Park District Shouldn’t Leap Before It Looks


Ever since the Oakton Pool’s diving well imploded in 2005, it should have been clear to any sentient Park Ridge resident that Oakton Pool itself was on its last legs.  

The Park Board actually voted in 2006 to close it, only to relent but institute a “do not resuscitate” policy in the event the pool required any extraordinary repair or maintenance expense. And at least once every year since, closing Oakton has been debated in the face of dwindling attendance and a steady stream of red ink. 

So we get a perverse chuckle out of residents like Stephen Murray, who have the gall to disingenuously beef about a “lack of communication” about Oakton Pool’s condition, and about its closing being “just not fair to the people who use the pool,” when he actually attended and spoke at a meeting last June where the Park Board discussed the distinct possibility that last summer would be Oakton’s final one. 

Now that the belated but sound decision has been made to put Oakton Pool out of its money-hemorrhaging misery, the Park District needs to make an even more important decision: What to do with the Oakton Pool site.

Park District Executive Director Gayle Mountcastle reportedly wants to demolish the pool and replace it with grass.  The price tag for that plan: A “rough estimate” of $170,000 for the demolition, and a six year old estimate of an additional $1 million for the “grassy park.”  

The “grassy park” was the choice of a majority of residents who participated in a District-run telephone survey back in 2005, around the same time that the voters rejected the first of two Oakton referendums – one for building a new outdoor pool, the other for building an indoor recreation center.

But before the Park District leaps to replace concrete with grass, we hope it gives some serious thought to what other, better uses that space might be put.  And if another use is realistically contemplated, let’s not waste money on building a grassy park that will just have to be converted into something else a short time down the road – like Chicago’s Millennium Park, where sod was laid, then torn up and replaced with concrete, which in turn was torn up and replaced with more sod…one of the many reasons the Park came in at hundreds of millions over budget. 

Back in 2004 when the batting cages were added to Oakton, the plan then being discussed was to also add a miniature golf course to create a true “family” recreation center: a triad of driving range, batting cages and mini-golf.  But that third component never was added, in part because no suitable location could be found.  

With the pool gone, however, space may no longer be a problem.  Or if mini-golf (or some other feature) isn’t in the cards, perhaps relocating the batting cages to a more visible location might give their revenues a much-needed boost. 

In any event, we’re guessing that a grassy park really isn’t the ultimate goal, or highest and best use, of the Oakton Pool site.  So before the Park District dumps $1.2 million or more into what is likely to be only a temporary fix, we suggest it remember the motto of television’s “This Old House”:

Measure twice, cut once.

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Two-Fer Tuesday: Fireworks and Pickwick


Got A “Taste” For Fireworks?   A recent article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate reported that Park Ridge-based, the sponsor of Park Ridge’s Fourth of July fireworks show the past two years, is balking at re-upping this year (“Park Ridge Recreation and Park District: Sponsor’s support for July 3 fireworks display fizzles out,” April 12).  

The reason, according to Americaneagle’s owner and Park Ridge resident Tony Svanascini: while his company has been donating $18,000/year for the fireworks, the City continues to give away approx. $20,000/year in City services (police, fire & public works) to Taste of Park Ridge NFP (“Taste Inc.”), the private corporation that was organized in June 2005 to glom onto the City’s signature even, Taste of Park Ridge event (“TOPR”) – which former mayor Howard Frimark and a compliant City Council handed over on a no-bid, no contract, no accountability basis back in May 2005, and has kept on handing over ever since. 

For those who missed our previous posts on this topic, Taste Inc. has claimed to be a not-for-profit corporation since its creation, although that claim has become increasingly questionable in light of Taste Inc. apparently never having filed the IRS Form 990 tax returns (required of not-for-profits with gross revenues over $25,000) for 2005, 2006, 2007 or 2008 before it mysteriously dissolved in February 2009, only to be just as mysteriously re-incorporated as a 501(c)(6) corporation that, unlike its purported 501(c)(3) predecessor, can use its assets for lobbying and political contributions. 

The new Taste Inc. did file an IRS Form 990-EZ (for 2009) on March 12, 2010, however, which showed it ending its first official year of operations with $65,221 of net assets.  So far, however, shows no 2010 return on file for Taste Inc.

Svanascini, who was first solicited for the fireworks contribution back in 2009 by then-mayor Howard Frimark and then-Park Board commissioner Dick Barton when the event was going to be cancelled for lack of funding by the Park District, says that Americaneagle would be willing to re-up its donation if Taste Inc. were to reimburse the City for its Taste of Park Ridge expenses.

Not surprisingly, Taste Inc. has remained silent on that point.  Meanwhile, TOPR committee member (and newly-elected Park Board commissioner) Mel Thillens reports that the Park Ridge Indian Scouts (whose Federation Chief, Jim Bruno, formerly was Taste Inc.’s treasurer) plan to sell $20 raffle tickets for prizes solicited by the Chamber of Commerce in order to raise funds for the fireworks.  And the Park District reportedly is “in talks” with two potential fireworks sponsors.

Good for them.

