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Going Into Hock For New City Manager?

05.30.08

Every so often local government provides us with a neat, easily-understood object lesson on how the politicians and bureaucrats who are supposed to be representing our interests and wisely managing our tax dollars can spend them in ways that they would never do with their own money.  Today’s lesson is the hiring of our new City Manager, James Hock. 

As you will recall, Mr. Hock was hired after Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark’s first choice for the position – an insurance client of his, and the son of his old friends and clients – withdrew his name from consideration, purportedly (according to Frimark) because “the evil blogs” suggested that those business and personal relationships might be playing a role in his selection.  Then Frimark, in announcing Hock’s hiring, inexplicably stated in a public meeting that Hock was not his first choice.

So maybe Frimark was trying to make amends with Hock in negotiating the new city manager’s compensation package.  Either that or we have further evidence that Frimark thinks the City’s money is printed by Parker Bros. instead of the U.S. Treasury – because the package Hock is receiving (as reported in yesterdays Park Ridge Herald-Advocate: “City manager James Hock to start job July 14,” May 29) will put him a lot closer to Boardwalk and Park Place than most of the residents he will be serving. 

His starting base salary is $165,000, which is healthy but reasonable for what amounts to a chief operating officer of a $50 million a year “business.”  We must point out, however, that this base salary is $5,000 more than what the City advertised for the position.  But it’s only when you get past that base salary and into the other terms that things start to get interesting.

First off, the City (or, more accurately, we the taxpayers) are giving Hock an interest-free loan of $350,000 for housing which – if he uses all of it – will effectively put an extra $20,125 per year in his pocket by virtue of not having to pay the interest that he would otherwise owe on a $350,000 mortgage for 30 years at 5.75%.  And because the City will be forgiving Hock’s repayment obligation on that loan at the rate of $5,000 per year for up to 10 years, those two deals boost his first year pay to approximately $190,000. 

Next comes a $10,000 per year payment that the City will make toward Hock’s retirement, which pushes the total to a nice round $200,000.  Hock will also get a city-purchased vehicle, plus insurance, maintenance and gasoline.  Let’s put that figure at $9,000 per year ($350/mo for the car, $100/mo for insurance, and another $300/mo for gas).  That takes him up to $209,000. 

To aid in his transition from Michigan to Illinois, Hock will receive an additional $2,000 per month in “living expenses” for up to six months, and another six months worth of payments until Hock’s home in Oak Park, Michigan, is sold.  So if he maxes out on either of those two perks, he will get another $12,000, which brings his first year’s income up to $221,000. 

And when he sells his current home in Oak Park, the City will pay his broker’s commission and attorneys’ fees.  Oak Park’s median home value is approximately $144,000, so the commission and attorneys’ fees on that sale might run around $8,000.  That pushes Hock’s year one compensation package up to $229,000 with nary a “performance” incentive or requirement in sight, which sure seems like a top-shelf compensation package to us – and both a nice bump up from what he was making in Oak Park [pdf] and a pretty big jump from the $160,000 at which the City advertised the position.

He will also get 16 days (a/k/a, 3 weeks and a day) of paid vacation that first year, which increases to 20 days (a/k/a, four weeks) in year two.  And let’s not forget the contract clause barring the City from making any disparaging comments about him in the event he is terminated (we’re going to call that the “Caudill Clause,” after the similar term that was inserted in the separation agreement between the City and our former Chief of Police).

Now maybe Hock will be an exceptional city manager and earn every single dollar of that generous comp package.  But one thing still troubles us: How did this deal actually get done?

Under Section 3-6-5 of the City’s Municipal Code [pdf], the City Manager “shall receive compensation in such amount and manner as the Council shall fix from time to time in the annual budget.”  But we can’t seem to find anything on the City’s website about the amount of compensation budgeted for the City Manager during this fiscal year, nor anything in the agendas or minutes of recent Council or committee meetings indicating that the Council authorized this kind of contract. That suggests to us that things may not have been done strictly by the numbers.

So while we welcome Mr. Hock and hope that he earns all our hard-earned money he’s being paid, we have to wonder if this is yet another “sweetheart deal” by Mayor Howard and his Alderpuppets?

Of Parades, Politicians and PADS

05.28.08

In this country, and especially in Illinois, holiday parades have traditionally been an excuse for politicians and political organizations to see and be seen.  Park Ridge’s annual Memorial Day parade is no exception.

This past Monday gave us Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark riding in a convertible while the City Council members walked a safe distance behind.  Maine Township and Park Ridge Park District officials marched under their respective banners, the latter tossing promotional t-shirts to the crowd.  Rumor has it that Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky was also on hand, but she must have flown under our radar.

One new thing on the Cumberland Avenue parade route this year was the presence of signs voicing opposition to the Cumberland Avenue extension championed by Mayor Frimark.  Another new thing were smaller signs that read: “We Welcome P.A.D.S.”

We here at PublicWatchdog favor anything legal that promotes the open discussion of ideas, especially public policy issues and any project or plan that will significantly affect our community.  We hope that both sets of signs displayed Monday will further that goal. 

