The Watchdog’s Kibbles & Bits – Box 16


School Rankings Time Again. Today’s Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times each have feature articles on the annual ISAT scores registered by our public school systems.

As usual, Maine South is on both lists of the top high schools, tied for 12th position (with Lake Forest H.S.) on the Tribune’s “Top 50” list, for which the rankings are a function purely of the percentage of test scores that met or exceeded state standards; and ranking 13th (several spots below Lake Forest) on the Sun-Times’ “Top 100” list, which uses a more complex formula that the S-T claims “allows for more definition among top schools.”

But for the first time in recent memory, a District 64 school makes an appearance, with Carpenter Elementary School ranking in a tie for 49th on the Tribune’s list, although no District 64 school shows up on the S-T list.  But it’s a start.  So a big wag of the Watchdog’s tail to the folks at Carpenter – maybe you can share some tips with the other schools in the District that were, once again, notably absent from the lists of ISAT achievement.

Walk On By.  They’re ba-ack.  “They” are those residents who want their own special deal at the Park Ridge Community Center: they want $2 per visit punch passes so that they can walk around the Community Center any time it is open because they don’t want to pay for one of the several kinds of Community Center memberships that were created after numerous other “limited-use” memberships wisely were eliminated several years ago in an effort to make that facility’s operations more efficient and cost-effective.

The problem with limited-use privileges at the Community Center is that the facility’s ridiculous “open” layout can’t reasonably accommodate anything but full-facility membership.  Too many residents found it too easy to buy some low-price, limited-use membership and then expand their use into areas where they weren’t supposed to be – causing migraine headaches for staff, irritating members who were paying full-fare, and ultimately cheating the taxpayers. 

Commissioner Mary Wynn Ryan claims to be offended that people might drive to Golf Mill to walk if they can’t have their $2-a-visit walking pass. 

We here at PublicWatchdog disagree.  If folks would rather drive to Golf Mill than buy a Community Center membership, let ‘em – just add them to the list of all the other people who go elsewhere because the Park District doesn’t offer something they want, like the golfers who drive to Tam in Niles or Chick Evans in Morton Grove to play a round of golf; or the sailors who drive to Lake Opeka to Hobie Cat; or the mini-golfers who drive to Des Plaines or Skokie; or the skiers who fly to Vail or Steamboat….

Not With A Bang But A Whimper.  We hear that City Attorney “Buzz” Hill and the Park Ridge City Council will be spared the agita and potential embarrassment of having to decide whether to prosecute former mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark for violating the City’s ethics ordinance by selling/brokering insurance for the Uptown parking garage in which the City has an interest. 

Word is that Mid-America and/or the Uptown Condominium Homeowners Association (“UCHA”) decided to pull the pin on Frimark’s insurance coverage.  We don’t know whether Frimark had any say in the matter, but that “Whew!” you heard emanating from the direction of City Hall was the collective sigh of relief from elected officials and bureaucrats alike.  And that means no tap dancing or sleight of hand at the City Council meeting this Monday night, when this matter was to have been taken up in earnest by the Council.

But we wonder whether the Council will also try to sweep under the carpet Frimark’s execution of the “First Amendment” to the easement and operating agreement for “Phase III” of the Uptown project – by which, as we understand it, the City ceded some of its voice and authority in the operations of that portion of the project to the developer and the UCHA?

Go, HAWKS!  Tomorrow afternoon the Maine South Hawks start their drive to the 2009 state championship when they host Oak Park-River Forest.  We wish them well in their effort to repeat as state champs, and we encourage all Park Ridge residents to show up and support another Hawks football juggernaut, led on both sides of the ball by University of Indiana-bound Player-of-the-Year candidate Matt Perez and quarterback Tyler Benz. 

Synergistic Flood Control


Many problems that seem intractable to an individual governmental body can be surmounted by “intergovernmental cooperation” – multiple governmental entities working together.  It’s called “synergy.”

So we’re glad to see that the City of Park Ridge’s flood consultant, Christopher B. Burke Engineering, is suggesting that one way for the City of Park Ridge to reduce flooding in certain areas might be to enlist the aid of the Park Ridge Park District and create above-ground water detention areas in the parks, according to a story in today’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Park water storage could curb flooding: engineer” October 29).