But that sure seems like a lot of effort just to enable Taste Inc. to remain in control of TOPR and on the taxpayers’ dole, especially when paying for City services and opening its books to confirm its non-profit status all these years would seem to be the far easier and honest thing to do.  

Pickwick A “Dinosaur”?  Both local newspapers recently reported on the Pickwick Theater’s plans for $1.5 million in renovations/improvements to both the exterior and interior of that historic building, which will be funded in part by tax breaks and state grants related to its historical designation.

While we question the wisdom of the State of Illinois funding anything but the most essential services, given the woeful condition of Illinois finances, we nevertheless applaud the Pickwick’s owners for putting up what we understand will be the lion’s share of the costs of this project.  The Pickwick building is perhaps Park Ridge’s most iconic structure, and its owners deserve credit for their vision and tenacity in making it a success during a period when the theater industry’s business declined.

They also deserve credit for resisting an ill-advised attempt back in 2004 by certain members of the City Council – led by then-Alds. Don Crampton (1st), Mark Anderson (5th) and Rex Parker (6th) – to have the City acquire that structure and turn its management over to a group known as the Pickwick Theater Council, which would have taken it off the property tax rolls and made the City responsible for its operating costs. 

At that time, Pickwick Theater Council president Catherine Kenney, in arguing for the City’s takeover, claimed: “A theater offering discount priced movies is a dinosaur.”

Seven years later, this particular “dinosaur” appears far from extinct…which is more than can be said for its Council critics and the now-defunct Pickwick Theater Council.

To read or post comments, click on title.

They Close Lap Pools, Don’t They?


Last night the Park Ridge Recreation & Park District Board voted 6-1 finally to put Oakton Pool out of its misery rather than spend almost $100,000 on repairs just so it could re-open for the season…and, presumably, generate another whopping operating loss, as has been its custom the past several years.

Only Commissioner Mary Wynn Ryan voted to drag this battered shell of a facility through one more summer, voicing all the warm & fuzzy reasons that have kept it limping along under a “do not resuscitate” order while Commissioners Marty Maloney, Jim O’Brien and Rick Biagi spent the last couple/few years trying to recruit a fourth vote to put this old horse down and stop burning money that could be much better used elsewhere.

What did it take to get the Park Board to this point? Try a notification from the Cook County Department of Public Health that Oakton would not be licensed to open without some major repairs estimated at $94,000 – quite a jump up from Oakton’s customary pool-opening costs of around $12,000. And spending that money would not have guaranteed that Oakton Pool would make it through the summer.

Interestingly enough, the Park District budgeted for a $72,419 loss from all of the District’s outdoor pools in 2011, with Oakton’s stand-alone loss budgeted at $94,472. If we understand these numbers, and if they are accurate, Oakton’s closure might enable the District to actually turn a modest profit on those pools this year, something it hasn’t come close to doing in years/decades(?).

Like it or not, the era of outdoor swimming facilities like Oakton has come and gone – and it’s not likely to return anytime soon, especially in climates like ours where outdoor swimming is confined to three months a year. A well-run private company would have cut Oakton’s losses years ago, but governmental bodies tend not to care about making a profit and maximizing the value of their assets, a combination that generally is deadly in private business but is S.O.P. in the public sector where taxpayers are so easy to fleece.

Our October 16, 2007 post, “The Old Oakton Bucket,” criticized the waste of money on a deteriorating Oakton Pool that provided mere lap swimming to a generation demanding ever-changing “water entertainment.” We questioned how long the Park District could justify keeping Oakton’s doors open when it was averaging around $85,000 a year in operating losses – more than the District’s other three outdoor pools combined – on increasingly sparse attendance.

We just found out.

This momentous decision serves as a fitting valedictory for Commissioner Marty Maloney, who is ending eight years on the Park Board and heading over to Park Ridge City Hall as the new 7th Ward alderman. Unlike the current-but-departing occupants of Maloney’s new venue who lacked the integrity and the guts to vote on each of Mayor Dave Schmidt’s 70 line-item vetoes individually on its own unique merits this past Monday night, Maloney and fellow departing Park Commissioner David Herman didn’t punt the Oakton decision to the incoming board.

That’s a difference that shouldn’t be lost on those of us who pay the bills for local government.

To read or post comments, click on title.

No Distance, But Plenty Of Hang Time


What do Ray Guy, Jerrel Wilson, Sean Landeta, Reggie Roby, Brad Maynard, Shane Lechler and Bobby Joe Green have in common with Park Ridge Alds. Joe Sweeney, Rich DiPietro, Don Bach, Jim Allegretti, Robert Ryan, Tom Carey and Frank Wsol?

They’re all punters.

The first seven gentlemen are, or were, notable NFL punters who specialized in kicking a football far downfield. The second seven currently are notable Park Ridge punters who specialize in kicking the accountability and fiscal-responsibility “can” down the political road.

The first seven perform(ed) before tens of thousands of spectators each week. The second seven generally perform their weekly activities before a few handfuls of Park Ridge residents and whomever else might eventually watch their attempts at impersonating responsible public officials on the meeting videos posted on the City’s website – compliments of the video-camera donated by Mayor Dave Schmidt and manned (on most nights) by the intrepid and indefatigable George Kirkland.

