Public Watchdog.org

No Clear Rhyme Or Reason Behind City Zoning Map Amendment

06.29.09

The Park Ridge City Council will be holding a special meeting tonight at 7:00 p.m. to vote on a first reading for both text and map amendments to the City’s Zoning Code. 

The one that caught our attention was the zoning map amendment for the property located at 255-257 N. Northwest Hwy, formerly “Audrey’s Calico ‘N Lace.”  If approved, the City’s zoning map will be amended to change that parcel from its current B-1 Retail and Office District designation to the R-3 Two-Family Residential District.  

Our questions: Why is this being done?  And why is it being done now?  

According to the draft minutes [pdf] of the June 9, 2009, Planning and Zoning Commission (“P&Z”)  public hearing on this map amendment and other zoning changes, P&Z Commissioner Joe Baldi asked why the subject parcel was not rezoned when the zoning ordinance was re-written a couple of years ago.  Good question, Joe.

The same minutes reflect that the City’s Director of Community Preservation and Development, Carrie Davis, blithely replied to Baldi that it probably wasn’t “considered an urgent matter at the time and that any rezoning would be subject to a redevelopment proposal.” Which inspires the re-asking of the question: Why now?

If the zoning map is amended, the property could hold two single-family houses (with an R-3 designation), or approximately four townhouses or seven multi-family (condo) residential units with an R-4 designation. 

Interestingly enough, rather than this map amendment request coming from the property owner or a developer, it seems to have been the brain-child of 5th Ward Ald. Robert Ryan, who hi credits/blames the “level of interest by residents in his ward” – although the minutes show only four of those residents (Pat Livensparger, Eddie Laken, Steve Buerk and Steve Schildwachter) actually speaking to the issue.

According to the P&Z minutes, Ryan invoked his membership on the Uptown Advisory Task Force and what the “Uptown Plan…recommends for the area where the properties are located” in advocating for a change from a commercial to a residential designation of the subject parcel.  He contended that such a change “would serve as a transition between the surrounding commercial areas and the residential neighborhoods.”

We hate to keep beating up on Ryan, but it’s hard to resist when he seems to be making stuff up out of whole cloth – in this case, about the Uptown Plan.  As best as we can tell (from the Uptown Plan’s map posted on the City’s website), the Uptown Plan’s area ends at Northwest Highway and Morris Avenue, almost a block south of the subject parcel!  That might explain why we couldn’t find anything in that Plan which “recommends” residential instead of commercial on that parcel.

Additionally, this particular one-block stretch of Northwest Hwy. – bordered by Elm on the north and Meacham on the east – is currently a zoning checkerboard, with most of the former Napleton Cadillac parking lot zoned B-1, despite the northern portion of that Napleton lot inexplicably zoned R-2; the property immediately northwest of that lot zoned B-1; the next parcel immediately northwest zoned R-4; and the subject property zoned B-1.

If that’s not commercial enough, immediately north of Elm, on the same east side of the street as the subject parcel, is 303 N. Northwest Hwy, the “Medical Arts Building,” housing doctors’ offices.  And further northwest of there, on the opposite side of the street, are two multi-unit office buildings.  So there’s nothing overwhelmingly “residential” about this stretch of Northwest Hwy. that would appear to justify this kind of attention and action at this time.

Finally, the passage of this map amendment could virtually ensure the demolition of one of the buildings currently on the site that served as the residence and art studio of Alphonso Ianelli, one of the patron saints of all those folks who fancy themselves the guardians of Park Ridge’s art and architectural history – like the members of the Park Ridge Historical Society and the Kalo Foundation.  So why aren’t those folks doing anything to preserve the status quo on – and the current structures – on that parcel? 

When it comes to land and land use in this town, it seems like things just keep on getting curiouser and curiouser.