A study of six heavy-flooding areas of the City done by the flood consultant indicates that an above-ground, grass covered basin at Northwest Park – when linked by storm sewers and cross pipes to nearby areas that are regularly hard-hit by flooding – could mitigate flooding in the areas both east and west of that park during those heaviest of rains which pose the worst problems for area residents. 

The water detained in that basin would drain within about 48 hours, according to the consultant.

Obviously, a plan like this, which appears very attractive at first glance, needs to be thoroughly vetted as to, first and foremost, its cost – not only the cost to create it, but the expected costs to maintain it.  Not surprisingly, there is no mention of cost in the Herald-Advocate article, which is a bit troubling given the astronomical numbers being tossed around for the kind of sewer upgrades needed to make a significant dent in the flooding problem city-wide.

And let’s also make sure the plan is thoroughly vetted as to all of its potential consequences to the fields themselves, such as the effect of water detention on the health of the turf and the fields’ playability, the potential for interruption of field use for scheduled events, etc.  Those also have a cost to them, both in money and in time lost to rescheduling or alternatives.

But the idea sure does sound promising, so we hope it will be given all due consideration. 

We’re giving a special wag of the Watchdog’s tail to the Park District, which has led the way in intergovernmental cooperation since 2004, when it saved the City (and, therefore, the taxpayers) several million dollars by offering Hinkley Park as the site of the City’s new reservoir.  And that savings isn’t even counting the approx. $2 million value to the NICOR site, value which would have been permanently lost if the City had gone forward with its plan to put the reservoir there.

Synergy.  Ya gotta love it.

A Busy Evening At City Hall Tonight


It has been awhile since we’ve seen this many significant items on one night’s City Council agenda – or, in this case, two agendas, as the Council will have a “special meeting” [pdf] at 6:45 p.m., followed by the standard Committee of the Whole (“COW) meeting [pdf] at 7:00 p.m.

We sure hope residents show up at City Hall tonight to keep a keen eye on our City government, which needs all the scrutiny the public can give it – especially when it is discussing such hot topics as land grading for residential properties [pdf], the positively scary possibility of issuing bonds to replenish the $4.3 million the Uptown TIF has drained from the general operating fund [pdf], and whether the City should adopt a policy requiring it to be reimbursed for its costs from “special events” [pdf], something we believe is long overdue.

But the agenda item we want to focus on is the planned final vote at the “special meeting” to approve a contract [pdf] to tear out a portion of “Pickwick Plaza” behind 31-33 S. Prospect and restore the parking spaces that were removed back in 1986, when the previous owner of that property leased that area to the City for $1 per year.  The current owner, Winchester Investment Services, LLC, wants $2,000 per month to extend the lease, and the City wisely has said “No.”

According to the City Attorney, the City is contractually obligated only to replace the current features with the plain asphalt parking lot that was there in 1986.  But City Staff – in what seems to be yet another example of standard operating incompetence at the taxpayers’ expense – formulated the wrong bid specifications for that project by adding concrete aprons, a dumpster pad, and fencing, which jack up the cost to the City by over $5,000 (or 9%).

Fortunately, Ald. Frank Wsol (7th Ward) challenged the Staff’s incompetence, and the vote on this was deferred to tonight. 

Regular readers of this blog know that we have not had many good words for Ald. Wsol over the past year or so.  We thought his big new police station plan was ridiculous, his eleventh-hour alternative cop shop referendum question outrageous, and his opposition to a 100% pass-through of water rate increases fiscally irresponsible.

But when he’s right, he deserves to be recognized for it.  And this is one of those occasions.

We realize that $5,000 is not an earth-shattering amount, standing alone.  But it illustrates the positively cavalier way that Staff – in this case, Dir. Of Community Preservation & Development Carrie Davis, judging from all her tap-dancing about this matter under Council questioning, captured at – treats our tax dollars; and why the City’s financial condition is so shaky.

We urge the City Council to reject Staff’s foolish recommendation.  And because we’re being told that it’s too late to re-bid and complete the project before the asphalt plants close for the winter (which raises yet another question about Staff competence in waiting until this late in the season, after the lease has expired, before going out to bid), we also urge the owners of Winchester – Tim and Jennifer Perry – to magnanimously agree to preserve the status quo until Spring, so long as the City continues to provide the free snow removal and 12 parking lot spaces as it has been doing.

But whether or not that kind of accommodation between the City and the Perrys can be reached, the City Council needs to give Staff a stern warning that this kind of fiscal responsibility will not be tolerated any longer. 

