Public Watchdog.org

How About Some Leadership…And Journalism?

01.30.09

If you spend any time around Mayor Howard “the Coward” Frimark, you are likely to hear him rail against “the evil blogs,” which for him means PublicWatchdog and Park Ridge Underground.  Not surprisingly, several of Frimark’s Alderpuppets on the City Council share his opinion.

That’s fine with us.  We believe that everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion.  Everyone, however, is not entitled to his/her own set of facts.  And as no less an authority than John Adams noted, “facts are stubborn things,” which explains why politicians have such difficulties with them.

But we do, and should, expect more from our news media than we do our politicians. Which is why the editorial in yesterday’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate – “Wanted: leadership from City Council” (January 29) – is troubling. 

Forget for a moment how that editorial schizophrenically jumps from one bald assertion to the next, without making any real point – unless the point is to insult the intelligence of Park Ridge voters by suggesting they are too dumb to understand the referendums on which they cast their votes.  That’s the media’s equivalent of the politician’s “you elect us to make those decisions” rationalization for opposing referendums when they fear the voters don’t agree with what the politicians want to do.

But what we find more problematic than the editorial’s viewpoint is the simply incorrect presentation of some of the facts that form at least one of the premises for that viewpoint.

Let’s start with: “Consider the four conflicting library questions a few years back.”  Okay, but can we start with something as basic as getting the number of questions right – as in only “three” library questions on the November 2002 ballot.  C’mon, H-A…if you don’t have anybody on staff who remembers back to 2002, at least check the Cook County Clerk’s “elections” web page for the basic election info.

As for those three referendum questions being “conflicting,” that’s not factually accurate, either.  The first question was about money (whether to spend $20 million on a new library); the second was a “use” question (whether retail structures should be constructed on the “library block”); and the third was a “location” question (whether, if a new library is built, it should be built someplace other than the “library block”).
 
Conflicting?  Only if apples, oranges and bananas are “conflicting.”

But the editorial’s misinformation doesn’t stop with library referendum questions.  It goes on to criticize “the series of questions over several elections from the Park Ridge Recreation and Park Board” without even attempting to distinguish between those questions which were “binding” – i.e., if approved, they would have mandated the appropriation of funds (and the issuance of bonded debt to provide those funds) – and those which were merely advisory.   

But apparently because those referendums were voted down, the H-A editorialists seem to suggest that the voters must have been bewitched, bothered and bewildered by the questions.  Of course, that’s yet another clever politician’s trick to explain away an unappetizing referendum result.

We wonder whether it ever occurred to the editors over at the H-A that maybe, just maybe, the taxpaying voters are fed up with our politicians and bureaucrats spending and borrowing far too much money – mortgaging our community’s future, as it were – for things we don’t really need, and that many don’t even want?  Might it even be that the best sign the voters truly have been bamboozled is when they actually vote for one of those tax, borrow and spend referendums?

If the H-A editorial board wanted to point out an abuse of the referendum process, however, it should have checked out its own story about Alderpuppet Don “Air Marshall” Bach, who had hoped to have the Council, by resolution, adopt his advisory referendum question about spending up to $150,000 a year on the problems caused by O’Hare expansion (“No room for O’Hare question on crowded Park Ridge ballot,” updated 1/29).  At the very least, the H-A editorialists could have opined on the common sense of putting a $150,000 question to referendum but not a $16.5 million one.

So while the H-A editorial board may be looking for some leadership from the City Council, we’d be content if we could count on factually accurate journalism from the H-A. 

Howard “The Coward”…Again

01.28.09

If any university’s MBA program ever decides to offer a course on “Management by Fear and Aversion,” Park Ridge Mayor Howard “The Coward” Frimark could offer a guest lecture or two on the topic.

After earning the “Coward” moniker for his fear and loathing of Ald. Dave Schmidt’s police station referendum resolution, and his subsequent efforts to frustrate the citizen-initiated referendum that more than 2,800 Park Ridge residents ultimately stuck in his kazoo, Frimark is once again displaying his political cowardice by turning down an invitation to the candidate’s forum sponsored by Citizens United to Retain Residential Balance (“CURRB”).

That CURRB forum has become a regular election-year event for at least the past 8 years.  Frimark himself happily participated in it when he ran for alderman in 2003, and again when he ran for mayor in 2005.

Frimark’s rejection of the CURRB debate comes after his rejection of Schmidt’s offer of 8 debates, with one to be held in each ward for the purpose of addressing primarily each ward’s special issues, and a grand finale city-wide debate to be held a week or two before the election.

So why is Howard “The Coward” kicking CURRB to the curb?  As reported in today’s Park Ridge Journal (“Frimark Declines Forum Participation,” Jan. 28), he has suddenly become disenchanted with CURRB’s format: “I’m only going to debate in structured forums” where “[a]ll the questions will be asked from the moderator.”

Frimark may be a coward, but he (or his political brain, Linda Ski) is no dummy when it comes to politics.  He realizes that our local “structured forums” tend to be much easier for the weak-record or issue-challenged candidate than more free-wheeling debate formats where regular citizens can ask their pointed questions directly, or where opponents can question each other. 

