Public Watchdog.org

Memorial Day 2010

05.31.10

Today we honor the men and women who gave their lives in military service to this country.  Depending on whose statistics you accept, their number runs between 1.3 and 2.1 million. 

In our opinion the best recognition of such sacrifice was given by President Abraham Lincoln on November 19, 1863, in what has become known as his Gettysburg Address.  Especially timeless and transcendent is Lincoln’s expression of resolve: 

“that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Sadly, today the Land of Lincoln is a political cesspool that seems a lot more like government for the politicians than “for the people.”  But that didn’t happen overnight: it took decades of “the people” ignoring the civic rights and duties that were secured for them by those who “gave the last full measure of devotion.” 

Remembering those “honored dead” is one thing we owe them today.  The other is a renewed resolve to do a better job of making sure our government continues to be “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

“Secret Plans” To Battle O’Hare Sound Like Bad Bet

05.28.10

California-based attorney Steve Taber and his law firm claim to have a litigation plan that will help Park Ridge kick O’Hare Airport’s keester.  But even though he “would love to discuss specific litigation strategies” for doing that, he claims he can’t do so openly without putting “Park Ridge legal prerogatives” at risk.  

Don’t you just love secrets like this? 

Taber suggested a closed-session Council meeting, apparently because nobody told him that under the Illinois Open Meetings Act nothing said in closed sessions is legally secret or even just confidential: it can be freely disclosed, except for information that is protected under other laws (like HIPAA, for example).  That may be why Ald. Don “Air Marshall” Bach suggested that Taber meet privately with each alderman instead of in closed session. 

Bach is one of several aldermen who have never seen a closed session they didn’t like.  But ever since then-Ald. Dave Schmidt lawfully blew the whistle on then-mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark’s closed session plans to acquire 720 Garden as the site for a new police station – and to have the City pay a couple hundred thousand dollars more than the City’s own appraisal of the property – Bach and his fellow Cultists of Secrecy have seemed a bit insecure about closed sessions. 

That’s a good thing for many reasons. 

But we have to wonder exactly what kinds of anti-airport litigation weapons Taber and his colleagues have in their arsenal that are so secret, especially since any such weapons that have already been employed in litigation – albeit with what Taber described as varied degrees of success – are now a matter of public record in whatever court they were utilized. 

After years of pouring hundreds of thousands, if not more than a million, dollars of legal fees and expenses into the pockets of the now-defunct Suburban O’Hare Commission’s legal team headed by attorney Joe Karaganis, without any significant “success,” we catch a whiff of snake oil in the claims of successful litigation strategies that can’t be publicly discussed. 

But desperate people will grasp at any straw offered, and we’ve seen fellow residents virtually suspend all reason in demanding expenditures of scarce public funds for what so far seems like nothing short of lottery odds at getting meaningful relief from increasing O’Hare air traffic. 

Case in point: In April the federal government committed $410 million to further O’Hare expansion. Our City Council has budgeted $165,000. Vegas won’t even post a line on that bet. 

And as we’ve pointed out several times before, the additional problem with this renewed effort to battle O’Hare is that it seems to pit one part of Park Ridge against another: The Belle Plaine Corridor’s loss is the 1st and 2nd Wards’ gain. 

So when it comes to secret plans to deal with O’Hare, we’re more than a little skeptical.  

Maybe that’s because we remember President Nixon campaigning for election by touting his secret plan for ending the Vietnam War.  He was re-elected and, true to his word, after several more years, tens of thousands of additional American deaths, and the waste of additional multi-billions of dollars, it finally came to fruition. 

It culminated in helicopter evacuations of the American embassy in Saigon.    

Not The Time To Re-Zone Greenwood & Elm

05.26.10

It was Thomas Paine who said: “That government is best which governs least.”  Unfortunately, that maxim tends to be honored in the breach by most units of government, often to the detriment of everybody but the bureaucrats trying to expand their “empires” and the special interests using government to leverage private benefits. 

So it was good to see the City Council’s Committee of the Whole (“COW”), after much debate Monday night, resist sending a request to the Planning & Zoning Commission for a map amendment that would change the zoning of the former City public works garage at Greenwood and Elm from the current R2 (single-family) to either R3 (2-family) or R4 (multi-family).  