Richie D’s Got It Right On Higgins Corridor

06.26.09

We’ve consistently been critical of the Camiros/Kretchmer (“C/K”) “comprehensive plan” for the Higgins Road Corridor, which is about as bland and uninspired as any such plan could be. One or two dinky office buildings, a little “facade improvement” and some parking spaces is not a “vision” – unless you’ve got cataracts or need a white cane to get around. 

So putting a lit match to the C/K plan before we waste any more time and money on it is definitely a prudent thing to do. And, surprisingly, that sounds like what the City Council might be doing, judging from the report of the Council’s June 15 “special meeting” in yesterday’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Higgins plan not detailed enough for some officials,” June 25). 

Given the Council’s (and staff’s) history of bowing and scraping before every hired-gun consultant they employ, chucking C/K would be a full step up the evolutionary ladder for our aldercritters.

But while dumping C/K is a good start, the reported comments of Alds. Jim Allegretti (4th Ward) and Don Bach (3rd Ward) reflect the kind of uninformed micro-managing that, in our opinion, historically has hamstrung the City in addressing development/re-development issues throughout our community.

According to the H-A article, Allegretti and Bach want C/K (or some other consultants?) to provide “directions for achieving specific goals.”  In other words: “Please, oh please, Mr. Consultant, tell us exactly what to do and how to do it so that we don’t have to think for ourselves…and so we’ll have a built-in alibi in case of any bad results.”

Bach wants C/K to report on whether a small hotel or shopping area could work for the Mr. K’s Garden Center site – and, if not, why not.  That’s the right idea but, unfortunately, miserable execution:  by limiting the analysis to that site’s approx. 2.2 acres, Bach is actually discouraging the kind of “blue sky” outside-the-box, revenue-generating ideas that this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity deserves.  

That’s why we want to give a big shout-out to 2nd Ward Ald. Rich (“Richie D”) DiPietro, who is quoted in the H-A article thusly: “But in real life, a developer will come to Planning and Zoning or to staff and say they have their own vision for this particular development, and Planning and Zoning will recommend to proceed or not.”

Exactly!  When it comes to development/re-development, the only “vision” that matters is that of the person(s) willing to step up to the plate and make that vision happen.  And the best thing the City can do in that regard is let it be known – in no uncertain terms – that the City is willing to seriously consider any and every plan, even those that include departures from our current zoning standards and/or the acquisition and assembly of more land in order to maximize the value of this opportunity for the benefit of the entire community.

That doesn’t mean bending over backwards and giving the developers anything and everything they ask for.  We have repeatedly advocated for the single-family residential “character” of Park Ridge, and preserving that character should remain a primary concern that should not be betrayed for “thirty pieces of silver” – or at least not unless and until a substantial majority of our residents firmly believe it to be the right thing to do.  

But as our taxes go ever higher and we discover more and more infrastructure and related needs that we are increasingly ill-equipped to afford, restricting or discouraging any “vision” of the Higgins Corridor is done at our – and our children’s and grandchildren’s – peril. 

Help Us Solve The Mystery Of Taste Of Park Ridge

06.24.09

Why is Taste of Park Ridge NFP (“Taste, Inc.”) so secretive that it doesn’t post any of its financial information on its fancy website, or have its IRS Form 990s on GuideStar?  Frankly, we have no idea. 

And because, so far, we’ve been spectacularly unsuccessful in finding out anything about Taste, Inc.’s operations over the past year, we are asking you, our readers, to consider helping us with some of our sleuthing.

The following people are current members of the board of directors for Taste, Inc.:

President:  Dave Iglow, Pines Mens Wear of Park Ridge
Vice Pres./Sec’y:  Albert Galus, Academic Tutoring Centers
Treasurer:  Jim Bruno, Chase Bank
Director:  Dean Patras, Broadway Livery Service
Director:  Sandy Svizzero, Pathway Bank & Trust Co.
Director:  Barb Tyksinski, All on the Road Catering
Director:  John Warnimont, Activision Electric

In addition to the foregoing individuals, the following people are members of the Taste (the event) Committee:

Bob Hanson, Park Ridge Police Dept.
Jackie Mathews, Rainbow Hospice
Mel P. Thillens, Thillens Service Corporation
Kim Uhlig, Director of Economic Development, City of Park Ridge

If you know any of these people, please ask them: “Why all the secrecy?”  Or “Why doesn’t Taste, Inc. make its books and financial records public?” Or “What is the Taste ‘Community Cares’ Fund, and why isn’t it explained on the website?” 