Although if those pro-PADS signs end up in house windows, we’d much prefer that they read: “Homeless Welcome Here,” perhaps with the image of an open door showing that the occupants are willing to host a homeless person for an evening.

Then maybe we could end the PADS debate and focus on the Cumberland extension.

Living The Memory This Memorial Day

05.26.08

On May 5, 1868, General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued the official proclamation establishing Memorial Day, which was observed for the first time on May 30 of that same year by the placing of flowers on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.  

Remembering with gratitude those who have died in the course of military service to our country is a duty we owe to those honored dead, a duty that we should always diligently and gratefully undertake.  But we have a similar duty to the honored living – those who have provided military service to our country and returned home alive but seriously broken in body or in spirit.

Because of the dramatic improvement in battlefield medical treatment many soldiers who would have died from their wounds are surviving, but with substantial deficits and impairments that make their return to a productive civilian life difficult, expensive and uncertain.  Whether it be the obvious impairment of missing limbs or the more subtle deficits of Traumatic Brain Injury, government assistance for these men and women tends to be woefully – and in our opinion, shamefully – inadequate.

Fortunately, many private citizens have stepped up to the plate and started a variety of organizations to help.  And one of those organizations has a Park Ridge presence that we are pleased to acknowledge on this Memorial Day: The Wounded Heroes Foundation (“WHF”).

WHF was founded four years ago by a group of military veterans including Park Ridge resident, former Marine officer and Desert Storm veteran Chris Dosev.  WHF’s mission statement succinctly explains what it does for these returning service men and women:

We demonstrate love and support by helping to meet their needs and the needs of their families. We do this by offering physical, emotional and financial support to the Wounded Heroes. Filling in the gaps where needed, our job is paying a missing mortgage payment, purchasing a handicap accessible van, building or remodeling homes, securing a new mortgage at a lower interest rate, assembling and delivering care packages and even providing a recreational trip to enhance a Heroes’ recovery. These efforts are mere gestures compared to their service. We try to Insure their American Dream because they have Ensured ours.

To find out more about WHF, check out its website: www.woundedheroesfund.net. Or contact Chris Dosev at 847.702.5830 or Ftinbengal@aol.com.

And remember, with gratitude, both the living and the dead who have given so much so that we might live in freedom in this great country.

Cumberland Extension More “Bread And Circuses”

05.23.08

As we cope with streets pockmarked with potholes, crumbling sidewalks, and fear that the next heavy rain might have us again pulling up sodden carpeting from our basement floors, we might expect a competent city government to focus its attention and our money on true needs rather than mere wants – especially a “want” of such dubious value as a proposed extension of Cumberland Avenue under (or over?) the Metra tracks at Busse Highway. 

But the Administration of Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark has never shown itself to be long on competence or even common sense, which would explain why City staff is already circulating memos about a Cumberland extension and looking for yet another consultant to do yet another “feasibility study” that is virtually guaranteed to conclude that (Surprise!) such a project is, indeed, “feasible” – if we’re dumb enough to spend $10-20 Million on it.

Fortunately, grass roots citizen activism appears to be spreading in our community, as a new citizens group has sprung up to challenge this Cumberland extension project, much like another citizens group arose to challenge the zoning variances at Executive Office Plaza and yet another citizens group is currently challenging the PADS shelter at St. Mary’s Episcopal. 

Many of those anti-Cumberland extension citizens crowded into City Hall this past Monday (May 19) night to voice their concerns about this proposal at the City Council meeting.  They heard 1st Ward Ald. Dave Schmidt and 7th Ward Ald. Frank Wsol question both the project itself and the “feasibility study” – while Frimark alderpuppets Rich DiPietro (2nd), Don Bach (3rd), Jim Allegretti (4th), Robert Ryan (5th) and Tom Carey (6th) generally looked as if they wanted to be somewhere else, like in a dentist’s chair having a root canal. 

They also heard fellow residents Marcy Anderson, Brian Beauguraeu, Ann Chavie, John Gust and Pat Livensparger, among others, voice their concerns.    

Anderson challenged the notion that the feasibility study wouldn’t really cost “us” anything if it were funded with federal grants.  “It’s still our tax money,” she correctly noted, a statement that appeared to be a revelation to Frimark, who talks about federal grant money is if it were a ten-spot left under his pillow by the Tooth Fairy.  Anderson said she would prefer spending our money on “keeping our current roadways in acceptable condition.”  

We heartily concur with Ms. Anderson.  Not only is getting federal money for something this unnecessary a waste of our tax dollars (albeit our federal, rather than our state or our local ones), but it probably makes it tougher to get a subsequent federal grant for something that might actually be necessary and worthwhile.  

Gust expressed similar views, noting that the project would only add three more blocks to Cumberland before it dead-ended at Hinkley Park.  “You are changing, and I don’t know to whose benefit, the feel of the neighborhood,” he stated, prompting a burst of applause from the audience that, in turn, provoked a stern rebuke from Frimark, who branded such behavior “very inappropriate.”

