Public Watchdog.org

Hail To Our Champion Maine South Hawks!

11.30.09

One of the things that (in our opinion) has eroded the quality of performance and commitment in our society, especially for our children, is the “self-esteem” movement.  Or, more accurately, the false self-esteem movement, where praise is thrown around like confetti irrespective of effort, achievement or outcome.

So leave it to the Maine South Hawks football team to provide an object lesson in real, hard-earned self-esteem – with their dominating state championship victory Saturday night over Marist High School.  Repeat state championships, especially in the top class of the tournament structure, are rare due to things like player graduations and the hackneyed, but true, concept that anybody can beat anybody else on any given day.

But Coach Dave Inserra and his staff obviously have taught their kids what it takes to be successful.  And we suspect that many of these young champions may have started learning those lessons even before they got to Maine South, from the coaches of the highly-successful Falcons feeder program.

What can be said about Matt Perez that isn’t already encompassed in the words “Player of the Year”?  If he hadn’t already earned that award prior to Saturday night, he would have locked it up beyond a doubt with his almost-unbelievable performance in the championship game – “almost-unbelievable” only because we’ve seen too many similar ones from him to be surprised or to question.

And senior Tyler Benz – who could have been the starting quarterback at most schools for 2 or 3 years – ran the offense, and the ball, with the confidence of a college QB.

Our list of raves could go on and on.  But we think that the attitude which best describes what Maine South football is all about – and why the self-esteem those kids feel is genuine rather than false – was voiced by senior safety Mike Divito (as quoted in one of the local newspapers) after last week’s semi-final victory over Loyola Academy, in response to being asked to explain how well his under-rated defensive unit performed:

“I’d say it’s mostly heart,” DiVito said. “I’ve probably had about a total of six weeks off from football the past two years, and that’s the way it is for all of us. We wouldn’t want it any other way. Football is our passion, and on defense we truly believe that defense wins championships.”

Passion and commitment.  Two of the qualities most essential to both individual and team success.

So congratulations to the Hawks!  Once again, you’ve earned the right to call yourselves “champions.”  

Something To Be Thankful For

11.26.09

For those of us fortunate enough to live in an upscale community like Park Ridge, almost by definition we have plenty to be thankful for – far more than we could list in today’s post.

But since our focus is on local government and politics, we want to take this opportunity to express our gratitude to a few people who have contributed more to the cause of good government in our community than anyone or anything else we can think of.

First off, we thank Mayor Dave Schmidt for donating a video camera and recruiting volunteers to videotape City Council and other City government meetings so that residents unable to attend those meetings can still see – up close and personal – exactly what is going on, in ways that our local newspapers and local blogs can’t quite capture with the printed word. 

Frankly, it’s a travesty that we need a mayor to forego any part of his modest mayoral salary ($12,000) in order to get videotapes of City meetings.  But what’s an even bigger travesty is the fact that the bureaucrats in City Hall, over a year ago, came up with a cockamamie-bordering-on-fraudulent proposal of almost $130,000 to videotape City meetings – which, in retrospect, looks like nothing more than a way for those bureaucrats to avoid the kind of scrutiny that videotaped meetings provide.

Our second “thank you” goes to intrepid volunteers George Kirkland and Charles Melidosian, who without any fanfare have donated countless hours of their time to videotape and up-load the videos of City meetings so that residents can watch and learn.  Unlike the shameless self-promotors at Taste of Park Ridge NFP (“Taste Inc.”) – who incessantly tell everyone within earshot just how wonderful and self-sacrificing they are, even as they secretly and unaccountably rake in a quarter million dollars a year from their monopoly of the City’s signature 4-day “special event” at the taxpayers’ expense – Kirkland and Melidosian just do the job, quietly and unassumingly, week in and week out. 

And last, but far from least, are the folks at Park Ridge Underground, the “Pru Crew,” who laboriously take the Kirkland/Melidosian videos and provide an index – often accompanied by amusing commentary – that allows viewers to cut to the chase of whatever might interest them, rather than having to themselves slog through hours of the often incomprehensible sausage-making that regularly passes for “government” at City Hall.

Keep up the good work, folks, and take a modest bow because you deserve it.  

Allegretti Whiffs On First Attempt To Knock Ethics Out Of The Park (Ridge)

11.24.09

It was less than a month ago that the City’s ethics ordinance – which was enacted to prevent (or at least deter) unscrupulous public officials from cashing in on their public officeholding – received a unanimous and unceremonious stab in the back from the City Council when the it voted not to prosecute former mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark.