The first seven are/were paid a lot of money for their skill and/or longevity. The second seven are each paid $1,200/year for, it seems, their lack of skill at doing the City’s business. And like their political master/mentor, former mayor Howard P. Frimark, Allegretti, Bach, Carey and Ryan are leaving office after only one term – although Frimark lost his re-election bid, while his acolytes are throwing in the towel and just walking away.

For those of us who don’t gamble on pro football, however, the activities of the first seven on Sundays have had no economic effect on our lives. The second seven, on the other hand, have spent the past four years of Mondays (save for Sweeney, who has spent only two) running up multi-million dollar deficits while depleting the City’s reserves, raising our property taxes at a rate exceeding inflation, cutting City services, and effectively mis-managing the City’s finances to a point where calling them a “mess” would be praising with faint damns.

That’s why it came as no surprise to us here at PublicWatchdog that those City Council punters couldn’t even muster the integrity, the commitment, or the effort to vote on each and every one of the line-item vetoes Mayor Schmidt painstakingly cast – after consultation with City Staff – in order to cut $650,000 from yet another Council tax-and-spend budget.

And even though the guy who tries to pass himself off as the “elder statesman” of this body by virtue of his sixteen years at The Horseshoe, DiPietro, remarked that he may actually favor some of Schmidt’s line-item vetoes, he disingenuously made the motion to over-ride all 70 line-item vetoes in one fell swoop rather than giving each line-item the individual attention he acknowledged at least some of them deserved. But that’s the kind of political double-talk we’ve come to expect from Richie D.

Ditto for Wsol, who last year voted to over-ride Schmidt’s blanket veto because it wasn’t a line-item one: “I hate a lot of pieces of this budget. I hope the mayor will look to his ability to exercise veto in certain areas,” said Wsol back then.

What a difference a year makes, hey Frankie? Or are you practicing that politician-speak in preparation for when a certain area Republican finally decides to hang up her Springfield spikes?

So the incoming aldermen get to muck out the City’s financial stable they inherit from their craven predecessors, who will be out the door before final year-end figures reveal whether they presided over a fourth straight year of operating deficits totaling in the multi-millions. And, by law, the new guys will have only 30 days to get that job done – along with a growing “to do” list that includes looking into adopting some form of zero-based budgeting to break the dysfunctional cycle of simply looking at what was spent last year and then just tacking on some more.

Hopefully, the first order business for the new guys will be to come up with a clear definition of what constitutes a “balanced budget” for a City with one primary operating account (the “General Fund”) and a couple dozen other discrete funds, including certain “enterprise funds” whose use is strictly limited to specific types of expenditures. That should eliminate a lot of the fiscal game-playing that often resembles a confidence-man’s “shell game” – except with 20 shells.

But perhaps the most nauseating irony of this latest (and hopefully last) abdication of economic responsibility by the current occupants of The Horseshoe is that, while they happily dump $650,000 of bungled budget decisions into the laps of the new aldermen, those same current occupants rushed to give City Mgr. Jim Hock that ridiculous two-year, $200,000+/year (all in) contract because they claimed they didn’t want to leave that difficult task to the new Council.

We wish we could say we won’t miss that kind of dissembling with the new Council, but we can’t…if only because DiPietro and Sweeney will still be sitting there, presumably mouthing the same or similar prevarications.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Another Year, Another Mayoral Budget Veto


A year ago Mayor Dave Schmidt cast what is believed to be the first-ever mayoral budget veto.  At that time, Schmidt was criticized by some of the business-as-usual crowd for vetoing the entire budget rather than undertaking a painstaking line-item veto; and his veto was over-ridden by a 5 (Alds. Allegretti, Bach, Carey, Ryan and Wsol) to 2 (Alds. DiPietro and Sweeney) majority, with three votes against over-ride needed to sustain the veto.

Tonight the City Council will vote on whether to sustain or over-ride Schmidt’s line-item veto of 72 line items totaling approx. $650,000 – items chosen by Schmidt after consulting with City Staff about what additional cuts could be made with the least adverse impact on essential services and infrastructure in order to reduce or eliminate the budgeted 5% increase in the City’s portion of our real estate tax bill.

We haven’t seen a Vegas line yet, but we’re willing to wager a crisp $1 bill that the vast majority, if not all, of Schmidt’s line-item vetoes will be over-ridden in one of the last official acts taken by this particular Council that always seemed to talk the fiscal-conservative talk but then chose to walk the tax-and-spend walk.  We can only hope the incoming crew is better, especially considering how low the current Council set the bar.

Festivities start at 7:30 p.m. at 505 Butler Place.

On a related note, an article in last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate reported that between 50 and 60 ash trees will be cut down in the next few weeks, the victims of the Emerald Ash Borer (“City to begin ash tree removal,” April 13).  The cutting and stump removal is expected to cost the City between $66,000 and $84,000, according to City Forester Tony Gliot. 