We disagree, Mr. Mayor.  While such behavior may not be exemplary meeting decorum, the term “very inappropriate” should be reserved for things like your accepting of campaign contributions from Napleton Cadillac and then negotiating and voting to give Napleton a windfall of our tax dollars to clean up soil contamination on its old dealership site; or your accepting of campaign contributions from Bruce Adreani and Norwood Builders and then negotiating zoning variances for their Executive Office Plaza project; or your accepting of a campaign contribution from Mr. Allegretti and then, without disclosing the contribution to the City Council, appointing him to fill your unexpired aldermanic seat.    

On second thought, that kind of behavior would appear to be more “outrageous” or “unethical” than merely “very inappropriate.”  But that’s a discussion we can save for another day.

As for the Cumberland extension, irrespective of whether it includes closing off Greenwood at the tracks or keeping it open, we agree with those residents who believe that there are many better ways to spend our hard-earned “bread” than on yet another “circus” staged by clowns.

Sanitized For Your Deception

05.21.08

Back in the day (the 1950s, ‘60s and maybe even the early ‘70s), a traveler entering the bathroom of his quarters at the Holiday Inn or most other hotels and motels would find his allotment of two glass water tumblers wrapped in a kind of glassine paper, and a sash across the toilet seat.  Emblazoned on each of them was the legend: “Sanitized for your Protection.” 

That era may have passed for the overnight lodging industry, but sanitization of a different type is still being practiced by some of the people who run local government.  Instead of sanitizing glassware and toilet seats, however, they sanitize the information that goes out to us taxpaying and voting citizens by treating “no news” as “good news,” “good news” as “great news,” and either burying “bad news” altogether or spinning it into “no news” whenever possible.

Take a publication like “The Spokesman” – the City’s version of Pravda and Izvestia.  Virtually everything in The Spokesman has been sanitized and spun to such a degree that, if you relied only on it for your news about City government, you’d swear you were living in Pleasantville.  But at least its name is accurate, because it truly is a “spokesman” – for the mayor and the bureaucrats who run our city.

A less visible yet more insidious sanitization, however, goes on with the official record of City business: the city council (and committee) meeting minutes.  As explained at page 31 [pdf] of Atty. General Lisa Madigan’s “Guide To The Illinois Open Meetings Act,” that Act requires that meeting minutes “include, but not be limited to” certain specific information about when and where the meeting was held, which members of the public body were present and absent, and a summary of discussion “on all matters proposed, deliberated or decided, and a record of any votes taken.” 

Clearly, meeting minutes are not intended to be a verbatim transcript of everything that was said in a meeting.  They must, however, be accurate.  And when they report matters beyond what is required to be reported under IOMA (i.e., those matters that fall into the “not be limited to” category), they need to do so in a way that is fair and not misleading.  Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

For example, if you were at the May 5th City Council meeting, or read about it in the local newspapers or in the blogs (PublicWatchdog’s “The ‘Toxic’ Administration Of Mayor Howard Frimark” or Park Ridge Underground’s “In The Spotlight”), you probably remember that meeting as the one where Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark “welcomed” new City Manager James Hock and his wife by telling him and everyone else in the Council chambers that he (Frimark) preferred at least one other candidate who subsequently became disinterested in the position due to a “toxic” environment created, in part, by one alderman’s disclosure of “confidential” information and by “the ugly blogs.”  

But pages 8 and 9 of the “Draft” minutes [pdf] for that meeting (which reportedly were approved this past Monday night) reveal that Frimark’s diatribe has been spun into: “Mayor Frimark spent a few moments explaining the circumstances that he believed hindered the recommendation of a new City Manager.”  And Frimark’s expressed preference for another candidate is replaced with: “Mayor Frimark proudly introduced Mr. James Hock….”

The city employee able to spin this particular dross into gold?  None other than long-time City Clerk Betty Henneman, who once responded to a complaint about the content of the minutes by saying: “We try to make all our elected officials look their best.”  Where she came up with that goal is anybody’s guess, but we’re going to go out on a limb here and say that it probably wasn’t from the Illinois Attorney General or the Better Government Association; and it certainly wasn’t from us here at PublicWatchdog.

Another problem we have with those May 5 minutes can be found at page 2 [pdf], which contains what appear to be out-of-the-blue “disclosures” by Frimark and three aldermen concerning affiliations with certain community organizations.  The significance of those disclosures is puzzling (kind of like in the old comedy routine where the sportscaster announces: “This partial score just in: Ohio State – 21.”) unless you happened to notice, on page 1 of those minutes, that each of the disclosed organizations received money from the City budget.

Such disclosures could be greatly improved by adding the reason why the affiliation is relevant (such as “Mayor Frimark disclosed that his wife is on the Board of Directors of the Kalo Foundation, which is receiving $5,000 from the City’s 2008-09 budget.”).  And it might be a tad more “kosher” if those disclosures were made before the Council members making them actually voted to approve those expenditures, rather than afterward.

Frankly, we here at PublicWatchdog prefer the extra transparency that comes from minutes that contain more than the bare-bones information required under IOMA.  But that transparency is undermined when the extra information is sanitized to make it misleading, or when it turns the meeting minutes into propaganda intended to make some official or other “look their best.” 