Of course, we never expected that Frimark would actually be prosecuted for what the City Attorney correctly found to be an ethics violation: Frimark’s effort to rake in the commissions from selling insurance for the Uptown condominium development to which the City is obligated to contribute some of the premium.  With a Council majority composed of five of Frimark’s former Alderpuppets who contributed a total of almost $4,000 to Frimark’s unsuccessful re-election campaign, we figured that was five votes against prosecution right there.

But we were surprised to see the ethics ordinance kicked to the curb by Mayor Dave Schmidt who, after instigating the City Attorney’s investigation and prosecution recommendation, subjected Frimark to a 2-hour “show trial” – and even argued in support of the City Attorney’s findings of a violation – before stating that he would not vote for prosecution. 

And at last night’s Committee of the Whole (“COW”) meeting Frimark’s lap-dog and principal ethics-probe defender, Alderpuppet Jim Allegretti (4th Ward), did his best to get the Council to support a nuking of the ethics ordinance’s 2-year restriction on former public officials representing parties in doing business with the City, along with making it easier for the Council to quash future ethics investigations.    

Allegretti went so far as to have the City Attorney – without prior Council approval – draft revisions to the ethics ordinance [pdf] according to Allegretti’s dictates, which ran him afoul of fellow Alderpuppet Rich DiPietro (2nd Ward), albeit only on procedural grounds because Richie D didn’t like Allegretti’s chewing up City Attorney time.

Whether Allegretti’s attempt to neuter the ethics ordinance are as successful as his efforts to neuter the Planning & Zoning Commission (“P&Z”) remain to be seen.  In addition to DiPietro’s procedural objection, only Ald. Frank Wsol (7th Ward) and Ald. Robert Ryan (5th Ward) spoke against changing the 2-year restriction, so we have no idea where Ald. Don Bach (3rd Ward) and Ald. Tom Carey (6th Ward) – or the missing Ald. Joe Sweeney – are on the issue.

Given all the ethically-challenged public officials who inhabit the governments of the City of Daley, the County of Crook, and the State of Corruption, there is no reason to think that Park Ridge government possesses some unique kind of immunity from grafters and schemers.   So the last thing the honest and decent residents of this community need is to see its already modest ethical restrictions watered down.

But Allegretti can be a determined guy, as we saw with the way he was able to get his Council allies to stiff-arm P&Z in favor of the billboard people.  And with the Alderpuppets still dominating the Council it’s not like getting a simple majority is all that tough for Jimmy A. 

We can’t help but wonder, however, whether the guy who can’t seem to stop whining about how much work it is to be an alderman for that measly $100/month stipend is already making moves in preparation for life after his Council term is up in 2011.  

Billboard Wars: Allegretti & Owens Defeat Planning & Zoning

11.18.09

Park Ridge Alderman James Allegretti and the consummate Park Ridge insider, prominent local attorney Jack Owens, are leading the charge for a billboard company that wants to put four 80-foot billboards on the west end of Park Ridge, along Interstate 294.

Whether that’s a good or a bad idea is a matter of opinion.  In the case of Park Ridge City government, the “opinion” that matters historically has been that of the members of the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission (“P&Z”).  But Allegretti and a majority of his Council chums are trying to change that.  And “Mr. Insider” Owens is more than happy to help them.

Presumably, Owens is being well paid to change the City zoning ordinance for his client, billboard company Generation Group, Inc.  And as Allegretti constantly reminds us, he is poorly-paid to represent the residents of Park Ridge’s 4th Ward. 

But if Allegretti is going to keep on accepting his $100/month to sit in one of those nice chairs around the City Council horseshoe, we would expect him to be something more than a lackey for special interests like Generation Group.

Or was it just a coincidence that Generation Group, Inc. contacted Allegretti directly, rather than going to P&Z, when it made its initial pitch for a text amendment to the City’s zoning code so that its billboards would be allowed?  And was it just a coincidence that Allegretti has led the charge to have the City be identified as the applicant – as Generation Group’s stooge surrogate – for the pro-billboard text amendment?

This week’s Herald-Advocate (“Zoning panel’s message: Don’t place your ad here,” Nov. 17), reports that P&Z commissioner Anita Rifkind criticized the “subterfuge by the City Council to take over the application for Generation,” only to be upbraided by Allegretti.