That’s because local “structured forums” tend to have genteel, under-informed moderators asking questions that usually are picked and chosen by the debate sponsor – with complete and total discretion – from among those sent up from the audience on index cards.  And those “structured forums” rarely permit follow-up questions that can highlight and poke holes in a wily politician’s glib and self-serving non-answers.

As further reported in today’s Journal article, Mayor Howard the Coward’s rejection of the CURRB invitation sure has gotten the nose of CURRB’s Judy Barclay out of joint.  She noted that no candidate had ever before turned down a CURRB invitation, and she issued the following challenge in response to Frimark’s slap: “Stand up and be counted like a man.  Answer the questions the residents have.”

Ms. Barclay, we couldn’t have said it any better ourselves.

The Risks And Rewards Of “Choice” In Local Elections (Updated 1/27/09)

01.26.09

We here at PublicWatchdog are firm believers in contested elections – where competing candidates can present, advocate and defend their qualifications and their ideas on those issues of importance to the voters.

That’s one reason why we oppose the General Caucus of School Districts 64 and 207, which acts like a de facto political party and so dominates school board elections, especially for District 64, that Caucus endorsement is tantamount to election.  Since 1997, when 7 candidates vied for 4 Dist. 64 Board seats, the voters have been able to choose among a mere 20 candidates (only 2 of which were not Caucus endorsees) for 18 District 64 Board slots.  During that same time period, the Park Ridge Park District Board had 30 candidates contesting 21 Board seats, even though the last two elections (2005 and 2007) provided no voter choice.

So while it looks like, barring some last-minute challenger, the Caucus once again has pre-empted the voters in choosing District 64 Board members, we are encouraged by reports that the Park Board will give the voters contested races.  

Although incumbent Board member Dick Barton has already announced his retirement, and incumbents Sal Raspanti, Nick Millisis and Steve Hunst have yet to disclose their plans, three candidates have already filed their petitions for four Board seats; and we have heard that other candidates are collecting signatures to get on the ballot by today’s filing deadline. 

We sure hope so, both in the interest of voter choice and because, in this instance, the three candidates already on file – retiree Richard J. Brandt, attorney Nicholas Giordano and restaurateur Walter Mizialko – are reportedly members of a slate endorsed by a special interest that could be viewed as being at odds with the common interest of Park District taxpayers: Local 73 of the Service Employees International Union (“SEIU”), the collective bargaining agent for approximately 36 Park District employees.

We wish to make clear that we have a healthy respect and appreciation for unions.  Most of the decent working conditions we take for granted today – including workplace safety, health, welfare and pension benefits – were brought about by unions.  In the private sector, where unions began, they have always provided some measure of bargaining equality between management and labor that has fostered what still is the highest overall standard of living in the world.

In the public sector, however, unionization of the workforce has tended to create an imbalance in favor of the employee, in no small measure because bureaucrats and politicians lack the same degree of interest, incentive and competence for guarding the public purse that their private sector counterparts display in looking out for their own pocketbooks and/or for providing a reasonable return on investment for their shareholders.

Maybe that’s why, while most taxpayers working in the private sector worry about whether the plummeting value of their 401(k)s will permit them to retire at 65 or 70, unionized teachers and other government workers look forward to earlier retirement with defined pension benefits effectively guarantied by those very same taxpayers who can’t themselves afford retirement.  And many of those same taxpayers face the constant prospect of their employers down-sizing or closing completely, or their jobs being outsourced to Mexico, India or China – a concern that is foreign to most public sector employees.

So we feel justified in tempering our healthy respect for unions with an equally healthy skepticism upon hearing that the members of this reported SEIU-backed Park Board slate showed up to file their candidate petitions last week accompanied by an SEIU representative, especially at a time when the Park District has been bargaining with the SEIU for more than two years over wages and benefits. 

And we note that one of the key sticking points in those negotiations has been the union’s demand that the Park District abolish merit pay in favor of cost of living increases.  The union’s complaint about merit pay?  As reported in last week’s Herald-Advocate (“Parks workers want new pay raise system,” Jan. 22) and as can be heard on the videotape recording of the Park Board’s January 15, 2009 meeting (from minute 2:07 to 5:46), the concept of “merit” gives management too much discretion in determining pay raises.

Welcome to the real world. 

But if Candidates Brandt, Giordano and Mizialko get elected to the Park Board and turn out to be SEIU sympathizers, that real world at the Park District soon might become a brave new world where compensation based on “merit” – albeit with some perceived inequities – is replaced with compensation by entitlement. 

Update (1/27/09)
It looks like we’re going to have a real horse race for the Park District Board.  In addition to the three candidates who appear to be part of an SEIU-backed slate, we understand that six more candidates filed nominating petitions for the four open seats on the Park Board: current Board member and Homeland Security attorney Nick Milissis, attorney Peter Wachowski (who, like Brandt, Giordano and Mizialko, reportedly filed his petitions accompanied by SEIU vice-president Tim McDonald), attorney Richard Biagi, real estate leasing agent Scott Duerkop, Pawel Matula, Meredith Wisniewski and Steve Vile.