Are They Lies, Or Is It Memorex?


Early in this past Monday night’s City Council meeting, two Park Ridge children walked to the podium in the “well” of the City Council chambers and successfully implored Mayor Dave Schmidt to restore an hour of trick-or-treating that had mistakenly been cut by executive order.

The kids addressed the mayor with a childlike earnestness that more than made up for their amateurish “legal” arguments. 

Moments later, prominent local attorney Jack “Mr. Insider” Owens strode to that same podium to make his professional legal arguments, with far less childlike earnestness, in defense of former Park Ridge mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark, who may have engaged in unethical conduct as an insurance agent for the Uptown mixed-use development, in violation of Section 2-5-3 of the City’s ethics ordinance.

According to Owens – as captured on videotape, courtesy of residents George Kirkland and Charles Melidosian (using the videocamera donated by Mayor Dave Schmidt from his mayoral salary) – Frimark had no idea that the City had any role in the insurance of the Uptown development when he intially bound the coverage several weeks ago.  To hear Owens tell it, Frimark was like Inspector Renault in “Casablanca” – except that instead of being “shocked” to discover that gambling was going on in Rick’s Café, Frimark was surprised to find out that the City had a stake in the Uptown development that made it an additional insured under the policy that he had bound for the developer, PRC Partners, and the Uptown Condominium Homeowners Association. 

But as Owens later admitted, even after Frimark found out about the City’s role, he went ahead and also bound the City to the insurance coverage. 

Trick and treat!

The “treat,” of course, is for Frimark, who wants to pocket the commission on what we understand to be over $42,000 of total insurance premiums on this deal that he is “absolutely prohibited” from doing under the ethics ordinance.  The “trick” – or at least one of them – was Owens’ effort to soft-peddle Frimark’s gain on the deal by pointing out that his commission on the City’s portion of the premium was a measly $365. 

Exactly what will happen in this continuing saga is anybody’s guess. 

Under one scenario, the City Attorney will refer the matter to the City Council to decide whether or not Frimark will be prosecuted and subjected to a fine of from $1,000 to $5,000.  Under another scenario, the matter could be referred to an independent investigator to determine whether the prosecution will go forward. 

Or maybe both things could occur, especially if the first scenario plays out and the Council majority (Allegretti, Bach, Carey, DiPietro and Ryan) whose members collectively gave $3,829.51 to Frimark’s re-election campaign can’t bring themselves to enforce the ethics ordinance against their mentor.  But that’s a question for another day. 

What we just discovered, however, is something that calls into question the truthfulness of Frimark’s “ignorance-is-bliss” defense: the “First Amendment to Easement and Operating Agreement for Uptown Phase III, Park Ridge, Illinois” [pdf]which confirms that the City is responsible for 21.28% of the Uptown underground parking garage, the same 21.28% of the garage’s air handling equipment, and 34.84% of the garage’s elevators (see Amendment, at page 2); and 21.28% of the insurance premiums (see Amendment, at page 4).

And guess what?  The person who signed onto this Amendment for the City on January 19, 2009, was none other than “Howard P. Frimark, Mayor” – whose signature (at page 8 of the Amendment) was attested to by City Clerk Betty W. Henneman, with both of their signatures notarized by City employee Cheryl Peterson.

A very quick search through the City Council meeting minutes for November 2008 through January 2009 revealed no mention of City Council approval of this Amendment.  That raises a question of exactly where Frimark got the authority to lawfully bind the City to such an arrangement.

So unless Frimark is going to change his plea from ignorance-is-bliss to Alzheimer’s (or perhaps only Half-heimer’s) memory loss about what he signed or why he signed it, this Amendment makes it pretty darn clear that the former mayor actually knew, or should have known, of the City’s stake in the parking garage and the insurance coverage that he was selling to the Uptown development…before he even started his sales pitch!

Oh, the twisted web he weaves….

Unenforced Ordinances = Worthless Ordinances


A couple of years ago, the City Council amended the City’s Ethics Ordinance to address some gaping holes, like self-dealing and “insider” (e.g., friend, friend-of-a-friend, campaign contributor) dealing. 

One of the results of that effort was the current Section 2-5-3, which “absolutely” prohibits our mayor, aldermen and certain other City officials – both while they are in office and for two years afterward – from acting as an agent for others in their dealings with the City. 