But that’s only the beginning. Gliot expects that most of the remaining 2,000+ ash trees will be removed over the course of the next 5 years because of Emerald Ash Borer infestation.  That’s another $2.8 million, or about $560,000 a year over that period.  And that doesn’t include the cost of replacing those mature ash trees, even with comparative saplings. 

Forester Gliot warns that this Ash Borer infestation will “hurt the entire urban forest…for many years to come,” thereby changing the “character” of our Tree City, USA community.  And, we would add, not for the better.  

Which raises the question of whether trees – which provide beauty, shade, air cleaning and that “character” Gliot talks about – should be considered part of our “infrastructure,” like sewers, streets, sidewalks, water, etc.  If so, should their maintenance (i.e., trimming) be given infrastructure-like priority, assuming the City gives “priority” to any infrastructure? 

Oh, by the way: the 2011-12 City budget adopted by the City Council (and vetoed by Mayor Schmidt) cut back on tree trimming, from the proposed $620,000 t0 $340,000; and on tree planting budget, from the proposed $105,000 to $0.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Shouting “Fire” In A Semi-Crowded Council Chamber (Updated 4/14/11)


This coming Monday night the City Council will vote to sustain or over-ride Mayor Dave Schmidt’s veto of a number of line item expenditures of the recently-passed 2011-12 City budget in order to save $650,000 and reduce the City’s property tax increase built into the new budget.

Among the line-items Schmidt vetoed are the funds to fill one of two vacancies in the Fire Department.  Schmidt’s goal was to cut the substantial overtime costs that department has been ringing up without negating that savings by hiring another full-time employee.  According to Schmidt, he vetted that situation with Police Chief Mike Zywanski before Schmidt vetoed that fighter position, and no public safety concerns were expressed.

But at this past Monday night’s COW meeting, Park Ridge resident and former Des Plaines fire chief Tom Farinella called the resulting Fire Department staffing “irresponsible.”  Farinella, citing a variety of fire protection standards, claims that because Park Ridge needs a minimum of 15 ready-for-duty firefighters and paramedics on every shift, it actually needs 18 available firefighters/paramedics to account for the possibility that as many as 3 might be unavailable at any given time due to illness, injury, vacation or personal matters.  

The term “irresponsible” is an easy one to throw around, in part because it truly is descriptive of the way government handles many of its duties – especially the way public officials spend other people’s money.  That’s the way we regularly use “irresponsible,” and we’ve got 9 years (out of the past 10) of deficit spending by the City (despite annual tax increases that met or exceeded the rate of inflation) as the most notable evidence to prove that point.

But Mr. Farinella’s use of that term takes on special meaning because he used it in the context of the word “unsafe” – even if he didn’t take the logical next step of actually explaining exactly what he meant by “unsafe.”

Frankly, we’re skeptical of Farinella’s conclusion because, historically, government bureaucrats (and retired bureaucrats like Farinella) have embraced the “peak-demand” approach to staffing.  That way, on those rare occasions of peak demand, nobody has to really extend themselves to deal with it; and life gets even better during the vast majority of those off-peak hours when departments are effectively over-staffed.  Plus, bureaucrat-managers can cite to  bigger staffs to underscore their importance and argue for more compensation. 

So what’s not to like about over-staffing – so long as you’re not the taxpayer footing the bill?

We recall the hue and cry a year ago when the City cut four police officers.  “Unsafe” was one of the words used back then, too, with a similar degree of vagueness.  But a year later, Park Ridge is not in the midst of a crime spree; and, to the best of our knowledge, even the most cautious villagers are not locking up their women, children and cattle after dark to keep the maraurders, pillagers and rustlers at bay.

But if the mayor’s line item veto of the one firefighter position truly creates a significant, definable safety risk to Park Ridge residents or to the firefighters themselves, we need to know it.  Which is why we question Farinella’s failure to describe those safety risks in concrete terms instead of his bare, conclusory “unsafe” pronouncement; and we also wonder why Chief Z didn’t state, then and there, whether he agreed or disagreed with Farinella, and why.

After decades of watching these Kabuki-like performances play out at City Hall, we’ll hazard a guess that the point of Farinella’s exercise was in large measure political: we recall seeing him at City Hall a year ago when cuts in Fire Department staffing were being discussed, so this little bit of fear-mongering could have been intended to give aldermen something to hang their veto-override hats on when it comes to that particular line item.  

From the sound of things, outgoing Ald. (and Public Safety Committe chair) Frank Wsol is already buying into it.  “No one wants to see the public put at risk because we are trying to balance the budget on the back of the Fire Department service,” said Wsol afterward.

Neither do we, alderman (and that’s a nice sound-bite you’ve got there).  So why didn’t you ask Mr. Farinella and Chief Z to elucidate their positions when you had the chance Monday night? 

UPDATE (4/14/11)

The following is a comment we received from Mr. Farinella:

As I stated during my comments at the April 11th Committee of the Whole Meeting, do to work responsibilities, I cannot attend the April 18th City Council Meeting.  I thanked the City Council for the opportunity to address this issue at the April 11th Committee of the Whole Meeting.