Too bad we can’t report the same for Dist. 64 – but if somebody has heard of any challengers to the latest crop of the Caucus’ usual suspects, feel free to submit a comment.

Allegretti’s Version Of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

01.21.09

We’ve got plenty of bones to pick with apprentice Alderpuppet Frank Wsol (7th Ward), not the least of which is his flagrant, eleventh-hour attempt to undercut the citizens’ cop shop referendum with his own compound version that obscures rather than clarifies the issue.

But Monday night he was right on target when, in response to a motion to go into closed session to discuss the acquisition of land that may have been for a new police station, he stated: “This is a classic example of why the public doesn’t trust elected officials.” 

That is definitely one of many examples, Mr. Wsol, even if your pique seems to have been directed more toward defending your just-passed referendum resolution, which provided that the new cop shop would be built on land already owned by the City, than toward the interest of open government.  But we’ll still give you credit, along with regular Alderpuppets Rich DiPietro (2nd Ward) and Don Bach (3rd Ward), and open meeting advocate Ald. Dave Schmidt (1st Ward), in shutting down that closed session over the “yes” votes of Alderpuppets Jim Allegretti (4th Ward), Robert Ryan (5th Ward) and Tom Carey (6th Ward).

But leave it to Allegretti, Mayor Howard “The Coward” Frimark’s most dependable lapdog, to not only shamelessly vote for yet another closed session to discuss the City’s purchase of private land, but to blast the whole concept of advisory referendums that let our elected officials know in the most direct way and measurable way what the citizens think of a particular issue like the new cop shop.

Instead of considering the results of an advisory referendum as helpful advice from the voters to be used in making big-ticket decisions like the cop shop, Allegretti spoke of such advice as an excuse for elected officials to shirk their responsibility as the People’s representatives and simply do what the people tell them to do:

“It’s not binding anyway and we don’t have to follow it.  But it gives us a reason to not do what we’re supposed to do.”

If Allegretti is right (and, given his track record, we always hesitate when confronting that possibility), that’s not an indictment of the referendum process but of his fellow alderpuppets.  Because if our elected officials are worthy of the trust we have placed in them (another questionable proposition, to be sure), then they should be courageous enough to invite and welcome the voter advice that comes from referendums; and then, if they don’t agree with that advice, they should vote their consciences – and be willing to take whatever political fallout comes their way from doing so.

But Allegretti’s comments show that he subscribes to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” doctrine of shameless politics: don’t ask the voters what they think because they just might tell you shomething you don’t want to know – like that they don’t want to spend $16.5 million (which balloons up to $28 million when the bonded debt is figured in) on a new cop shop when our basements continue to flood, our streets are crumbling, and the City budget is already sporting million dollar-plus holes.

The “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach is a cowardly doctrine.  But what else should we expect from Howard the Coward’s lapdog?

Wsol’s Cop Shop Referendum Questions: Too Much, Too Late (Updated)

01.19.09

At tonight’s City Council meeting, Mayor Howard “The Coward” Frimark’s apprentice Alderpuppet, Frank Wsol (7th Ward), is scheduled to present two advisory referendum questions, one of which ostensibly involves the proposed new police station that Wsol desperately wants – and on which he himself placed the $16.5 million price tag (which becomes $28 million when the bond interest is added in) that was the basis for Ald. Dave Schmidt’s proposed Council referendum resolution and now Joe Egan’s citizens’ referendum petition, both of which Wsol opposes.  

Wsol’s referendum proposals reek of rank political gamesmanship.  He has been talking up the big new cop shop project since his re-election campaign two years ago without once expressing any interest in giving the voters a chance to vote on it via referendum.  And when Schmidt, on two occasions, proposed a referendum resolution by the Council, Wsol wouldn’t even offer a second so that the referendum’s merits could be discussed. 

But more offensive than Wsol’s obvious gamesmanship is the intellectual dishonesty of his referendum questions themselves, which – like both Schmidt’s and Egan’s questions – are advisory only, meaning that even if they are approved by the voters in April the City Council can nevertheless ignore them if it so chooses.  And from the way Wsol’s questions read, a bet on the Council’s ignoring them looks to be a sure thing.

One of Wsol’s questions – “Shall the City of Park Ridge adopt a policy that all non-emergency debt and all non-emergency budget increases above the CPI-U (CPI-U decreases will not apply) shall require voter approval by referendum vote?” – is so ridiculous and impractical that, if enacted and applied literally to the City’s operations, it could require a virtually incessant stream of referendum questions that might even require the City to hold special elections for even some minor spending or borrowing decisions that, while not technically “emergency” ones, might not be able to wait for the next regularly-scheduled election.

But while Wsol’s CPI-U question is just ridiculous, his other question may be the single most poorly-worded and intellectually dishonest referendum question we have ever seen – appearing to have been written first to confuse, then to confound, and finally to frustrate any voter who actually tries to make sense of it.  It actually causes us to wonder whether Wsol is proposing it in the hope that it gets a ballot position ahead of Egan’s question, so that many voters throw in the towel in disgust before even getting to Egan’s.

