No “Filler” For The Uptown Redevelopment Financial Hole


A headline in yesterday’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate caught our attention, and not because it was a good one: “No profit for city of Park Ridge as Shops of Uptown goes up for sale” is how it read. 

The accompanying story reported on how the profit-sharing element of the City’s January 2005 “Redevelopment Agreement” with PRC Partners, LLC – a “partnership” of Mid-America Asset Management (the “retail” partner), Edward R. James Homes (the “residential” partner) and Valenti Builders, Inc. (the “construction” partner) – would not be yielding any cash to the City, once touted as the “government” partner of this venture because of all the money and bonded debt it was going to be “investing” – that’s government code for “giving away.”

Who was doing that touting? 

Back then the Uptown bandwagon was pretty crowded with Uptown merchants and many of the people who then ran the City of Park Ridge: Acting Mayor Mike Marous; Alds. Mike Tinaglia and Don Crampton (1st), Rich DiPietro and John Benka (2nd), Sue Bell and Andrea Bateman (3rd), Sue Beaumont and Howard Frimark (4th), Dawn Disher and Mark Anderson (5th), Frank DePaul and Rex Parker (6th) and Frank Bartolone and Larry Friel (7th); City Treasurer Betty Henneman; City Treasurer Carl Brauweiller; and City Manager Tim Schuenke. 

By then, what had begun in 1999 (and continued through the 2003 formation of the TIF district) as a retail-driven project already had defaulted into a predominantly-residential one; and the advertised 70,402 square feet of retail space became the “tail” on the 189 residences “dog.”  Nevertheless, Uptown redevelopment was hailed as ushering in the dawn of a new era in Park Ridge: like Neville Chamberlain returning from Munich with the promise of “peace in our time,” many of those City officials waxed glowingly about “the largest redevelopment effort in generations” that would inject “vibrancy” – “vibrant” and every possible variant thereof being the unofficial watchword of the project – into a moribund Uptown retail district.

Those officials, seduced by predictions (including some of their own) of how certainly and quickly the City would recoup its expenditures, voted to “invest” multi-millions of dollars in cash and bonded debt to acquire a so-called “partnership” and “profit sharing” relationship with PRC.  The City sunk $5.25 million into just the parking garage alone, and we doubt even the City itself has an accurate fix on its entire, to-date cost of Uptown Redevelopment; or what that cost will be when the last of the bonds are retired.

But once again this fiscal year the City will make a $2.9 million payment on that TIF-related bonded debt.  And because the TIF/Uptown project is still in such a deep financial hole, it appears that the City has paid none of the $1 million it owes the Park District in consideration of the millions of dollars the Park District saved the City by permitting the construction of the Uptown reservoir in Hinkley Park rather than at the former City Garage property at Greenwood and Elm.

Upon reading the H-A article, we checked the Council’s 09.26.11 meeting packet on the City’s website and discovered a Sept. 26, 2011, Agenda Cover Memorandum  and an August 12, 2011, letter from the City’s Uptown Redevelopment “consultant” – the former blithely recommending (without any meaningful reason) the Council’s acceptance of the consultant’s profit-sharing analysis; and the latter providing a collection of unsubstantiated conclusions about how the City is entitled to nada from PRC.  We have provided some redlined annotations to the consultant’s letter highlighting some of the inadequacies of that report which, on its face, assumes that the City and its taxpayers should take Mr. Friedman analysis as gospel.

Apparently “trust, but verify” isn’t a favored concept of our City officials, past or present.  And, once again, it looks like the City is taking it in the economic shorts from the Uptown Redevelopment project.

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While Aldermen Remain Silent, A Resident Speaks Volumes


No alderman took us up on the invitation in our Sept. 21 post to explain their “yes” vote on the new 3-year, 5%, no-layoffs firefighters union contract.  But a number of readers commented on that post. 

The following is one of those comments that we thought deserved “guest essay” status:

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I was directed to this site by someone who said I might learn some things about School District 64 here.  After reading up on D64 I read this post and your other ones on the firefighters contract, including the comments, and want to add a comment myself.

Let me say right off that I’ve got nothing against firefighters or teachers.  My mother was an elementary school teacher, and I attended nothing but public schools all the way through my MBA.  My personal appreciation for firemen goes back fourteen years, when a brigade of volunteer firemen in Medway, Ohio, saved my house from a fire that burned down most of my next door neighbor’s house. 

