Park District’s War Of Attrition Still Provides Choices


It’s no secret that we here at PublicWatchdog love contested elections because they provide an opportunity for candidates for public office to show why they deserve your vote…or don’t.  So we were looking forward to the upcoming Park Ridge Park District board of commissioners election, which initially looked to be a real horse race.

Back in January it looked like there would be 10 candidates vying for the four board seats coming vacant.  Four of those candidates – Richard Brandt, Nicholas Giordano, Walter Mizialko and Peter Wachowski – reportedly were being backed by Local 73 of the Service Employees International Union (“SEIU”), which represents more than 30 Park District employees and has been locked in contract negotiations with the Park District for almost two years.  To some people, including a few current Park Board members, it looked like the union was trying to pack the Board to get the kind of contract it hadn’t been able to achieve through negotiations.

That became a moot point, however, when the candidacies of Giordano, Mizialko and Wachowski, along with SEIU-unaffiliated candidate Meredith Wisniewski, were successfully challenged by current Park Board commissioner and candidate for re-election Nick Milissis and candidate Rick Biagi.  Those four were kicked off the ballot for petition errors (Wisniewski) or the failure to file the required “Statement of Economic Interest” (Giordano and Wachowski, both attorneys, and Mizialko). 

Another unaffiliated candidate, Stephen Vile, overcame a challenge to his candidacy and will be on the April 7 ballot.

Some people, including the editorial board of the Herald-Advocate, have branded those challenges as dirty pool and a petty way to deprive the voters of choice.  And in some ways they are.  Some of those same people have raised concerns that Milissis, Biagi, and candidates Scott Duerkop and Pawel Matula, are running as an “alliance” that is rumored to be  backed by retiring Park Board president Dick Barton and former Maine Township honcho Bob “The Dude” Dudycz.  

But we don’t have much sympathy for people who want the voters to entrust them with multi-million dollar budgets, multi-million dollar bonding power, and stewardship of substantial civic assets, yet who can’t follow simple candidate petition rules: how tough can it be to bind your petitions, to file a statement of economic interest, or to identify the correct number of years of the term of the office you’re seeking?

So while we might not be getting that 10-candidates-for-4-offices race that looked so promising back in January, it looks like we’ll still have six candidates battling for four spots on the Park Board.

And that’s two more choices than the General Caucus is giving us for the District 64 School Board.

Robbing Peter To Scam Paul?


If you’re old enough to remember the 1980s, you might recall that during every re-election campaign of former Illinois governor James “Big Jim” Thompson, he painted a rosy picture of our State’s finances – only to reveal the doom and gloom of deficits, service cuts and tax increases seemingly within days after each of his victories.

Like “Big Jim,” Park Ridge Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark has revved up his re-election campaign with claims of fiscal responsibility, modest property tax increases, and assurances that we can afford not only such infrastructure costs of reducing flooding and filling potholes, but also a big new police station – or at least a good-sized expansion, depending on which side of Frimark’s mouth you’re standing when he’s talking about it.

But this past Monday night’s City Council Committee of the Whole (“COW”) meeting was the first in what looks to be a series of reality checks about City finances.  And from what was said Monday night, they may very well be in a lot worse shape than we’ve been led to believe, as we noted in last Friday’s post, “Why Is Hock Playing Hide-And-Seek On City Finances?”.

With a $1.7 million budget deficit already in the books from last fiscal year, City Mgr. John Hock revealed that City expenses will exceed revenues once again by approximately $1.7 million, even with expenses coming in about $1 million under budget!  That’s because last year’s budget appears to have been filled with a bunch of inflated revenue figures by former City Mgr. Tim Schuenke, right before he snuck out of town with a sweet early-retirement package compliments of Park Ridge taxpayers.

Given her title of “City Finance Director,” we have to suspect that Diane Lambesis assisted Schuenke in his budgetary sleight-of-hand – which might explain why she spent most of the Finance & Budget Committee portion of Monday night’s meeting arguing against reinstatement of the City’s “debt cap” ordinance, a proposal made by Ald. Frank Wsol (7th Ward) and supported by Ald. Dave Schmidt (1st Ward).