It’s Park District Time!

05.19.08

Last Friday we posted a piece discussing the proposed new Park Ridge Police Station.  We received a few comments about that issue, but the debate was promptly hi-jacked – apparently in response to our suggestion that any new cop shop should go to referendum – by people wanting to discuss the referendum-loving Park Ridge Park District.

“Green Dick” started it by applauding the Park District for taking its major spending plans to referendum, most recently in connection with Oakton Pool.  “Sunshine” followed that up by pointing out that the Park District had to go to referendum because its non-home rule status limited its non-referendum bonding power to less than what these major projects cost.

“GreenDick” and “Sunshine” subsequently agreed on that point, as well as that the Park District’s constant subsidizing of the Senior Center (to the tune of over $150,000 a year) was a questionable policy.  Then things got interesting, as we got into a debate about taxpayer subsidies, the Park District’s youth sports affiliates, its summer camps, and Oakton Pool with what appears to have been one particular “Anonymous” commentator with some strong views about those issues. 

Since we’ve been accused of focusing too much on the City of Park Ridge and not enough on the other local governmental bodies, today we’re using that discussion to give our readers a little Park District to chew on, as well as to give the Park District itself some due. (We’ve edited the discussion down a bit, although it can be read in its entirety at No Time For Fuzzy Thinking On Police Station):

By Anonymous on 05.16.08 6:19 pm:  The park board funds many organizations, not just the senior center. The PRPD spends a reported $3,000,000 a year on overall park maintenance.  I do not know what that breaks down to by football, soccer or baseball field but I am sure the $5 per kid per season that is paid by the separate organizations of baseball, soccer and football does not come close to recovering the cost of maintaining the fields. (Soccer has contributed in addition to the $5 per participant to maintaining the fields and paying for new lights-don’t know about bb or football).  So if we can allocate PRPD money to these youth sports programs then why not to the senior center?

It will be interesting to see if the PRPD board will ask the voters again if we want a new pool at Oakton or an expensive indoor practice field for youth sports?  The citizens have been asked 3 times if they want to spend millions for a new outdoor pool that would only be open 10 weeks out of the year and three times they have said no.  Has the board given up on this issue or are they going to come back again?  Each time they do this they spend taxpayer money to print brochures and market the pros of the bond referedum to the voters.  This seems like a waste money when we are asked nearly the same question for a 2nd, 3rd and 4th time and so on.

By PublicWatchdog on 05.17.08 10:48 amOne difference between money for the Senior Center and money for fields is that the fields are used by exponentially more people – from children on up – than use the Senior Center: in fact, the Senior Center is used by only a small fraction of this community’s senior citizens.  And when it comes to the Park District wasting money on brochures for various referenda, we believe that democracy – giving the voters chances to vote on different kinds of expensive projects requiring long-term debt – is a better use of relatively small amounts of our tax dollars than the $80,000 or so the Park District loses each year on Oakton Pool.

By Anonymous on 05.17.08 3:10 pm:  The figure you use for the loss on the pools may need to be adjusted for the revenue generated by the numerous summer camps that use the pools in the afternoon from 1-3 pm.  Since a portion of the day is spent at the pool-2 hours out of a 6 hour camp-then 1/3 of the revenue from camps that use the pool should be added to the revenue stream from the pool if it is not already included and I have been told by someone familiar with it that the camp revenue is not included in the loss you keep quoting.  This would reduce the net loss from the pools.

True the PRPD fields are available to all in PR, but for a significant part of the year and during usable daylight hours the fields are used by baseball and soccer and football.  They are therefore unavailable to the rest of the population.  In addition, not every kid in PR plays in one of the organized sports-is 2000 kids enough to give such a big subsidy to baseball?  They should be funding more of the field maintenance than just $5 per child.  They-baseball soccer and football-collect hundreds of thousands in participation fees and sponsorship revenue.  They should be doing more to offset the PRPD’s cost of maintaing the fields they are the majority user of.

By PublicWatchdog on 05.17.08 4:00 pmThe figure we use is the figure the Park District uses, so if you have a problem with it you should take it up with the Park District. But camp revenue is camp revenue, not pool revenue – unless you want to re-invent cost accounting.  The bottom line is that Oakton Pool is a black hole sucking up taxpayer dollars year after year while a gutless Park Board and Park District Staff can’t bring itself to close it.

As for the affiliates paying more toward field use and maintenance, we have no problem with that.  Why don’t you raise that with the Park Board and District Staff?

By Anonymous on 05.17.08 8:17 pm:  It is not reinventing cost accounting-if you have written a book on the matter or are a CPA then go ahead and comment.  But all revenue associated with the pool should be considered before deciding to close a pool or build a new one.

Part of the reason kids go to camp is to use the pools.  The total “guests” at the pools should include the campers and the revenue associated with their use of the pool. There are lots of participants in the camps.  With Oakton closed, where will all these campers go from 1-3.  If all the campers go to Centennial for swimming the pool will be unusable to the rest of us from 1-3 as it will be simply too crowded.  Hinkley is too small to accomodate any overflow-it is already crowded on a nice summer day.