“It’s truly a pet peeve of mine that with virtually everything the City Council is asked to do, someone says we’re in somebody’s pocket — or potentially in somebody’s pocket — and somehow getting a campaign contribution from them,” Allegretti reportedly complained.

Gee, Jimbo, how would anybody ever get the idea that you would be questioned about your motives when acting as a public official?

Could it have anything to do with the fact that he contributed $300 [pdf] to Howard Frimark’s election campaign in March, 2005, but made no mention of that fact during his rather lengthy confirmation hearing as Frimark’s hand-picked aldermanic successor in June of that year – before Frimark’s campaign disclosure report made that contribution a matter of public record?  Or could it have anything to do with the fact that he contributed $200 [pdf] more to Frimark’s campaign in July 2005, just a few weeks after he got his aldermanic seat? 

Even at the paltry $100/mo aldermanic salary he whines about, Allegretti still made back that entire $500 contribution by the end of his first year in office.  And by the time his appointed term was through in 2007, he had picked up more than enough to also fund that $1,500 he contributed [pdf] to Frimark’s recent, unsuccessful re-election campaign. 

But if Allegretti really cares about dispelling the notion that he or anybody else on the Council is “in somebody’s pocket” on this issue, what he and his Council colleagues should do is immediately move for reconsideration of last Monday (Nov. 16) night’s Council vote by which they gave themselves final say over all P&Z decisions by “super-majority” vote.  Instead, they should require a unanimous vote to over-ride any P&Z decision.

That way, the public can be assured that if the Council is trumping a P&Z decision, it’s only because every single alderman is willing to go on record as saying that the P&Z decision was wrong.

But we’re not going to hold our breath for that to happen.  Allegretti and Owens have P&Z right where they want it: neutered.

Yet Another Plan To Declare War On O’Hare

11.16.09

As best as we can tell, nobody who lives in Park Ridge likes airplane noise.  Most of us are also concerned about whatever pollutants from those planes might be contaminating our air.

But last week we received information about yet another effort at doing something, anything, about O’Hare.  Unfortunately, that effort could end up being more damaging to our community than O’Hare itself – something that not only will be ineffective and expensive, but that will also publicly brand Park Ridge as an unsafe and unhealthy place to live.

Included with one of the e-mails we received was a flyer [pdf] with Gene Spanos and Tom Math referenced as the contact persons.  We don’t know anything about Mr. Math, but Mr. Spanos has been an outspoken and relentless critic of O’Hare expansion.  From the sound of things he is looking to get us into class action litigation – and appears to have already made some kind of commitment in that regard, as suggested by reference to “our next step toward a class action lawsuit.” 

That would also explain why the guest speaker is none other than “Mr. Joseph Karaganis – Attorney at Law,” who served for more than a decade as the lead litigation attorney for what we understand is the now-defunct Suburban O’Hare Commission (“SOC”) and whose firm reportedly made a bundle in legal fees from litigating over O’Hare. 

Now, maybe litigation is the only chance we have left to get some relief after all of us (including our elected and appointed officials) were too busy with other things – our kids’ soccer practices, Market Days, purple ribbons, school variety shows, the PADS shelter, Uptown redevelopment, etc. – to have paid close enough attention while the O’Hare Modernization Plan (“OMP”) and the new runways were being discussed, planned, budgeted, approved and built over the past eight years.  

But before we allow ourselves to get stampeded by Spanos and friends into a briar patch of litigation over OMP, we should stop and think about what we can expect to achieve from litigation…other than running up huge legal bills.

First of all, what are our chances of winning – whatever “winning” means in the grand scheme of things?  Has any single community (like Park Ridge) ever “won” in a fight with a particular airport, the FAA, the airlines, and all the other players who want the OMP and who have already invested hundreds of millions of dollars just to get it to its current stage?

Second, just what does “winning” mean?  As we’ve written before, after spending one-half billion dollars on the newest runway at O’Hare, we don’t see a chance in hell for that runway to not be used as much as possible.  And even if we could get a cut-back on use of 9L/27R, that just means that those flights will be re-routed to 22R and 22L, which run right over the Maine East and Country Club neighborhoods, thereby pitting neighbor against neighbor.