The City’s debt cap that was lifted by the Council in 2004 limited the City’s debt to 2.5% of the equalized assessed value (“EAV”) of all taxable Park Ridge property.  As reported in today’s Park Ridge Journal (“City Revenue Down,” Feb. 25), the City’s general obligation debt is currently $43.9 million, or 2.3% of its current $1.8 billion (and dropping?) EAV. 

Because the City is a home rule body, it is pretty much unrestricted as to how much debt it can take on without having to go to referendum, unlike non-home rule bodies such as School District 64, which had to go to referendum in 2007 for its multi-million dollar tax increase; and the Park Ridge Park District, which has twice been rejected by the voters when it has gone to referendum seeking the multi-millions it needs to replace Oakton Pool. 

We think anything that imposes fiscal responsibility on governmental bodies which tend to treat hard-earned taxpayer dollars like Monopoly money is a good thing.  And we applaud Wsol for proposing the debt cap reinstatement, and Schmidt for endorsing it.

Which brings us to Frimark’s No. 1 lapdog, Alderpuppet Jim “Chicken Little” Allegretti, who tends to bark – actually, it’s more a “yip” – in Frimark’s stead when the mayor thinks it’s politically advantageous for him to remain silent, as he did on this issue Monday night.

Allegretti, who conveniently tossed $500 into Frimark’s campaign coffers within months of Frimark’s appointing him to fill his vacant Council seat back in 2005 ($300 before, $200 after), has already displayed his fealty to Frimark by duking Frimark’s re-election campaign $1,000 – a full ten months’ worth of Allegretti’s annual aldermanic salary. And some folks swear that Frimark’s lips move whenever Allegretti speaks, although we would want videotape evidence before saying that’s absolutely the truth.

Allegretti repeated his standard mantra that “the residents elected us” to make all decisions for them, including taking on as much long-term debt as Frimark and the Alderpuppets want for whatever pet projects strike their fancies.  Allegretti mentioned the Higgins Corridor and Uptown’s Target Area 4 as large capital projects at which the City may want to throw bundles of taxpayer cash, which will have to be generated through long-term bonds.

In objecting to the debt cap as something that would be “tying our hands” – the same words Lambesis kept using – Allegretti patted himself and his fellow alderpuppets on the back with the assurance: “I trust us to be conservative.”

Guess what, Jimbo?  We don’t.

Put Up Or Shut Up, Mr. Ryan


Last week, both local newspapers published a letter of Fifth Ward Alderpuppet Robert Ryan.  The Journal printed an unabridged version, the Herald-Advocate a shorter one.

Proclaiming that he would “not sink to the depths of name-calling or misrepresentation,” Ryan – in the lengthier Journal version [pdf] – promptly condemned fellow alderman and mayoral candidate Dave Schmidt (1st Ward) as “the biggest obstacle to moving our community forward.”

Well, so much for Ryan not engaging in name-calling. 

We could rebut or question – with documentation – many of Ryan’s assertions, but we’ll leave that to Schmidt and others in the course of the mayoral campaign.  We do feel obligated, however, to address two of Ryan’s points which sure seem like misrepresentations to us. 

The first is Ryan’s contention that Frimark “is worthy of our trust.”  We could write paragraphs explaining why that statement distorts the meaning of both “worthy” and “trust,” but we already have:  “You Can’t Tell The Players Without A Scorecard – Part 1”, “Dumb And Dumber”, “Shameless”, “Why Are We Bidding Against Ourselves?” and “Friends For Frimark”, to name just a few.

But where Ryan goes beyond the pale is with his contention that Schmidt did something “illegal” by “disclosing closed session minutes to the public on personnel issues.” 

First of all, accusing an elected official of “illegal” conduct is not just simple political disagreement.  It’s a charge that should be taken with utmost seriousness by the accuser, the accused, and the people of the community they serve.  So a vague and conclusory accusation like Ryan’s is problematic for a number of reasons, starting with its lack of detail.