Unfortunately, much of the lengthy Council discussion involved little more than idle chatter and speculation about what type of use would provide the most value to the land.  And, predictably, that led to the misguided decision to have City Mgr. Jim Hock get some “expert” advice – by collecting some appraisals of the land reflecting various types of development. 

Why is that a misguided decision?  Let’s start with it being a totally unnecessary one at this time.  

What purpose is served by the City’s changing the zoning of that property in the current vacuum – with no indication that any developer has expressed serious interest in doing anything with that property?   

As noted in the Agenda Cover Memorandum [pdf] for the April 26, 2010 COW meeting, the City’s 1996 Comprehensive Plan makes no “specific recommendations” for the property “but generally recommends that the single family character of the area be preserved.”  Whether that remains the best recommendation 14 years after the Comprehensive Plan was adopted might well be the subject to honest debate, but for the time being there’s no reason to have that debate or make a change. 

The bottom line is that, as with most things in our economy, the market will decide the value of that property – not some blue-sky appraisals without a willing developer and a willing lender attached to them.  And when the market does decide, it will then be up to the City to debate and determine whether what the market wants is what is in the best interests of Park Ridge. 

The Council has more than enough things on its plate that need attention now.  A zoning map amendment to the City property at Greenwood and Elm isn’t one of them. 

Are City Donations To Private Charities Unlawful? (Updated 05/24/10)

05.24.10

A little over a year ago we first questioned why the Park Ridge City Council was simply giving away $187,000 of public funds to certain private community organizations (“Public Subsidies Demand Transparency,” 04/27/09).  The Council went on to raise that amount to $246,000 on May 18, 2009, which did its share to contribute to the past year’s multi-million dollar deficit. 

According to the published agenda and memo [pdf], at tonight’s Committee of the Whole (“COW”) meeting the Council will discuss the actual appropriation of the $190,080 to those various private community groups that was budgeted by the Council last month.  As you will recall, that’s one of the categories of expenditures that Mayor Dave Schmidt, in his veto message, suggested should be cut – a suggestion that got the silent treatment from every alderman except Joe Sweeney (1st). 

So we think it’s a good time to question why the Council is once again giving away indiscriminate sums of increasingly scarce public funds to private organizations, but this time with greater emphasis on the Council’s legal authority to make such donations – especially when those organizations can use the money however, and wherever, they choose with absolutely no strings attached and no requirement that they account to the City or its taxpayers for that use.
 
It seems as if our public officials – save, perhaps, for Mayor Dave Schmidt and Ald. Sweeney – believe they’ve got the authority to do whatever they want in this regard.  Either that, or they merely are blissfully ignorant of the legal scope of their authority altogether.  But we can’t find anything in the City Code that empowers the Council to donate public funds to anybody.  

And the Illinois Constitution seems to forbid such donations altogether by providing, in Article VIII, Sec. 1(a), that “[p]ublic funds, property or credit shall be used only for public purposes.”  

What specific “public purposes” are served by giving away City funds to these organizations without making darn certain that every penny is used solely for Park Ridge residents to provide specific, corresponding quid pro quo services for the money?  And where in the Illinois Constitution, the Illinois statutes, or the Park Ridge Code does it prescribe or even permit such donations? 

As we noted a year ago, the words of Congressman David S. “Davy” Crockett remain instructive on this point: “We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of the public money.” 

Notably, in that same speech Crockett personally offered to donate one week’s pay to the charitable interest in question, and he encouraged his colleagues to do likewise so that the amount raised privately would compensate for, and even exceed, the public funds not being appropriated.  But, tellingly, after heeding Crockett’s words and voting down the private charitable appropriation, not one of those members of Congress who advocated donating public funds offered a dime from his own purse.  

As we’ve written before: If these private organizations can show that they provide essential City services and do so less expensively and/or more efficiently than the City can, then the City should be contracting with these organizations for specific services.  That way, these organizations could get fair value for the services they actually provide to Park Ridge residents; and Park Ridge taxpayers would finally get accountability for the money going to these private organizations. 

Why hasn’t the City Council ever done this?  