We can’t imagine those folks in the 1st and 2nd wards wanting to spend tax dollars on that option, and we can’t blame them.  That’s bad government and bad politics, plain and simple.  And with Karaganis’ track record on behalf of Bensenville and Elk Grove Village, it could be just plain dumb.

But if anybody out there thinks they’re going to get a financial windfall in the nature of “reparations” for the loss of their property values, guess what?  Before somebody writes you a nice big check, you will have to successfully plead, argue and prove that your home lost all that value.  In other words, you will have to establish that Park Ridge is a terrible and unsafe place to live.

That sure sounds irresponsible to us, unless the proponents of this misbegotten “strategy” are hoping to get some quick cash and then get out ahead of the rest of us, before all property values start sinking even more because we have tarred and feathered the quality of life in our own community.  Then it’s not irresponsible, it’s reprehensible.
 
As the “Ty Webb” character in “Caddyshack” would say: “Thank you very little.”

Now Here’s A “Pilot” Program Worth Considering

11.13.09

Over the years, District 64 has been a test site for a number of academic and administrative “pilot” programs, many of which never got off the ground or which crashed and burned shortly after becoming airborne.

But Monday’s edition of the Chicago Tribune carried an article about a kind of “pilot” program (“School districts retooling how they evaluate teachers,” by John Keilman) that should be a must-read for the school board members and administrators at Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 – but, given the District’s track in matters like this, probably won’t be.

According to that article, Evanston-Skokie School District 65 has embarked on a program of evaluating teachers using a two-part process that will include an appraisal of classroom teaching style and an examination of the test scores of the children taught by that teacher.  The test-score portion is based on the difference between test scores at the beginning and at the end of the school year.

For a teacher to earn an “excellent” rating on a scale of “excellent,” “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory,” he/she is expected to enable no less than one low-scoring child to improve one grade level, while also enabling the rest of the class to gain a full year’s worth of educational growth irrespective of the level at which the child started the year.  And to be fair to the teacher, a child’s test scores can be discounted for appropriate cause – for example, if the child missed a significant portion of school due to illness. 

In order to receive a “merit” pay increase, the teacher must receive at least one “excellent” rating over a period of several years.  That sounds a little like an escape clause, but we can’t tell for sure.

One impetus for such performance-based teacher evaluation is coming from the New Teacher Project, a non-profit group based in Brooklyn, N.Y. which focuses on improving teacher quality.  In a recently-released study, it found that administrators tend to give top ratings to teachers even at schools with miserable test results.  Consequently, teachers are rarely fired, and merit-pay rarely is based on true “merit.”

Ah, yes, the insanity of “tenure” (a/k/a “guaranteed lifetime employment”) for elementary and high school teachers.

Obviously, a change like this will be neither simple or easy, especially when dealing with an industry – and, make no mistake about it, public education is an “industry” which, in Park Ridge, consumes almost two-thirds of our property tax dollars when both elementary and high school are included – that has virtually institutionalized non-accountability of teachers, administrators and the school board itself.

But perhaps one small benefit of the current economic crisis is that such sacred cows as ever-increasing teacher and administrator pay, pensions, etc. are being held just a tad less sacred.

Given the relatively mediocre performance of District 64 students on the ISAT tests which, rightly or wrongly, get the most attention from parents and the media, we think the District owes it to its students and the taxpayers to give a serious look at “piloting” this kind of teacher evaluation – and a program of merit pay based on such evaluations.

Because with homes on the brink or going into foreclosure at record levels and residents hurting financially to an extent not seen in decades, District 64’s business-as-usual just isn’t cutting it anymore.

P.S.:  We want to give a big Watchdog bark-out to Dist. 207 Supt. Ken Wallace for foregoing a $26,950 merit-based pay raise as a symbol of his commitment to reduce District 207’s $17 million “structural deficit.”  He joins Park Ridge Mayor Dave Schmidt, who has foresworn his entire $12,000 annual mayoral salary, as two local government leaders who are at least showing some recognition for real-world employment insecurity and fiscal responsibility, two things about which the pandering politicians, bureaucrats and lifetime government employees too often seem oblivious.

Well done, Mr. Wallace!

