Time For Taxpayers To Start Paying Attention To School Dist. 64


Park Ridge/Niles Elementary School District 64 is the single biggest recipient of our property tax dollars.  Nevertheless, it usually succeeds in keeping a low profile and avoiding serious scrutiny, which helps explain how it could spend itself to the brink of financial crisis from 1998 through 2006 without much notice or criticism – until it came time to panic-peddle last year’s tax rate referendum.

The District’s finances were so mismanaged after five straight years of deficit spending that in 2005 the Dist. 64 Board had to sneak $5 million in non-referendum “working cash bonds” past the taxpayers in order to begin restoring its decimated fund balances and avert a possible takeover of its finances by the State Board of Education after several years of appearing on the State Board’s “early warning” or “watch” list. 

But from what we’ve seen those folks inhabiting the ESC at 164 South Prospect, now flush with referendum cash that has helped our property taxes soar, haven’t really changed their tax, borrow and spend ways.

That the Dist. 64 School Board and Administration can’t seem to manage its finances (even with the help of its 34-member “Community Finance Committee” formed in 2004, and apparently still headed by the triumvirate of Craig Elderkin, Phil Eichman and Diana Stapleton), however, is even more troubling in light of the District’s rather lackluster educational achievement.

The Chicago Sun-Times, in today’s edition, ranks Illinois elementary and high school districts based on average scores on 2008 state reading and math tests, using “a well-known statistical method called standardizing to analyze the ‘scale scores’ of public school third- through eighth-graders who took the Illinois Standards Achievement Tests and high school juniors who took the Prairie State Achievement Exam this past spring.”

Based on those rankings, it doesn’t look good for the home team.

Not one District 64 school cracked the Top 50 in either the elementary school [pdf] or middle school [pdf] categories, losing out to schools from Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Chicago, Barrington, Evanston, Glenview, Highland Park, Hinsdale, Northbrook, River Forest and Wilmette, to name just a few of those districts to whom we sometimes compare ourselves but who spend more per pupil (from River Forest’s $11,156 to Glenview’s $14,858) than the $10,755 average reported for District 64.

We also lost out, however, to districts who spend less than us, like St. Charles ($10,385), Palatine ($10,108), Downers Grove ($10,611), Wheaton ($10,746) and bargain-basement Western Springs ($8,172).

What gives? 

According to the story about test scores published in yesterday’s Herald-Advocate (“District 64 scores high in reading, math,” Oct. 30), we’re fine…just ask us.  But of course, there was no mention in that article about exactly how our kids’ performance compares to those other school districts, even though the Herald-Advocate is part of the Sun-Times News Group and presumably had access to its parent paper’s analysis.

We can hear the District’s spin doctors already, pooh pooh-ing standardized testing and explaining how they don’t stoop to “teaching to the tests” but, instead, focus on more meaningful measures of performance and achievement. 

Maybe they do.  And the fact that Maine South tied with Vernon Hills H.S. for 15th on the Sun-Times’ list of Illinois high schools [pdf] might even support District 64’s explanation, although we’ve also heard the argument that Maine South’s performance benefits from the kids the parochial elementary schools feed into it.

But when Park Ridge property values depend on our ability to compete with these other communities on a variety of bases, of which quality schools is one of the most important, our continually increasing taxes combined with Dist. 64’s modest performance jeopardizes not only our investments in our homes but also, ultimately, the quality of life in our community.

So what say you, Supt. Sally Pryor and Board members John Heyde, Marty Joyce, Ron James, Chris Mollet, Sue Runyon, Ted Smart and Genie Taddeo?

Who Is “James Olson” And Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Us? (Updated 10/30/08)


This Friday we hope to address an issue other than the PADS shelter, because we have this suspicion that Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark may be using it as a diversion while other important pieces of City business are being flown under the radar. 

But we must note the lead story on the front page of today’s Park Ridge Journal, which is titled “’Sickened’ By Attitudes,” and which purports to relate the opinions expressed in a letter to the Journal by one “James Olson.”  “Olson” claims to be a currently homeless Park Ridge resident and the same homeless man who spoke in favor of the PADS shelter at the City Council meeting on October 20.

As reported by the Journal’s Dwight Esau (Where is Journal reporter Craig Adams? Can we issue an “amber alert” so he can be found and returned to the Park Ridge beat?), “Olson” condemns the “hateful and vulgar” attitudes of Park Ridge residents directed toward him and his fellow homeless who are “not drug addicts, boozers, or convicts but…people who have fallen on hard times” – as distinguished from the “seven sexual predators” who “Olson” says are already living in Park Ridge.

Well, Mr. “Olson” – whoever you are – let’s get a few things straight.