During the discussion at the Committee of the Whole Meeting on Monday night, Fire Chief Zywanski, Alderman DiPietro and I specifically referred to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 1710, Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations By Career Fire Departments.

NFPA 1710 Initial Full Alarm Assignment Capability states:  The fire department shall have the capability to deploy an initial full alarm assignment within an 8-minute response time to 90 percent of the incidents as established in Chapter 4.  The initial full alarm assignment shall provide for the following (edited for  space):
1   Incident Commander
1   firefighter to establish an uninterrupted water supply and water flow application
4   firefighters to establish two hose lines (attack & backup)
2   firefighters to provide support for each hose line, provide hydrant hookup, assist in line lays, utility control (gas & electric) and forcible entry
2   firefighters for each victim search & rescue team
2   firefighters for a minimum of one ventilation team
1   firefighter as an aerial ladder operator, if aerial device is used in operations
2   firefighters to function as an initial rapid intervention crew

NFPA 1710, which is a Nationally recognized standard, clearly states that a MINIMUM of 14-15 firefighters should be responding to an incident.  This is the number of firefighters necessary to respond to a typical single-family residential structure fire and be capable of performing all of the necessary responsibilities for the safety of the public and firefighters.

In my 30 year career, 11 as Fire Chief, I have NEVER used the term “irresponsible” loosely.  The Park Ridge Fire Department currently has a minimum staffing level of 12; 2-3 below the Nationally recognized standard for initial response to a structure fire.  Since the 1970’s, the Fire Service has efficiently used automatic aid and mutual aid to supplement their response to Additional Alarm Assignments.  I sincerely believe that each municipality bears the responsibility to adequately respond to an Initial Alarm Assignment, as described above.

Many municipalities decide to supplement their staffing through overtime, in lieu of hiring a full time firefighter.  This is an acceptable practice, so long as current staffing is capable of efficiently filling the vacant position(s) and the budget adequately provides for the overtime expenditure.  The problem is, you cannot have it both ways!  You cannot reduce overtime expenditures and not fill position vacancies.  With all due respect to Mayor Schmidt, apparently, this is what he is trying to do.  I respectfully request the City Council to override the mayor’s veto to only fill one of the two vacant positions in the fire department.

I trust that the above information sufficiently and responsibly supports my position.
Respectfully submitted,
Tom Farinella
Park Ridge Resident
Retired Fire Chief, Des Plaines Fire Department


PublicWatchdog appreciates Mr. Farinella’s clarification. 

As we understand it, compliance with NFPA 1710 is not mandatory but merely recommended.  We are unaware of any adverse adminstrative consequences attendant to non-compliance. 

Our research also indicates that the NFPA’s adoption of Standard 1710 was driven substantially by the Int’l Association of Fire Fighters, a/k/a the firefighters’ union, whose website touts it as “one of the most active lobbying organizations in Washington; its Political Action Committee, FIREPAC, is among the top one percent of the more than 4,000 federal PACs in the country.”  It also touts its “capacity to create and support legislation on behalf of first responders” both in Washington D.C. and before the Canadian Parliament, including “[c]ollective bargaining rights, staffing, line-of-duty deaths, health care, pensions and safety-issues.”

Perhaps that explains why the NFPA 1710 “staffing” requirements have been described by critics as the “firefighters’ full employment act.”  While the IAFF’s prominence in adoption of NFPA 1710 doesn’t make those requirements inherently invalid, it should at least call into question whether their purpose is as much for “featherbedding” as for public safety.  

More importantly, however, is that although Mr. Farinelli opines “that each municipality bears the responsibility to adequately respond to an Initial Alarm Assignment,” NFPA 1710 expressly allows compliance with its staffing requirements through the use of “mutual aid” (assistance upon request pursuant to certain protocols) and “automatic aid” (immediate joint dispatch and response) arrangements for multiple jurisdictions’ joint and reciprocal deployment of firefighting and/or EMS personnel and equipment, like what we understand Park Ridge already has with neighboring communities.  

We reiterate our concern for the safety of the public and our firefighters/EMS personnel.  But we are equally concerned with the inherently-flawed, old-style politics that spurred the growth of government to the point where it has become economically unsustainable – unless our goal is to bequeath to our children, grandchildren and great grandchilden double-digit trillions of dollars of systemic, institutionalized debt that cuts across federal, state and local governments.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Is Park Ridge Simply Chasing Its (Re)Tail?


Last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate carried a letter by resident Michael Rathsack pointing out some of the problems he had with “shopping locally” at Dominic’s Kitchen Store and Burke’s Books, two local retailers that recently closed their doors (“Shopping locally not as easy as it sounds,” April 8).

Other casualties over the last several weeks include Kelly’s Meats, Al’s Beef, V-Tone Vitamins and The Perfect Dinner, while Raffia moved to smaller quarters.  And since 2007 the Napleton car dealerships and various other retailers also closed their doors for good.  That’s a big bite out of the sales tax revenue the City used to count on.