In the interest of political science and provoking thought among the electorate, however, we will try to deconstruct and analyze that referendum question, with our comments in bracketed bold for your convenience:

“In adopting a capital project to improve the administrative/public and police facilities at 505 Butler Place [Wait a minute! By adding “administrative/public” into the equation, it looks like Wsol is setting the table to go beyond the “police facilities” to include other parts of City Hall. Why is it, then, that the new cop shop project – which Wsol originally supported at more than four-times the size of the current 9,000 square foot facility and without any cost cap, before scaling back the cost to $16.5 million – is now morphing into an overall City Hall project?], shall the City of Park Ridge require as conditions of issuing any bonds for such improvements that: the annual bond payment will not cause an increase in City taxes/fees or service reductions as of 2008 levels (adjusted for inflation) [Who at City Hall can we trust to tell us the truth on that point? Didn’t Wsol vote for last year’s budget and (we believe) all of the costs and expenses that pushed it $1.7 million into the red, and didn’t he do the same for the current year’s budget that was already $1.2 million in the red a the half-way point?]; the total spent, absent interest [which, according to figures obtained by the City, will push the total cost of a $16.5 million project to $28 million] and operational costs [which can be expected to more than double, based on the additional size, while Wsol et al. are already presiding over consecutive years of budget deficits] will not exceed $16.5 million; the facility improvement will not require new land purchases [Did you clear this with Mayor Howard, Bill Napleton and all the other Friends of Frimark who are trying to sell their land to the City, Mr. Wsol? And if you’re thinking about using the Courtland property that the City bought a few years ago for around $650,000, you need to include that cost as well.] and the facility improvements will, where economically appropriate, include “green engineering” for the purpose of lowering on-going operational costs?” [Given the current mayor’s and Council’s fiscal buffoonery, “where economically appropriate” can be expected to mean “don’t count on it.”]

Now, compare that with the Egan version that Wsol and the other alderpuppets have criticized: “Shall the City of Park Ridge replace its current police facility with a new, larger structure at a cost of at least $16.5 million plus additional, but currently unknown, costs for the land on which it will be situated and bond interest?”  

We think that language is exponentially clearer than Wsol’s.  But, predictably, Alderpuppet and Frimark lapdog Jim “Chicken Little” Allegretti (4th Ward) was unhappy about it: “It’s biased, it’s prejudiced, it’s one-sided, and it doesn’t really tell us anything.” Funny, but that’s one of the ways we could describe Allegretti and his Council service over the past three-plus years.

As reported in last week’s Herald-Advocate (“Wsol suggests different ballot questions about police station,” Jan. 14), Wsol – in full dissembling politician mode – said he is proposing these questions “in an effort to resolve the issue of Park Ridge City Council spending and its right to incur long-term debt.”  

Gee, Mr. Wsol, instead of proposing one referendum question that looks to dump a steady stream of the City’s big and small financial decisions on the voters when you don’t want to give them the vote on this one big cop shop expenditure, and another question that is borderline-unintelligible, why don’t you start by doing one of the jobs you were elected to do…like balancing the City budget?  And if you really want to start getting a handle on the City’s debt problems, why not reinstate the City’s voluntary debt cap that was eliminated back in 2003-04?

Or aren’t those suggestions complicated and confusing enough for you?

Update 1/19/09
They did it!  This morning Joe Egan filed petitions containing over 2,800 signatures, or approximately 600 above the minimum required.  Mr. Egan reported a “huge number” of signatures turned in yesterday, which suggests a repudiation by the citizens of Park Ridge of both the Oberweis hi-jinks of Mayor Howard (“The Coward/The Bully”) Frimark and the political maneuvering of Frank Wsol and the rest of Frimark’s alderpuppets.

Way to go, Mr. Egan and all you petition circulators!  And way to go, Park Ridge voters!  On to April 7th!

Will Caucus Once Again Appoint D-64 Board?

01.16.09

With two announced candidates for mayor and the likelihood of contested elections for the Park District Board, it’s once again looking as if the General Caucus of School Districts 64 and 207 will be effectively appointing the new District 64 School Board members.

The Caucus – a haphazard collection of individuals supposedly representing whichever local organizations wish to participate – has been responsible for every District 64 board member but one (current board member Ted Smart) for the better part of two decades – so dominating the electoral process that its candidates rarely even have any competition. 

This time around, however, only four people sought Caucus endorsement for the four available seats, and none of them are the current occupants of those Board seats: Sue Runyon, Chris Mollett, Ron James and Marty Joyce.  So it looks like that quartet will be moving on, leaving behind a legacy of higher taxes, unspectacular academic performance, and a retiring superintendant who – thanks to generous raises that appear to have upped her compensation by more than 25% over the past four years – will be retiring in 2010 after seven years at the helm with an annual pension that will be substantially more than the average household incomes of the taxpayers footing the bill.  

And if that kind of fiscal insanity is your flavor of Kool-Aid, then you will probably love their four Caucus-endorsed replacements: electrical engineer Russ Gentile, who admits to only a “layman’s understanding” of District finances; union attorney Pat Fioretto, who rates his understanding of school finances as only “good to fair,” based on working with the group that supported the 2007 tax increase referendum; banker Sharon Lawson, who thinks she has only an adequate to good understanding of some school finance issues; and Kraft Foods finance professional Eric Uhlig, who acknowledges that even he will have to “get up to speed quickly” on District 64 finances.