First of all, PADS itself has admitted that many of its “clients” are drug addicts, boozers, or have mental health issues. If we truly have plenty of those kinds of people already living in Park Ridge (as the PRMA members and their white-shirted cheerleaders keep insisting), why would we want to bring in any more?

Second, the State of Illinois sex offender website reports a total of six sex offenders living in Park Ridge, two of whom are identified as “sexual predators” and all of whom are reported as currently being “Compliant” with the laws regulating sex offenders. And because those reports come with pictures, we have the ability to identify those individuals on sight.

The same can’t be said about all those PADS “clients” that the PRMA and Mayor Frimark want to import into our community from near and far. The PADS website doesn’t even list the names of those “clients,” so we’re left to guessing who they are and what criminal/legal issues they may have.

That also means we have to trust those hear-no-evil-see-no-evil-speak-no-evil PADS functionaries to do all the security things they say they do.  As The Great Communicator once said: “Trust, but verify.” But how do we verify when we can’t even identify?

Mr. “Olson” also claims that there are only “three homeless people” living in Park Ridge, which is down from the six that we previously heard about. If that’s the full extent of our native homeless problem, however, we suggest that the PRMA-ers rent three apartments for them. 

We can then declare victory over homelessness in Park Ridge and send our local clergy back to their pulpits and away from the kinds of activities that prove the wisdom of the separation of church and state.

UPDATE 10/30/08
At last night’s (10/29/08) City Council meeting, Mayor Frimark announced that PADS Inc. is having second thoughts about opening one of its traveling road show homeless franchises in Park Ridge.  Whether and how that translates into a reality beyond Frimark’s notoriously unreliable words remains to be seen. 

If true, however, that would be a triumph of common sense and good judgment.  And better yet, it would also provide an opportunity for the PRMA – and Frimark, too – to come up with a truly meaningful way to help those Park Ridgians who are either homeless or on the brink.  
But the success of such an effort will require the PRMA and Frimark to have learned from their many mistakes with the PADS shelter.  Which means that, this time, they should enlist the input and support of their respective congregations and the community as a whole from the very beginning of the process, so as to avoid the divisiveness – as well as the tremendous waste of time and effort – that came to characterize their PADS initiative.

The Dangers Of Poor Journalism


One of the reasons this blog was started was because the reporting of local government activity left a lot to be desired.  Key facts were often omitted, and some “facts” that were reported ended up being just plain wrong.

Although the local papers have raised their games in the past year or so, they are still not consistently accurate and comprehensive; and every so often they lapse back into their bad old ways, leaving the public dangerously uninformed, under-informed, or misinformed – as was the case with last week’s Park Ridge Journal account of the PADS homeless shelter discussion at last Monday night’s City Council meeting. 

Not surprisingly, the Journal reporter wasn’t Craig Adams who, despite being relatively new to the City Hall beat, has shown an increasing grasp of how City government “works” (or doesn’t), and the ability to write about it in an accurate and understandable way.  Instead, the Journal reporter last week was old reliable Dwight Esau – whose reporting on local government often seem to wobble precariously between fact and fiction. 

Esau has always been a cheerleader for those public officials whose guiding principles are secrecy and the desire to tax, borrow and spend away the taxpayers’ money.  So it comes as no surprise to find out that Esau heartily recommended/endorsed Schuenke for the $93,000/year position of City Administrator for Delafield, Wisconsin, after Schuenke took a lucrative early retirement from his highly-paid position as Park Ridge City Manager – shortly before the discovery of a $1.7 million deficit in the City’s 2007-2008 operations which apparently resulted, in large part, from Schuenke’s making up revenue numbers just to get the budget to balance.

Esau called Schuenke “one of the best” administrators Esau has dealt with in 25-30 years of covering municipal government in Cook County,, which not only calls Esau’s judgment and reporting skills into question but also makes us wonder about how many other neighboring municipalities are also mismanaged. 

Maybe that’s why it’s perversely entertaining to hear that Schuenke has already gotten sideways with the president of Delafield’s Common Council because of Schuenke’s attempt to tack an additional half-million dollars of debt onto a $12.4 bond issue.  

And guess what?  Schuenke, Delafield’s mayor and other city officials “have been meeting behind closed doors with contractors and architects for the past several weeks” even though the mayor refuses to post public notice of the meetings or allow the media to attend, claiming that those meetings aren’t subject to Wisconsin’s open-meetings law.  Sound familiar, folks?

Set against that backdrop, therefore, we thought it might be instructive to “mark up” Esau’s account of Monday night’s proceedings to identify his errors and reveal how insidious such errors can be to a trusting reader’s understanding of what exactly his/her local government is doing.


PADS In Public Works?