Mr. Rathsack is spot-on when he notes that competition from large stores and the Internet, as well as “the limitations inherent in a small retail store,” makes the margin of error for local retailers slim and none – something that was lost on those mayors, City Council members and City staff who (per Mr. Rathsack) “saddled us with a TIF that is now sucking money out of the city budget because retail is not working to bring in tax dollars.”

Exactly…to the tune of close to $6 million and still counting!

But Mr. Rathsack gets it wrong when he appears to blame the TIF solely on the “new ‘independent’ council members” – presumably Alds. Don Crampton, Mark Anderson, Rex Parker and Jeff Cox, who in April 2003 defeated candidates from the then-dominant Homeowners Party.  The TIF was the brainchild of former City Mgr. Tim Schuenke and former mayor Ron Wietecha, and it was endorsed not only by the 4 “independents” but also by the remaining 10 Homeowners Party aldermen.

Almost as soon as they passed the TIF ordinance in August 2003, Wietecha resigned and fled to Barrington.  The task of bringing the TIF-funded Uptown Redevelopment project to fruition fell to Wietecha’s successor, Homeowners Party alderman Mike Marous, who was so instrumental in getting it done that Ald. Parker proposed naming the signature structure at six-corners the “Marous Building.”

Thereafter, as reported in the H-A’s January 19, 2006, edition, then-mayor Howard Frimark listed one of his 2006 goals thusly: “I would like to get to a point where downtown Park Ridge and all of Park Ridge are a shopper’s destination.”  But when that didn’t happen, the pie-in-the-sky, pro-retail folks came up with plenty of scapegoats, starting with a “shortage of good retail space” and the City’s “unfriendliness” to business. For the past couple of years, “the economy” has been the most convenient alibi.

Since 2004, however, we have seen the City’s quasi-public Economic Development Corporation (“EDC”) voluntarily disband (right around the time the City finally began requiring ethics disclosures from its members) and the City subsequently hired and later released its in-house economic development director, Kim Uhlig.  Neither the EDC nor Ms. Uhlig was able to attract the kinds of businesses Park Ridge residents claim they want.

But now that we’ve seen the quasi-governmental EDC and the solely governmental Ms. Uhlig fail to improve our stagnant retail situation, maybe it’s time to try a purely private-sector homegrown solution: the Chamber of Commerce.   After all, isn’t the Chamber comprised of successful Park Ridge retailers?  Who better to take on this task?

Unfortunately, the Chamber’s website reveals that only 2 of the 16 current Chamber officers and directors – the owners of TeaLula and Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory – appear to be conventional “retailers.”  The other executives look to all be service providers, with several in the non-profit sector (such as the president, from Rainbow Hospice; and the president-elect, from Resurrection Health Care).  Have any of them, or even executive director Gail Haller, ever run a retail business?  Successfully?

We note from its website that the Chamber has a “Retail Committee,” which suggests that those members might be the proper core group to undertake the task of providing direction and mentoring of new and current businesses.  We’re not saying it will be an easy task, but the axiom “retail begets retail” has been thrown around enough to convince us that this kind of initiative is worth a try. 

Unless, of course, even the Chamber already has silently resigned itself to the view that we get, and will continue to get, exactly the kind of retail we deserve.

To read or post comments, click on title.

The Watchdog’s Kibbles & Bits – Box 22


Mayor Vetoes 2011-12 Budget.  Wednesday night (April 6) Mayor Dave Schmidt wielded his veto pen to another City budget.  Unlike last year, however, Schmidt did not nuke the entire budget – he line-item vetoed a total of $650,000 in various expenditures, as he explained in his veto messageIn so doing, he claims to be able to reduce the property tax increase approved by the City Council and restore some essential City services.  And he did it with advice from our well-paid City Staff, which properly gives those staffers some ownership of the cuts they should have made when the budget was originally crafted.

We can’t wait to see what vetoed line items the Council will over-ride at the Council meeting on April 18, a couple of weeks before five of those aldermen walk off into the sunset.

Adios!  Speaking of aldermen walking off into the sunset, we note that Ald. Jim Allegretti (4th) appears to be wheeling and dealing all the way to the finish line.  A story in last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Park Ridge City Council: Hiring own prosecutor for city traffic cases could pay off,” March 29) identified Ald. Jim as the public official extending the “invitation” to attorneys Wayne Addis and Joel Greenberg to pitch the City Council on giving them a $78,000/year contract to prosecute DUIs and other traffic-ordinance violations for the City. 

The purported carrot: a larger share of the fines going into City coffers than are now coming in through such prosecutions being conducted by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office. But guess what?  Nobody, including Addis and Greenberg themselves, could quantify with any degree of certainty how much more money the City would get – a deficiency properly noted by Alds. Joe Sweeney and Don Bach.  We hope better data is presented when this matter is next taken up by the Council at the April 25 COW meeting.

For those keeping score, Allegretti previously served as the Council “sponsor” of the ill-fated (fortunately) attempt to bring some I-294 billboards to the northwest corner of the City, as well as the more recent ill-fated (again, fortunately) attempt by Hoffman Homes to jam 20 condominium units into an area on Touhy Avenue zoned for 12.  