Irrespective of the concerns we have about these four simply continuing the District’s questionable fiscal policies and practices, we really do hope that some challengers to Caucus hegemony over the District 64 Board emerge in the waning days for candidates to file their petitions.  And the same goes for District 207, too.  

That’s because we believe that uncontested races that don’t give the voters a real choice are the sign of a sick society, one which tends to get even sicker as apathy and cynicism set in.

Another reason for our desire for contested elections is that the Caucus-dominated District 64 Board, in our opinion, has consistently overpromised and underperformed since at least the 1997 “Yes/Yes” referendum that led to the construction of the new Emerson Middle School.  For most of those 11 intervening years the District was in almost constant financial trouble, even as its budget and tax bite increased. 

Facing possible sanctions from the Illinois State Board of Education for its precarious finances, the Board bought itself a little breathing room in 2005 by sneaking $5 million in working cash bonds past the voters through the use of a “back door referendum” on which we didn’t even get the chance to vote.  And it followed that sleight of hand with its well-orchestrated 2007 tax increase referendum, the effects of which are now being felt, big-time, by the taxpayers even as the values of their houses crater.

Meanwhile, and most disturbingly from our perspective, the academic performance of the District’s schools is lackluster at best for a community of our affluence.  As we pointed out in our post “Time For Taxpayers To Start Paying Attention To School Dist. 64” (10.31.08), not one District 64 school currently ranks among the top 50 in academic achievement as measured by the annual ISAT tests; and, as best as we can tell, not one has done so since ISAT (and before that, IGAP) performance rankings first appeared several years ago.

The District 64 Administration and its Board members, however, don’t want the taxpayers and parents thinking about test score rankings – only about any increases, however slight, over the previous year’s scores, either for the District overall or for any individual school(s).  And when they’re not patting themselves on the back for any increases, they are explaining away any decreases, if only with that old standby: “We don’t teach to the test.”

Well, maybe it’s time to start.  And maybe its also time that the voters, not the Caucus, got to choose the District 64 Board members.

P.S.  On an unrelated item, the police station referendum drive is in its stretch run with over 2,000 signatures but still needing a couple-to-few hundred more to ensure that the advisory referendum question gets on the April ballot.  If you can get some signatures, or if you just want to sign a petition, contact Joe Egan at jjegan1@aol.com.  Or you can go to New Prospects at 110 S. Prospect until 6:00 p.m. today, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. tomorrow, and from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Sunday, where petitions will be available for signing.

But don’t tell Mayor Howard “The Bully” Frimark…who knows what he might try to pull?

St. Howard The Protector

01.15.09

Mayor Howard Frimark professes to be a stalwart Republican, which would make him an unlikely poster boy for further expansion of what has become known as the “Nanny State” – government intrusion into all aspects of our lives with the justification that it’s for our own good.

So when Frimark insists that his call to Oberweis Dairy’s corporate offices to complain about Joe Egan and his merry band of referendum petition circulators’ collecting signatures at Oberweis’ Park Ridge store this past weekend was simply to protect Oberweis from hurting itself, we have to wonder whether Frimark has become a Democrat…or even a Socialist.

But maybe what he’s become is a saint, a protector of politically naïve businessmen and small woodland animals alike.  Sort of a 21st Century St. Francis of Assisi, only smarmy.

Frankly, it’s beyond our comprehension why a thriving corporation such as Oberweis that’s been in the dairy business for 90 years would need retail advice from an insurance salesman moonlighting as the mayor of Park Ridge.  Can’t we assume that until Frimark dialed them up complaining, Oberweis management – in the exercise of its best business judgment – was willing to accept whatever risk one might imagine from allowing a group of local political activists intent on circulating referendum petitions to rub elbows with some of their neighbors equally intent on hot fudge and whipped cream?

Since Frimark claims credit for virtually anything for which credit can be claimed, we’ll concede a remote possibility that because St. Howard the Protector was on the job last Friday morning, a potential catastrophe may have been averted.  And as St. Howard himself explained the purity of his motive to the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate: “I don’t want to see any business in Park Ridge hurt by political activity in their business.” (“Mayor intercedes to block petition circulators,” January 14) 

But if we take him at his word [insert your comment here], we have to wonder if St. Howard considers local businesswoman Amy DiGrazia, the owner of clothier New Prospects, chopped liver.  That’s because, like Oberweis, she too agreed to let Egan and the Circulators set up their petition operation in her store on Saturday.  If the potential carnage from a dairy versus democracy encounter is frightening, the mind positively reels at the horror of letting referendum petitions mix it up with palazzo pants and power panties. 

But unlike the dairy giant, DiGrazia got no warning from St. Howard of the disaster that might befall her business if she played host to an exercise of First Amendment rights.  All she got was a phone call from an unidentified woman (Frimark political brain Linda Ski, effecting a Linda Fiorintino throatiness?) urging her not to let petition signatures be collected in her store – a request DiGrazia ignored. 

Thankfully, while the First Amendment rights of our citizens took a shot to the chops Friday and Saturday, courtesy of our mayor, there were no other casualties; and New Prospects remains open for business.