Journal & Topics Reporter

After months of debate about putting a homeless shelter in a Park Ridge church, plans now call for locating it in the city’s public works center.  [What “plans”?  Frimark proposed the Public Works Service Center, but the Council did not vote on it or even really discuss the specifics of its use as a homeless shelter.]

The informal and tentative decision [What “decision” is Esau talking about?  And what kind of a governmental “decision” is “informal” and “tentative”?] came after midnight Monday, Oct. 20, after nearly five hours of contentious and confusing debate at a city council meeting held in the auditorium of Washington School.

More than 60 residents [From our experience, anything that exceeds fingers and toes is beyond Esau’s mathematical prowess.  We counted 97 people in the audience at 8:00 p.m., and we think we probably missed several more that had adjourned to the hallway or outside for a smoke] attended the meeting which took the form of the latest of a series of public hearings on whether a homeless shelter should be allowed in the city, and, if so, where it could be located, and under what conditions.

Weary aldermen informally expressed support for the idea of a shelter in the public works service center at 400 Busse Highway. They also authorized Mayor Howard Frimark to negotiate a contractual agreement for a shelter with the Park Ridge Ministerial Association and the PADS (Public Action t o Deliver Shelter), a social service agency serving homeless persons. The contract would have to be approved by aldermen. [The Council didn’t “authorize” Frimark to negotiate because, according to the City Attorney, Frimark doesn’t need Council authorization to negotiate anything on which the Council has a final say.]

Frimark told the council that the PRMA and PADS have both expressed a general willingness to enter into a contractual arrangement with the city for a shelter on city property.

“PADS told me they didn’t want to be a co-applicant for a shelter on private property, but they are willing to contract with the city for one,” Frimark said. 

The mayor surprised aldermen and others involved in this project by proposing the center as a location instead of St. Paul of the Cross Church, a site the PRMA suggested earlier. [No, Dwight, Frimark surprised nobody about the Public Works Service Center as the shelter location because he had issued a press release on it last Thursday!  He did “surprise” people (including the aldermen), however, when he announced that he had been talking to PADS Inc. and the PRMA about a contract arrangement rather than PADS being a co-applicant for the special use permit that will likely be needed for the shelter.]

“This public works site is accessible by public transportation, has equipment needed to operate such a facility, and could be open from October to April, as proposed by Ministerial Association,” Frimark said. “The association unanimously agrees with this recommendation,” he added.

A parade of residents almost unanimously supported the public works center location idea, and continued to criticize the council for considering the church site, where it would be close to a school, which is located very close to the church site. [At least half of the residents who spoke Monday night did not even mention the Public Works center but were discussing other specifics of the zoning ordinance text amendment, including the 500-foot restriction around schools.]

As they did in several previous hearings, residents expressed concerns about crime, health issues, and the potential danger of a shelter to children.

The council also approved, on first reading, two measures designed to set up a framework of regulation and supervision of shelters, wherever they are located and whoever operates them. Aldermen did so only after taking several hours to amend them extensively. [By our count, no more than 20% of either measure was amended, so Esau’s use of the term “amend them extensively” appears just plain wrong.]

One is a text amendment to the city’s zoning code that would permit shelters as special uses in several zoning districts in the city, and describes restrictions governing how and when they would be operated. This was approved by a 6-1 vote, with Ald. David Schmidt (1st) voting no.

Also approved, unanimously, on first reading was a licensing measure.

The measures are expected to be approved at the council’s next meeting on Oct. 29. [“Expected” by whom?]  A key and controversial provision in the ordinance [Why no mention that the “ordinance” was recommended by a 7-2 vote of the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission?] says that a shelter shall not be located within 500 feet of a child daycare, nursery school, or grammar school, but also cannot be open within 60 minutes of the operation of any other activities at the facility where the shelter is located. [Why no mention that this 60-minutes provision was a City Council-proposed amendment to the P&Z’s recommended language?]

Officials said that all of the provisions of the ordinance and the licensing requirements would be included in any contract for a shelter.

“Caesar? We Don’t Need No Stinking Caesar!”


”Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.”

Those words, taken from the Gospel according to Matthew, were reportedly Jesus’ answer to a group of Pharisees who tried to put Him in the trick bag of either blaspheming against God or talking treason against Caesar.  Those words also may have contributed some of the insight our Founding Fathers displayed in drafting the 1st Amendment to the Constitution, which embodies the principle of separation of church and state.

That principle is being sorely tested by the Park Ridge Ministerial Association (“PRMA”) and its followers in their efforts to “religion-ize” – and thereby exempt from, or limit, regulation by city government – a proposed homeless shelter to be run under the auspices of that secular, Palatine-based Illinois corporation known as Pads to Hope, Inc. (“PADS Inc.”). 

