Public Watchdog.org

Secret Pay Raises At School District 64?

06.30.11

In our post “City Council Still Not Walking The Fiscal Talk” (06.21.11), we criticized the new City Council’s rubber-stamping of the old City Council’s “blanket, everybody-gets-one, 3% raise that added $185,766 to the 2011-12 budget.”

Needless to say, we aren’t fans of un-merited, across-the-board raises for any employees, but we’re willing to let the marketplace deal with that problem for private companies.  When it comes to public employees who already enjoy minimal/non-existent performance goals and accountability, however, we’re dead set against any pay increases not tied to performance and merit.    

But at least the City Council – both the old one and the new one – had the integrity to publicly discuss both the percentage and the total dollar amount of those across-the-board raises for City employees before voting to approve them, and again before voting to over-ride Mayor Dave Schmidt’s vetoes.  And anybody not in the audience at any of those meetings could still watch the video of those proceedings and judge the debate for  themselves.

That’s not remotely close to the case with the Board and Administration of Park Ridge–Niles School District 64, dominated by Board president John Heyde and Supt. Philip Bender.  Heyde, in particular, acts as if he places the taxpayers’ right to know somewhere between the right to lifetime oil changes at Jiffy Lube and the right to an autographed photo of Hamid Karzai, suitable for framing.

We understand that at Monday night’s meeting, the D-64 Board approved across-the-board raises for school administrators and certain other personnel.  But the amount of those raises, either in percentages or in total dollars, remains a secret because – lo, but not behold – the Board’s meeting agenda is silent on that information, leaving us to guess what is meant by the uber-vague reference to “Approval of Salary and Benefit Changes…” under the Consent Agenda portion of the meeting (8:25-8:30 p.m.).

Although that matter was moved off the Consent Agenda and voted upon as an individual item, it was done with no public disclosure of what those “Salary…Changes” were.  And, not surprisingly, the voluminous meeting materials posted on D-64’s website are completely silent on such “Salary…Changes.”

So what gives, Messrs. Heyde and Bender?  Are you perpetrating yet another lie by omission of information that should have been publicly disclosed before the Board voted on it?  If not, then why weren’t those “Salary and Benefit Changes” a matter of public record well in advance of the meeting, so that interested citizens might have known to show up and speak their piece about them? 

Sadly, if not infuriatingly, this is just the latest in a long line of similar conduct by Mr. Heyde and Mr. Bender (and before him, former-Supt. Sally Pryor) which we have written about in posts such as “D-64 Board Stealthily Picks Architect Of Record” (05.13.11), “More Of The ‘Culture of Secrecy’ At District 64” (09.16.10), “Arrogant And Disrespectful, Or Simply Petty And Juvenile” (04.07.10), “Concealing The Details Of A ‘Fair’ Contract Raises Questions” (09.14.09) and “School District 64: Hiding In Plain Sight” (06.08.09).

The lack of transparency and accountability at D-64 has been a constant since at least when the new Emerson came on-line in 1998, the under-budgeting of which appears to have created the motive for the Board and District administrators to drive the District to the brink of financial crisis while insisting no tax increases were needed – just a $5 million back-door, non-referendum working cash bond issue in 2005, and then a multi-million tax increase referendum in 2007 to keep the Illinois State Board of Education from taking over the District’s financial management.

We can’t quite tell whether the D-64 Board and Administration are simply dismissive, or outright contemptuous, of their “stakeholders” (as all these public-sector propagandists like to label us stiffs who foot the bills).  People who have had so much success in getting their critics to cower at the mere utterance of “It’s for the kids” have learned they can be shameless when dictating to the spineless.

With Heyde playing Cardinal Woolsey to Bender’s Thomas Cranmer, the D-64 Star Chamber is alive, well, and spending our money anyway they please – the taxpaying citizenry remaining none the wiser.

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Blago Conviction Treats Symptom, Not Disease (Updated 07.01.11)

06.28.11

Yesterday the jury handed down its verdict in the long-running, sordid saga of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich: guilty on 17 of 20 counts, almost all of which involve some form of selling out the public interest for somebody’s private, personal benefit.

Selling out the public interest has been Play No. 1 in the unofficial playbook of Illinois government and politics as practiced for at least the past 30 years, primarily by the Democrats who have controlled one or both chambers of the General Assembly for all but 2 of those years – but with the willing and shameless assistance of Republican governors like “Big Jim” Thompson, “Big George” Ryan and, to a lesser degree, “Slim Jim” Edgar.

While “trickle down” economics may be a suspect theory, “trickle down” government corruption is hard reality in our state.  Watching two of our last three governors get convicted of multiple public corruption charges in which they were aided and abetted by some of their closest advisors – also public officials who owed the people of this state honest services – sends the message, at least subliminally, that government corruption is unremarkable standard operating procedure.