We can think of plenty of reasons, especially given the propensities of the majority of aldermen currently inhabiting the seats around The Horseshoe.  But this problem isn’t the creation of the current Council: it also was standard operating procedure for Councils past, although it escaped scrutiny because more favorable economic conditions and more of a “herd” mentality allowed past Councils to quietly ignore it. 

Even if these contributions are completely legal, however, we believe they are foolish and extremely bad public policy.  But the absence of any readily ascertainable legal authority for them makes their legality the more pressing issue. 

Will any public official have the nerve to question the legality of these donations, or will they continue to bury their heads in the sand while blithely giving away more public funds even as they cut truly “essential” City services?  

Update (05/25/10): A knowledgeable reader just directed us to a provision, (”CPS 6″)[pdf], of the City’s Policy Manual, which was only recently added to the City’s new website.

That provision permits use of public funds for private non-governmental organizations “in limited circumstances…when such organization provides a service that is deemed to be of substantial benefit to the community” – but only if the City first determines that: there is a “need for offered service(s); there will be a “benefit for [sic] such service(s)”; the level of “[p]rivate financial support for the service(s)”; and the extent of the “volunteer support for the service(s).”  

Because City policies don’t trump the Illinois Constitution or state statutes, however, we still believe the lawfulness of the City’s actions, and even this Policy provision itself, are in doubt.

Not only that, but over the past two years we have seen and heard nothing in the way of hard evidence, either from the organizations themselves or from the City, that establishes a specific “need” for, or a specific “benefit” from, any of the “services” purportedly provided by these organizations, much less any meaningful discussion of the “private financial support” and the “community volunteer support” for these organizations or their services.

In fact, we’d hazard a guess that none of those factors have been given serious consideration – and we don’t mean the “$8 of services for every $1 of City donation” idle speculation offered by Alds. Allegretti, Ryan and Wsol, among others – since this policy was last revised in 1991. 

But we thank our reader for providing this resource material.

Park Ridge’s “Lost Boys”

05.19.10

Monday’s edition of the Chicago Tribune contained an editorial titled “Springfield’s lost boys” which criticized the politicians who infest our state capitol for failing “to deliver more government efficiency” and for not “reforming how Illinois spends.”  

Move the site 200 miles north to 505 Butler Place and the Tribune could have been talking about our own City government, which has made deficit spending an annual event because it, too, seems to have no idea how to deliver more government efficiency or how to reform the way it spends our money. 

But this year our City government finally woke up to the fact that we’ve got big economic problems that just can’t continue to be kicked down the road.  It hurriedly raised taxes, cut services and personnel (and their related expenses), and did many other things it neglected to do in a more gradual fashion over the past decade.  But whether it did enough is a matter of substantial dispute, which is why Mayor Dave Schmidt vetoed the budget sent to him by the City Council – a veto the City Council then over-rode.

The printed word just doesn’t do justice to what transpired at City Hall on Monday night, so we strongly encourage you to watch the video of the proceedings taped, as usual, by volunteer George Kirkland and now posted on the City’s website.  But a few select comments are worth mentioning: 

Ald. Jim Allegretti (4th), who made the motion to over-ride the mayor veto: “Like all of government, this [budget] is a compromise.”  That kind of statement evokes the James Russell Lowell quote: “Compromise makes a good umbrella but a poor roof.”  The only question is whether the City budget is supposed to be an umbrella or a roof? 

Ald. Robert Ryan (5th): “I really think we’re micromanaging.” This comes from the same guy who, in dealing with a $50 million+ budget, wanted to up the O’Hare Commission’s funding from $165,000 to $200,000, and also advocated for 12% cuts to the public funding of private community organizations, some of which amounted to only a couple thousand dollars. 

Ryan, twice: “The veto is really disrespectful of the work done by the aldermen.” How so, Robert, given that state law allows the mayor no vote on the budget but only the authority to veto spending of which he disapproves? Are you saying that state law is “disrespectful” of the Council’s budget effort?

And Ryan, thrice: ““We need to accept [the Council’s budget vote] and move on.” How cute that he can channel his mentor, former mayor Howard Frimark’s, favorite directive when Frimark didn’t like how things were going. 