And Welcome!  This week’s H-A and Park Ridge Journal contain an essay by 5th Ward Ald.-elect Dan Knight about how the City’s budget process must improve.  

We concur wholeheartedly with Knight, as well as with 4th Ward Ald.-elect Sal Raspanti’s call for the implementation of zero-based budgeting instead of the lazy and cowardly just-add-x%-to-last-year’s-budget process that may be the bureaucrats’ and politicians’ dream but is also the taxpayers’ nightmare.

If Knight, Raspanti and 7th Ward Ald.-elect Marty Maloney (a fiscal hawk on the Park District Board the past 8 years) can enlist just one more like-minded alderman, perhaps we’ll finally see “fiscal responsibility” go from being an increasingly meaningless catch-phrase to a meaningful local governmental policy.

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Winners, Voters And Suckers.


To you Park Ridge voters who cast ballots in yesterday’s election: Well done!

You saw through the absurdity of union-backed Park Board members negotiating collective bargaining agreements with the union that backed them.  And you also appear to have seen through the bluster by members of the Park Ridge Senior Center, who reportedly had targeted incumbent Board members Jim O’Brien and Mary Wynn Ryan for defeat because of their refusal to add a ridiculous new sweetheart Senior Center contract to the ridiculous $180,000/year taxpayer subsidy Senior Center members already receive to keep their private “clubhouse” operating and their annual membership dues at a miniscule $35/member.

We offer our congratulations to both O’Brien and Ryan (who ran away from their “union” opponents by more than a 2-1 majority), along with our hope that they have gained an appreciation for those voters who make the effort to inform themselves about the issues and then go to the polls to vote for good government on a community-wide basis rather than for special deals for the special interests.  We also wish to congratulate newcomer Mel Thillens for his first-place finish in that race: hopefully his performance in office will mirror that lofty ranking.

We congratulate new District 64 Board members Anthony Borrelli and top vote-getter Dan Collins, who claimed two of the three available 4-year seats on that Board.  We find it noteworthy and encouraging that lack of a slate of candidates selected by the General Caucus produced the most competitive District 64 election in memory, with 5 candidates for the three 4-year seats and two candidates for the 2-year seat.  Maybe these two newcomers can help lift the veil of secrecy that has characterized D-64 operations for far too long (Hey, folks, how about entering the 21st Century and joining the City and the Park District in video-recording your meetings and posting them on your website?) – as well as start demanding academic achievement commensurate with the District’s per-pupil cost and its teacher salary levels.

Our congratulations to incumbents John Heyde and Scott Zimmerman come tempered with the suggestion that they stop doing business-as-usual – with all that faux self-esteem that D-64 is so good at generating – and start earning their spurs by actually improving the quality and cost-effectiveness of the education being provided.  And Mr. Heyde…lose the hide-and-seek gamesmanship that characterized your Board’s appointment of the new superintendent, its appointment of Scott Zimmerman as a new Board member, and the presentation of the District’s finances.  That’s just for starters.

On the City level, we congratulate Ald. Joe Sweeney on his first-time election as 1st Ward alderman by a vote of 328-200 over challenger Alana Warren.  As the appointed alderman he often talked the “fiscal conservative” talk but then inexplicably failed to walk the walk.  Here’s hoping he develops a comprehensible philosophy of City government, and then some consistency in its implementation.

And In the always-contentious 7th Ward, congratulations go to Marty Maloney, who handily defeated Franklin Ramirez and Lottie Janus 485-237-52 despite the Herculean efforts of 6th Ward resident Gene Spanos to figuratively tar-and-feather Maloney for having the temerity to say that he can’t justify throwing boxcar numbers of tax dollars at an anti-O’Hare fight for which nobody – not the City of Chicago, not the FAA, not the NIH, not the NTSB, not any of our neighboring communities, and neither our Democrat nor our Republican federal representatives – appears to be allied with us. 

Sweeney and Maloney will join with unopposed incumbent Ald. Rich DiPietro (2nd), unopposed write-in candidate Jim Smith (3rd, “the ward democracy forgot”), and unopposed candidates Sal Raspanti (4th), Dan Knight (5th) and Tom Bernick (6th) to form a Council that should be far more fiscally-responsible, transparent and accountable to the taxpayers than the current crop of Frimark holdovers.  Which is good, because the tasks they face look daunting, to say the least – especially after four years of general mismanagement by the clown-car Council heading for the exits.

Finally, as a sad counterpoint to the “congratulations” we have offered the successful candidates and the voters who helped elect them, we offer a hearty round of “boo”s to the vast majority of Park Ridge voters who couldn’t muster enough civic-mindedness to drag their sorry derrieres to the polls.  In the contemporary idiom: “You suck!”

At the very top of the “You suck!” list are the residents of the 3rd Ward, who couldn’t even produce a legitimate petition-filing candidate to actually appear on the ballot.  If this were truly a “just” system, you 3rd Ward derelicts would go unrepresented for the next four years.  But because justice appears to run second to mercy in our system, you will be represented by write-in candidate Jim Smith.