But corruption can, and does, take many shapes and forms, some of which seem almost benign to a populace numbed by a steady stream of “Safe Road”s, “Silver Shovel”s, “Gambat”s, “Hired Truck”s, “Crooked Code”s, and too many other assorted scams and frauds to deserve their own catchy nicknames.

Sometimes it’s public “funding” that magically appears after somebody puts the arm on a pliant or outright sleazy politician. Other times it might be a zoning variance that gets pushed through without rhyme or reason. Maybe it’s a summer job that leap-frogs earlier applicants with equal or better credentials to land in the lap of the fortunate son of a public official’s buddy.  Or maybe it’s some other similar “favor” to one special interest or another that inexplicably trumps more important public interests.

As a state with more units of government than any of the other 49, Illinois is effectively a petri dish of government-bred pathogens infecting us at every level. Which means that we can’t realistically rely on the U.S. Attorney’s office and the FBI to protect us from even a fraction of them, including in our own community.

What can we do with our local governments here in Park Ridge?

We can start by paying attention and questioning everything our public officials do.  Asking questions, and demanding substantive and meaningful answers rather than hot air, is a great screening device for detecting wrongheaded or kinky dealings. Public officials owe each of us an explanation of what they are doing when they act on our behalf with our money, and why they are doing it: if they can’t explain it understandably, or if it doesn’t make sense, or if it sounds too good to be true, chances are we’re getting fleeced.

And that questioning shouldn’t just be at the City level. The two least-scrutinized and least-transparent branches of local government are School Districts 64 and 207, which do not televise or videotape their meetings and which have become quite comfortable cultivating the sense that the business of education can be understood only by “the educators.” To make matters worse, those two branches of local government account for about 2/3 of our property tax bills.

The bottom line is that every time a public official “put’s his thumb on the scale” – for either his own benefit or for that of some special interest – the rest of us are being cheated out of good government. Even if that doesn’t technically qualify as “corruption,” it most definitely is not “good government.”

And it’s “effing” wrong.

UPDATE (07.01.11):  Sometimes you need to laugh to keep from crying: our new Illinois license plate and Jon Stewart “Blago” bit.

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In Com Ed’s “24,” Eric Duray No “Jack Bauer” (Updated 06.24.11)

06.23.11

In a comment to Tuesday’s post submitted yesterday evening, Mr./Ms. “Dark on Belle Plaine” wrote:

This is all so nice and I hate to change the topic, but now that my power is back on I turned on my computer and watched the [Monday night City Council] meeting.  I get to the part where the Com-Ed mouthpiece gives a report which outlines all the “improvements” they have done and [how] “short” the repair times are.  I kid you not.  If you haven’t watched it you should.  Then he asks if there are any questions?  Guess what?  Not one.  They all sit there.  All seven of them and the Mayor just sit there.  No one asks what specific improvements have occurred since the last power outage or the one before that or the one before that.  They should have asked because evidenced by what took place over the last twenty-four hours is clear evidence it was not enough.

The semi-Faulknerian length of that paragraph notwithstanding, Mr./Ms. DOBP makes a good point, especially in light of at least 80% of Park Ridge losing electrical power barely 24 hours after Monday night’s public relations presentation by Park Ridge’s very own ComEd rep/troubleshooter, Eric Duray – with 50% of Park Ridge still out of power as of 7:00 a.m. today (06/23/11).

On June 30, 2008, we published a post titled “A Powerless Mayor” in which we wrote:

After large portions of Park Ridge lost power for as much as four days last August, [then-mayor Howard] Frimark made a grand gesture of bringing in ComEd public relations people to explain why we continue to have regular outages and what it was doing to alleviate them.  The report from residents who attended those meetings: “Same stuff, different day.”

Three years later, we have to ask if anything has changed…besides the names of the mayor and six of the seven aldermen, that is?

Mr./Ms. DOBP is spot-on with the observation about how the mayor and the Council – along with City Mgr. Jim Hock, all the other City officials arrayed around The Horseshoe, and a gallery chock-full of residents – sat silent and un-questioning during what turned into a canned public relations pitch for the newest piece of pro-ComEd legislation working its way through a usually-complicit state legislature in Springfield: the “Smart Grid” and “Smart Meters,” which appear designed primarily to ensure a steady stream of ComEd profits for the next decade or so.

According to Duray, the “average” Park Ridge customer had only 1.27 power interruptions during 2010, making last year our most reliable for electrical power since 2006.  He attributed that result to ComEd’s having invested approximately $570,000 in Park Ridge-related capital projects during the past three years (2008-10) – although he didn’t say, and nobody asked, how that $570,000 compares to the total revenue Park Ridge users generated for ComEd during those same three years.