It’s time to put up or shut up, Mr. Ryan. 

What specific “personnel” information did Schmidt disclose, Mr. Ryan?  And how, specifically, was that disclosure “illegal”?  And if it was “illegal,” Mr. Ryan, why didn’t you and your fellow Alderpuppets file a complaint about it with the proper authorities?

As we have previously written ( in “Witch Hunt” and “Frimark’s Secret Land Deals No Bargain For Taxpayers,” for example), the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”) – which governs under what circumstances a public body can conduct its otherwise “public” meeting in closed session – does not require that any Council discussion or debate be held in closed session, nor does it require that whatever discussion or debate goes on in closed session be treated as confidential or secret.  So Ryan’s saying that Schmidt’s disclosure of some unidentified information related to a closed session meeting was “illegal” – without explanation – isn’t just irresponsible and vile, it’s just plain wrong.

But having followed Mr. Ryan’s career in public office – both on the District 64 Board and on the City Council – “just plain wrong” is often about as good as he gets.  

Why Is Hock Playing Hide-And-Seek On City Finances?


On Wednesday we lauded the Chicago Tribune’s editorial, “State of Corruption,” for getting in our collective faces for our continued tolerance of corruption and political sleaze from our public officials (“The Tribune Nails It,” February 18).  And we noted, yet again, that one of the ways those of us in Park Ridge contribute to that culture of corruption is by silently accepting the Culture of Secrecy practiced by our local governments.

The Culture of Secrecy, however, is not just those technically-legal-but-not-required (and most definitely not “secret”) closed session meetings that our public officials love to run into for any legally permissible reason.  Nor is it only simply our public officials’ having those “private” meetings with property owners, developers and business people, some of whom just happen to be campaign contributors (Hello, Mayor Frimark.  And say “hello” to Bill Napleton and Bruce Adreani for us, too).

It is also things that appear almost benign at first glance, but which provide many more opportunities for mischief when examined more closely.  A good example is what the City posts on its website, ostensibly in the name of “transparent” government.

Yesterday the City website posted a memo [pdf] to the Mayor and City Council from City Mgr. Jim Hock on “Third Quarter Budget Report.” In its very first paragraph, it states that the report is “attached,” but we couldn’t find hide nor hair of it on the website.  The same goes for those purportedly “attached” Uptown TIF fund preview pages it references.

Now, that missing information could be viewed benignly as a mere slip-up, an oversight, an “I could have had a V-8” moment. But it appears less benign and inadvertent once you read Hock’s memo and think about what he’s saying about the TIF funds and City finances generally.

Hock’s memo states that as of April 30, 2008, the TIF fund had “a negative fund balance of $2,697,000,” which doesn’t sound too good to us.  And that’s not the worst of it, because Hock goes on to report that – because the City is “committed by contract to budget and complete the other half of the Summit Road improvement project, which will begin in May” (who did that, when, and why?) – the TIF fund “will be owing the General Fund as much as 6.5 million dollars” by the end of the next fiscal year!

Yeow!  Welcome to the robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul fantasy world of government fund accounting.  And because we’ve spent far more than a few hours pouring over the financial reports and budgets of the City, District 64 and the Park District over the years, we know that trying to figure them out is a lot like trying to decipher a Chinese menu…printed in Mandarin.

But speaking of fantasy worlds, how about this additional tidbit from Mr. Hock: “The premise that investment in our Uptown area will pay the City back plus stimulate investment resulting in tax revenues has come true.” [Emphasis added].

Can you tell us what color the sky is in your world, Mr. Hock?

Returning to the harsh reality elements of Hock’s memo, however, we discover that it’s not only the TIF fund that sounds like it’s on life-support by the General Fund.  As of January 31, 2009, the other City funds that “had negative cash balances” are: the Uptown Tax Increment Financing Fund (Is that another “TIF” fund?), the IMRF (public employee retirement), Municipal Waste (no comment), Emergency 911 (self-explanatory) and Special Service Areas (where an area of town gets specially assessed for some special benefit).  That doesn’t sound too good, either.