Maybe these Taste folks will be more comfortable answering such questions posed by people they know rather than by one of the “evil blogs” (to quote former Mayor Howard P. Frimark, who coincidentally was mayor when Taste, the event, went private); and then you, in turn, can share the answers with us and the rest of the community.  

Because as the Taste keeps getting bigger and (we assume) more profitable, all the secrecy surrounding Taste (the event) and Taste, Inc. makes us even more suspicious – especially when there is the appearance of close and strong ties between Taste/Taste, Inc. and City government. 

After all, this is the State of Illinois, and Park Ridge is located within the un-friendly confines of Crook County.  Need we say more?  

One Year Later: Another Call For Transparency From Taste Of Park Ridge, Inc.

06.22.09

Well, folks, it’s almost that time of year again: time for the “Taste of Park Ridge,” that annual street festival that started as a joint effort of the Park Ridge Chamber of Commerce and the City of Park Ridge before it was taken over a few years ago by the private “Taste of Park Ridge, NFP” corporation (“Taste, Inc.”).

Almost a year ago (in “Time For A Transparent ‘Taste’,” 07.07.08, and “Time For A Transparent ‘Taste’ – Part II,” 07.09.08),  we expressed our opinion that the Taste is a fine community event, but that we wondered about Taste, Inc.’s penchant for secrecy concerning its operations and finances – especially because Taste, Inc. enjoys a de facto monopoly of Taste, the event; and because it appears to utilize substantial City resources, for which we cannot determine the level of reimbursement it provides to the City, if any. 

Now, a year later, we continue to wonder why, if everything’s on the up and up, Taste, Inc. remains so secretive. 

How about a public statement from Taste, Inc. president Dave Iglow (Pines Mens Wear) and vice president Albert Galus (Academic Tutoring Centers) detailing Taste, Inc.’s operations over the past few years?  And how about Taste, Inc. treasurer Jim Bruno (Chase Bank) reporting publicly on Taste, Inc.’s finances?  For that matter, why aren’t Taste, Inc.’s finances posted on its nifty website, or on Guidestar?

And while they’re at it, maybe those gentlement could explain why Taste, Inc. – with Mr. Iglow as its registered agent – was “voluntarily dissolved” on February 20, 2009, only to be incorporated again on March 4, 2009, with new registered agent Leo G. Aubel of the Loop law firm of Deutsch, Levy & Engel.  What was that all about?

If Taste, Inc. remains close-mouthed, however, how about Taste (the event) committee member Kim Uhlig stepping up and giving the taxpayers a peak behind the Taste, Inc. curtain?  After all, she’s also the City’s Economic Development Director, so she owes a duty of truth-telling to the taxpayers who pay her salary.  She has to know something more about Taste, Inc. than the rest of us do, since the rest of us know virtually nothing.  How about it, Ms. Uhlig?

In addition to Taste, Inc.’s secrecy, we are positively bumfuzzled by the news that Rainbow Hospice as one of Taste (the event’s) “sponsors,”  According to Taste, Inc.’s website, even the lowest level sponsorship runs $1,500 – and can run up to $10,000 for an “event partner.” 

As you might recall, Rainbow Hospice is one of those private local organizations getting those over-budget handouts of tax dollars from the City.  It’s scheduled to receive $5,000 this budget year, which causes us to wonder whether those City tax dollars are just being shuffled over to Taste, Inc. in sponsorship fees?  We also wonder just how much labor from City employees (like Ms. Uhlig) on the taxpayers’ dime goes to Taste activities, and whether – and how much – Taste, Inc. reimburses the City for that labor.