So let’s light a candle to St. Howard the Protector…and see how long it takes him to claim credit for its heat.

Will Third Candidate Be Stalking Horse?

01.14.09

As this is written, Park Ridge is looking at only its second contested mayoral election in more than two decades, with incumbent Mayor Howard “the Coward” Frimark and Ald. Dave Schmidt (1st Ward) already announced and campaigning.  But last week’s Park Ridge Journal reported some additional intrigue, as an unidentified woman showed up at City Hall to pick up not one but two nominating packets.

From our years of watching Park Ridge government and politics, we know that many things are not as they appear on the surface.  That’s why somebody anonymously picking up two candidate’s packets a scant couple of weeks before the filing deadline raises a number of questions, especially where there already are two mayoral candidates who have staked out positions which provide the voters with some pretty clear choices.

So we’re going to take a page out of the kinky political playbook of our neighboring community, Daley-ville, and rhetorically pose the most fundamental (albeit compound) political question to that mystery woman: “Who are you, and who sent you?”

That’s an important question because a third candidate entering into an already-contested mayoral race will inevitably take votes away from one candidate or the other – which is why the kinky political tactic is for an existing candidate, usually the incumbent, to welcome into the race a third candidate (known as a “stalking horse”) whose positions will align more closely with the opponent’s and thereby divide voters hostile to the incumbent into two minorities which will be easier for the incumbent to defeat, often with less than 50% of the vote.

The fact that the mystery woman took out two nominating packets, however, is unusual because it is unlikely that two candidates competing for the same office would send in one person to get their packets.  Instead, it suggests that each of the two packets was for a different race; i.e., one was for mayor and the other for city clerk. And that suggests the possibility of a return of the Homeowners Party, or perhaps a clone of it operating under a different name.

The Homeowners (or “HO,” for short) Party was founded in the 1970s and led for almost two decades by the late Park Ridge mayor and state senator Marty Butler.  Under his leadership, the Party actually stood for something [pdf]: preserving the residential character of our community, maintaining a level of excellence in our infrastructure and services, protecting our homes and businesses, the tight control of spending for maximum effectiveness at a reasonable cost, and accepting responsibility for the results of their stewardship.

But by the time of Butler’s death in 1998, the Homeowners Party had become unfocused, complacent and irrelevant – ignoring Butler’s founding principles and becoming more of a social club where who you knew was more important than what you knew and believed.  And with titular party leader, then-Mayor Ron Wietech, obsessing over all things O’Hare and ignoring most else, by the April 2003 election the voters had had enough.

They rejected five of the six Homeowners candidates involved in contested races: Anita Rifkind garnered only 32% of the vote in the 1st Ward; Brian Kidd, 14% in the 4th; incumbent Steve Huening, 28% in the 5th, Vince Fontana, 47% in the 6th; and Steve Henley, 17% in the 7th.  The only HO to win a contested race that year was incumbent Rich DiPietro (2nd Ward), whose margin of victory was a slim 21 votes out of a meager 575 cast.   

After that, the remnants of the Homeowners Party basically went underground and have not run a slate of candidates since.  But the Illinois State Board of Elections reports that the HO organization – known officially as the “Homeowners Campaign Committee” and overseen by Chairman (and former Park Ridge alderman and Dist. 207 board member) J. Roger Crawford and Treasurer John Heerman – still had almost $16,000 in its account as of its latest public filing [pdf].

In recent weeks rumors have been floating around that some of the HOs have been meeting and re-organizing, with the goal of fielding a mayoral candidate.  Illinois election law (as we understand it), however, requires that any party wishing to run a candidate in a local election must also field candidates for all other offices for the applicable governmental body appearing on that ballot.  So for the HOs to field a mayoral candidate, they would also have to field a candidate for City Clerk.  That could explain the two nominating packets. 

As a further sign of the oblique nature of local political alliances, back in 2003 the HOs picked Kidd over Frimark for 4th ward alderman despite Frimark’s having been a long-time HO who had even donated $450 worth of “Packers Game Tickets” back in 2001.  And in looking at the HOs’ financial reports for the last two campaigns in which they ran a slate of candidates – 2001 [pdf] and 2003 [pdf] – you’ll see names of HO contributors (e.g., Crawford, DiPietro, Huening, James Davlin, Dawn Disher, Owen Hayes and John Kerin) which also turned up in Frimark’s 2005 mayoral campaign finance reports [pdf].  That would indicate Frimark and the HOs have buried whatever hatchet may have been laying around since 2003.

So if another mayoral candidate does enter the race in the waning hours before the filing deadline, it might be worth asking him/her a variation of the question we addressed to the mystery woman who picked up those two candidate’s packets last week: “Who are you, and why are you running?”

Because we think the chances are pretty good that such a candidate very well may be a HO, either in full HO regalia or camouflaged to avoid any residual HO antipathy that may still be in the air.  And because we’re pretty sure that such a candidate, whether HO or faux, is far more likely to be a stalking horse for taking votes away from challenger Schmidt than to be the second coming of Marty Butler. 