Despite being the mayor when this Section was extensively debated and enacted, it appears that Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark may have earned the dubious distinction of being its first violator – by selling insurance to the folks in charge of the Uptown development: Developer PRC Partners and the Uptown Condominium Homeowners Association (“UCHA”).  Oh, yes, and to the City.  

According to his “mouthpiece” – not surprisingly, Frimark “lawyered up” with prominent local attorney and consummate “insider” Jack Owens – the former mayor did exactly what the ordinance prohibits. 

After proclaiming to the Council that Frimark “was actually solicited” by the UCHA, Owens admitted that Frimark sold insurance to PRC and UCHA that covered the underground parking garage, of which the City owns three floors.  According to Owens, Frimark initially bound the coverage for only PRC and UCHA without knowing the City was supposed to be an additional named insured, and obligated to pay part of the premium, based on its contract with PRC – even though Frimark was an alderman when that contract was negotiated and executed.

But Owens’ attempt at mounting the “ignorance-is-bliss” defense crashed and burned seconds later when he admitted that Frimark, after being informed of the City’s status and interest, went ahead and “bound the coverage for the City…the next day.” (If you want to hear it for yourself, the video – courtesy of intrepid videographer George Kirkland and up-link expert Charles Melidosian – can be found at yesterday’s post on Park Ridge Underground )

Sounds like game, set and match, right?  Time for Owens to start trying to negotiate Frimark’s fine down from the maximum $5,000, right?

Not so fast, Bunky.

Even though City Attorney Everette “Buzz” Hill had prepared an “interim” report which presumably found the same ordinance violation by Frimark to which Owens admitted from the Council floor, the enforcement of the ordinance requires that a formal “complaint” about the violation be filed. 

In this case, Hill’s analysis and report arose not out of a formal complaint but, instead, from a simple inquiry by Mayor Dave Schmidt, who had heard of Frimark’s involvement in the insurance deal and asked Hill for an opinion of whether or not that was an ordinance violation.

The upshot is that, unless somebody actually files a formal complaint, it looks like Frimark is off the hook, ethics be damned.

Of course, Schmidt or one of his supporters could file the formal complaint, which would almost certainly be followed by howling accusations of “vendetta politics” and “witch hunt” by Frimark and his allies. Whether the mayor or an ally will run that risk remains to be seen. 

But an excellent way to stifle such accusations would be for one of Frimark’s five former(?) “alderpuppets” and campaign contributors – Allegretti, Bach, Carey, DiPietro and Ryan – to lodge the complaint, which could serve as a meaningful endorsement by them of ethics in City government.  We’re not going to hold our collective breath waiting for that to happen, however, especially in light of the palpable expressions of relief they (other than Carey, who was absent) displayed upon hearing about the complaint requirement.

According to Owens, the City’s share of Frimark’s commission on the insurance sale would be $365 – a figure he spoke with an almost dismissive, “so what?” tone.

But this isn’t about $365, or about the much larger commission Frimark will earn from the rest of the insurance he placed for PRC and UCHA. It’s not even about the $1,000 to $5,000 fine that could be assessed against Frimark for this violation, even though the financially-challenged City can use every stray dollar it can grab.

This is about the City’s ethics ordinance and about those acts which that ordinance describes as being “not mere conflicts of interest, but…absolutely prohibited” – seemingly irrespective of the ignorance or intent of the person committing them.  And this is about whether an absolute prohibition is worth the paper it’s printed on.

We live in what is commonly referred to as “Crook County,” in what the Chicago Tribune described as the “State of Corruption” because of the ethically bankrupt way government operates in Illinois. The reason ordinances such as this one were enacted is because too many elected and appointed public officials in this state seem to need bright-line standards of ethical and unethical conduct.

But if ordinances like this are not going to be scrupulously and aggressively enforced, they are worthless.  Or, even worse, they are a sick joke…primarily on the taxpayers who keep footing the bill for the graft and corruption that seem virtually institutionalized in, ironically, the Land of (Honest Abe) Lincoln.  

The Semi-Secrets On Tonight’s City Council Agenda


For those of you who are curious about local government secrecy and intrigue, however small-potatoes it might be, tonight’s City Council agenda [pdf] (7:30 p.m., 505 Butler Place) has a two-fer for you.