I don’t think the PRPD has planned for how to handle the camp situation if the pool closes.  Perhaps they think one summer of a too crowded pool and we will all jump on board and vote for a multi million dollar outdoor aquatic and fun center that will still be only used 10 weeks out of the year.

Perhaps the PRPD board will comment on why the Oakton pool got into such disrepair in the first place. To force us to vote yes for a new pool?

About PRBS-the issue has been brought up to the PRPD board at the same time the issue of noncompliane with IRS filing rules and tax returns for public funded non-profit organizations.  But PRBS seems to have some control over the PRPD as no changes have been made to the $5 fee in years. In 2007 when the PRPD board approved the creation of a reserve fund, the issue of affiliation fees to the PRPD was discussed.  The board voted to keep it at $5 where it has been for years.  As was stated earlier-some of the affiliates, including PRBS, collect hundreds of thousands of dollars per year and they should give more to the PRPD than the roughly $11,000 for the summer baseball season.

By PublicWatchdog on 05.18.08 9:35 am:  We have consulted with a CPA who confirmed that, even in the arcane world of public fund accounting, because camp use of Oakton Pool is only a fraction of the “camp” program no more than that fraction of camp revenue can properly be attributed to the pool – which amount would also have to be offset by whatever revenues the pool would have earned from general users but didn’t because the campers were there.

And from our perspective, unless the camps provide $80,000 to Oakton – which we have seen no evidence that they do – then Oakton is still a big money loser that should have been closed a year or two ago as scheduled.  But if you’ve got a complaint about how the Park District accounts for the campers, we suggest you take that up with the Park District.

As for why Oakton pool got into such disrepair in the first place, the most obvious answer is its age – which is why the Park District was told it could not simply repair the current problems.  We consulted with one former and one current Park District Commissioner, both of whom confirmed that they were unaware of any time during the past decade when the Park Board refused, or demanded a reduction in, the recommendation of Park District Staff as to the amount budgeted for maintenance and repairs of Oakton, even during the year of the drought Summer (2005) when the diving well cratered.

Finally, as to the sports affiliates fees, we agree that they should pay their fair share of the costs of field maintenance, repair and/or replacement.  And you may be right about some supernatural sway the affiliates have over the Park District.  But you seem to be missing the accounting gene again when you suggest that some of the sports affiliates should pay more money for the fields merely because they “collect hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.”  Basic accounting dictates that if they spend all of that money on legitimate expenses, there may not be any extra money (i.e., “profit”) to give the Park District.

No Time For Fuzzy Thinking On Police Station

05.16.08

Government is notorious for fuzzy thinking – when it thinks at all.  So we were dismayed, but not surprised, that Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark and his 5th Ward Alderpuppet, Robert Ryan, want to press ahead on a big new police station even though we can’t seem to afford to pave our streets, fix our curbs, eliminate flooding, and do all those other things for which residents of upscale communities such as ours pay their hefty property taxes.

And we were pleased, but not surprised, to read that many of the 566 respondents to the recent City survey (who, admittedly, don’t speak for all of us despite what the surveyors may say) don’t want to spend a lot of money on another multi-million dollar boondoggle, even though we’d  prefer an advisory referendum on the November ballot that would let the voters voice their opinion on the issue.

But you can be sure the fans of the new cop shop don’t want that.  People behind big new spending plans always try to keep them away from the voters, preferring to slide them through the local governmental body of their choice – be it the City Council, the School District 64 Board, or the Park District Board – where compliant officials seem always at the ready to write checks that we taxpayers struggle to cash.

That’s why we expect that the lobbying for a new cop shop will start picking up steam, which is what the letter to the editor in yesterday’s Herald-Advocate by John P. Kenney, “DDS, MS D-ABFO, CSCA, Fellow, American Academy of Forensic Sciences,” of Park Ridge (“Time to take action for police station,” May 15) appears to be.

Had we put much stock in Dr. Kenney’s hand-wringing hyperbole over the possible consequences from the size and condition of the current cop shop, we might have barricaded ourselves inside our houses behind triple-locked doors, installed multiple alarm systems, and put 911 on speed dial. But once you get past all the speculation, opinion and just plain bluster, the arguments are more “Chicken Little” than Armageddon.

As we’ve written many times before, the condition and layout of the current police station is dilapidated trending toward deplorable.  Our police officers and department staff deserve better – including a better layout, better space use, and better conditions.  But tripling or quadrupling its size, as the “if you build it, we want some” consultants have self-servingly recommended, is exactly the wrong way to spend our money.

Yes, the current layout is inefficient.  Yes, the female officers need a better locker room.  And, yes, arrestees shouldn’t be traipsing past rooms where the witnesses against them are being interviewed.  But that’s as much an argument for renovating and reconfiguring the current space – with perhaps a modest addition – than exponential expansion.  And that’s because people, not brick and mortar, do most of the real police work, as Dr. Kenney’s letter unintentionally reveals.   