Critics of PADS Inc. or of locating the shelter in or near a school have been denounced as “un-Christian,” while their criticisms and concerns have been branded “thinly veiled racial and economic bigotry” in a letter [pdf] to the Park Ridge City Council members by St. Paul of the Cross pastor Fr. Carl Morello, even as he and his PRMA associates wrap themselves and their pro-PADS followers in the mantle of Christian “ministry” and decry any attempts by City government to regulate their special interest.

Now we have also come into possession of a copy of an e-mail [pdf] bearing the name of Park Ridge Community Church Senior Pastor Brett McCleneghan, reportedly circulated by Park Ridge resident Laurie Pegler to over 60 other people, some of whom must have forwarded it to others who then forwarded it to us. That e-mail appears to have been sent by Rev. McCleneghan on Tuesday morning in response to the City Council’s actions at its meeting the previous night. 

In the e-mail he contends that any City regulation of church “ministries” is “clearly unconstitutional”; and he encourages his “Friends” to: “Ignore the city and open the shelter.” 

Those words bring to mind the bandito’s expression of disdain for the law in “Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” as parodied years later in the Mel Brooks movie “Blazing Saddles”: “Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges.”  When they come from a clergyman and pillar of our community about something as divisive as the PADS shelter, however, you’ll have to excuse us for not laughing. 

And while being on a “mission from God” may provide an entertaining excuse for a traffic law-annihilating car chase in “The Blues Brothers,” using God to justify disregard for the law has always been more tolerable in reel life than in real life.   

So we invite Rev. McCleneghan to either disclaim this e-mail as not really his, or to clarify/explain his remarks; and we promise to post his comments in full for the enlightenment of our readers. 

But until we hear or see otherwise, it sure looks like “Caesar” (i.e., Park Ridge city government) doesn’t mean a whole heck of a lot to the good reverend – or to those who are demanding a PADS franchise in Park Ridge, come hell or high water. 

The Unholy Trinity: PADS, The PRMA And Mayor Frimark


Editors’ Note: Technical difficulties prevented the publication of this article yesterday according to our customary schedule. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused our regular readers.

We don’t put a lot of stock in the effectiveness – or the humanity, for that matter – of the PADS traveling road show model of homeless shelter.  Schlepping the homeless from church basement to school gym and from town to town, night after night, as a cure for homelessness defies common sense, as well as accepted best practices for dealing with homelessness.

And we’re no fans of PADS to Hope, Inc. (“PADS Inc.”), the Palatine-based 501(c)(3) corporation whose modest success at transitioning people out of homelessness (in our opinion) provides very little bang for the buck, even factoring in all the free space and free volunteer labor they receive.  

Which is why we, like so many of the people in the Washington School auditorium during Monday night’s City Council meeting, just can’t quite figure out the stranglehold PADS Inc. and its cheerleaders at the Park Ridge Ministerial Association (“PRMA”) seem to have over Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark and his Alderpuppets in getting their particular brand of homeless shelter franchise installed in our community.  But make no mistake about it: There’s a lot more here than meets the eye, and it seems to depend on PADS Inc. importing their homeless “clients” from throughout Chicagoland’s “Northwest Corridor” into Park Ridge with as few restrictions and requirements as they can get away with. 
If you want to find out the details of what went on at Monday night’s Council meeting, you can get them from Park Ridge Underground (“Aces and Eights! Recap!” 10/21/08), the Herald-Advocate and The Journal.  We will simply point out that: Ald. Frank Wsol successfully moved, over the dissents of Ald. Dave Schmidt and Ald. Tom Carey, to nuke the 500-foot school buffer zone recommended by the Planning & Zoning Commission; then, like a basketball referee whistling a “make up” foul to atone for an earlier blown call, Wsol successfully moved – over the dissents of Ald. Allegretti and Ald. Ryan – to require any homeless shelter service providers (such as PADS Inc.) to be co-applicants for any special use permit under the zoning code; Ald. DiPietro got unanimous approval to limit shelters to one per ward; and Ald. Bach successfully moved, over the objections of Allegretti, DiPietro and Ryan, to limit the number of shelters operating in Park Ridge to two at any one time.

All of that took three hours of sometimes tedious public comment and aldermanic discussion, with Frimark occasionally tossing in a comment.  But just as the Council appeared poised to adopt P&Z’s recommended text amendment as modified, Frimark abruptly called a 10-minute recess and left the auditorium.