The first item comes fairly early on the agenda, under the “City Attorney” portion of the festivities and bearing the innocuous title “Target Area 2 Insurance.”  This should be City Attorney Everette “Buzz” Hill’s opining on whether former mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark is violating the City’s ethics ordinance by his involvement in the sale of insurance for the parking garage portion of the Uptown development.

Because the City owns three levels of the underground parking garage, it must be listed as an “insured” on the insurance policy.  According to City Mgr. Jim Hock (per an Oct. 7 Park Ridge Journal story), the City is obligated to pay only 21% of the garage premium because condo residents and customers of the businesses there are using most of the City’s spaces. The rest of the premium is being paid by PRC Partners and the Uptown Condominium Homeowners Association (“UCHA”).

PRC and/or UCHA reportedly chose Frimark as the broker for this insurance coverage. 

Under Article 2, Section 2-5-3 E(1) [pdf] of the ethics ordinance – which was enacted while Frimark was mayor – certain City officials (including the mayor) are prohibited from acting “as agent…for any party in that other party’s request for consideration from the City or in that other party’s claim against the City” while serving as an official “or within two (2) years after his or her office…has ceased.”

Frimark clearly served as mayor less than 2 years ago, so the key question to be answered by Attorney Hill is whether Frimark’s involvement in placing the insurance coverage makes him an “agent” regarding a “party’s request for consideration from the City” – with the “party” in question being PRC, UCHA, and/or the insurance company issuing the coverage?

Under the “Definitions” in Section 2-5-1 [pdf], “Consideration from the City” shall include “use of or interest in City property…and contracting with or product or service vending to the City.”  

We’re not municipal law experts, but it sure looks to us like being the insurance broker for coverage of the City’s ownership interest in the garage that provides spaces for use by PRC and UCHA, is both an “interest in City property” and “product [in this case, insurance coverage] or service [in this case, insurance brokerage] vending to the City.”  

If Hill believes a violation has occurred and recommends prosecution, the City would have to file a lawsuit against Frimark in the Circuit Court of Cook County.  Under Section 2-5-13 [pdf], if the court finds a violation, the violator “shall be fined not less than $1,000 nor more than $5,000 for each offense.” 

But irrespective of what Atty. Hill finds or recommends, under Section 2-5-8 [pdf] the City Council still has the final say on whether or not to file the lawsuit against Frimark.  And, frankly, we don’t see that happening, given that five of the current aldermen not only endorsed the former mayor for re-election but also contributed a total of $3,829.51 to his campaign fund: Allegretti – $1,500; Bach – $400; Carey – $500; DiPietro/CrossTech Communications – $565; and Ryan – $864.51.

Plus, they’ve got a built-in excuse for giving this violation – assuming Hill finds Frimark’s conduct to be one – the proverbial wink and nod: a court case, especially if Frimark contests it, could well cost the City more in attorneys’ fees and filing costs than the it could recover in fines.  And since those five Frimark aldermen are the same fiscal conservatives who keep on running up multi-million dollar deficit budgets, they have to start economizing somewhere.

The “other” bit of secrecy on tonight’s agenda is the continuing refusal by City Staff to identify the owner of 31-33 S. Prospect who wants the City to pay it $24,000 a year to keep the current portion of “Pickwick Plaza” behind that property intact, or remove it at a cost of $62,369 – as can be seen from the newest Carrie Davis “Agenda Cover Memorandum” [pdf] on the subject, which this time makes only one discrete reference to “the property owner.”  That discussion is scheduled under the report of the Public Works Committee, near the end of the meeting. 

Thanks to the comment to last Friday’s post (“Another Side To The Culture Of Secrecy”) by one of our readers, we were able to confirm that the current owner of that property is Winchester Investment Services, L.L.C. [pdf], whose managers are Timothy and Jennifer Perry.  Mr. Perry is a prominent, long-time mortgage broker in town, and Mrs. Perry chairs the newly-formed Park Ridge O’Hare Airport Commission. 

That’s not to suggest that the Perry’s or their LLC are doing anything wrong here.  As best as we can tell, they acquired that commercial property with an existing contract with the City that gives them the legal right to restoration of the parking spaces and dumpster pad now that the City’s $1-a-year lease has expired; and they are lawfully exercising their rights under that contract.

Which is why we just don’t understand what Ms. Davis or the rest of the gang over at City Hall is trying to cover up, or why, by so tenaciously keeping the property owner’s identity a “secret.”  Haven’t they figured out that one really effective way to create suspicion about City business is to keep some relevant element of it a secret…especially when that “business,” one way or the other, is going to cost the taxpayers some dough?