Even With “Vindication” Frimark Keeps The Truth Spinning

11.11.09

This week’s Herald-Advocate contains an article that reads like it was written by a public relations agent for former mayor Howard Frimark (“ETHICS ORDINANCE: Victory, vendettas on Frimark’s mind after ethics dispute,” Nov. 10).  So we’re taking this opportunity to provide some direct commentary on that piece, including information that the writer overlooked or intentionally omitted (with our comments in bracketed boldface):
_______________________________         

Victory, vendettas on Frimark’s mind after ethics dispute

November 10, 2009
By JENNIFER JOHNSON jjohnson@pioneerlocal.com

Former Park Ridge mayor Howard Frimark contends he was “vindicated” by the City Council’s vote last week not to prosecute him for an alleged ethics-ordinance violation, but he remains angry about the complaint. [“Vindicated” by a political decision, despite the City Attorney’s finding that there was probable cause to prosecute Frimark for a violation of the City’s ethics ordinance – a fact that mysteriously didn’t make it into Ms. Johnson’s story.]

“A lot of people are telling me this whole process was a political vendetta by the mayor’s office,” Frimark said this week.  [“A lot of people” apparently has replaced the “little birdie” that used to tell Frimark all the gossip he used to spread about his political opponents and critics when he was still mayor.]

When asked if he agrees with this interpretation [“Interpretation”?  Of what?  Is the word you were looking for “opinion,” Ms. Johnson?], Frimark responded, “I hope the complaint was not politically motivated,” but added that he felt it was an attempt to “smear my family and my business reputation and hurt my ability to make a living.” [Then City Attorney “Buzz” Hill must have been in on the “smear” campaign, because he’s also the City’s ethics officer who found that there had been a violation of the ethics ordinance that warranted Frimark’s prosecution.] 

The council, including Mayor David Schmidt, voted unanimously not to seek prosecution against Frimark for the alleged violation, which involved Frimark’s sale of insurance policies for the Shops of Uptown’s underground garage, which the city of Park Ridge partially owns and for which it pays a portion of the insurance. According to the city’s ethics ordinance, which was adopted while Frimark was mayor, for a period of two years after leaving office an elected official may not act as an agent for any party requesting “consideration” from the city. [Which is exactly what the City Attorney found Frimark had done, even if the Council and the mayor lacked the integrity and the fortitude to actually enforce the City’s ethics ordinance.  But hey, we live in Crook County, Illinois – who needs ethics?]

“He spoke against me in every facet of the complaint, but then he votes not to prosecute,” Frimark said of Schmidt. “To me, that doesn’t make sense. [In what we believe to be a first for this blog, we actually agree with Frimark on this one: that doesn’t make any sense to us, either.]  I wonder what the real motive behind it was.” [And we wonder what Frimark’s “motive” was for ignoring the requirements of an ethics ordinance enacted during his mayoralty, especially because just this past January he signed a legally binding amendment [pdf] to the City’s agreement with PRC and the Uptown Condominium Homeowners Association that expressly identified the City’s interest in the project.  Oops!]

Schmidt said he brought the matter to the city attorney to inquire whether the city’s ethics ordinance had been violated, and it was never meant to be a formal complaint.  [If that’s true, then why did he encourage the City Attorney to perform the review process prescribed by the ordinance; and why did he waste two hours of City Council time on what appears to have been nothing more than a “show trial” of Frimark, before announcing that he would be voting “no” on prosecution?]

“If this was a political vendetta, I would have filed a formal complaint with an affidavit so it would have gone to a special investigator instead of leaving it in the hands of the City Council, which I knew would never vote to prosecute Frimark,” Schmidt said. “It doesn’t make sense for people to believe this was a political vendetta. If it was, I wouldn’t have handled it the way I did.” [If this was “handled” at all, we believe that term deserves the prefix “mis-“.]

Frimark said he is considering legal action, but would not say what type of litigation he might seek or who it would be directed toward. [This sounds like the stereotypical hollow Frimark bluster we’ve heard since he became a public official.  But we have to wonder what his legal claim will be: “Attempted enforcement of an ethics ordinance for which the City Attorney determined there was probable cause to prosecute me”?  Good luck with that!  Or maybe he’ll try the late Mike Royko’s favorite Chicago ordinance violation:  “Aggravated mopery with intent to gawk”?]  He did say that he has incurred about $10,000 in legal fees related to the issue even though it never reached the courtroom phase, and he objected to the way the complaint has been handled.  [If this is true, Frimark might actually be as irresponsible a spender of his own funds as he was of the public’s!]