Notable not for what they said but for their silence on their over-ride votes were Alds. Don “Air Marshall” Bach (3rd) and Frank Wsol (7th) – the former who voted against passage of the budget he called “fiscally and socially irresponsible,” the latter who voted for budget passage while inviting the mayor to make some then-and-still unspecified (both as to type and amount) line-item vetoes.  

Perhaps Bach was uncomfortable revealing whether it was 30 of his constituents or just one Linda Ski who gave him his marching orders.  Wsol, on the other hand, likely just came up empty on ideas of his own.  After all, if Frankie the Politician had had his way in April 2009, City Mgr. Jim Hock would have had to figure out how to come up with a million dollars-plus of additional phantom revenues to cover the debt service on the big new police station Frankie wanted.

(Thank you again, Joe Egan, for giving us a referendum on the new cop shop in April ‘09.  And thank you again, 83.39% of the April 2009 voters, who said a resounding “no” to spending approx. $28 million – $16.5 million of principal and another $12 million or so of bond interest and issuance costs.) 

Not surprisingly, apologists for the Council and/or critics of Schmidt are already lambasting the mayor for not going with line-item vetoes – as if the guys surrounding him at The Horseshoe might actually have been inclined to sustain any line-item veto the mayor might offer. 

How do we know? 

How about the fact that none of them publicly identified even one line-item veto they would have unequivocally supported had the mayor made it?  

Whether this budget tussle was just a political football or the honest disagreement among people with very different views of government’s role and its funding remains to be seen.  But come this time next year we should all know who was right and who was wrong. 

And we also should know whether Park Ridge’s “Lost Boys” are any closer to being “found” than their counterparts in Springfield.

Sustaining Or Over-riding The Mayor’s Veto Tonight (Updated 5/18/10)

05.17.10

The main event at tonight’s Park Ridge City Council meeting is likely to be what is explained on the agenda [pdf] somewhat ambiguously under the Finance and Budget Committee section of the proceedings as: “Statutory reconsideration of veto of budget ordinance (this may or may not include a motion to override the veto).”

Whether the Council will muster the five votes needed to over-ride Mayor Dave Schmidt’s veto or not remains uncertain.  Alds. Joe Sweeney (1st) and Rich DiPietro (2nd) previously indicated that they will vote to sustain the veto, but nothing is assured until votes are cast.   

For example, Ald. Don Bach (3rd) cast one of two votes (with Sweeney’s) against adopting the new budget that he called “both fiscally and socially irresponsible,” but he since has said he is polling his constituents to decide whether he should vote to sustain the veto – something he didn’t do before he cast his original “no” vote.  And Ald. Frank Wsol (7th) voted for the budget but claimed to “hate a lot of pieces” of it while inviting Schmidt to veto “certain areas” of it, whatever that’s supposed to mean. 

We hope the Council votes to sustain Schmidt’s veto, but only if the aldermen are willing to work seriously and responsibly with City Mgr. Jim Hock – who himself needs to raise his game – to come up with the realistic revenues and whatever additional expense cuts are needed to provide an honest, legitimate “balanced budget.”  

Otherwise, they should vote to over-ride – because sustaining the mayor’s veto without correcting the budget problems means that, as we understand it, the City’s current budget remains in effect.  And that’s the budget that has produced a $3 million-plus deficit, on the heels of millions of dollars of previous deficits. 

Before he voted to approve the current budget, Ald. Jim Allegretti (4th) defended it as “the best we can do.”  We don’t doubt that’s the case for Allegretti, but if that’s true for the entire Council then there’s no need to prolong the agony by sustaining the mayor’s veto.

Update: As we somewhat expected, the City Council last night voted 5-2 to over-ride Mayor Schmidt’s veto.  Over-ride votes, on motion made by Ald. Jim Allegretti (4th), were cast by Alds. Bach (3rd), Allegretti, Ryan (5th), Carey (6th) and Wsol (7th); “no” votes were cast by Alds. Sweeney (1st) and DiPietro (2nd).  

The Bar Hours They Are A-Changing

05.12.10

The final grant of approval at last Monday’s (May 3) City Council meeting of the City’s first Class B-2 liquor license – permitting alcohol to be served until 2:00 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, at the urging of the new O’Reilly’s Irish Pub owners Ed Berry and Declan Stapleton – may be a harbinger of more changes to come for our bedroom community.  Or at least some people think so.