Upon reconvening the meeting Frimark announced that earlier that day he had discussed with the PRMA and PADS an arrangement where the City would contract with PADS Inc. to be its service provider rather than having PADS Inc. be a co-applicant for any special use permit.  The reason given by Frimark: PADS Inc. doesn’t want to be a co-applicant because no other towns have made them be so.  Frimark also dangled the “carrot” that PADS Inc. and the PRMA would agree not to sue the City over any special use requirements being applied to their “ministry” – for some not-yet-determined period of years.

As an insulted Brit might say: “Sod off!”

If the PRMA or PADS Inc. would actually be willing to stoop so low as to sue the City – and, effectively, all of its taxpayers – over the eminently reasonable requirements of a special use text amendment to our zoning ordinance, let ‘em.  Given all the divisiveness and ill will they have already caused in this community, a lawsuit would confirm something we already suspect: The self-righteous PRMA and its sycophants want what they want, and anybody who doesn’t agree with them is un-Christian and guilty of “thinly veiled racial and economic bigotry,” as St. Paul of the Cross pastor Fr. Carl Morello wrote in a letter to the City Council.

So instead of sodding off, “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark is toddling off to make a deal with PADS Inc.  We can envision him returning to the “special” Council meeting on October 29 in full Neville Chamberlain mode, a draft contract with PADS Inc. and the PRMA in hand, claiming he has achieved “peace in our time” while a chorus of “Hosannas” rises up from an assemblage of PRMA-ers, Friends of Frimark, and his loyal Alderpuppets.  And back in Palatine, Beth Nabors, Pat Harrington and the other carpetbaggers at PADS Inc. can toast their newest franchise and crank up their grant and fundraising machine.

If Frimark, the PRMA and PADS Inc. think they’ve got the support of anything close to a majority of Park Ridge voters, however, they should have the decency to put the issue to advisory referendum.  With Frimark nodding in agreement, Alderpuppet Robert Ryan repeatedly talked Monday night about the trust he has for the PRMA and PADS Inc.  Why, then, won’t Ryan and Frimark trust Park Ridge voters to express their views of a PADS shelter in a referendum?

Maybe its because Frimark, the PRMA and PADS Inc. know that the “Big Lie” (“The majority of this community wants a PADS shelter here.”) works only so long as it isn’t proved false.  And for the time being, the “Big Lie” has allowed that unholy trinity to hijack City government on this PADS shelter issue.  

Now, if only we could figure out “why”?

PADS Sideshow Distracts From Real Issues


Since the beginning of this year, the PADS homeless shelter has been the “black hole” issue that seems to have sucked up more hours of City and citizen time and effort than any other.  We consider that a good thing from the perspective that it got a lot of people to start paying attention to – and start participating in – their local government, although it’s unfortunate that such a benefit has been achieved at the price of distracting the community from more important issues. 

That being said, the PADS end-game is now in sight, starting with tonight’s City Council meeting in the auditorium of Washington School (7:30 p.m.) which is scheduled to include a vote on both the zoning ordinance text amendment and a licensing ordinance for the PADS homeless shelter. 

Per the “Agenda Cover Memorandum” [pdf] by Acting Community Preservation & Development Director Carrie Davis, it appears that certain unidentified “changes” to those regulations are going to be discussed, although we can’t tell from Davis’ memo exactly what those are; and the minutes of the October 6 Committee of the Whole meeting (unlike the minutes of the “Regular” Council meeting of that date) are neither “attached” to her memo nor otherwise appear on the City’s website.

We also can’t tell from either Davis’ memorandum or from the meeting’s Agenda whether the Council will take up Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark’s suggestion that the PADS shelter be located at the City’s Public Works Service Center, as was announced in a press release dated October 16, 2008 [pdf]

If that ends up being the plan, however, then there would appear to be no reason for the Council to modify the zoning ordinance text amendment language from what was recommended by the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission back on September 8th.  And if, as Frimark’s press release states, the City is going to be a co-applicant for the necessary special use permit, we trust that the other required “co-applicant” will be PADS to Hope, Inc. (“PADS Inc.”), for whose benefit this entire sideshow and both of these ordinances have been specially designed.

But now that it looks as if the City is going to be the shelter host – a move which we find far superior to locating the shelter in the St. Paul of the Cross School gymnasium (a/k/a, the “Morello Parish Life Center”) – the taxpayers  deserve the right to weigh in on whether and how their tax dollars will be used to subsidize this PADS Inc. franchise.
This point is important because while Frimark and the City Council have been fiddling with this PADS issue, they haven’t been addressing the City’s $1.7 million deficit from last year or the similar deficit being anticipated for this year – thanks to make-them-up-as-you-go revenue numbers from former City Mgr. Tim Schuenke and the mindless rubber-stamping of those numbers by Frimark’s downsized Council.