“I never had the complaint given to me,” Frimark said. “Whatever system of justice this is, it’s a complete travesty.” [More Frimark hollow bluster.  Under this particular ordinance enforcement procedure, what occurred was only the investigation stage, so there was no “complaint” for Frimark to be given.  And even though the City Attorney found probable cause to prosecute Frimark, because the feckless Council voted to give him a pass, there never will be any “complaint” to give him.  We would have thought that for $10,000 some lawyer would have explained that to Frimark by now.]

Frimark maintains he did not do anything wrong, and that Park Ridge was not listed on any documentation he was given prior to establishing the insurance policy. He admits he did not take action to remove Park Ridge from the policy once he learned the city was responsible for a portion of the insurance payment.  [Apparently he expects us to believe that he simply didn’t remember that amendment he signed last January, or that we won’t remember his attorney’s admission to the Council that Frimark was advised of the City’s insurable interest before he bound the City to this latest insurance coverage.]

“No one said I should do anything with it or not. So I let it sit there,” Frimark said of the policy. [Apparently the $10,000 in legal fees didn’t cover that bit of advice, either.]

The insurance coverage has since been canceled by PRC Partners, the owner of the commercial Shops of Uptown properties. Frimark said he voluntarily canceled the homeowners portion of the insurance, as well. [Which just goes to show that Frimark can do the right thing…once he’s figuratively caught with his hand in the ethical cookie jar.]

The Stench Of Council’s Rush To Billboard Deal

11.09.09

Tomorrow night the City’s Planning and Zoning Commission (“P&Z”) will be considering text amendments to the City’s Zoning Ordinance to allow billboards that are now prohibited.  Those amendments are desired by Lombard-based The Generation Group, Inc. (“GGI”)[pdf], and the aroma coming from this amendment process is a lot closer to week-old catfish than to rose petals.

Carrying the water for GGI in this matter is 4th Ward Ald. Jim Allegretti, who seems hell-bent on changing City ordinances to enable the City Council to trump P&Z decisions about billboards.  And he appears to be “gaming” the process by getting the City to be the applicant rather than GGI, which allows GGI to avoid the disclosure requirements under the City’s ethics ordinance [pdf] that were adopted at the April 2, 2007 City Council meeting [pdf] in the face of accusations by then-mayor (and Allegretti puppeteer) Howard Frimark that more-stringent disclosures were “motivated by politics rather than integrity.”

[We pause for a moment of “pot calling the kettle black” contemplative silence]

Allegretti’s walk on the billboard wild side started back in June when the attorney, agent and possibly owner of GGI, Joseph J. Loss, sent a letter to Allegretti [pdf] requesting four special use permits for four billboards proposed for the Renaissance Office Center properties.

Leaping into action, at the July 13, 2009, City Council Committee of the Whole (“COW”) meeting [pdf], Allegretti successfully advanced both the process whereby the City Council (rather than GGI) would submit the billboard text amendment request to P&Z, and the process whereby the City Council could over-ride any P&Z decision on amendment requests by simple majority vote rather than super-majority vote – and, for good measure, City Clerk Betty Hennemann once again sanitizing the minutes to conceal the identities of who voted how on those two issues.

Allegretti next got formal Council approval for the City to be the applicant for the billboard amendments by misrepresenting the relevant law by (as reported in the August 17 minutes [pdf]) stating that private-party applicants like GGI “would have no recourse” to challenge an application denial by P&Z – even though he attended the April 27, 2009 meeting [pdf] where City Attorney “Buzz” Hill stated unequivocally that an applicant denied by P&Z “always has the right to appeal” that denial to the Circuit Court of Cook County.

And just last Monday night, Allegretti led the 4-3 (Allegretti, Bach, Carey and Ryan) approval of the first reading of the zoning text amendments that would let the Council trump decisions by P&Z on this billboard issue.

Which takes us to tomorrow night’s P&Z meeting where that commission will get to consider the City Council’s request to make billboards legal.

As noted in the November 10, 2009 memo [pdf] of the City’s Community Preservation & Development Director Carrie Davis, GGI is now represented by prominent Park Ridge attorney and consummate “insider,” Jack Owens – who is aggressivley lobbying P&Z for GGI’s billboards even though all GGI has to do is watch Allegretti and the City Council do GGI’s bidding.