Hock goes on to explain, in typically oblique bureaucrat-speak, that the General Operating Fund (is that the same as the “General Fund” and, if so, why can’t you keep the name straight?) balance of $14 million “is not the same as cash.”  Translation: That $14 million is made up in large part of “debt” owed to the General Operating Fund by those other deadbeat City funds!

So, Mr. Hock, why didn’t you just come out and say that?  And why didn’t you also include in your report just how much of that $14 million is IOUs from those other City funds?  Are you trying to be too cute by half, or are you just following orders?

We wonder…no, we suspect…no, we’re pretty darn sure…that those attachments conveniently missing from Hock’s memo provide at least some answers to our questions.  So why, Mr. Hock, aren’t they posted on the City’s website with your memo?

And while we’re asking questions about City finances, here’s one for Mayor “Let’s Make A Deal” himself: When you brag about how you have kept the annual City property tax increase at around 3.3%, why aren’t you also telling the taxpayers and voters how the City, on your watch, has developed all these smoke-and-mirror funding problems…and posted a $1.7 million budget deficit last year…and is going to post a similar budget deficit this year?

Mayor Frimark?  Howard?  Anybody?  Bueller?

The Tribune Nails It!


This past Sunday (Feb. 15), the Chicago Tribune published one of its finest editorials in recent memory, “State of Corruption,” in which it correctly blamed us – the people of the State of Illinois – for much of our state’s culture of corruption and political sleaze.

The Tribune noted that all of us ordinary citizens “haven’t asked enough integrity from our public officials, from our laws…from the people paid to enforce them…[and] from ourselves.”  Instead, “[w]e’ve surrendered too much of government in Illinois – too much of our responsibility – to crooks and opportunists.”

We here at PublicWatchdog applaud the Tribune for having the courage to speak that directly, that candidly, and that critically to its own readers for tolerating corruption, instead of indicting only those who actually practice corruption and reap its benefits.  

The kind of corruption that permeates government can take many forms. It can spring from an officials’ power to give out jobs, to issue contracts, to approve zoning changes, to promote or overcompensate certain employees and inflate pensions, or simply to do a “favor.”  As the Tribune puts it, we can’t change this culture until we recognize and appreciate that “we’ve all been cheated as much by favors as by fraud.”

Political campaign contributions are an obvious concern: “The bureaucrat who clouts a contract to his boss’ contributor repays a donation with our tax dollars.” And we’ve seen how even modest contributions can return huge dividends, with a few thousand dollars to a politician yielding millions of dollars in contracts.

And because we here at PublicWatchdog have opposed the “Culture of Secrecy” as an ongoing source of questionable practices by our local governments – especially the City of Park Ridge – we were gratified to hear that no less a corruption-buster than former federal prosecutor (of George Ryan, Robert Sorich, and other politicians and bureaucrats) Patrick Collins appears to share our view of government secrecy.

According to the Tribune, Collins has a simple test for government corruption: “If someone wants to conceal a government act, odds are it’s illicit.”  

We concur, which is why we have so frequently criticized the City’s regular retreats into closed sessions, often to discuss the acquisition of land that Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark has been chasing for a new police station even though there’s no guaranty it will be built and no firm decision on how big it will be – because there’s no consensus on what the taxpayers can afford or are willing to pay.

While the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”) permits such closed sessions, it does not require or even encourage them.  And, even more significantly, it doesn’t require that anything discussed in those closed sessions be kept secret – which is why Frimark and his Alderpuppets could muster only a weak and petty “condemnation” of Ald. Dave Schmidt (1st Ward) when Schmidt blew the whistle on Frimark’s under-the-radar pursuit of 720 Garden, and his outrageous demand for a new City appraisal for that property because the first one the City obtained set the purchase price too low!