We’re guessing the fraction would be tiny.

Maybe the silence from our public officials Monday night was from the shock of hearing such palaver spewed so directly and earnestly by Duray.  Watch the new WOW-broadcast meeting video on the City’s website and you’ll hear a spiel as good as any delivered by those legendary patent medicine peddlers from the backs of horse-drawn wagons in the Old West: we half-expected Mr. Duray to promise that the new Smart Grid would even cure the croup, lumbago and the grip!

But, unfortunately, Duray has never given us any reason to think that he might be able to solve any of Park Ridge’s electric power problems – not in 24 hours or even 24 months.

Back in June 2008, we suggested then-mayor Frimark and that Council explore the City’s options in dealing with ComEd, including the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of a lawsuit such as several other communities had filed against ComEd for its failure to adequately maintain and improve its power grid to provide more reliable power.  As best as we can tell, that crew did absolutely nothing.

In December 2009, Mayor Schmidt, in response to another Duray dog-and-pony show, challenged ComEd to invest more that the $470,000 in capital improvements Duray was then reporting in order to make electrical power in Park Ridge more reliable: “It would be fair and wise for you to put more money into Park Ridge than the amount of money you have so far.”  But another 18 months have gone by, and we aren’t aware of the City’s getting anything more out of ComEd than another $100,000 of purported but unspecified capital improvements.

We’re not advocating a lawsuit as the only way to get ComEd to provide us with dependable power – at least not until we can get a better sense of what the costs and likelihood of success will be.

In 2005 the City of Darien filed suit against ComEd after a substation fire left 12,000 residents without power for 2-3 days.  ComEd conceded that Darien’s outages were twice those of other areas, and that case was settled by bringing in a consultant who identified the various infrastructure problems which ComEd worked to fix.  According to Duray, however, Park Ridge’s outages last year were slightly better than ComEd’s system-wide average.

The Village of Deerfield has been involved in a suit with ComEd since April 2008, alleging 82,347 individual customer power outages during 1,377 separate electric failures since 2000 related to four circuits which ComEd admitted were among the 1% worst performing circuits in the entire ComEd system.  

That case already has cost Deerfield in excess of $250,000, and that was  before its recent hiring of utility lawyers from a national law firm (DLA Piper) to handle some elements of the case that may now need to proceed before the Illinois Commerce Commission (“ICC”) – according to Pages 15-19 of last Thursday’s (June 16) Illinois Supreme Court decision, where the Court held that complaints about ComEd’s infrastructure and services that seek relief for systemic defects in the provision or remediation of services when a power outage occurs, constitute claims for “reparations” that must be heard by the ICC.

So if litigation isn’t the way to go, what is?

Some residents have mentioned burying the power lines as is done in most newer areas, although that sounds like a pretty darn expensive retrofitting project that ComEd is unlikely to undertake solely on its own dime.  Nevertheless, the City should look into it.  It should also put the arm on Park Ridge resident and state Sen. Dan Kotowski, and Rep. Rosemary Mulligan – both of whom have either been MIA or simply ineffective in helping with our flooding and our power problems up to now – to go to bat for us.

Meanwhile, if you want to share your thoughts about ComEd’s performance with Mr. Duray, we understand that his e-mail address is eric.duray@ComEd.com.  If you do so, we suggest that you copy the mayor, the city manager, and at least your own alderman (using the e-mail addresses for them on the City’s website); and Sen. Kotowski (dan@kotowski4senate.com) and Rep. Mulligan (repmulligan@usa.net).

Oh, yeah…and don’t forget to copy us here at ContactUs@PublicWatchdog.org.

UPDATE (06.24.11): In responding to one of the comments to this post, we re-visited the City’s website and discovered that while a “ComEd – Annual Report and Presentation” item was stuck in the Mayor’s report section of the agenda – after 3 proclamations  and one presentation – there were no relevant ComEd materials in the Council “packet”; and we understand that the only ComEd materials the Mayor and the aldermen received were at their desks when they arrived Monday night.

That raises the question of whether ComEd was trying to snooker the City with an eleventh-hour handout so that nobody would have time to prepare for Mr. Duray’s medicine show. 

Consequently, we would hope that the City invites Mr. Duray back real soon – so that he can explain to a better-prepared Council and citizenry why that whopping $570,000 3-year capital improvement effort didn’t do more to protect 80% of Park Ridge from the next evening’s power outage.

To read or post comments, click on title.

City Council Still Not Walking The Fiscal Talk (Corrected 06.23.11)

06.21.11

One of the many self-improvement aphorisms goes something like: “If you want to become something you’re not, you have to stop being what you are.” 