Back in April when the B-2 license passed a first reading, Ald. Rich DiPietro (2nd Ward) questioned the path such a license might be sending the community down when he cast the lone vote against the measure because fellow opponent Ald. Don Bach (3rd Ward) was absent.

“The changes in this B-2 far exceed the 2 a.m. liquor issue,” he said at that time. “The quality of life here in Park Ridge is what draws people here. I would urge the mayor and the council to look carefully.”

DiPietro makes a good point, even if it’s hard to tell from his comments whether it was just an ad hoc argument directed against one particular business establishment or is actually part of a more comprehensive view he has of the community.

Just what are the defining elements of Park Ridge’s “quality of life”? 

It seems to be different things to different people.  Some say it’s the level of public safety, which could be jeopardized by the budget cuts.  Others say it’s the convenient bedroom-community location.  Still others point to its single-family residential character.

How will O’Reilly’s affect that “quality of life”?

Just like Park Ridge never had high-density, five-story mixed-use buildings in the center of town before the Uptown Redevelopment residences, Park Ridge has never had a dining/drinking establishment quite like O’Reilly’s – if only because of the expanded hours and other features it alone will enjoy, like doubling the number of permitted televisions and allowing the purchase of alcohol without food after 9:00 p.m. 

Some folks are concerned about what that will do to the “neighborhood” on that side of the tracks.  That’s a legitimate concern, although it is impossible to predict those effects because there are no comparables in Park Ridge.  Edison Park, for example, has much greater restaurant/tavern density than Park Ridge has, or will have when O’Reilly’s opens, so that’s not a reasonable comparable.

Unfortunately for those who like predictability, development in Park Ridge is going to be a process of trial and error – with good, bad and in-between results.  But so long as this community demands (or at least acquiesces in) increased development, that can’t be helped.

Several years ago we were being told by the Park Ridge business community that we needed to turn Uptown into a retail destination if the City was to have any chance of generating the extra sales and property taxes needed to provide tax relief to residents.  And we were told by those same folks that the only way to get big-time retail into Uptown was to build new, modern retail space.  So we did.

Although we haven’t seen much in the way of data from the City, that doesn’t appear to have happened.  Nobody at City Hall is claiming Uptown is throwing off bushels of tax dollars – despite the City having already borrowed and spent multi-millions on it.  So at least an establishment like O’Reilly’s isn’t costing the City millions, or locking it into years of indebtedness.

According to O’Reilly’s owners, the liquor license changes they just got are necessary for them to compete with establishments in Edison Park and Rosemont.   

That’s their vision.  Whether it’s the rest of the community’s is unclear.

And whether that vision ever becomes reality remains to be seen.

Another $100,000 Loss The Park District Can Bank On

05.10.10

Way back in October 2007 we wrote our first post – “The Old Oakton Bucket (10/16/07) – criticizing the waste of hundreds of thousands of tax dollars by the Park Ridge Recreation & Park District in keeping the grossly under-used and over-expensive Oakton Pool operating.

As we wrote back then, the Park District has “failed to display the brains necessary to come up with any ideas for increasing attendance and operating that pool more profitably…or the guts needed to make the sound business decision to close the pool and find another use for that site.”  That missing combination generally is deadly in private business, but it seems to be standard operating procedure with local government.

Unfortunately for the taxpayers who have been watching the District pour their hard-earned money down that same hole in the ground for years, nothing seems to have changed since we wrote that post: As the Herald-Advocate reports: “Oakton Pool will live on for another summer” (“Oakton Pool gets one-year reprieve,” May 4).

After sounding like he was going to take the bull by the horns and deal with a facility that annually hemorrhages red ink, new Park District Director Ray Ochromowicz seems to have fallen under the spell that mesmerizes Park Board members and staff alike into letting Oakton manage the District instead of vice-versa. 

Back in March and April, Ochromowicz was talking positively about how “[t]here is enough water in Park Ridge to make up for the loss [of Oakton Pool].  But as the H-A reports, Ochromowicz’s initial “bang” has turned into a whimper.

