-207 Board) in those secretive closed-session meetings designed not just to obscure the taxpayers’ view of what the D-64 Board is doing but to conceal it altogether.

As a result, Heinz has had no problem with keeping the community in the dark by what seems like a closed-session at every meeting – and especially not with all those closed sessions Board president Tony Borrelli called leading up to her recent contract extension and raise. An extension and raise based on those reportedly outstanding mid-year and year-end written reviews that never saw the light of day.

An extension and raise that the community didn’t know any details about until the moment they were called for a vote by the Board.

She also has failed to provide details of the mysterious student fees the District keeps billing parents.  The roughly $300/year/kid ones those freeloader parents don’t want to pay without an itemized list of every pencil, paper clip and Dixie Cup that comprises them – even though they’re getting $14,000/year/kid of “free” education that they will never come close to repaying through their RE taxes, even if they don’t bolt from Park Ridge the minute their youngest graduates Maine South, as a D-64 mom bragged about in a comment on the Park Ridge Citizens Online Facebook page.

And let’s not forget the chirping crickets coming from her office at even the merest mention of D-64’s modest rankings and the stagnant student achievement on the standardized tests that help keep those rankings depressed.

So don’t be fooled when Heinz says she wants a “well informed” community. What she wants is a clueless, docile community that keeps paying her $250K-plus per year until she finds herself another district offering an even better deal, all the while demanding no measurable improvement in D-64’s rankings or its students’ performance.

And that’s going to take a public relations machine of 20-30 gullible rubes, preferably well-known and with large circles of friends and acquaintances, who are willing to serve as naïve endorsers and mindless conduits of whatever propaganda Heinz, the D-64 Board and its minister of disinformation, Bernadette Tramm, crank out.

Think of them like those paid shills at old-time traveling medicine shows who could barely limp up to the wagon with their last dollar to buy a bottle of Doc Watson’s Magic Elixer – which they would guzzle down right then and there before almost immediately proclaiming themselves miraculously cured of the gout, lumbago and the grippe.

Except that those 20-30 Community Relations Council members will be doing their shilling for free.

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