We would have expected that, by now, the Taste, Inc. operators would have done the right thing and made all of their operations and finances totally transparent to the taxpayers who make Taste (the event) a success each year.  But the deafening silence that continues from Taste, Inc. suggests that transparency and accountability aren’t much of a priority to those folks.

Where Will It End?

06.18.09

Like many Americans, we here at PublicWatchdog look at what’s going on in Washington, D.C. and wonder if throwing around trillions of dollars will eventually bring our country out of this economic crisis…or just bankrupt it. But at least our federal representatives are trying to reconcile such disparate (and often conflicting) interests as GM’s bankruptcy, the collapse of IAG, global warming, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a nuclear pyromaniac running North Korea, and potentially catastrophic wheat rust in Africa – all of which, individually and collectively, are far more challenging than what the folks running the City of Park Ridge have to deal with.

Which is why the stunning and persistent financial ineptitude of our City government – which was on display again this past Monday night – is all the more frustrating and unacceptable.

Let’s start with the $2 MILLION DEFICIT BUDGET that City staff devised and the City Council passed.  To this day, we have yet to hear any City official come remotely close to justifying such a fiscally irresponsible act.  So when the Council voted 5 – 2 (Alds. Allegretti, Bach, Carey, Ryan and Wsol v. Alds. Sweeney and DiPietro) to over-ride Mayor Dave Schmidt’s historic veto of the Council’s even-more-over-budget appropriations for local community organizations, the only response we could muster was: Where will it end?  

Leading the veto over-ride effort was Seventh Ward Alder-Spendthrift Frank Wsol, who acts like he’s never seen a taxpayer dollar that he can’t spend.  We have to wonder if Wsol really is that mindlessly profligate, or whether he’s just trying to get back at the residents for repudiating his expensive, half-baked new-police station plan, and then rejecting his eleventh-hour, confusing and just plain ridiculous cop shop referendum. 

In a tone that wavered between impatient and condescending, Wsol lectured the mayor and the assembled citizenry about how the Council-mandated contributions of our tax dollars to those private, unaccountable local organizations provide a return of $6-$8 of value for every dollar spent.  Who says so?  According to Wsol, the United Way.

We actually spent over an hour surfing the Net trying to confirm that factoid, without success.  But quoting the scandal-ridden United Way [pdf] about the value of “charitable” contributions is a lot like quoting Ronald McDonald about the health benefits of a double Quarter-Pounder…with cheese.

As for our local organizations returning $6-$8 for every tax dollar contributed, we think that’s such a bogus claim that we challenge Ald. Wsol to put up or shut up.  We can’t find one shred of evidence of that claim being true – including reviews of those organizations’ IRS Form 990s which, ironically, we have to view at www.Guidestar.org because the organizations don’t seem to care enough about transparency and accountability to the community to post them on their own websites. 

For anyone who has forgotten, we also feel obligated to point out that Wsol was the Council member who led the charge against a dollar-for-dollar pass-through of the City’s increased water costs to the residents, which contributed $400,000+ to the $2 million deficit hole. 

And let’s not forget Ald. Don Bach (3rd Ward), whose explanation of his veto over-ride vote was that he won’t deprive those private organizations of tax dollars while the City administration – the body legally entitled to those tax dollars – remains bloated.  Of course, Bach has yet to display the cojones (figuratively, of course – we don’t think literally is such a good idea) to provide a comprehensive plan for reducing the alleged bloat to any significant degree.  

So we’re back to: Where will it end?  Unfortunately, long-term spending of millions more than you earn – and depleting savings in the process – usually ends in bankruptcy.

Time For Real “Vision” Of Higgins Corridor Redevelopment

06.15.09

At 6:30 tonight the Park Ridge City Council is holding a “workshop” on the Higgins Road Corridor Plan (the “Plan”).  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Higgins Road Corridor Plan, it’s supposed to be the City’s “vision” for how the southern border of Park Ridge – primarily between Dee Road and Cumberland, although the “Corridor” technically runs all the way from Dee to Canfield – will be redeveloped.