Take his anecdote about last Sunday’s “situation” where some goof shot up a TV set with a .22 rifle.  Kenney notes that it drew the attention of “four patrol cars, a community service officer, and a command officer” to “neutralize” the offender before he could commit another telecide.  Don’t get us wrong: we’re pleased with how the situation was handled.  But did the size of the current cop shop impede the handling of this situation?  If so, how would a four-times bigger cop shop have produced a better result, or prevented it from happening altogether?

Dr. Kenney complains about evidence technicians working “in a room the size of a walk in closet!”  Admittedly, that doesn’t sound too good.  But before we start looking to build them a crime lab, we’d sure like to hear an authorized representative of the PRPD (like Chief Swoboda) specifically identify any investigations or prosecutions that have been torpedoed or compromised because of the size of the evidence techs’ room.

Dr. Kenney advocates building a police facility “that will carry us for the NEXT 40 years.”  Frankly, that’s a really good sound-bite but a really dumb idea.  Trying to predict the future even 10 years down the road is tough enough: taking that out 40 years is a fool’s errand, especially when it involves betting $15-20 Million in bonds and another $5 Million or more in interest on that prediction.  Not even the mercenary cop shop consultants are willing to go beyond vague generalities and questionable extrapolations that are fuzzier than bunny slippers in making their case for a Taj Mahal cop shop.

That’s why we hereby invite Dr. Kenney and any of his fellow futurists to produce their detailed depictions of Park Ridge 2048: what it will look like, how many people will live here, their demographic make-up, how many magnetic cars will fill our airspace, how many RoboCops we’ll employ, and any other specifics by which the taxpayers might be able to assess for themselves whether spending multi-millions on a 40-year facility is a good idea or a crackpot one.

But while we await the arrival of those crystal balls, we can take comfort in the fact that, as Dr. Kenney points out: “Our police department, one of only 47 municipal CALEA accredited departments in the state of Illinois, has done more with less for decades.”  With that in mind, we wonder: “Why can’t the past be prologue?”

Why More Condos, Mr. Baldi? – The Sequel

05.14.08

By all accounts, Joe Baldi is a decent and affable guy.  After serving four years on the District 64 School Board and two years as a 5th Ward alderman, he chose not to run for re-election to Mayor Howard Frimark’s stripped-down City Council last year; and the 5th Ward seat was subsequently won by another former District 64 School Board member and Frimark supporter, Robert Ryan.

Mr. Baldi was then appointed by Frimark to the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission (the “P&Z”), where he has served in relative obscurity.  Until this past Monday, that is, when he submitted a comment to our article The Twilight Zone Of Park Ridge Zoning in which he made some statements about the expansion of R-5 multi-family residential zoning in Uptown that led us to give him star billing in Why More Condos, Mr. Baldi?

Fortunately for PublicWatchdog and its readers, Baldi has chosen to share even more comments in response to his eponymous article – and those comments provide a rare glimpse into what seems to be a relatively common mindset among local politicians and that, we believe, contributes greatly to making local government inefficient, wasteful, and unresponsive to the majority of our citizens – and vulnerable to being hijacked by the monied special-interests.

While what follows is a decidedly unvarnished deconstruction of each of Mr. Baldi’s statements about his vote on expanding the potential area for R-5 zoning in Upown, we nevertheless do wish to express our gratitude to him for being, to the best of our knowledge, the only P&Z commission member with guts enough to at least engage in something approaching a real public debate on the topic, in a forum free of the more stilted and restrictive P&Z meeting format.

So without further ado, what follows are passages from Mr. Baldi’s comment, along with PublicWatchdog’s responses:

Baldi: “My approach started with the premise, advanced by City Staff, that the change would conform the ordinance to it’s original intent and correct a misinterpretation.”
PW: Blaming “Staff” is a lame, politician’s version of “The devil made me do it.”  Your job on P&Z is, in large part, to make sure “Staff” is doing its job and telling the truth.  Ever heard of “Trust, but verify”?  You might want to start by challenging “Staff” to explain in sufficient detail “What ‘original intent’?” and “Whose ‘misinterpretation’?”  The bottom line is that this is not a simple “misinterpretation” but an attempt to expand the R-5 area.  And if you can’t see that, then you’re not doing your job. 

Baldi: “We were told repeatedly that you can’t define one zoning district by reference to another.”
PW: Told by whom?  “Staff”?  Even if that were true, you could have remedied it simply by re-naming the “B-4” zoning district as the “Core” of the Central Business District, or by defining/describing it by the street names or other measures of its boundaries.  It should not have been a major problem. 

Baldi: “Since there is no defined district that corresponds to the area zoned B-4 in the Central Business District, I voted to allow the R-5 zoning to be placed in the area defined as the Central Business District.”
PW: Which, of course, was the easiest and least responsible rubber-stamp thing to do.  Rolling over instead of fighting is always the easy way out, and it endears you to Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark and the developers, builders, lenders, appraisers and all the other real estate special interests for whom the short-term benefit to their wallets of high-density residential seems to mean more than preserving the character and feel of our community. 