That’s a lesson that still hasn’t been learned by our City government which, despite the occasional declarations of devotion to fiscal responsibility, can’t quite seem to translate those words into deeds.   

Last night the Council voted 6 (Alds. Sweeney, DiPietro, Smith, Raspanti, Bernick & Maloney) to 1 (Ald. Knight) to over-ride Mayor Dave Schmidt’s veto of the budget line item giving an across-the-board 3% pay increase to the City’s non-union employees.  The principal argument for those raises: those employees haven’t had a raise in 3 years.

No discussion of improved performance or greater efficiencies from those non-union employees generally.  No attempt to differentiate performance or productivity among them.  Just a blanket, everybody-gets-one, 3% raise that added $185,766 to the 2011-12 budget.

How many Park Ridge residents paying the taxes to fund those raises haven’t had a raise themselves in the past 3 years unless they could prove they earned it with increased productivity – and their employer could afford to pay it from increased profits?  How many Park Ridge residents paying the taxes to fund those raises have lost their jobs altogether, or have become substantially under-employed in the past 3 years with a commensurate decrease in pay and benefits?

But that didn’t seem to factor into the equation for our newest guardians of the public purse, who will also soon be making decisions about the City’s unionized employees seeking multi-year contracts that lock wage and/or benefit increases into the uncertain future when they should be getting only one-year deals that more accurately reflect existing economic reality.  And don’t expect those union deals to come with any guarantees of increased productivity.

Similarly, the Council voted 5 (DiPietro, Smith, Raspanti, Bernick & Maloney) to 2 (Sweeney & Knight) to over-ride Schmidt’s veto of the budget line item providing for a total of $65,776 in no-strings-attached donations of our tax dollars to four private community groups.  Not surprisingly, the lion’s share ($49,500) of those donations went to the uber politically-connected Center of Concern, whose board of directors and advisory board sport 19 current or former public officials, at least 10 of whom have sat around The Horseshoe at 505 Butler Place.

No attempt to ascertain what specific services the residents are getting in return.  No attempt to require a specific dollars-for-services contract from those private recipients of the taxpayers’ involuntary largesse.  Not even any attempt to comply with the City Council’s Policy No. 6.  Just four arbitrary amounts added to the budget as proponents of those organizations showed up just long enough to make sure the vote went the way they wanted it and their organizations’ places at the public trough were ensured.

How many Park Ridge taxpayers consciously have chosen to directly donate their hard-earned money to local charities other than the four favored by the City Council?  How many of those taxpayers consciously have chosen not to make donations to those organizations, for whatever reasons or for no reason at all?  Do those residents really need City officials making these kinds of spending decisions for them, using their own tax dollars?

Let’s be clear here: the quarter-of-a-million dollars being budgeted for the pay raises and private community groups is only .44% of the City’s 2011-12 budget.  And it’s also only a small fraction of the millions of dollars of deficit spending by the previous City Council over the past 3 budget years – which not only depleted the City’s reserves to dangerous levels but also caused the City to lay off police and public works employees, and to suspend or reduce several City services.  

But a quarter of a million bucks still buys a lot of the essential things that City government is obligated to provide its residents, most of which – like paved streets, well-maintained sewers, emerald ash borer control, tc. – are not of the warm-and-fuzzy, feel-good variety that Park Ridge politicians love.

One resident, in speaking against such donations last evening, asked when the people of Park Ridge gave the Council the right to make charitable donations for them? 

A good question, to be sure, but one that ignores our City’s fiscal history that has been shaped too often by the egos of public officials who seem to assume the public’s position on every spending request favored by those officials is “yes” whenever they don’t hear a deafening “no.”

Correction (06.23.11): The Youth Commission is not a “private” corporation/organization but a commission of the City.  As such (and unlike the other three private organizations), it is not subject to City Council Policy No. 6; and it is lawfully entitled to whatever funding the City Council chooses to provide. 

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Small Stuff Can Teach Big Lessons

06.16.11

A few of our “regular” commentators enjoy criticizing certain of our posts for what they deem as our making mountains out of molehills – when we gnaw on those comparatively smaller examples of local government inefficiency and mismanagement. 

But we do that because we believe that small stuff often can make big differences: big, seemingly intractable, problems can become solvable when broken down into smaller, more manageable components.  That’s why observing how public officials, or our community organizations,  deal with the “small stuff” also can provide keen insight into how they can be expected to deal with the “big stuff.” 

Take the Park Ridge Mural Restoration Committee, led by Tony Borrelli, which is committed to raising $38,000 to restore the “Indians Cede the Land” mural that was salvaged from the former Park Ridge Post Office building when it was converted into the current School District 64 headquarters in 1970.  Some might consider a $38,000 project as “small stuff,” even if the mural’s historical significance to the community makes its restoration worthwhile. 