But, then again, maybe the Culture of Secrecy is so entrenched over at 505 Butler Place that the bureaucrats don’t even “get” the concept of “transparent” government…or simply don’t don’t think it applies to them.

Another Side To The “Culture Of Secrecy”


This week’s Park Ridge Journal carried a story about the October 12 City Council Committee of the Whole meeting, at which was discussed the owner of the building at 31-33 S. Prospect re-claiming 8 parking spots that had been leased to the City since 1986 for $1 per year (“Businesses Want Parking Lot Back,” Oct. 14).

The City acquired the right to those spaces in the rear of that building and other adjoining buildings to create “Pickwick Plaza” by installing lights and landscaping.  According to Director of Community Development Carrie Davis, all of the leases for the Pickwick Plaza have come due, and none of the seven property owners have expressed interest in renewing the leases.

Apparently the lease for 31-33 S. Prospect was “the only one…that required a restoration” of the property to its pre-Pickwick Plaza condition, according to City Attorney Everette “Buzz” Hill.

Actually, the owner of that property is willing to re-up the lease with the City, but at market rates rather than the token $1 per year.  That would have put the rent at approximately $2,000 a month.  If the City chooses not to re-up, however, it is required under the lease to restore the area to its 1986 condition of 8 parking spaces and a dumpster pad, for which the City has received a bid of $62,369.

Whether maintaining that portion of Pickwick Plaza is worth $24,000 a year is an open question, especially in view of the cost of restoration.  But we find two aspects of this situation particularly interesting – one troubling, the other surprising to the point of humor.

The troubling aspect of this situation is the fact that neither the Journal account of it, nor the City’s “Agenda Cover Memorandum” [pdf] by Director of Community Development Carrie Davis, identifies the owner of that property.  And, even more amazingly, a review of the video of that meeting reveals that even during the almost one-half hour Council/Staff discussion, the owner’s name was not mentioned once!

What’s so secret about the identity of this particular property owner that he can only be referred to as “the owner”?  And why does he appear to be playing games with the City, as suggested by the conflicting assertions of his need for the 8 parking spaces but yet being willing to forego those needed 8 spaces for a rental payment of $24,000 a year?   


As for the surprising/humorous aspect, try Ald. Don Bach’s (3rd Ward) having “broached the idea” of the City just grabbing the land by condemnation under eminent domain.  Although eminent domain condemnation is a perfectly legitimate and constitutionally-approved power of government to acquire property for an identifiable public purpose, our local politicians and bureaucrats historically have treated this “ED” as if it were the medical problem with the same abbreviation: they didn’t want to even talk about it.

Over the past couple of years, Bach and the rest of the aldermen dared not even whisper the words “eminent domain” while their mentor, former mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark, negotiated behind the scenes with various property owners around town, ostensibly to cut a deal on a site for the big new cop shop Frimark – and Bach – desired. The party line then was that a negotiated deal was better than condemnation, even though eminent domain provides for the owner to receive Fair Market Value for his property.

Yet here’s Bach, speaking those words publicly about what seems to us to be a pretty insignificant piece of ground. 

We have to wonder whether Bach’s apparent change of heart has anything to do with the identity of the owner, he whose name must not be spoken?    

City Needs Public Input On NICOR Gas Site


The last big piece of land the City sold was the reservoir block, which went to PRC for the Uptown development in what some consider to have been a “sweetheart” deal – if for no other reason than the City, amazingly enough, never got an MAI appraisal in an attempt to establish its fair market value before selling it.

Which should cause Park Ridge taxpayers at least a bit of concern over the article in yesterday’s Park Ridge Journal that the City is looking to sell the NICOR property at Greenwood and Elm now that NICOR’s lease is ending. (“Nicor Gas Lot Will Soon Be Up For Sale,” Oct. 14)

The Journal reports that the City has obtained “a three-level appraisal” for the former site of the City’s Public Works Dept. garage: $2.1 million if used for multi-family residential, $1.8 million if used for industrial, and from $1.6 to $1.8 million for single-family residential, all of which could be affected by whether or not there are any significant soil contamination issues.

Unfortunately, the Journal article does not identify who did this appraisal, and what his/her/its qualifications are.  We understand, however, that the appraiser was Marous & Company, which has a top-flight reputation and is Park Ridge-based – so we will assume it’s reliable until proven otherwise.