Baldi: “I would revisit your review of the amount by which this expands the area where R-5 can be placed. There is no way it represents a 75% increase over the B-4 area.  Only the area surrounded by the dark line on your map is in the Central Business District, and most of that is already B-4.”
PW: As we understand that map (which we believe came from Judy Barclay of CURRB), the darker shaded areas reflect the portions of the Central Business District which are not B-4 but which would become R-5-ready if the City Council approves the recent P&Z recommendation.  While trying to aggregate a number of irregularly-shaped areas and compare them to another irregularly-shaped area is a major challenge for us, when we “checker-boarded” those new areas and matched them with the B-4 area we found that the darker areas cumulatively measured just a shade under 75% of the B-4 area. 

Baldi: “I listen to citizen input and consider it when voting. That will not always mean I do everything that is suggested by citizens.”
PW: We don’t expect you to do everything suggested by citizens, nor do we think you should.  But you should be able to explain your decision with something more substantive than that you relied on “Staff,” or that you are waiting for an actual controversy to occur before you address the policy decision of whether or not we need/want more R-5 multi-family residential properties in Uptown – or anywhere else in Park Ridge. 

Baldi: “This may not be comforting to you, but you do realize that the R-5 zoning does not exist anywhere other than the Executive Plaza area approved by the P&Z commission before I joined it.”
PW: You’re right: It isn’t.  And it’s irrelevant to this particular discussion, unless you’re trying to distance yourself from the EOP fiasco by noting that you had no role in it.  But now that you mention it, we don’t recall your attending those meetings and speaking against the EOP density or the variances that allowed the developer to exceed the zoning code by 8 units – and pocket another estimated $500-600,000 of profit in the process. 

Baldi: “In order for anyone to obtain the benefits of the R-5 designation, they will have to make a presentation to the P&Z Commission and the City Council, at which I trust citizens will again appear and hope to be heard.”
PW: From what we remember and have been able to research, P&Z’s record in those situations has been abysmal when measured by how often it has sided with the citizens.  Have you ever heard the term “shouting down a well”?  As shown by the recent City survey, “being heard” by our local officials was not given high marks by the survey respondents. 

Baldi: “At that point we can have a very legitimate debate on whether more condos are appropriate anywhere in the Central Business District or not.”
PW: That is exactly the WRONG time to have “a very legitimate debate” on this issue.  Instead of addressing it now – where it can be discussed more objectively and solely as a matter of “policy” – your idea of deferring such a debate until a time when policy can be influenced (if not outright steamrolled) by such irrelevant but nevertheless powerful considerations as the nature of the specific project, its specific features and uses (paging “senior housing”!), and the identity of the developer (paging Bruce Adreani!) is not only bad policy, it’s just plain dumb. 

Baldi: “I won’t prejudge that debate because I have to listen to both the applicant and the opponents of any proposal.”
PW: A debate between “the applicant and the opponents” of a particular proposal is what you’ll end up with regularity if you refuse to address this issue now as a matter of policy – before it turns into an ad hoc adversarial situation. 

Baldi: “I will tell you that the key for me will not be whether a developer can make money on a project or not. I find that to be irrelevant to the City. The key will be the impact on the City, traffic and the effect the development will have on the City after the developers have made their money and moved on.”
PW: Sounds like more subterfuge and obfuscation to us.  All of the various density/traffic scenarios related to R-5 multi-family residential can be identified and quantified now, based on recognized standards and models for residential density that are readily available and regularly relied on by the various “experts” who will show up on behalf of the various combatants when these situations turn adversarial because P&Z is foolishly putting off these policy decisions.

Baldi: “As far as I know, zoning ordinances exist for the City to make choices about how it will develop, without unduly burdening property owners in utilizing their land. If we do that, we have met our obligation and can restrict or deny development in places it does not fit.”
PW: Well, you got the first part right – which is why the time is now for discussing whether that portion of the Central Business District not currently zoned B-4 should be qualified for R-5 zoning.  Resolution of that issue now will give residents and developers alike more predictability as to what can and cannot be built throughout the Central Business District rather than engage in a crap-shoot over density objections every time a new project is proposed. 

Baldi: “In any event, keep up the good fight. I don’t expect to agree with everything you say, and I don’t expect you to agree with or like everything I do. Nevertheless the questions and positions you promote are necessary to insure a good debate on the issues that face the City.”
PW: Agreed.  And thanks again, Mr. Baldi, for helping provide our readers with a lesson in how local government can fail its citizens when its elected or appointed representatives blindly trust “Staff,” take the easy way out, and put off to tomorrow the tough decisions that should be made today.

Why More Condos, Mr. Baldi?

05.12.08

We recently got a belated comment to our April 30, 2008 article, “The Twilight Zone of Park Ridge Zoning” (criticizing the proposed expansion of R-5 multi-family zoning to the entire Uptown “Central Business District”) from Joe Baldi, former School Dist. 64 Board member, former 5th Ward alderman, and currently one of the members of the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission who voted for that expansion at the April 28th P&Z meeting. 

Baldi took issue with our crediting of Cathy Piche instead of his reputed political ally, Aurora Abella-Austriaco, as the P&Z member who joined with Milda Roszkiewicz in a losing effort to keep R-5 limited to the B-4 zoned “core” of Uptown instead of letting it expand to an area which looks on the map[pdf] to be about 75% again the size of the B-4 zoning district to which R-5 is currently confined.