The Plan proposed by the City’s consultants, Camiros, Ltd. and Valerie S. Kretchmer Associates, Inc. is, in our opinion, far too pedestrian – and by that we don’t mean favorable to walkers.  If adopted and implemented, it will do virtually nothing to make the Park Ridge portion of the Higgins Corridor a “destination” or a significant revenue generator. 

Fortunately, back in March the City Council asked Staff to look for more opportunities for commercial development that will generate greater revenues for the City while still remaining consistent with the general character of the community.  One idea which we hope is fully-explored is the possibility of including a small, quality hotel that could attract other compatible businesses, like restaurants.

In her June 15, 2009, Agenda Cover Memorandum, the City’s Director of Community Preservation & Development, Carrie Davis raises five questions for the Council, which we have taken the liberty of suggesting some answers (in bold):

1. Does the Council want a larger commercial use, such as a hotel, even though it may take acquiring land, such as single family residential properties to the north of the corridor?  This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for significant redevelopment of a border area of Park Ridge that enjoys unique accessibility to both the CTA and the Kennedy Expressway, as well as proximity to Rosemont and Des Plaines.  Every option needs to be fully explored so that this opportunity is not wasted.

2. What measures does the Council want to take to increase the size of assembled sites to encourage redevelopment?  The City needs to express its willingness to work with developers to maximize the value of the Corridor to our community which, in turn, should increase the value of the Corridor to the developers.  The City should invite developer proposals while expressing its commitment to assist developers in assembling additional land if needed to increase the size and scope of the project in ways that are mutually beneficial.

3. Does the Council want to acquire additional right-of-way along Peterson Avenue?  If acquisition would substantially enhance the project, why not?  The City not only sold off its old reservoir property for Uptown Redevelopment, but it also acquired private land (e.g., the Bredemann Toyota and Buick dealership property).  Why should it do less for the Higgins Corridor project?   

4. How tall does the Council want to encourage new buildings to be?  The Council should let it be known that it would favor proposals that do not exceed five stories, with the City being willing to facilitate plans that conform to that restriction by assisting in enlarging the footprint of the project.

5. How does the Council want to address traffic and parking issues?  Those issues should be addressed, in the first instance, by the developer(s).  Until the City knows what developers want to do with the area, there’s no reason to guess at what the traffic and parking needs will be.

In summary, we strongly encourage the City Council to resist the urge to accept small-minded tweaks to the current Higgins Corridor structures and uses.  The Corridor has enormous potential for becoming a major economic engine for Park Ridge while minimally disrupting life throughout the rest of the community.  That potential should not be squandered.

Is New District 64 Business Mgr. The Financial Same Old, Same Old?

06.12.09

Yesterday’s edition of the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate contained an article announcing the hiring of Rebecca Allard as the new business manager for Park Ridge Niles Elementary School District 64 (“School board approves new business manager,” June 11).  She will replace Bruce Martin, who has served in that capacity for the past several years.

Ms. Allard comes to District 64 from Palatine District 15, where she served only a year after moving over from Geneva Unit District 304 in Kane County.  Prior to that, she served as director of business and personnel for the Gurnee School District.

Call us “old school,” but we would have expected that a new school district business manager’s first public statements would be about things like school finance and fiscal responsibility. As quoted in the H-A story, however, Ms. Allard seems far more into “successful relationships”: “I believe successful relationships are based upon successful relationships and that’s knowing one another and feeling comfortable and having those conversations.”