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis coined the phrase “[s]unlight is the best disinfectant” in advocating for openness and transparency in government and public policy.  That suggests that whatever public action goes on in the darkness – or even in the shade – should immediately become suspect for that reason alone.  And that goes for closed session meetings, secret deal-making, no-bid contracts, and anything else that involves the “classic” Chicago-style wink or nod.

The Tribune editorial also suggested that perhaps the highest price of corruption is the cynicism and apathy it breeds: “If everybody thinks the fix is in, then nobody believes. Nobody cares.”  Of course, that’s exactly what corrupt officials count on.  Convince the voters and taxpayers that changing the corrupt status quo is impossible, and they’ll throw up their hands and walk away.

The Tribune concludes its editorial on a hopeful note by observing that the ongoing success of the federal government in prosecuting public corruption, as well as the outrage over the conduct of George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich, may have created a once-in-a-lifetime chance for real reform.  We sure hope so.

And for those among us who want to become part of the solution instead of remaining part of the problem, the following words of Teddy Roosevelt about the importance of honesty in our public officials should become our creed:

“Honesty is not so much a credit as an absolute prerequisite to efficient service to the public. Unless a man is honest, we have no right to keep him in public life; it matters not how brilliant his capacity.”

What’s The Rush On Uptown Re-Zoning? (Updated 2/17/09)


At tonight’s City Council meeting (City Hall, 7:30 p.m.) the Council will consider a request by Ald. Robert Ryan (5th Ward) to re-zone three properties in Uptown – at the northwest corner of Meacham Avenue and Northwest Hwy., across from the former Napleton Cadillac dealership – from their current B-1 Retail/Office status to R-3/R-4 two-family/multi-family residential. 

Ryan is ostensibly basing his request on the City’s 2002 “Uptown Plan,” which designated that area for “transitional residential” if it gets redeveloped from its existing retail/commercial status; and upon last summer’s heated objection from neighbors to a preliminary plan by CenTrust Bank to build a bank on that site, which CenTrust promptly withdrew.  

As we’ve said many times before, we like NIMBYs and think they play an essential role in drawing attention to matters that might otherwise fly under the community’s collective radar.  But while the NIMBYs’ interests should be given full and fair consideration, decisions ultimately need to be made on the basis of what is best for the community as a whole – so when the community’s overall interest significantly outweighs the NIMBYs’ parochial interests, the community’s interest should prevail.

At this point we don’t have strong feelings one way or the other about whether the best use of that site is as the currently-zoned retail/commercial, or as residential.  But we wonder why Ryan is making this move now, after having sat on his hands since last summer even though that site has been in its current fallow condition (an empty parking lot) since Napleton closed its Cadillac dealership across the street and moved it over to Greenwood and Busse, before ultimately shutting down for good last Spring?

After all, Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark and his Alderpuppets keep talking retail, retail and more retail for the Uptown area.  Here’s a site on the western edge of the Target Area II redevelopment, catty-corner from Trader Joe’s and across from the well-trafficked Hinkley Park.  While the neighbors objected to a bank there, that doesn’t necessarily mean that every possible retail/commercial use for that site should preemptively be taken off the table by re-zoning it now – before any developer even has stepped forward with a concrete residential plan.

But foreclosing retail/commercial development from that site is what is likely to happen if Ryan’s request is granted, because any retail/commercial developer is not going to like his chances for getting approval of a project that effectively will require a do-over of Ryan’s re-zoning.

That’s why Ryan’s proposal – especially coming less than two months before the hotly-contested mayoral race – has an unmistakably political odor to it.  For that reason alone we think the site should be left with its current zoning designation, thereby remaining hospitable to retail and commercial developers, at least until after the April 7 election.

If any identifiable residential developers wish to come forward with a proposal for that site, however, they can do so; and the City can consider the re-zoning at that point, based on the qualifications of an identified developer and the objective merit of the residential project being proposed, instead of on the mere abstraction of “transitional residential” presented by the Uptown Plan.

But that assumes there already isn’t a “connected” developer lying in the weeds waiting for this re-zoning to become a done deal before stepping forward with some residential plan, or a motivated and/or “connected” property owner (Napleton?) trying to get its money out of that site any way it can. 