We confess to having taken that vote result from the Journal and Topics article on that meeting (“Decision Made: R-5 Zoning Limited To Uptown,” April 30), so if they were wrong we were wrong.  Unfortunately, we presently have no way to determine whether Baldi’s or the Journal’s account of this vote is correct because not even draft minutes from that P&Z meeting are posted on the City’s website as we post this article.

Besides lobbying for Ms. Austriaco, however, Mr. Baldi took issue with our characterizing the six P&Z members who voted for the R-5 expansion as “rolling over for the developers.”  Baldi noted that they did eliminate the zoning ordinance language by which property “adjacent” to the Central Business District also could have qualified for R-5 zoning.  In other words, he was inviting a pat on the back for himself and his fellow P&Zers for getting half a loaf when the whole loaf was available.    

So instead of giving Mr. Baldi and his fellow P&Zers who voted for R-5 expansion (Mayor Frimark appointees/re-appointees Anita Rifkind, Tom Provencher, Chairman Alfredo Marr, Louis Arrigoni, and either Aurora Abella-Austriaco or Cathy Piche) a pat on the back, we want to know why they voted to expand R-5 even one inch beyond the B-4 borders?  Why make those good-sized chunks of Uptown[pdf] available for developers to jam even more condos into an already too-dense area?  How does that enhance the unique character and feel of our community?

And we’d also like to know why the citizens who appeared at that meeting and objected to the expansion beyond the B-4 area were generally ignored by the P&Z majority, just as they were ignored when they opposed giving the Frimark-connected developer (Bruce Adreani and Norwood Builders) of Executive Office Plaza a variance for eight extra condo units in another R-5 development planned for 168 units? 

For decades Park Ridge developed a well-deserved reputation as a “wonderful place to live and work” because of its neighborhoods of single-family homes providing small-town character and charm.  But since 2003, new condo developments have been turning our unique community into just another stop on the Union Pacific’s Northwest Line, making it look more and more like a Des Plaines or a Mt. Prospect.

That’s what you and your fellow P&Zers are doing to our town with your zoning variances and your R-5 zoning expansions, Mr. Baldi.  And you will get no pat on the back from us for that.   

The “Toxic” Administration Of Mayor Howard Frimark

05.09.08

It’s hard to imagine how something like the introduction of new City Manager Jim Hock at Monday night’s City Council meeting could be botched so badly that the new official would end up being insulted by the mayor even before he signed his employment contract.  But that’s only because it’s hard to imagine Mayor Howard Frimark’s capacity for petty and boorish behavior.

With Hock and his wife looking on, Frimark prefaced his announcement of Hock’s hiring with the observation that he had wanted somebody else for the position.  That probably took a good bit of luster off the old Welcome Wagon for our newest city employee, but at least it gave Hock an early look at what he can expect from the mayor in the future.  

Not surprisingly, Frimark’s first choice for city manager – Chris Clark – was the least experienced of the three finalists, but he possessed the qualification our mayor most highly prizes: he was connected.  Not only is Clark a long-time insurance client of Frimark’s but so are his parents, who are also personal friends of the mayor’s.  Frimark indignantly claims that those relationships didn’t influence his choice of Clark and that they shouldn’t even be an issue.  But those kinds of relationships reek of conflict of interest and are exactly the things that should be publicly disclosed, early and often.

Not content merely to insult our new city manager, Frimark used the occasion to take another gratuitous swipe at his principal Council adversary, Ald. Dave Schmidt (1st Ward), for Schmidt’s completely lawful and honorable disclosure of the City’s process for hiring attorneys to audit the Park Ridge Police Department, and of the City’s attempt to purchase 720 Garden for a new police station – two matters that Frimark and his alderpuppets were concealing from the taxpayers.

But the most telling part of Frimark’s diatribe may have been his slap at “the ugly blogs” and certain un-named members of the public for “attacking [him] for sport” and creating a “toxic” political atmosphere in Park Ridge.  That’s because those objects of Frimark’s ire are the ones holding him accountable for his arrogant, crass and ham-handed abuse of City government – and the taxpayers who have to pay for it.

In the three years he has been mayor most of Frimark’s achievements have been of the dubious variety, including his leading role in ending decades of local government tradition by cutting the City Council in half, his driving most of the City’s senior staff to resignation or early retirement, and his creating the appearance of “pay to play” with his sweetheart deals for his political contributors – such as the Executive Office Plaza zoning variances and the Napleton land clean-up giveaway.

Calling out Mayor Frimark for the many ways he has been dis-serving his constituents is not “sport” because, frankly, it’s far too easy and unpleasant to be considered a sporting endeavor.  But it is our duty, one that we will continue to do until he either straightens up and flies right or he leaves the office to someone who understands that public service isn’t the same as self-service, someone who will fairly represent all the people of our community rather than a handful of special interests, and someone who appreciates Park Ridge for both what it is and what it is not. 

Until that time comes, the most “toxic” element of Park Ridge government will remain the man who sits in the big office at 505 Butler Place.