Howard The Bully (Updated 1/12/09; 1/14/09)

01.09.09

We have referred to Mayor Howard Frimark as “Howard the Coward” for his (and his alderpuppets’) deathly fear of the advisory referendum which Ald. Dave Schmidt (1st Ward) proposed for the big, new, multi-million dollar cop shop for which Frimark has been secretly scurrying around looking to buy land, while at the same time he and his Air Marshall, Alderpuppet Don Bach, have been asleep at the wheel while O’Hare built a new runway that has planes flying through the middle of our city.

Schmidt couldn’t even get a second on his motion to put the referendum on the ballot by City Council resolution, so a group of Park Ridge citizens led by Joe Egan began a petition drive to put the issue on the April ballot anyway.  And from what we hear, they had collected well over 1,000 signatures toward the 2,300-plus that they need.

But because the deadline for filing those petitions is rapidly approaching, Mr. Egan and his merry band of petitioners made arrangements to collect signatures at Oberweis this past weekend.  To describe what happened next, however, we originally relied on two e-mails that Mr. Egan circulated Friday afternoon (which, by the way, we received from several different reliable sources other than Mr. Egan), but which we removed at Mr. Egan’s subsequent request. 

We encourage you to contact Mr. Egan directly (jjegan1@aol.com) if you have any questions that haven’t been fully answered by the account of the incident published today in the on-line Herald-Advocate (“Swoboda investigates charges that officers blocked petition signing,” January 12) – which reports how the cop shop referendum petition drive scheduled for Oberweis Dairy last Friday and Saturday was cancelled in response to complaints to Oberweis corporate headquarters by Mayor Howard “We don’t need no stinking referendum” Frimark.

And if Frimark’s brazen and ham-fisted interference with a lawful citizen initiative isn’t despicable enough, the H-A also reports that some of Park Ridge’s “finest” also may have shown up in uniform at Oberweis to let the local store manager know that hosting a cop shop petition drive wasn’t the smartest idea. That’s the conduct that acting Police Chief Tom Swoboda is investigating.

In a universe of unlimited possibilities, we’re sure that some mathematician could provide calculations showing how there must be at least one plausible explanation that passes the smirk test for how (1) Oberweis corporate could give Mr. Egan permission to collect referendum signatures (2) under some kind of mistaken belief that Egan and friends were city workers taking a “straw poll” on building a new cop shop, (3) which mistaken belief came to Frimark as if in a dream (4) just in time for him to call Oberweis corporate and (5) convince said dairyfolk, based merely on his complaints, that (6) it had landed in a political briar patch (7) also just in time for Oberweis to withdraw its permission (8) before Egan et al. could collect any valuable petition signatures, (9) either before or after uniformed Park Ridge police officers paid a visit to the local Oberweis manager and (10) suggested that referendum petitions and ice cream don’t mix.

There could be a perfectly innocent explanation for all that. Yeah. Sure. Of course.

The H-A reports that Frimark did not return its phone calls on Monday.  Given Frimark’s penchant for publicity, his not returning press inquiries should have the H-A’s Jennifer Johnson either phoning Lutheran General to see if the mayor has been admitted, or dialing up his estimable political operative Linda Ski to see if Frimark has memorized his talking points yet.

None of this, however, changes our opinion that the current mayor is a coward for trying to prevent the voters of Park Ridge from showing their support or opposition for the proposed new cop shop at the polls on April 7.  Or our opinion that mayoral powers can turn even a coward like Howard into a bully.

Update 1/14/09
Today’s Park Ridge Journal reports (“Bullying Charges Fly,” January 14) that in Mayor Frimark explained his call(s) to Oberweis Dairy owner Jim Oberweis as having been motivated by concerns about the effect of referendum petition gathering on the dairy’s business: “I was shocked that businesses would become politically active, possibly hurting their business.”

So if we are to believe Frimark [Insert your own comment here], we wonder if the folks over at Morningfields [pdf] understood the risk they were taking by hosting Frimark’s own campaign kick-off party back in December? 

One further bit of inanity reported in the Journal article relates to a Library staff member forcing a referendum petition circulator off Library property last Sunday.  When questioned as to the authority of Library staff to take such action, City Attorney Everette “Buzz” Hill admitted that there was no such restriction in the City Code, but that there was an “internal” Library policy prohibiting any “solicitation” within 50 feet of the Library entrance, a policy he defended by asserting that “[t]he library grounds are not what are known as a traditional public forum,” permitting Library Staff to regulate the time, place and manner of the exercise of free speech on those grounds.

What this sounds like to us is a twisted version of a scene from the movie “Animal House,” with Librarian Janet Van De Carr (in the Dean Wormer role) putting the Deltas (the referendum petition circulators) on “double secret probation” (the internal Library no-solicitation policy).  So to take this absurdity to its “logical” conclusion, maybe the petition circulators should turn out en masse at tomorrow night’s Library Board meeting, have petition drive leader Joe Egan upbraid Board President Shlomo Crandus (as Greg Marmalard), Van De Carr/”Wormer,” and the rest of the Board for their First Amendment-mocking “internal” rule, and then have Egan (in his best Eric “Otter” Stratton manner) assure them that “we’re not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America” – while his fellow petition circulators hum “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Meanwhile, we invite Buzz Hill to explain the legal authority for his opinion that the 50 feet surrounding a public library entrance cannot be considered “a traditional public forum” for our citizens’ exercise of their First Amendment rights.