If the odor from all of this rigmarole isn’t dank and pungent enough in its own right, we direct your attention to two articles published in the Des Plaines Journal & Topics: one from September 2004 [pdf] that links convicted felon and allegedly mobbed-up former Cook County under-sheriff James Dvorak to another billboard company with ties to GGI’s Mr. Loss that won billboard rights in Des Plaines; and the other from January 2008 [pdf] which identifies Loss as the attorney for yet another billboard company that got a favorable ordinance change from the Village of Deerfield [pdf].

We’re not quite sure exactly what to make of all this, but we do wonder exactly what is motivating Allegretti’s (and Owens’) full-court press to drive the City Council into neutering P&Z in order to give GGI its billboards.  And it creates an impression that there is more to this deal than meets the eye.

Even if it can’t escape the nose.

District 64 Again Blowing Smoke On State Exams

11.06.09

It’s no secret that we have been critical of Park Ridge-Niles District 64’s performance on standardized tests.  We continually question why students from an affluent community like ours seem to underperform comparable districts when it comes to the ISATs, which – like it or not – appear to be the standard by which school districts are judged.

So the article in this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“District 64 students perform well on state exams,” November 3) gives us yet another reason to question what’s going on with ISAT scores, and why the District continues to blow smoke up the taxpayers’ collective skirts on this issue.

Can any of our readers confirm whether spin-meister Larry Sorenson giggled or smirked when he said how “exciting” it is that the majority of our District 64 students “continue to meet or exceed state standards on the ISAT”?  Shouldn’t exceeding state standards be expected from District 64 schools on a regular basis, not a cause of excitement?

If the article is an accurate presentation of Sorenson’s test score dog-and-pony show, we see a lot of cherry-picking of results, perhaps because only those excite the District’s administrators.  And he doesn’t disappoint when he reminds us, as the District administrators and teachers seem to do every year – that “it’s important to share with the [school] board that ISAT is just one assessment that we give to the students.”

Okay, Larry, can you tell us which specific assessment is considered more important than the ISATs…and why?

According to the H-A article, the District’s ISAT report claims the District doesn’t have the information to rank itself against other school districts in terms of ISAT scores.  May we suggest that the bureaucrats at the ESC check out the Chicago Tribune’s and the Chicago Sun-Times’ rankings, which have been out for over a week now and which provide two different methods of ranking?   

We’re not educators, but we are taxpayers and homeowners.  So when our kids aren’t regularly scoring among the top fifty schools and are being outperformed by kids from less affluent communities and/or districts that spend less per pupil, something needs to be done – starting with some honest explanations from the District’s educators, administrators, and its school board members. 

Let’s start with stopping this nonsense about “We don’t teach to the test.”  If the test is how the districts are measured and compared to each other, then it’s just plain foolish not to “teach to the test.” 

It might also help to get a little intergovernmental cooperation going between District 64, Maine South and Maine East.  Since those high schools end up educating the vast majority of District 64 grads, maybe their educators can identify if, where and how District 64 students are coming up short.  How about a detailed “white paper” on the subject, backed up with hard, irrefutable data rather than anecdotes?

Given that District 64 consumes approximately one-third of our annual property tax payments, and in view of the fact that every time the District wants more money it tells us how important good schools are to maintaining our property values, the taxpayers deserve some serious and specific answers now – not months from now when these scores are just a dim memory – that include a specific, nuts-and-bolts plan for how they will do better next year and the years thereafter.

“Show Trial” An Affront To Park Ridge Residents

11.04.09

Back in March, 2008, then-mayor Howard P. Frimark orchestrated a kind of “show trial” of then-Ald. Dave Schmidt by obtaining the public “condemnation” – by Frimark’s Alderpuppets (Alds. Allegretti, Bach, Carey, DiPietro and Ryan) – of Schmidt for disclosing information from a closed session City Council meeting even though that disclosure was perfectly legal under the Illinois Open Meetings Act. 

We branded Frimark’s and the Alderpuppets’ action “a naked political ploy” and “a gratuitous shot” at Schmidt, which it clearly was.

At Monday night’s City Council meeting, now-mayor Schmidt seemingly repaid the “favor” by presiding over a “show trial” of Frimark that appears to have been every bit as nakedly political and gratuitous – by all involved – as its predecessor.  And in the process, Schmidt and the City Council made a mockery of a provision of the City’s ethics ordinance that ironically was enacted during Frimark’s mayoralty to prohibit exactly the kind of conduct in which Frimark admittedly engaged.