But what we find troubling is the quote from City Mgr. Jim Hock: “You may decide to take less cash from the sale of the property if you get the developer that you know is going to follow through with what you want to see on the property.”

Gee, Jim, do you mean a multi-family residential developer like Andrew Koglin’s PRC?  Or a multi-family residential developer like Bruce Adreani’s Norwood Builders?

We don’t think the City has any business whatsoever “favoring” any particular developer.  That’s a sure way of encouraging sweetheart deals with insiders, which may be the typical way things are done here in Illinois but which also is one of the main reasons our state, county and City governments are in the financial messes they’re in.

The City has codes and ordinances that were enacted to deal with these kinds of issues irrespective of who the developer may be – so long as they are ENFORCED.   As we have seen over the past few years, however, lack of enforcement and the granting of variances seem to be as much the rule as the exception.

We believe that before the City gets any further along on this matter, it should hold a couple of well-publicized public hearings to let the residents speak for the record about what THEY would like to see constructed on that site – if anything – and why.  Concerns about density and the demands on our already-hobbled infrastructure should get a full airing and debate before any decision about this site is made.

Transparent and accountable government demands nothing less.

Is District 207 Joining The Fiscal Mismanagement Club? (Updated 10/13)


We used to think that Maine Township High School District 207 was a financially well-run organization, providing a high-quality education for the student and fiscal responsibility for the taxpayer.  But that belief was shaken by last week’s Herald-Advocate, which reported that Dist. 207 is facing a $17 million “structural budget deficit” (“District 207: Meetings to address $17M budget”). 

That article pointed us to a Dist. 207 “news release” [pdf], which tells a tale of woe that sure sounds like bad news for the District’s taxpayers.  According to two five-year financial forecasts, one done in-house and the other from an outside consultant, the District’s fund balances will be “depleted within five years if the District does not take decisive action to reduce or eliminate the structural budget deficit.”

Not surprisingly, the District reports that it will be looking at “formulating ways to increase revenues.”  For those of you not used to bureaucrat-speak, that means “coming up with a plan to raise taxes.”   But in typical school administration/school board obfuscation, the “news release” does not even mention the dreaded words “tax increase” – presumably because the administrators and school board members assume the taxpayers either are too stupid or too distracted by other matters to do the translation on their own.

If we are to believe the District (which is always an iffy proposition any time you’re dealing with government bureaucrats and politicians), the school board just found out this summer that an expected $4 million deficit for last school year was closer to $10 million! 

How do you end up that far off – 150% – and find out about it only after the end of the school year?  Wasn’t anybody monitoring those numbers during the school year itself?

If you want to ask some of those questions, we understand there is a meeting on the topic tomorrow night (Oct. 13) from 6:30 to 7:30 at Maine South; and next Monday night (Oct. 19) from 6:30 to 7:30 at Maine East.  Hopefully those won’t just be the typical dog-and-pony shows that are the rule rather than the exception when problems like this arise.

Meanwhile, we’ll just have to be content with the District’s two main alibis for this mess: that a “historically bad economy” (which is being used, at least for the time being, as the budgetary equivalent of “the dog ate my homework”); and that the low increase in the Consumer Price Index has caused a “flattening revenue line.”  In other words, because the increase in prices has been low, the District hasn’t been able to increase taxes as much as it has been increasing spending.

You know something is really cockamamie with a system that considers small increases in the cost of living a bad thing!

Do any of those administrators – or any of our purported “representatives” on the school board who are supposed to be keeping an eye on the administrators – have even the vaguest understanding of what kind of major disconnect between revenues and expenses they seem to be operating under? 

It sure doesn’t look that way, maybe because (as best as we can tell) none of those administrators or school board members appear to have any experience or understanding about running a $100 million a year business – which basically is what Dist. 207 is.  From what we can tell, most of them probably never ran any business at all, unless we count the occasional card-table sidewalk lemonade stand when they were six. 

According to the Dist. 207 bios for the seven school board members, three of them (McGrath, Mueller and Sullivan) are attorneys; two of them (Burk and Pellar) are former teachers; one of them (Braam) is an adjunct professor of psychology at Oakton Community College; and we can’t even tell what the seventh (Eric Leys) does for a living, although we are told he was named a “Master School Board Member” by the Illinois Association of School Boards.