We find it noteworthy how this committee already has been able to raise $10,000 towards its goal – without looking for handouts from City Hall like certain other private community organizations we have criticized, and notwithstanding that the mural’s restoration is not one of those “human needs” causes that seem to provoke knee-jerk budgeting and appropriations from certain public officials without regard for the requirements of City Council Policy No. 6 concerning City funding of private organizations.   

Similarly noteworthy is how quickly $20,000 was raised for the community’s July 3rd fireworks display after the sponsor of the past two years’ displays (Americaneagle.com) elected not to donate another $18,000 of fireworks – in protest of private corporation Taste of Park Ridge NFP’s years of free-loading as to the many thousands of dollars of City services provided to the Taste of Park Ridge event, free of charge, since 2005. 

According to a story in this week’s edition of the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Community contributions ensure fireworks for Fourth in Park Ridge,” June 14), the Park Ridge Indian Scouts raised $10,000 for that purpose, with four commercial sponsors providing the rest of the funding – with no handouts from the City.

Larger-scale private fundraising is being done by the Kalo Foundation, which already has collected approximately $160,000 in private donations towards acquiring and rehabilitating the former Iannelli Studios, also without feeding at the public trough.

What this small stuff teaches is that the people of Park Ridge are not cheap or uncaring.  They are willing to get behind the causes and projects they believe in – such as these, where both the c0mmunity purpose and the goal are clearly stated and/or apparent; and where the folks running them are motivated in their fundraising efforts.  Park Ridge people don’t need their public officials, or anybody else, acting as Big Brother in making such decisions for them.

Isn’t it about time our City Council – and those private community organizations that would rather feed at the City Hall trough than bust their butts obtaining voluntary private donations – learned that lesson?

To read or post comments, click on title.

Taste Inc.’s 3% Solution Raises More Questions Than It Answers

06.13.11

At last Monday’s (June 6) City Council meeting, local businessman Albert Galus, vice president of the private corporation Taste of Park Ridge NFP (“Taste Inc.”) that runs the annual event known as “Taste of Park Ridge” (“TOPR”), made a brief appearance to speak about the financial proposal contained in a “Memorandum of understanding” – and then hustled out the Council chambers door before any questions could be asked of him. 

Given that Taste Inc. has spent the last several years steadfastly refusing to reimburse the City for the tens of thousands of dollars in City services TOPR has utilized since Taste Inc. took over TOPR in 2005, had Mr. Galus stuck around to field a few questions about the “gift” of “3% (three percent) of the amount of Food Vendor Payout,” he might have heard one or more of the following: 

Question 1: Does “Food Vendor Payout” include beer sales?

Question 1a: If not, why not include beer sales in the 3% figure?

Question 2: Will that 3% come off the amount that the food vendors otherwise would get?

Question 3: Why “3%” instead of 2%, 4%, 5%, 10%, etc.?

Question 4: Why now, after all these years of stiffing the City?

Question 5: Why is it being offered only for the City’s “2011/2012 fiscal year”?

Anyone who reads this blog knows that we’ve never been shy in expressing our concerns and suspicions about Taste Inc., which was formed in June 2005 by Galus, Dave Iglow, and several other local businessmen recommended by then-mayor Howard Frimark as “volunteers” for a City TOPR committee that would run TOPR for the City’s benefit.

According to the minutes of the June 6, 2005 Council meeting at which Frimark proposed this new version of TOPR, the City gave that “committee” $23,000 of “seed money” and was going to receive all of TOPR’S profits:

“Mayor Frimark answered [that]…if there is a surplus of funds, it will come back to the City.”

And because that “committee” was going to be an arm of the City, its meetings and its operations would be subject to the Illinois Open Meetings Act:

“Ald. Cox asked if the City created an Ad Hoc Committee is it then subject to the Open Meetings Act.

City Attorney Hill answered if we create the committee it is.”

But according to the minutes of the September 27, 2005 City Council Finance & Budget Committee meeting, then-F&B chairman Ald. Don Crampton and then-F&B committee member Alds. Mark Anderson, Joe Baldi, Andrea Bateman, Jim Radermacher and Frank Wsol, after being advised that the private Taste Inc. had been formed instead of the City committee that Frimark promised and the Council approved in June, voted unanimously to hand over to Taste Inc. what should have been the City’s $20,058.36 in profits.  

Ever since that bait-and-switch was completed, Taste Inc. apparently has been pocketing all the TOPR profits.

How much have those profits been?  We can’t tell you, because it seems like “not for profit” Taste Inc. never filed IRS Form 990 (or Form 990-EZ) tax returns – the form of return legitimate not-for-profit entities file, and that GuideStar.org posts online for all to see – for 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008.  Which causes us to wonder whether Taste Inc. was a genuine not-for-profit during those four years.