Way Above Their Pay Grades?

01.07.09

When we first read the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate’s article on the City’s latest attempts to impose its will (or whim) on the development of the “Higgins Corridor” (“Park Ridge studies new uses for Higgins corridor,” December 25), we wondered: “Who in their right mind would trust Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark, his Alderpuppets, and our City bureaucrats to come up with a “plan” for successfully developing anything?”

That’s because Frimark has already demonstrated his support for trying to sell out Park Ridge taxpayers through give-aways to campaign contributors: e.g., an eight-unit zoning variance to Norwood Builders/Bruce Adreani for Executive Office Plaza; $2.4 million in environmental clean-up and sales-tax sharing to Bill Napleton/Napleton Cadillac; and his wanting to offer hundreds of thousands of dollars above the City’s own appraisal to the owner of 720 Garden.

And from what we’ve seen, the vast majority of local government officials and bureaucrats seem totally incapable of making basic economic judgments that even the most novice private developer can make routinely…without benefit of a pocket calculator.

So when you read that that City is going to formulate a “Higgins Corridor Plan” that will “describe Park Ridge’s vision of the future development of the Higgins Road corridor and provide strategies for its implementation,” even you non-Catholics should get yourselves a rosary and start praying that the City’s economic give-aways won’t be catastrophic or fatal.

Try critically reading the Plan developed by hired gun consultants Camiros, Ltd. and Valerie Kretchmer Associates, Inc. [pdf]: You will chuckle, you may laugh, and – if you take it seriously – you will probably cry.  And when Community Development Director Carrie Davis starts throwing around buzzwords and phrases like “TIF”s, “Special Service Areas” and “outside grants” so that the Higgins Corridor Plan “doesn’t have to be a city-funded project,” that’s a pretty good clue that a city-funded project is exactly what it will turn out to be by the time the smoke clears and the mirrors are stowed away.

Just the Camiros/Kretchmer Plan’s “vision statement” – built on such Developer 101 marketing clichés as the Higgins Road Corridor becoming a “vibrant southern gateway to the City of Park Ridge” – let’s you know that you’re in for the proverbial snow job. 

Remember how “vibrant” was the adjective of choice for the gushing consultants and developers (and their local governmental cheerleaders like then-acting mayor Mike Marous, then-alderman/current Mayor Frimark, then-alderman “Retail Rex” Parker, et al.) of Uptown’s “Target Area 2.”  We still haven’t seen anything close to what we would consider “vibrant” emanating from Chico’s, Jos. A. Banks, the noodle joint, or the rest of those “retailers” that we were told would flock to Uptown and turn it into a rockin’ place that would deliver bushels of sales tax dollars to the City treasury. 

In fact, the closest we’ve seen to “vibrant” in TA2 is at flagship retailer Trader Joe’s, although that often consists of nothing more than a double handful of middle-aged Park Ridge matrons dropping a couple of bottles of Two Buck Chuck, several kinds of organic goat cheeses and a bag or two of “Wasabi Wow” trail mix into their carts.  Maybe “vibrant” is another one of those things that isn’t what it used to be.

And when was the last time the City advertised exactly how much sales tax all of those TA2 businesses are actually generating?

But back to the City’s “Higgins Corridor Plan” as devised by Camiros/Kretchmer, where we found the following passage: “Within the corridor as a whole, commercial establishments can be appropriate uses as sites redevelop.  Restaurants in particular are able to serve the day-time population, guests at the hotels across the street and the nearby residents, with quick casual restaurants the most appropriate type of eatery.” 

Wow! (or maybe “Wasabi Wow”!)  How much is that kind of insight costing us…and do we get a rebate for each time they use it again with some other towns collection of bureaucrats?

Ald./Mayoral Candidate Dave Schmidt (1st Ward) suggested one or more hotels in the corridor west of Cumberland, and the City’s economic director Kim Uhlig said developers have expressed interest in building a hotel, but it would have to be taller than the three-four stories permitted under the City’s zoning code.  So in typical don’t-think-outside-the-box bureaucrat fashion, it looks like City Staff decided this was way above their pay grades and folded their tents; and our elected officials, lemming-like, promptly followed suit.

Here’s an idea, folks, and you don’t even need to pay us for it: Like it or not, the developers who are putting up the money will end up calling the tune on what’s built down there.  So if there are developers already interested in putting up a hotel, why not invite their proposals and see whether it’s worth considering?  Like most local governments street-walking for cash because they can’t ever seem to live within their taxpayers’ means, the City of Park Ridge already should know what it is – so why not try to get the best price for its “favors”?

Or putting it a different way: Let’s not let City government blow off the big bucks and other benefits that can come from a “vibrant” moderate-sized hotel (like the Hyatt at Devon and River Road) and then try to nickel-and-dime us to death with sweetheart variances to “friendly” developers, like the eight extra condo units at Executive Office Plaza.

Because if we want to go big, we can’t keep thinking small.