Anybody who showed up at City Hall Monday night expecting the Council to vote to prosecute Frimark must have been smoking illegal substances, because the odds against the Alderpuppets holding their political mentor accountable for an ethics violation after having filled his re-election war chest with almost $4,000, cumulatively, were so long that there wasn’t even a Vegas betting line on them.

But what the most naïve observer could not have expected was the theater of the absurd that actually took place over more than two hours of apparently not-very-valuable City Council meeting time.

It started with City Attorney “Buzz” Hill practically begging for an excuse not to officially recommend prosecution for what Hill had already determined to be Frimark’s ethics violation.  It continued with Ald. Ryan’s challenging of Schmidt’s biggest campaign donor – resident and local business owner Tony Svanascini – to dueling disclosures, after Ryan admitted to “about $100” in contributions to Frimark’s campaign when, in reality, he kicked in more than eight times that much.

Next came non-lawyer Ald. DiPietro’s personal anecdotes disputing the City Attorney’s legal interpretation of “agent” and “broker.”  And that was followed by an agitated Ald. Allegretti’s denigrating of the applicable ethics ordinance provision as “goofy,” while also denouncing those attacking Frimark for his six years of serving the City “honorably or dishonorably.” (Yes, he really said that!)    

This charade ended with a whimper when its instigator-in-chief, Mayor Schmidt, announced immediately prior to the Council’s vote that while he believed beyond doubt that Frimark had violated the ethics ordinance, he would vote “No” on prosecution because it would not “further the purpose of the ordinance” now that Uptown developer PRC Partners and the Uptown Condominium Homeowners Association (“UCHA”) had pulled the offending insurance coverage from Frimark, thereby depriving him of the economic benefit of his violation.

Say what?

Schmidt subsequently explained his action in an e-mail [pdf] by claiming that “[t]he purpose of the discussion [Monday] night was not to decide whether Frimark had violated the ordinance”; and “that the public admonishment of Frimark and the fact that he will not profit from the transaction was punishment enough under these particular circumstances.”

Say what!

We scoured the ethics ordinance and could not find “public admonishment” or depriving the violator of his ill-gotten gain mentioned anywhere as the purpose of the ordinance, or as a prescribed remedy or penalty for its violation.  We also found no mention of relying on private parties (like PRC and UCHA) to provide de facto private enforcement of the ordinance, as happened here.  The only thing the ordinance provides for, following prosecution by the City and conviction by a Circuit Court of Cook County judge, is a fine of “not less than $1,000 nor more than $5,000 for each offense,” money which would end up in the depleted City treasury. 

Schmidt’s comments, therefore, reflect a straight-out disregard for the ordinance’s processes and penalties.

The bottom line is that City Attorney Hill found probable cause for prosecution as the result of Frimark’s admission that he sold the insurance that provided coverage to the City and that required payment from the City under its contract with PRC and the UCHA.  In so finding, Hill determined that Frimark was an “agent” for purposes of the ordinance – a finding which is also consistent with the law of Illinois under which all “brokers” are “agents.” 

In the insurance industry, the only basic distinction between “broker” and “agent” is determined by who is the agent’s/broker’s principal. But whether Frimark’s principal was the insurer seeking to sell insurance coverage to the City, or whether his principal was PRC/UCHA buying insurance and seeking contractual contribution from the City for part of that premium, does not change the fact that Frimark was an “agent” of somebody who was seeking “consideration” – in this case, the payment of money – from the City.

By failing to accept Hill’s legally-correct finding and recommendation, Schmidt and the Council not only implicitly endorsed a violation of the ethics ordinance but, at the same time, they gave what amounts to a “no confidence” vote to Hill, whose legal expertise in such matters is paid for by our tax dollars and who is employed to do exactly what he did, albeit reluctantly, Monday night.  They also gave a clear signal that they aren’t serious about ethics in government – or at least not when Howard Frimark is involved.

Had Schmidt made his position known from the outset rather than at the end of those proceedings, everyone in the Council chambers Monday night – and everyone who might watch those proceedings on videotape – could have been spared the two-hours of unvarnished political posturing for which the ethics ordinance served as little more than a cheap prop.  And even though he may not have deserved it, Frimark could have been spared the meaningless ordeal which had him shifting between glad-handing and perp-walking for most of the evening.

Mayor Schmidt and the City Council owed us honest, ethical government.  What they – and Frimark himself – delivered Monday night was a fraud, wrapped in a sham, inside a farce.