But if Taste Inc.’s first-time IRS Form 990-EZ for 2009 – which it filed after it voluntarily dissolved itself in February 2009 and then reorganzied as a 501(c)(6) private corporation a few weeks later – is any indication, those first four years of profits may have totaled in excess of $200,000, even factoring in unexplained discrepancies between the $266,652 of “gross receipts” Taste Inc. disclosed for the 2009 TOPR on its “Recipe for Success” informational piece and the $163,391 of “total revenue” (and the $98,170 of “total expenses”) reported on that 2009 return.

Where did that estimated $200,000 go? 

Once again, we don’t know because Iglow, Galus and the rest of the Taste Inc. crew – who never miss an opportunity to toot their own horns about what they do for this community as “unpaid volunteers” running TOPR – mysteriously clam up whenever talk turns to those four years of profits and what happened to that money

Is Taste Inc.’s running of TOPR kinked-up?  We sure hope not. 

But the simplest and best way for Taste Inc. to prove it is not with this odd “Memorandum of understanding” and its one-time 3% solution, accompanied by a misguided and arrogant-sounding claim that Taste Inc. “has sole proprietorship” of TOPR.  Instead, Taste Inc. should produce its tax returns and underlying documentation for 2005-2008, along with the 2010 tax return that for some reason still does not appear on GuideStar.

And if Galus, Iglow and the rest of the Taste Inc. operators truly “possess affection for the community and seek to be of further assistance to the City” – as they claim in their Memorandum of understanding – they could prove it beyond the shadow of a doubt by closing down their private and secretive Taste Inc. corporation, turning Taste Inc.’s funds over to the City, and devoting all those same “volunteer” hours towards running TOPR exclusively for the City’s benefit, the way it was originally proposed by Frimark and approved by the City Council back in June, 2005: as an ad hoc committee of the City, subject to the Illinois Open Meetings Act?

After all, if they really are committed to volunteering rather than profiteering, shouldn’t they be able to derive the same (or even greater) satisfaction from by putting all their efforts into running the event exclusively for the City instead of for Taste Inc.?

Galus?  Iglow?  Bueller?

To read or post comments, click on title.

The Latest Budget Veto From “Mayor No”

06.08.11

Approximately 20 years ago, then-Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar earned the derisive nickname “Gov. No” from then-Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley because of Edgar’s semi-regular rejections of Daley’s demands for more State funding to cover for Daley’s then-nascent mismanagement that would ultimately grow into the financial disaster he recently bequeathed to Rahm Emanuel. 

Edgar had to be the “adult” governor after 14 years of irresponsible wheeling-and-dealing by his predecessor, James “Big Jim” Thompson, who left Illinois in almost as bad financial shape as it’s in today.  

Interestingly enough, some disgruntled local big-government, tax-and-spenders have started referring to Park Ridge Mayor Dave Schmidt as “Mayor No” because of his budget hawk policies and practices over the past two years. 

Schmidt was in office less than two months before he issued what appears to have been the first-ever Park Ridge mayoral veto, of excessive community group expenses in the 2009-10 budget.  That veto was over-ridden, as were his vetoes of the 2010-11 and the 2011-12 budgets, by a hostile City Council dominated by coat-holders/campaign contributors of Schmidt’s predecessor, Howard Frimark, whose mayoral legacy currently stands at one cut-down, 7-man City Council that spent the past four years running up millions of dollars in deficits while depleting the City’s fund balances to dangerous levels, even as City services and personnel were trimmed.    

Schmidt also vetoed several spending appropriations, most notably the ridiculous $200,000+/year, multi-year sweetheart contract for City Mgr. Jim Hock – vetoes which also were over-ridden by those same aldermen who seem never to have seen a taxpayer’s dollar they couldn’t spend.   

Schmidt earned his “Mayor No” reputation again this past Monday (June 6) night when he line-item vetoed approximately $275,000 of expenditures in the 2011-12 amended budget that was passed by the recently-seated City Council.  Schmidt asked this “new” Council to re-visit the 2011-12 budget after the previous Council summarily over-rode Schmidt’s line-item veto of approximately $650,000 of expenditures in the original 2011-12 budget, shortly before Jim Allegretti, Don Bach, Tom Carey, Robert Ryan and Frank Wsol fled City Hall without seeking re-election.

Schmidt’s latest veto message speaks for itself, and we encourage you to read it and think about it – because the principles and practices it advocates represent a new philosophy of City government that portends a dramatic departure from the irresponsible and profligate management of prior mayors and Councils. 