As we see it, the emphasis on “relationships” over objectively measurable credentials and performance has been one of the prime contributors toward creating the mess of incompetence and corruption that has become the hallmark of government at all levels in Illinois.  That’s because it is “relationships” that are the lifeblood of sweetheart insider deals, of putting the idiot siblings (or cousins, or in-laws) of the well-connected on government payrolls, of giving the somebodies-who-know-somebody the no-bid contracts.  And while those relationships surely are “successful” for the beneficiaries of those deals, they tend to be disastrous for the taxpayers who have to fund them.

Maybe we’d be a little more tolerant of such comments if the recent history of District 64’s finances were not so checkered.  As we have pointed out many times before, the first half of this decade saw the District on the Illinois State Board of Education’s “Early Warning” or “Financial Watch” lists – the two lowest financial rankings the ISBE gives to school districts – four times, the latest during the Spring of 2005. 

By the Fall of 2005, things were so bad that the ISBE appeared poised to take over the District’s finances.  So the District employed a sneaky “back door” working cash bond issue – ostensibly, to cover the Cook County Assessor’s and Cook County Treasurer’s delay in getting the District its second installment of property tax revenues, but in reality a subterfuge for funneling $5 million in what amounted to borrowed funds into its depleted reserves, thereby keeping the ISBE at bay until the District could pass its big tax increase referendum in 2007.

As best as we can remember, the departing Bruce Martin was the District’s business manager during those bleak years; and, as best as we can tell, he was getting paid rather handsomely for his efforts [pdf].  We don’t know what Ms. Allard will be making – the H-A story doesn’t mention it – but she wasn’t doing too shabbily herself [pdf] even before her most recent stint at Palatine District 15.

As the biggest “local” property tax consumer, District 64 owes the taxpayers a commensurately substantial duty to spend those tax dollars wisely – a task that will fall in no small part to Ms. Allard.  We sincerely hope, therefore, that she left behind in Palatine the viewpoint she expressed when responding to questions about retiring superintendant Robert McKanna’s $327,596 of total compensation, noting that such amount “was in line with what other superintendants get on the way out in a district this size.”

That’s the kind of herd-mentality bureaucratic thinking that spawns, not solves, budgetary problems – and that fuels, not quells, public cynicism about our elected officials and our various governmental bodies.

A True “Emergency” Or Just More Financial Mismanagement?

06.10.09

In case you have forgotten, the City is looking at a $2 million-plus 2009-10 budget deficit, after running deficits totaling $3 million over the past two years.  That’s big-time financial mismanagement, folks, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get any better anytime soon – as evidenced by the City Council’s recent addition to the deficit by increasing the hand-outs of taxpayer money to private community organizations.

And if you need another example, look no farther than Monday night’s City Council Committee of the Whole (“COW”) meeting, at which the COW  – or the 2/3 of it that was present (Alds. Carey and Ryan were absent) – voted to advance to final Council vote the spending of approximately $80,000 in non-budgeted funds to replace a leaking City Hall air conditioning chiller.  According to Public Works Director Wayne Zingsheim, the air conditioning system is on the brink of failure.  And if it fails, the lack of air conditioning could cause the failure of the City’s entire computer system, including the Police Department’s network.

Zingsheim reported that replacement of the unit was the only option because the air conditioning system is so old that nobody wanted to even bid on repairing it.  In view of that, we have a hard time understanding how the need for its replacement seems to have sprung up as such a surprise, especially to anybody who is paid to pay attention to this stuff – like, for example, our Public Works Director. 

In a similar vein, we’re also troubled by how this was sprung on the Council as a full-blown “emergency” at the May 11, 2009, COW meeting, to the point where Zingsheim wanted to waive competitive bidding so that he could get what he reported to be the only replacement unit available anywhere in the country, for which he was quoted a price of $84,000.  But when the Council insisted that the project be sent out for bid, lo and behold, the City received seven bids – the lowest of which was for $80,600 (from Kroeschell, Inc., in Arlington Heights), or $3,400 less than Zingsheim’s “deal.” 