Running right behind the 3rd Ward on the “You suck!” list is the 2nd Ward, where unopposed Ald. Rich DiPietro got 501 fewer votes (723-222) yesterday than he got running unopposed in 2007.  And the bronze “You suck!” medal goes to the 1st Ward, which turned out 508 less voters for this year’s contested race than it did for Dave Schmidt running uncontested in 2007 (1,036 to 528).  Such dereliction of duty reminds us of the following quote:

“Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves; and the only way they could do this is by not voting.”  Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Even those of you in wards where the aldermanic seat was uncontested still had contested races for the Park Board and District 64 School Board that deserved the exercise of your franchise because, combined, they consume over $70 million of our tax dollars each year.  But because you couldn’t, or wouldn’t, be bothered to vote…

You suck!

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Additional Endorsements For Tomorrow’s Election


In addition to our previous endorsement of Park Board candidates Jim O’Brien, Mary Wynn Ryan and Mel Thillens (see “Voters Should Reject ‘Union’ Park Board Slate,” Mar. 30), we offer the following endorsements for your consideration:

Park Ridge-Niles School District 64

For the Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 board, we endorse Anthony Borrelli, Dan Collins and Marshall Warren over incumbents John Heyde and Eugenia Taddeo for the three 4-year seats; and Kristi Bavaro over incumbent Scott Zimmerman for the 2-year seat.

In their 4 and 6 years on the board, respectively, Heyde and Taddeo have distinguished themselves by spending the taxpayers’ money and by things that we find antithetical to good government, like secrecy and lack of accountability – as we discussed at greater length in posts like “More Of The ‘Culture Of Secrecy’ At District 64” (Sept. 16, 2010) and “Concealing The Details Of A ‘Fair’ Contract Raises Questions” (Sept. 14, 2009) – while at the same time doing little to raise the academic achievement of D-64 students, as we noted in posts like “District 64 Schools Missing (Again) From ‘Top 100’ Lists” (Oct. 29, 2010) and “Time For Taxpayers To Start Paying Attention To School Dist. 64” (Oct. 31, 2008).

While Zimmerman has served for less than two years, he was appointed by Heyde and Taddeo, among others.  Enough said.

We believe Borrelli, Collins, Warren and Bavaro will bring a fresh approach to D-64.  In the absence of any over-riding reasons to retain Heyde, Taddeo and Zimmerman, a fresh approach is preferable to a stale one.

Park Ridge City Council

In the 1st Ward, incumbent Ald. Joe Sweeney, whom Mayor Dave Schmidt appointed two years ago to fill Schmidt’s aldermanic seat when he became mayor, has been frustratingly inconsistent and unpredictable.  For every policy-based decision he seems to get right (e.g., rejection of giveaway funding of private community groups, voting against deficit budgets) he gets an equally-or-more significant one totally wrong (e.g., City Mgr. Jim Hock’s new sweetheart contract).  And we get the sense that he is an automatic, knee-jerk vote for anything police or police-related, irrespective of the cost-benefit output.    

On the other hand, his challenger, Alana Warren, appears to have been un-engaged in City business until her decision to run for alderman a few months ago, as evidenced by her admission that she had not attended any City Council meetings prior to her candidacy, and had watched only a couple/few meeting videos.  Well, at least she was honest about her disinterest. 

We are disappointed that neither candidate has done or even said enough good things about how the City should be governed to merit an endorsement.  All we can do is hope that whoever wins will step up to the plate and build a record that will merit an endorsement four years from now.

In the 7th Ward, the only other contested aldermanic race, the voters once again have multiple choices.  That’s a good thing, especially compared to the positively pathetic 3rd Ward, which could only field one eleventh-hour write in candidate after nobody filed any regular nominating petitions by the deadline.  Of the three candidates running in the 7th, we strongly endorse Marty Maloney for the seat being vacated by 6-year veteran Frank Wsol.

For the past 8 years Maloney has distinguished himself as the No. 1 fiscal hawk on the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District Board, where he has also served as president of that body. As a new commissioner back in 2004-05, he was instrumental in the successful intergovernmental effort to build the new City water reservoir at Hinkley Park, thereby saving City taxpayers over $3 million in additional costs and preserving the old City Garage property at Greenwood and Elm for other City uses or for sale to private developers.  In other words, he has walked the walk and not just talked the talk.

The two other candidates for this office, Lottie Janus and Franklin Ramirez, are decent folks but appear simply outclassed by Maloney.  And, unfortunately, Ramirez seems to be trying to turn this into a “partisan” battle by lining up the endorsements of non-resident Republican officials like Cook County Commissioner (and Village of Elmwood Park president) Peter Silvestri and State Rep. (and Des Plaines resident) Rosemary Mulligan, even as he has failed to identify even one City issue that has an inherently “Republican” or “Democrat” position to it.

Memo to Mr. Ramirez: by law, City elections are non-partisan.

And memo to Park Ridge voters:  Act like citizens and get to the polls tomorrow.

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