We hope at least three members of the new Council will exhibit the common sense and fiscal responsibility necessary to vote to sustain Schmidt’s veto at the Council meeting on June 20th, even though only Ald. Dan Knight (5th) displayed those qualities in casting the sole dissenting vote when this amended budget was passed two weeks ago.    

But no matter which way that vote goes, Park Ridge’s business as usual, big-government, tax-borrow-and-spend types now have a new nickname for their political adversary: 

“Mayor No.”

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Payment For Performance? Not At D-64.

06.06.11

It’s a shame Marshall Warren was unsuccessful in seeking a seat on the Park Ridge-Niles Elementary School District 64 board in April’s election, because he proposed more meaningful ideas and changes to the way District 64 does business than any of the successful candidates, save for Anthony Borrelli.  

In a letter published in both local newspapers following the election, Warren challenged D-64 to make a number of those changes, including:

  • recording and posting the videos of D-64 board meetings on its website, via YouTube;
  • holding its meetings on evenings other than when the City Council meets;
  • allowing the public to speak on agenda items when those items are being discussed rather than solely at the beginning of meetings;
  • holding meetings in school auditoriums and gymnasiums rather than in D-64’s cramped basement meeting room;
  • posting monthly profit and loss (“P&L”) statements on its website;
  • posting standardized test score performance, along with any changes from the prior reporting period; and
  • posting the salaries of all D-64 employees for the current year and the prior year, showing the inter-year changes. 

You may have noticed that all those points are designed to increase the amount of information going to those Park Ridge residents whose tax dollars have helped D-64 record two dubious achievements: having the 4th highest-paid principals and the 25th highest-paid teachers in the entire state, according to rankings posted in last Tuesday’s (May 31) Chicago Sun-Times.

That’s right, folks: our average teacher and principal salaries – at $72,630 and $155,291, respectively – rank ahead of those paid in much more affluent and better-performing districts like Winnetka ($70,320 & $139,189), Kenilworth ($71,647 & $130,243), Glencoe ($66,973 & $123,500), Wilmette ($67,631 & $137,567), Bannockburn ($71,672 & $146,247), Lake Forest ($63,950 & $131,851) and Deerfield ($70,346 & $129,882); and also ahead of the equally affluent but better-performing districts like Arlington Hts. ($70,958 & $124,413), Northbrook/Glenview ($72,395 & $130,897), Western Springs ($64,614 & $120,010) and Lake Bluff ($66,340 & $149,512). 

Since those rankings were published, we have discovered that even residents who already thought D-64 teachers and principals were “overpaid” when judged by objective student performance measures like standardized test results, nevertheless were surprised to find out that our teachers and principals were that highly-paid. 

But, then again, that’s the kind of information we have come to expect D-64 to affirmatively hide from the taxpayers, considering that it remains the most secretive and least accountable of any of our local governmental bodies.  

Look again at Warren’s seven suggestions, above.  The fact that they were campaign issues in April rather than long-standing, institutionalized D-64 policies and practices shows just how insulated and opaque the current and former D-64 school boards have been for at least the past decade.  D-64’s Culture of Secrecy makes both the Park District’s and the City of Park Ridge’s baby steps toward transparency and accountability look like giant leaps by comparison. 

Go to D-64’s website.  Instead of easy-to-find useful information about things like how the District’s ISAT scores and personnel salaries compare with other districts, you’ll find it filled with what fictional “Col. Sherman Potter” of the M*A*S*H* television series probably would call “mule fritters” or “buffalo bagels.” 

One of our favorite bits of disinformation is an April 25, 2011 “report” on D-64’s “Strategic Plan 2011-12 Implementation” that is loaded with edu-speak jargon – starting with the obligatory “positive changes” and continuing with “authentic service learning,” “civil behavior initiatives,” “all stakeholders in our vital partnership,” “a shared journey,” a “strategy leadership group,” “readiness activities,” “release time,” a “ ‘strategic staffing case’ scenario,” “strategy committees,” “change protocol,” “strategy teams,” and things that are “holistically reviewed” – all of which apparently contribute to “a transformative journey.” 

As “Col. Potter” also was fond of saying: “Horse hockey!” 

We suspect that bit of puffery was orchestrated, if not actually written, by Cambridge Strategic Services – D-64’s strategic-planning/public relations consultant we wrote about back in November 2008 (“Hire A Consultant And Round Up The Usual Suspects,” 11.03.08) and again in May 2009 (“It’s Charade Time At School District 64,” 05.15.09) – if only because Cambridge appears to be claiming a copyright to parts of D-64’s “Strategic Plan”which includes what has been a fictional “parameter” for D-64 so far: 

“Student performance on the Illinois Standards Achievement Tests (ISATs) will always compare favorably with other high-achieving districts.”