Update (2/17/09)
We understand that last night the City Council, on motion by Ryan and seconded by Ald. Schmidt, voted to send the matter to the Planning & Zoning Commission for its consideration and recommendation.  Ald. DiPietro took pains to assure the audience that the Council was not recommending the zoning change, although Ald. Bach indicated that the Council would likely follow whatever recommendation P&Z comes up with.

On being asked by Schmidt whether the city has been approached by anyone with a development plan for the site, Acting Director of Community Preservation & Development Carrie Davis stated not since CenTrust Bank.  Interestingly, an attorney for Napleton told the Council that his client is opposed to the zoning change because it will curtail the profit potential for sale of the property.

All Show, No Dough


On Wednesday (Feb. 11) Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark for the first time graced a hearing of the Illinois Gaming Board with his presence, during which he made Park Ridge’s initial argument to the Board to move the proposed Des Plaines casino from the planned Devon/River Road site.

As Frimark was told by the Gaming Board’s top attorney at the City Council meeting on January 26, the Des Plaines casino and its location have already been given final approval, subject only to the Board’s completing its due diligence investigation of the casino’s corporate owner and its investors.  The time for Frimark to have given Wednesday’s speech was months ago, at the meetings which occurred before Des Plaines was named as one of three finalists in October, 2008; or at the Board’s public hearing on December 22nd, before the license was awarded.

But Frimark was MIA for all those meetings and hearings, just like he was MIA for all those ONCC meetings over the past 3-1/2 years leading up to the new O’Hare runway’s opening in November.  At least he can claim that he’s consistent.

Besides his guest appearance at the Gaming Board being way too late to matter, Frimark’s reasons for a new casino site were weak, at best:

(a) the new runway is bombarding Park Ridge residents in the south/southwest end of town with airplane noise (as if that’s supposed to be a concern of the Gaming Board’s);

(b) the “quagmire” of traffic that the new casino will bring to that end of Park Ridge; and

(c) Maine South High School is installing football lights (another non-issue for casino licensing that the Gaming Board couldn’t give two hoots about). 

Really…those were the reasons he gave, which you can hear for yourself by clicking here.  You also can hear him tell the Gaming Board members – as if they cared – that he’s going to be asking Des Plaines for cash reimbursements for the extra expenses the casino will cost Park Ridge. 

So why wasn’t he asking for dough from Des Plaines before the casino license was awarded, when our neighbor to the west and the private casino developer may have had an actual incentive for trying to garner Park Ridge’s support?  Why did he wait until after the casino became a done-deal at Devon and River to put on his show for the Gaming Board?

It looks to us like he was too busy with other things, like working on sweetheart deals for Frimark campaign contributors Norwood Builders and Napleton Cadillac.  And let’s not forget all the time and effort he expended trying to find the right piece of private land to take off the tax rolls as the site for the big new cop shop he wants built ASAP.

Whether Park Ridge could have influenced the choice of Des Plaines as the casino site, or of the casino location in Des Plaines, is speculative-to-problematic.  But by not even showing up for the meetings and hearings leading up to the Gaming Board’s December 22, 2008, decision, and not even sending a letter voicing the City’s concerns, our Park Ridge City government – under the “leadership” of Mayor Frimark – made it a moot point.

This wasn’t just Frimark’s snafu, however.  The City Manager and the entire City Council – including First Ward Alderman/mayoral candidate Dave Schmidt and every one of Frimark’s Alderpuppets – were all asleep at the wheel on this casino issue, just as they were asleep at the wheel on the new runway.  And each and every one of them should be called to account for why they weren’t paying attention to projects (the runway and the casino) that may have such significant, long-term impact on the quality of life in Park Ridge.

But at the end of the day, Frimark is the guy in the big chair making the $1,000/month (v. the aldermen’s $100/month) to do something more than cut deals with cronies and cut ribbons at store openings.  So that’s why the buck stops there.

“We Don’t Need No Education…We Don’t Need No Thought Control….”