At this point, however, we have to note that the highest bid was $148,000, which makes us wonder whether the high bidder was really trying to gouge the City, or whether these were not truly apples-to-apples bids.  We sure hope somebody at City Hall is checking to make sure that such a large disparity in price does not mean that the City is spending $80,000 for an undersized little-engine-that-barely-can system that will have to be replaced again in a few years.

But the real issue for us here at PublicWatchdog is: Why did this air conditioning situation become such an “emergency”?  Given the age of the unit, shouldn’t it’s deterioration/failure have been anticipated and put in the 2009-10 budget – or even a prior year’s budget?  Was somebody asleep at the wheel again?  Or was the potential failure and replacement of this air conditioning system well-understood by City staff but intentionally ignored so that other less-worthy items could be budgeted for – like the $200,000-plus in taxpayer funding of private community organizations – with the expectation that the City Council could always be stampeded into approving an over-budget “emergency” air conditioner replacement, just like it’s now doing?

Can you answer those questions, City Manager Hock?  Finance Director Lambesis?  Public Works Director Zingsheim?

The real bottom-line problem is that the City is left with yet another over-budget expenditure, although we are now hearing that the City may be in line for a $158,000 federal grant for energy-saving projects for which a new air chiller might qualify.  Considering that we’re still waiting for the State of Illinois money for the sound wall up by Park Ridge Pointe, however, we’ll believe that the City is getting federal grant money only after the U.S. Treasury check has cleared.

And with a $2 million-plus budget deficit still staring us in the face, even $158,000 of federal grant money doesn’t make the City’s financial mess any more palatable, or the incompetence of our public officials any more tolerable.

School District 64: Hiding In Plain Sight

06.08.09

Park Ridge – Niles School District 64 recently swore in four new board members: Pat Fioretto, Russ Gentile, Sharon Lawson and Eric Uhlig, all of whom ran uncontested with the endorsement of the General Caucus.  Those last two facts virtually guarantee, in the not-so-grand tradition of District, that none of them have any inviolate principles or other “sharp edges” that might prevent them from going along to get along. 

Given that “pedigree,” we don’t hold out much hope that any of them will help construct a “new majority” of the school board which will be inspired to bring some much-needed transparency and accountability to what historically has been the most opaque, cost-ineffective and self-congratulatory arm of Park Ridge local government.  If you don’t believe us, just take a look at the District’s website, http://www.d64.org/, basically a collection of self-serving factoids and quasi-analysis which predictably makes the District look like a much better-run organization than it has ever been.

For example, check out the “District Finances” section.  The “ISBE Profile” section brags about the fact that the District has received the Illinois State Board of Education’s “Financial Recognition” rating – the highest rating offered by the ISBE – since 2007, when the voters approved the whopping multi-million tax increase referendum just a couple of years after the District snuck through $5 million in non-referendum working cash bonds (“WCB”s) by employing the lie that those bonds were needed to combat delayed real estate tax revenues.  In fact, those WCBs were used to free up those belated tax revenues so that the latter funds could partially replenish the District’s depleted fund balances. 

Not surprisingly, there’s no mention of the fact that those fund balances were depleted during the first half of this decade by the financial bungling of Superintendant Sally Prior and her fellow high-ranking administrators, which was rubber-stamped by then-current Caucus-anointed school board members Steve Lieber, Barbara Jones, Jane Meagher, Joe Baldi, Rich Brendza, Sue Runyon, Dean Krone, Steve Latreille, Christina Heyde, Ares Dalianis, Chris Mollett, Ron James and Marty Joyce – or that the District desperately needed those multi-millions generated by the WCBs and tax increases to prevent the ISBE from stepping in to manage the District’s finances because of several years of the District’s receiving the ISBE’s unfavorable “Financial Early Warning” and “Financial Watch” ratings. 