Unfortunately for both the D-64 students and the taxpayers who are paying to educate them, that particular “parameter” is nowhere close to being achieved, as we can recall only two years over the past decade in which D-64 placed even one of its schools among the greater Chicagoland area’s Top 50 ISAT (and, before that, IGAP) performers in either the elementary or junior high brackets.

And that’s despite having the 4th highest-paid principals and the 25th highest-paid teachers in the entire State of Illinois.

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Buddy, Can You Spare A Sign?

06.01.11

Over the years, the City of Park Ridge has acquired a bit of a reputation, at least in some quarters, as being “unfriendly to business.”  That label tends to come from business people and real estate developers, and seems to be directed at impediments presented by our local laws and by the conduct of some of our City officials, both appointed and elected.

While we’re not sure exactly how justified that reputation is generally, it proved to be spot-on when the Enopi Learning Center recently tried to obtain City approval to install an illuminated sign over the entry to its business., which has been operating out of the second-floor offices above Pines Store for Men at the corner of Prospect and Summit since last November.

Enopi markets itself as an after-school math, reading and writing tutoring center for children ages 4-14.  It has been operating out of the second-floor offices above Pines Store for Men since last November.  Entry is gained through a recessed doorway adjacent to Pines’ northern-most display window.    

As best as we can tell, Enopi wanted to install a sign flush with the building’s façade at the top of its recessed entry, in front of what appears to be several square feet of painted door framing/trim – but which formerly was a working transom that (according to an e-mail from the building’s manager) has been non-functioning and painted over since at least 1989.

But because Pines already had its own sign on that same side of the building, Enopi’s owner needed to obtain a variance from the one-sign-per-side limitations of Section 14.6 F. 1 of the City’s Zoning Code.  

So Enopi applied for a sign variance, which was approved by the City’s Zoning Board of Appeals (“ZBA”) at its April 7th meeting after 2 previous hearings in January and February.  Enopi also earned the approval of the Appearance Commission following two times on that body’s agenda, which meant that the two principal appointed bodies charged with enforcing the sign provisions of our Zoning Code had given Enopi’s sign the thumbs up.

On May 2, the City Council voted 6 (Alds. Sweeney, Smith, Raspanti, Knight, Bernick & Maloney) to 1 (Ald. DiPietro) to reject DiPietro’s request to defer the first reading of that sign variance ordinance; and although the minutes of that meeting reveal no actual vote having been taken to approve the variance on first-reading, the variance nevertheless was moved ahead for a second (and final) reading at the May 16th meeting. 

That’s when Park Ridge became “unfriendly” to Enopi.

Resident zoning “activists” Judy Barclay and Pat Livensparger voiced their objections to the sign, arguing that a second variance was needed because the sign would partially cover a “wall opening” – in violation of Section 14.6 F. 3 of the Zoning Code, which states: “No wall sign shall cover…wholly or partially, any wall opening.”

When confronted with those objections, City Attorney Everette “Buzz” Hill began tap dancing.  He noted that our Zoning Code (rewritten only a few years ago by a “blue-ribbon” committee that included Barclay, and that was guided by a well-paid zoning consultant) doesn’t even define “wall opening,” an omission which leaves that term “imprecise” according to Hill.  Buzz also backtracked from the written opinion previously provided to the City by his colleague, Kathie T. Henn, that “the proposed sign conforms with Section 14.6 F. 3 and an additional variance is not required.”

Hill’s advice to the Council?  A “wall opening…is whatever you say it is.”

Armed with that insight, the Council denied Enopi’s sign variance by a 4 (Alds. DiPietro, Raspanti, Knight and Bernick) to 3 (Alds. Sweeney, Smith and Maloney) vote – presumably because the majority agreed with Barclay and Livensparger that either the recessed doorway or the transom was a “wall opening” that required a variance of its own.  So Enopi’s owner must now go back into the Twilight Zone of the City’s zoning process and apply for variance number two which, even if it’s granted, will likely mean another few months of operation without a sign.

Why did it take the City six months, two board/commission decisions and two full-Council votes before the owner of Enopi was finally told by the City Attorney – in an almost-backhanded fashion – that his sign would require a second variance? 

Let’s start with the fact that our Zoning Code “re-write” several years ago appears to have produced a Code so half-baked that dispositive terms like “wall opening” are not even defined, making their interpretation and application little more than a crap-shoot.

If that’s not bad enough, we’ve got at least two City boards/commissions which don’t seem to understand the terms of the Code they are empowered to interpret and enforce, but which nevertheless seem comfortable making decisions about that Code without the advice of the City’s legal counsel.

Then again, advice of counsel can be a decidedly mixed bag when law partners from the same firm, serving collectively as our “City Attorney,” can’t seem to sing from the same law book on issues such as this.  

All of which raise the question: “Is this any way to run a City?”

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