According to the IASB website, however, it looks like that’s one of those titles you get just by going to enough IASB-sponsored events – kind of like earning frequent flier miles – so that excites us about as much as if Leys reported that he could now fly to Kansas City for free.

Business cluelessness could explain why (as the “news release” states) the “overall cost of salaries for all District employees, most of which are governed by a collective bargaining agreement, rose by about 5 percent this year.”  Gee, did anybody negotiating the last teachers’ contract on behalf of the District stop and think how they were going to ensure an increase in the revenue stream sufficient to cover that 5% increase in the cost of labor they were guarantying?

We didn’t think so. 

But, then again, what should we expect from teachers pretending to be business managers, and politicians pretending to be accountable for all the tax dollars they spend?

Update 10/13/09
Attached, courtesy of a reader who obtained it from The Champion website, is a purported list [pdf] of District 207 teachers (and administrators?) and their salaries.

We quickly counted 658 teachers/administrators, almost 300 of whom each appear to earn more than the reported median income for all Park Ridge households.

A Code For This, No Code For That…


What if you owned a home and your next-door “neighbor” raised the grade of his property between one and two feet above yours…before covering most of it with a McMansion and assorted paving to create a major rainwater run-off onto your property and into your basement?

Our informal, unscientific poll of about a dozen Park Ridge residents revealed the unanimous view that they’d be pretty darn unhappy.  The poll also indicated those same residents assumed that something in our City Code would prevent that from happening in the first place; or, at the very least, that the Code would require some structural features designed to ensure that the property captured its own water and did not become a nuisance to its neighbors. 

From the report in last week’s Park Ridge Journal (“Residents Claim New Home Causes Flooding,” September 30), that’s what residents Cliff Kowalski and Jeff Getz thought, too.  But, to their chagrin, they apparently were wrong – as they found out when they appeared before the City Council on September 21 to complain about how (according to them) City staff did nothing in response to months of their complaints about the new home at 322 S. Vine.

According to Carrie Davis, the City’s Director of Preservation and Community Development, there are no elevation standards in the City’s building code.  If that’s true, could some creative (and/or twisted) property owner build a mini-mountain for his new dwelling, limited only by the Code’s overall height limits for single-family residences?

Davis also noted that, prior to the new construction, the 322 S. Vine site was lower than its neighbors and accepted the run-off from the adjoining parcels.  So “[t]he new homeowners are taking care of their own drainage.” 

By diverting it onto their neighbors’ property?  That doesn’t sound like the best solution to us, nor does it sound like a shining example of how government is supposed to function.

Make no mistake about it: the new residence is a grand structure, certain to generate more property taxes from that parcel.  And it may enhance the overall attractiveness of that area, as well, depending on whether your taste in architecture runs toward stately stone manors.

But as Kowalski told the Council, he had no water problems before the new residence was built on its man-made mound.  That’s a comment we’ve heard with increasing frequency over the past several years, as newer, bigger homes and multi-family structures cover even more green space, creating additional demands on our infrastructure.

First Ward Ald. Joe Sweeney suggested withdrawing the temporary occupancy permit for the new structure while the problem is being analyzed and resolved.  That might put some pressure on the owner to become a little more invested in the semi-lost art of neighborliness.

And we have to give a Watchdog bark-out to Ald. Robert Ryan (5th Ward), one of our regular whipping boys, for pointing out that the City’s building code “appears to lack proper standards regarding elevations of new homes close to existing homes.”  As most 12-step programs make clear, admitting the existence of a problem is a crucial step in remedying it.  Now let’s see what Ald. Ryan does to help the City get to the next step on this problem.

In that regard, the Journal article reports that the City hired an “independent” engineering consultant who determined that there was nothing illegal or improper about the new structure.  Although the Journal does not identify that consultant, we understand that it was Bernie Bono of Bono Consulting. 

Ironically, that firm’s website has the following Q & A on its “Single Family Residential” page:

I have the lowest lot in the block, why do I have to accept my neighbor’s storm water runoff? Why can’t I just block it and let him deal with his own water?

Illinois drainage law states “Landowners, including highway authorities, have a right to drain water away as it would in a state of nature. Lower landowners, including highway authorities, have a responsibility to accept water flowing naturally onto or through their lands and have no right to interfere with such natural drainage.”


And we also understand that Bono was the consultant to the property’s owner and/or contractor.

Double Hmmmmm.