And if that kind of budget deficit isn’t bad enough, the Woodstock Institute (a Chicago-based policy group that tracks home foreclosures in the Chicago area) is reporting [pdf] a whopping 61 foreclosures filed against Park Ridge properties during the first half of 2008 (Jan. 1 through June 30), up from 25 for the equivalent period of 2007.  That’s a 144% increase, which is the fifth highest increase among the 100 largest Chicago suburbs.  And all the “For Sale” signs popping up around town like mushrooms suggest that first-half 2008 foreclosure total may end up looking good compared to the second-half numbers.

We’re also hearing that a lot of those condo units in the “flagship” Uptown development project that were supposed to be owner occupied are turning into rentals, while some buyers are not even able to afford to close on their purchases and are walking away.  We also note that the City hasn’t been tooting its own horn about the success (as measured at least in part by the amount of sales tax generated) of what little actual “retail” has opened up in that development.

So where will the money come from that is needed to fix our roads, add relief sewers and/or more pumping stations to combat the flooding, improve our electrical power grid, and provide for those other infrastructure needs that have been neglected? 

We’ll give you one guess…it’s not from PADS Inc., the Park Ridge Ministerial Association, or the 20-30 non-Park Ridge homeless who have consumed the lion’s share of the public’s attention for the past nine months. 

The Socratic Method: One PADS “Answer” Raises More PADS Questions


The Socratic Method of instruction is based on the principle that every answer gives rise to yet another question.  So it seems to be with the proposed PADS homeless shelter issue.

If the City of Park Ridge does choose to offer the Public Works Service Center (“PWSC”) on Busse Hwy. as a “compromise” site for the PADS homeless shelter that was being proposed for St. Paul of the Cross’s gymnasium – an alternative that reportedly will be discussed at the City Council meeting this coming Monday night – the question that still needs to be asked is whether the “PADS model” of homeless shelter is the best this community can do to combat homelessness.

We believe the answer to that question is: “Not based on what we’ve seen from that model or that organization so far.”

First of all, the “PADS model” should be unsatisfactory, if not outright offensive, to any community that truly cares about the homeless and wants to actually try to solve the homelessness problem.  That’s because the “PADS model” is not designed to help the homeless build ties to a particular community they might eventually call “home” but, instead, is based on “hot potato” theory: Shuffling the hot potato from one hand to another so as not to get burned.

But instead of being shuffled from hand to hand, these homeless get shuffled on a daily basis from community to community – from a church basement in Schaumburg to a school gymnasium in Arlington Heights, then to another church basement in Des Plaines, and so on.  Forming ties to any one particular community is thereby effectively discouraged and impeded.

The primary “achievement” of the “PADS model” ends up being nothing more than helping the homeless make it to yet another day of being homeless and on the street – while at the same time helping PADS to Hope, Inc. (“PADS Inc.”) maintain and grow its list of “clients” that it can use to leverage more funding from both the government and the private sector.  In the context of that second dubious “achievement,” doing something that reduces the number of homeless is actually counter-productive for PADS Inc., in much the same way finding a cure for high blood pressure would be counter-productive to the revenue stream of those drug companies that sell blood pressure medication.

A cot in a school gym or a church basement is, in many respects, less of a “home” than a car or a tent.  That’s why seemingly successful homeless organizations like operate on the simple but sound principle that “only housing cures homelessness”: Even an alcoholic, drug abuser or mentally ill person, if housed in an apartment or other stable residence, is no longer “homeless.”

So if solving anybody’s homelessness problem is really a goal of our community, then that goal needs to be taken seriously; and achieving it needs to be treated like a full-time job rather than as some temporary feel-good hobby.

Second, PADS Inc. is at the very least being disingenuous in fostering the impression that its completely secular traveling road show is some kind of religious “ministry.” Just because the people in groups like the Park Ridge Ministerial Association (“PRMA”) say it’s a “ministry” doesn’t make it so.  And those PADS supporters who view bringing a PADS shelter to Park Ridge as some kind of litmus test of one’s Christianity might do well to ask themselves: Would Jesus Christ give you a help-the-homeless high-five for providing nothing more than a bunch of cots in a school gym or similar holding area one night a week from October through April? 

While we’re on the topic of honesty, we also wonder why PADS Inc. pulled even its outdated financials from its website soon after the PRU Crew, PublicWatchdog and their readers started questioning (a) why a full one-third of PADS Inc.’s annual revenues appeared to be coming from federal and state government; (b) why PADS Inc.’s two highest-paid employees (Beth Nabors and Pat Harrington) pulled down more than 21% of PADS Inc’s 2006 total revenue PADS Inc. Form 999 [pdf]; and (c) how PADS Inc. could spend so much money for such seemingly modest results?