“There has not been any discussion about altering that course of action for 2010,” he is quoted as saying – “that course of action” being keeping Oakton alive and losing approx. $100,000 a year.  Why not, Ray?  Isn’t promoting these kinds of discussions and making these kinds of decisions what your job is all about, especially in tough economic times?  Or are you so captivated by the enrollments in the District’s tax-subsidized summer baby-sitting service (a/k/a, its “summer camps”) that the $100,000 loss is acceptable collateral damage?

Ochromowicz also offered lukewarm pablum about wanting the Park Board to make a firm decision this Fall about whether Oakton should operate in 2011.  That sounds suspiciously like the “firm decision” the Park Board made in December 2006 before rescinding it when overcome by the warm-and-fuzzies of an approaching new swimming season, as the H-A article points out.

Oakton Pool has been an under-performing and expensive asset for far too long.  And it clearly does not have anything close to the customer base necessary to justify its continued operation: last Summer its attendance was only 17% higher than the South Park “baby” pool’s, despite Oakton’s capacity being almost 700% larger.  

And if a lack of customers isn’t bad enough for the “as is” Oakton, the voters said “no” to a new $13 million Oakton aquatic center by a 70%-30% margin in an April 2005 referendum, and they said “no” to a new $9.98 million aquatic center by a 57%-43% margin in a November 2006 referendum.  We doubt even a less-expensive plan for replacing Oakton pool would do that “well” today.  So why not stop the bleeding sooner rather than later – keeping Oakton open already has cost the taxpayers net losses of almost $500,000 since 2005.  Is it remotely close to fiscally-responsible to eat another $100,000 loss this year, too?

But what the heck…it’s only the taxpayers’ money.  If every other governmental body in this state can waste it, apparently so can the Park District.

The Watchdog’s Kibbles & Bits – Box 20

05.07.10

Cut The Fireworks?  Some residents are wondering why, in these tough economic times with all sorts of budget cuts still being debated, the City would spend any money at all on its 4th of July fireworks show, traditionally held on July 3. 

Although local business (and holder of the City’s website design contract) Americaneagle.com is paying the cost of the fireworks themselves (approx. $18,000) for the second straight year, the show will still cost public funds for police, fire and related City services – despite this year’s event being shifted to Friday, July 2, to avoid overtime costs for weekend duty. 

Should the City cut the fireworks entirely, even with the fireworks donation, in order to avoid those personnel and related City costs?  That’s something the mayor and the City Council surely can talk about in connection with the mayor’s budget veto. 

Or maybe the folks at Taste of Park Ridge NFP (“Taste Inc.”) can offer to cut some of its $23,000 subsidy from the City to help out with the cost of the fireworks show?  Or is the $3,000 Taste Inc. reportedly is paying Rainbow Hospice for the gorilla “in the park” (is it really going to be “dressed” in one of those orange “Tastee” t-shirts?) all the “charity” Taste Inc. can afford this year? 

The Early Line On Veto Over-ride.  According to this week’s Herald-Advocate article (“Mayor keeps promise to veto ‘unrealistic’ budget,” May 4), 1st Ward Ald. Joe Sweeney and 2nd Ward Ald. Rich DiPietro have said they will vote to uphold Mayor Dave Schmidt’s veto of the recently-passed City budget.  Sweeney voted against passage, but DiPietro apparently has reconsidered his “yes” vote. That leaves Schmidt’s veto one vote short of being upheld. 

Third Ward Ald. Don “Air Marshall” Bach could have been expected to be that third vote, given that he voted against the budget the first time.  But according to the H-A article, Bach is “speaking with more residents before deciding how he will vote in response to the mayor’s veto.” 

Hey, Don, are those the same residents who you said told you to support the $2.4 million giveaway to a going-out-of-business Napleton Cadillac after you indignantly told Bill Napleton you would never buy another Cadillac from him?  Or has your newest BFF (and former Frimark, current Mulligan) political consultant, Linda “Linda Ski” Sczepanski moved into Park Ridge? 

You Go, Girl!  Maine Twp. H.S. Dist. 207 has not been covering itself in fiscal glory lately, having somehow “missed” a $17 million shortfall that caused it to lay off 75 teachers.  So we need to give a Watchdog bark-out to Dist. 207 board member Margaret McGrath for giving us hope that at least somebody over at District headquarters “gets it.” 