It took the signatures of more than 2,800 Park Ridge voters to get one honest, straightforward and understandable police station referendum question on the April ballot, but it took the votes of only five Park Ridge aldermen to put an ambiguous (and, arguably, dishonest) referendum question on the same topic – penned by Ald. Frank Wsol (7th Ward) – on that same ballot.

So why doesn’t it surprise us to hear that the Council voted 6-1 at Monday night’s Committee of the Whole meeting, with Alderman/mayoral candidate Dave Schmidt as the sole dissenter, to spend $3,500 of taxpayer money to send a mailing to 14,500 homes for the purpose of “educating” the voters residing in those homes about…wait for it…the Wsol referendum question?

Admittedly, $3,500 is chump change compared to the much bigger bucks the City regularly squanders on questionable things like consultants and “studies” designed to tell our elected and appointed officials exactly what they want to hear.  Example: The City paid a lot more than $3,500 to architect/consultant Fred “Bigger is always better” Moyer, and then architects Sente Rubel Bosman Lee, to tell us that we “need” a new cop shop four times the size of the current one. 

Of course, figuring out things like how Park Ridge taxpayers are going to pay for such a “Taj Mahal” never seems to be part of those consultants’ job descriptions, although the Sente Rubel website advertises that Carol Sente “often assists in projects…such as…referendum campaign planning.” For the uninitiated, “referendum campaign planning” is the equivalent of “referendum propaganda mongering,” although we must concede that it sounds so much nicer the way Sente Rubel spins it.

We here at PublicWatchdog think it’s just plain wrong for any branch of local government to do anything about a referendum question other than put it on the ballot, or stay out of the way of any citizens who are trying to put one on the ballot.  We also think that it’s an insult to the voters to assume that they need “educating,” especially by their local governmental bodies who seem to spend more time concealing useful information than providing it.

If the voters want “educating” on the referendum issues, however, we think they are more than capable of educating themselves – by reading the newspapers and the blogs, by talking to their neighbors, and simply by reading and thinking about the referendum issues.  Or maybe private citizens or interest groups will form to advocate for or against a particular referendum question.  

But apparently that’s not good enough for Mayor Howard “the Coward” Frimark and his Alderpuppets, who surely can’t be looking forward to the possibility that the voters will soundly reject both cop shop referendum questions. 

That result would require the Alderpuppets to effectively thumb their noses at the voters if they nevertheless choose to move forward with the new cop shop.  So spending a few thousand easy-come, easy-go tax dollars to persuade the voters – in the name of “educating” them – to see things the Alderpuppets’ way probably makes sense to anybody that favors government by stealth and deception.

And, after all, to the Alderpuppets it’s just $3,500 of OPM: Other People’s Money.

The Little O’Hare Referendum That Couldn’t


An article in last week’s Herald-Advocate lamented the fact that an advisory referendum question – proposed by Ald. Don “Air Marshall” Bach (3rd Ward) – about whether Park Ridge should spend up to $150,000 a year to address O’Hare expansion problems, was kept off the April ballot because three referendum questions were already on it.

We can’t tell for sure whether Illinois election law permits only three total referendum questions on any ballot, or no more than three from any one governmental body.  But it looks like that’s a moot point because the time for putting any more referendum questions on the April ballot has now passed.

Frankly, we would have preferred the voters getting a crack at the O’Hare issue rather than seeing a ballot slot wasted on Ald. Frank Wsol’s 11th-hour mutation of the more direct police station referendum question that the signatures of over 2,800 Park Ridge voters already had put on the ballot, or the purely political Maine Township referendum asking about the Cook County sales tax.

Just because Bach’s referendum question didn’t make the April ballot, however, does not mean that the question cannot still be publicly debated – especially because the Advocate article reports that Bach “believes Park Ridge needs to resume its fight against O’Hare Airport expansion” that the City abandoned five years ago by resigning its membership in the Suburban O’Hare Commission (“SOC”).  And when Bach talks you usually can see Mayor Howard Frimark’s lips moving, which suggests that Frimark has some political interest in this topic after having slept through the construction of the new runway.