Third, we wonder whether the main reason for PADS Inc.’s interest in coming to Park Ridge is because its operators want a piece of our “market” for fundraising purposes.  Obviously, it’s a lot easier for them to come to our City Council or to our local business and social organizations with hat in hand and an outstretched palm when they actually have a presence here.  Heck, the PADS shelter isn’t even open for business yet but St. Paul of the Cross is already advertising the PADS lawn care service in its Sunday bulletin. 

In light of these questions and concerns, if our City Council offers the PWSC to PADS Inc. as a shelter site, the citizens of Park Ridge deserve the City Council’s adoption of the zoning ordinance text amendment in the form recommended by the Planning & Zoning Commission; and the adoption of a requirement in the “special use” permit process that shelter operators like PADS Inc. be co-applicants for any special use permit.

If this community is going to embrace as half-hearted an approach to homelessness as the “PADS model,” the least our City government can do is try to make PADS Inc. – and any other shelter operator who might want to set up shop in our community – as accountable as possible for the results of its operations.

Can We Start Taking Deficits And Deficit Spending Seriously?


One might think that with a newly-discovered $1.7 million 2007-08 budget deficit and another similar deficit lurking in the current 2008-09 budget, City of Park Ridge government would be squeezing its – or should we say “our” – nickels until the buffalo bellows.

So when we hear that the City is going almost $200,000 over budget on road salt due to its scarcity following last winter’s heavy demands, we see that as an expenditure that, however painful, is necessary to road safety.  But we are puzzled and more than a little concerned when we hear that the City Council also just voted to spend almost $440,000 to replace four Public Works Dept. trucks. 

As reported in today’s Park Ridge Journal (“Reserves To Cover Extra Salt Costs,” Oct. 15), one of the trucks being replaced is a 1996 Ford with 221,000 miles on it.  That sounds like a lot of mileage to us, so for the sake of this discussion we will assume that it really may have needed replacement now rather than later, even if we’re not sure.  But the City is also replacing three more trucks that, despite being older (1990 vintage), have only 96,000, 78,000 and 63,000 miles on them, respectively.  If they were being properly maintained, why did they have to be replaced now?

According to The Journal story, only Ald. Dave Schmidt (1st Ward) questioned and objected to the purchase, noting that maintenance costs on these trucks during the past year was “pretty low.”  Public Works Director Wayne Zingsheim responded that the City was just “lucky” in that respect, clearly implying that these trucks were ticking time bombs that – if retained – were likely to have exploded right in the middle of a big snowfall or other similar time of need. 

But “luck” shouldn’t be a significant factor when dealing with matters such as this.  Either those lower mileage trucks have been well-maintained and are in reasonably good shape, or they aren’t.  And if they aren’t, Zingsheim better have a darned good explanation for why not.

Also troubling is the process by which this truck replacement occurred.  The Public Works Committee meeting minutes of September 17, 2008 [pdf] state that the committee deferred action on this item until Staff could provide information about (1) whether the old trucks were a safety hazard; (2) the cost to maintain them for another year; and (3) whether leasing might be a better alternative to buying.  But according to that same committee’s meeting minutes of October 1, 2008 [pdf], truck safety wasn’t even addressed; and the only substantive information on the other two points was that “the trucks are 19 years old, [so] it could be difficult to get replacement parts quickly.”

Frankly, if those minutes truly are representative of the information and analysis provided to the committee by the Public Works Dept., then that information was inadequate at best; and anybody relying on it in making a recommendation or decision on spending $440,000 would appear to have been under-informed…at best.

We’re told that the money for that purchase is sitting in the City’s Motor Vehicle Replacement Fund, which reminds us yet again of the vagaries and perils of “fund accounting” – or, as we like to call it, the government financial shell game.  Worse yet, it creates the impression that this expenditure has no impact on the existing or anticipated budget deficits.  But just because the money’s there doesn’t mean that it needs to be spent…or spent now instead of later.

In tough economic times like these, running a fiscally responsible government requires making tough decisions on almost every expenditure, from trucks to toilet paper.  Unfortunately, we can’t remember the last time City government acted like it understood that concept.

We Need Transparency In Order To Follow The Money


Earlier this month we wrote about a newly-discovered $1.7 million deficit in the 2007-2008 budget that resulted from what now appears to be inflated revenue figures invented by former City Manager Tim Schuenke and approved by our City Council (“Budget Deficit Requires Leadership From City Hall” October 2, 2008).  And there’s concern a similar hole will be showing up in the current budget.

How did that happen?  One explanation is that Schuenke may simply have made up revenue numbers as needed to match up against expenses, and the Council members rubber-stamped them.  Meanwhile, taxpayers were none the wiser until current City Manager Jim Hock blew the whistle on it and warned that “dramatic cost-cutting measures” will be needed.