As reported in this week’s H-A (“Delay in money from state prompts review of finances,” May 4), Dist. 207 is still facing a deficit of between $4 million and $9 million, depending on how much state revenue the District actually receives.  Rather than wish and hope, Ms. McGrath wisely is arguing for more restraints on spending: 

“There’s a negative impact to borrowing a lot of money to spend short-term,” she warned, while advocating for controls on expenditures so that fund balances can be maintained to prevent annual borrowing 5-10 years down the road.    

Exactly, Ms. McGrath.  That’s the kind of common sense viewpoint we were hoping for when we wondered, immediately following your election in April 2009, how long it would take for you to become “a real force” on the Dist. 207 board.

The City’s Budget Saga Continues, Like It Or Not

05.05.10

Mayor Dave Schmidt said he would veto the “hopelessly flawed” 2010-11 City budget.  Monday night, he did just that – and gave a seven-page address [pdf] that explained why.

With that veto Schmidt made a number of people unhappy.

He made City Mgr. Jim Hock unhappy, because Hock is going to be the guy who will have to do the heavy lifting if the Council votes to sustain Schmidt’s veto at the next regular City Council meeting on May 17.  After not even being able to come up with a balanced budget initially, and then watching the City Council fold, spindle and mutilate what he did come up with before cutting and pasting most of it back together, Hock can’t be looking forward to doing any part of that task again.

Schmidt sure made the O’Hare Commission folks and their supporters unhappy when he recalled the millions of dollars Park Ridge wasted over the years on unsuccessful anti-O’Hare efforts, then stated that he would not “stand idly by while it wastes another dime” on such folly – much less the $165,000 that the City Council added to the budget, and that Alds. Ryan and Allegretti wanted to jack up to $200,000 and $250,000, respectively.

And Schmidt made all those private community groups – the ones who can’t be bothered to raise enough private funds to finance their 501(c)(3) quasi-hobbies because they have become addicted to easy handouts from feckless public officials – very unhappy when he said they don’t deserve money that should be “devoted to funding essential city services, such as police, fire and public works, to the fullest extent possible.” 

But we’re guessing the unhappiest people are the seven men who sit around The Horseshoe, the ones who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, come up with a budget the mayor would sign and now have been publicly called out for their shortcomings.  Had Schmidt just gone along and rubber-stamped this latest budget charade – the way previous mayors rubber-stamped previous budget charades – everybody could have claimed plausible deniability if/when, this time next year, the City is looking at another gaping mulit-million dollar deficit.

But Schmidt didn’t play along.  And he didn’t merely try to tinker with something that is screwed up well beyond a tinkering solution, perhaps because he learned one lesson from recent City government history: When city managers can’t cut expenses enough, they simply fabricate revenues; and clueless aldermen usually just rubber-stamp those, too, just like the Council and then-Ald. Schmidt did last year at this time, and the year before that.  

At least Schmidt learned his lesson.  And he also correctly pointed out in his veto address that the line-item veto doesn’t work with revenues.

Already there is whining about Schmidt’s veto.  Some of it is no doubt coming from the aforementioned folks whose unhappiness is directly related to their own personal interests.  Others claim to be disappointed the mayor didn’t have any magic bullet solutions that, presumably, would have given everybody everything they wanted – without raising taxes, of course. 

What the whiners ignore is that, the way City government is set up, it is the City Manager’s job (with the assistance of City staff) to formulate and propose a budget; it is the City Council’s job to debate, amend and approve that budget, without the mayor even having a vote in the process; it is the mayor’s job to sign the budget as adopted by the Council or to veto it; and, if the mayor vetoes it, it is the Council’s job to decide whether to make changes to the budget or over-ride the mayor’s veto.

Hock did his job, however well or poorly; the Council did its job, however well or poorly; and the mayor just did his job, however well or poorly.  Now, according to our form of City government, the ball is back in the Council’s court.

If at least five aldermen think the Council did its job well and that Schmidt’s veto is wrong, then we encourage them to over-ride that veto – and to accept accountability for the results.