That’s not to say that those folks are bad people.  They aren’t.  But with the exception of Krone’s one brief shining moment (when he suggested, unsuccessfully, that any leftover “New Emerson” construction funds be rebated to the taxpayers rather than rolled into the general education fund), they also showed in no uncertain terms that they lacked the understanding, the ability and/or the courage to manage the District in ways that maximized educational quality within the constraints imposed by the tax caps that were instituted in 1994.  And they also displayed a clear lack of understanding, ability and/or courage to tell the taxpayers the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about the practical results of their stewardship of the District.

That’s why, although presiding over the District’s relatively straight-line decline into financial crisis, they regularly patted each other on the back – even as they caved in the face of a brief strike by the teacher’s union, and even before they began giving Prior all the salary increases that have pushed her compensation beyond $215,000 (as best as we can tell).  Meanwhile, the District’s budget has grown even larger than the City’s.

Want to find out the state of District 64 (apparently its version of the State of the Union, or the State of the State)?  Go to, and click on, the “About Us” heading.  Then click on the “State of the District” [pdf] and you’ll find it…as of Fall, 2006!  That’s not the level of candor, or even the level of attention to detail, that inspires a whole lot of confidence.

But when it comes to student performance, we couldn’t find anything on the District’s website that showed us where the District ranks among the other districts in the Greater Chicagoland area in terms of ISAT scores.  We’re guessing that’s because, as best as we can tell from the ranking information that is available from other sources (such as the Chicago Sun-Times), District 64’s performance on those tests is lackluster at best…although you’ll never get the administration or board to acknowledge it: When they can’t avoid the topic, their mantra is always one of the many variations on the theme “we don’t teach to the test.”

Can’t you just hear Prior or the designated District 64 spokesman sneer (in her/his best “The Treasure of Sierra Madre” bandito voice): “Test scores?  We don’t need no stinking test scores”?

The District’s website also furnishes a variety of information about compensation of teachers and administrators, but it does so by nameless categories, tables and fictional examples (“Teacher A” and “Teacher B”) that really don’t tell the taxpayers much at all. The simpler and better alternative would be to publish the compensation of each individual teacher and administrator by name – so that the taxpayers can tell exactly to whom they are paying how much for whatever quality and quantity of service each such employee is providing.

But don’t hold your breath waiting for that level of transparency and accountability.  District 64 hasn’t provided it yet, and we don’t expect to see it anytime soon.  For the people who run the District, and for the Caucus folks who were instrumental in putting them in office, warm and fuzzy propaganda is always preferred over straight-shooting. 

Hail To The Chief

06.05.09

This week the City of Park Ridge announced the appointment of Park Ridge resident Frank J. Kaminski as the City’s new police chief. 

Kaminski currently serves as the Director of Public Safety for Evanston Township H.S. District 202. Before that, he was the police chief for the City of Evanston.

He will be taking over a police department that has been factionalized and politicized in recent years, at least according to the $100,000-plus “Ekl Report” issued in 2008 following an “audit” of the department by Lisle attorney Terry Ekl and his staff.  That audit process pushed then-Chief Jeffrey Caudill into early retirement, even as it left many unanswered questions about police personnel, professionalism, staffing and operations.

We currently have no ability to speak to Kaminski’s police acumen, although we expect that a man who was able to work his way up from beat cop to police chief for a department the size of Evanston’s – with the more substantial and diverse issues such a department addressed on a daily basis – will be up to the task of commanding the Park Ridge force, in a community less than half the size and with far less crime.

We also like the fact that this selection appears to have been the decision of City Mgr. Jim Hock, without (so far) any hint of politics or cronyism.  Given some of the citizen complaints and the infighting that has been both reported and rumored in the PRPD in recent years, an apolitical appointment bodes well for the community as a whole. 

But what makes us most enthusiastic about this selection is his M.B.A. from Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management.  Imagine that: Someone selected to manage a city department who not only has a wealth of previous management experience but who also holds a graduate degree from one of the country’s most prestigious management programs.

The potential savings in consultant fees alone might be worth whatever we will be paying him.

So welcome, Chief Kaminski. You most certainly have your work cut out for you; but it looks like you just might be up to the task.