What form will those cuts take?  We don’t know yet.

But the unexpected nature of that deficit, coming at a time of national economic crisis and even higher property tax bills, points to the need for both more competent management or our tax dollars and more transparency of City finances so that the taxpayers have the ability to see for themselves where their money is going. (And more financial transparency from our other local governmental bodies wouldn’t hurt, either).

Hopefully, Mr. Hock will provided his share of competent management.  And maybe the members of our City Council, now that they’ve been burned once by funny-money budgeting, will start paying closer attention to the budget process and not accept everything they’re told about revenues and expenses on blind faith.

But along with our elected and appointed officials raising their games, we also need a process by which we taxpayers can keep an eye on how and on what our money is being spent – whether it be on employee salaries and benefits, sidewalk replacement, trucks, debt service, or road salt.  And this information should not require a FOIA request, but should be readily and easily accessible on the City’s website.

We should be able to find, from the convenience of our homes or offices, all of the City’s expenditures in line-item fashion on an easily searchable database that discloses such information as the name of each contractor or vendor, the purpose of the expenditure, the date, the amount, and which official (e.g., department head) requested/authorized it. 

And the beauty of transparency is that it enhances that other benchmark of responsible government: Accountability.  Because as taxes continue to increase and property values continue to decline, we need more of that in local government at every level.

Lack Of Leadership Just More Water Under The Bridge – And Into Our Basements


At the City’s Public Works Committee Meeting on October 1, about 90 Park Ridge residents heard a lot of nothing from city government about what should be done to prevent, or at least reduce, the flooding that is far too regular and prevalent an occurrence in our city.

Starring in the dual role of featured tap dancer and juggler was Public Works Director Wayne Zingsheim, who tried but failed to keep his feet tapping and all the balls in the air.  What his failure pointed out, however, is that we’re no further along in addressing our flooding problems than we were a year ago, when flooding and lost electrical power lasted for as long as four days.  And by the way, we’re no closer to solving those electrical problems, either.

Zingsheim did his best to pawn off the most recent flooding as a one-of-its-kind event.  But for those residents who are tired of bailing out their basements from those “hundred year rains” we seem to get every other year or so, even the prospect that this was a “thousand year rain” would not inspire any confidence that we won’t have another one – with the same consequences – again next year. 

Under questioning from Public Works Committee member Frank Wsol (7th Ward) and Committee alternate Ald. Dave Schmidt (1st Ward), Zingsheim advanced variations on his too-much-water-for-anything-to-work tactic.  He repeatedly deflected inquiries about more relief sewers (at approx. $300,000 per two-block segment, according to Zingsheim), more pumps and lift stations, and even the construction of underground reservoirs, by opining that not even a combination of those might be enough to prevent flooding altogether.

But then he had to admit that the notorious Touhy Avenue viaduct did not flood, apparently because of just two vaults recently built in Uptown.  Oops.   

The balls really started hitting the floor, however, when Zingsheim attempted to explain the flooding at Boardwalk Place, on the western end of the city, by blaming “broken concrete” at the bottom of a 42-inch flap gate and more broken concrete that prevented a smaller flap gate from closing completely, thereby letting the Des Plaines River back up into Boardwalk and onto Riverside Drive near Cherry Street.  Zingsheim claimed that these flap gates are inspected “monthly,” and he also invoked “monthly inspection” in branding as “crap” the complaint of a Cherry Street resident who contended that a “broken valve” near Boardwalk contributed to the problem.

We don’t want to be unfair here, but we have to question both the fact and the competence of inspections that failed to detect any significant deterioration of concrete that, less than a month later, allegedly had crumbled to the point of compromising essential flood control devices.  And we also note that Zingsheim didn’t provide an answer to a question still bedeviling many residents: Why did the water in their basements suddenly drain away at around 9:45 a.m. Saturday?

All in all, Zingsheim’s performance was long on excuses and very short on meaningful answers. 

But what city government is really short on is leadership.  Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark seems more interested in bread (e.g., “Taste of Park Ridge”) and circuses (e.g., bringing in a PADS shelter) than in doing the heavy lifting of addressing these crucial infrastructure issues, especially in light of the just-discovered $1.7 million deficit in last year’s budget and the prospect of more of the same this year. 

Meanwhile, Public Works Committee chair Ald. Don Bach (3rd Ward) seems more focused on what can’t be done than on what can.  And Committee member Ald. Robert Ryan (5th Ward) is often just plain MIA.

To deal with these basic problems in fiscally responsible ways we need leadership that ensures accountability and effort from everyone in city government.  And that kind of leadership starts with a mayor who does more than just show up for photo ops and ask: “What happened?”