We previously wrote about the Air Marshall’s flip-flopping on whether Park Ridge should resurrect its SOC membership ( “Bach On SOC,” Dec. 12, 2008), but we don’t see how that idea has grown any more attractive in the intervening two months.  Quite to the contrary, SOC could serve as an object lesson in why litigating with Chicago, the FAA and/or the airlines would appear to be a losing proposition.

We weren’t able to find the total cost of SOC’s legal battles with O’Hare since they commenced in 1985, but we did stumble across a Chicago Sun-Times article (“Is Airport Fight Worth Cost?” July 16, 2001) that reported SOC attorney Joe Karaganis and his firm were paid more than $240,000 in legal fees for representing SOC during the period between December 1, 1999, and April 30, 2001.  Based on that information, we have to think that SOC has spent millions on its anti-O’Hare crusade over the years, with darn little to show for it.

So before Air Marshall Bach and his newest best friends in the O’Hare Residents for Environmental Safety and Trust (“ORD-REST”) talk about re-joining SOC or about spending bundles of our scarce tax dollars on lawsuits related to noise and pollution from the new runway, we think Park Ridge taxpayers deserve to know: (1) what legal claims, if any, does Park Ridge have that are different and better than those SOC has been litigating up until now; and/or (2) if Park Ridge’s claims are basically the same as the claims SOC has been litigating, how can Park Ridge be expected to fare any better than SOC?

Such questions need to be answered because, having paid $65,000 in annual SOC membership “dues” for a number of years and having made one very bad $650,000 SOC-related “investment,” Park Ridge needs to be reminded of Einstein’s definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  

Another Reason To Wonder…


As we’ve written before (“The Culture Of Secrecy,” 12/17/07), secrecy is the tool of choice for politicians and bureaucrats who want to cover up the inefficiency, waste and corruption in the governmental bodies they run.  That’s why we favor that antidote to secrecy: transparency.

Unfortunately, all our local governmental bodies have a long way to go to achieve the kind of transparency that would make them an open book to the taxpayers and voters of our community, although the Park Ridge Park District deserves a round of polite applause for putting video recordings of its meetings on its website – at what we understand to be a tiny fraction of the box-car numbers the City Hall bureaucrats came up with for televising City Council meetings.

But just this past Tuesday (Feb. 3), the Culture of Secrecy engulfed two meetings that were held in the Mayor’s Conference Room at City Hall – by something called the “Intergovernmental Joint Review Board” – which purported to be the “Annual Meeting” for the “Dempster/Greenwood TIF” (the “new” Bredemann auto dealership property) and for the “Uptown TIF,” respectively.

We scoured the City’s website and could find nothing that identified what this review board does, or who is on it; and we fared no better when Googling it.  To a suspicious Watchdog, that’s the first sign that something may be amiss.

The second sign that something is amiss is that there were no posted background materials to accompany either the Dempster/Greenwood TIF agenda (pdf) or the Uptown TIF agenda (pdf), even though those agendas make reference to an “Annual TIF Report” for each TIF and to an “Update on TIF Status” for each.

And the third sign that something is amiss is that these meetings were scheduled for 1:30 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. on a Tuesday.  How many citizens could be expected to attend such a meeting in the middle of the work day…or could have attended previous ones on Tuesday, January 9, 2007, at 9:00 and 9:30 a.m.; or on Thursday, December 13, 2007, at 9:00 and 9:30 a.m.?

The City has sunk a ton of our tax dollars – and no small amount of debt, as we understand it – into the TIFs.  A detailed and easily understandable current accounting of the performance of those TIFs should be readily available on the City’s website for anybody who wants to check it.  But instead, not only can’t we find the “Annual TIF Report” for either of those TIFs, but we can’t even tell who is on the Intergovernmental Joint Review Commitee.

That’s just bad government, folks.  And, in a bad economy, it causes us to wonder even more about the state of City finances and what kind of decisions are being made based on information not readily available to the average citizen.