I moved my family from Ohio to Park Ridge almost ten years ago to take a job after my employer went out of business, owing me over ten thousand dollars in commissions that I was never able to collect.  Since then I have had three jobs, only one of which was in my chosen field, and I have been unemployed (“between jobs” ) a total of almost two of those ten years.  Because I make less in my current job than I made when I moved here, my wife has taken a part-time job despite our youngest child is still in D64 and could use a stay at home mom.  And my 401k, like many other people’s, has gone down from investment decline and from a withdrawal to get us past one of my unemployed periods.

But we aren’t complaing.  Unlike some other people we know, we are all still healthy, we still have a little equity in our home, and we probably look “normal” to anybody who doesn’t know about our check-to-check financial struggles.

The problem I have with the firefighters (and the teachers) demands stems from what they don’t have to do.  Almost none of them have to work a full year in the sense most of us in the private sector do.  None of them have to worry about their employer going bankrupt, closing down, or moving to another state or country or continent.  None of them have to worry about having their salaries reduced, or having to actually get results (make sales) to earn their paychecks.  None of them have to worry about managing their retirement fund so they might retire at 65 because none of them will have to wait that long to retire.

Maybe years ago firefighters (and teachers) were not treated as well as they should have been.  But that doesn’t justify the demands they are making today, in a terrible recession with a lot of people holding on by their fingernails.  As somebody pointed out, they can make even more extreme demands without any consequences because of the secret bargaining sessions that the public never hears about.  You compared the aldermen to the sheriff in Blazing Saddles, but I would compare the union’s attitude to Paulie’s in the movie Goodfellas, when he gets a piece of that tiki restaurant and drives the original owner bankrupt. “Business bad? F*** you, pay me. Oh, you had a fire? F*** you, pay me. Place got hit by lightning, huh? F*** you, pay me.” 

I don’t care if the city gives the firefighters a three year contract if the compensation piece can be negotiated every year to adjust to economic conditions.  Who knows, maybe it could work to the firefighters’ benefit at some point?

I hope the aldermen will take up your invitation and explain why they gave in to a bad deal for the taxpayers.

Thank you.

Explanations Welcome On Firefighters Contract Vote


To understand that the firefighters contract passed by the Park Ridge City Council Monday (Sept. 19) night is bad for the taxpayers, all one needs to do is read the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate’s article about it (“Park Ridge firefighters get contract but veto likely, “ Sept. 20). 

After reading that story twice, the only arguable benefit we can see the new 3-year contract providing for the City (and, hence, its taxpayers) appears to be that it saves the costs of negotiating a new contract every year – although that’s coming from the City’s labor attorney, Dina Kopernekas, who also trudged out the old reliable we’ve-always-done-it-that-way justification for another 3-year deal, while demonstrating her value-add by re-naming that alibi the City’s “historical norm.”

Actually, from the way the H-A story describes Monday night’s proceedings and quotes Ms. Kopernekas, one might think she was the union’s negotiator instead of the City’s. 

We don’t know how much Ms. Kopernekas’ services cost the City, but we sure wish the mayor or one of the six aldermen who voted to approve this latest exercise in bad public policy – Ald. Marty Maloney (7th) was absent, so his fingerprints aren’t on it, yet – would have asked her and/or the City negotiating team members (City Mgr. Jim Hock, Deputy City Mgr. Julianna Maller and Fire Chief Mike Zywanski) to itemize and explain each of the benefits the City is supposed to be getting from the “new” contract terms, and especially the no-layoff provision

That utterly foolish provision is straight out of the political playbook of Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, which he employed last year in all its pandering squalor to lock in the re-election support of the state’s largest public employee union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (“AFSCME”).   Not surprisingly, however, the insipid Quinn now is trying to welsh on his no-layoff bet, recently announcing layoffs of approximately 2,000 AFSCME members while blaming state lawmakers for not appropriating enough money for him to make his political payoffs.  

But at least Quinn may have an escape clause: a state law that makes all state contracts “subject to appropriations.”

Does the City have one of those?  Not one of our elected officials gathered around The Horseshoe Monday night asked about it, and neither attorney Kopernekas nor the City’s negotiating team members mentioned it.  So we’re betting on “no.” 

Alds. Joe Sweeney (1st), Rich DiPietro (2nd), Jim Smith (3rd), Sal Raspanti (4th) and Tom Bernick (6th) also didn’t see the wisdom of either Ald. Dan Knight’s (5th) suggestion of only a 1 or 2 year contract, or Mayor Schmidt’s suggestion that any 3-year deal include a “wage re-opener” that would give the  City the right to re-negotiate just the compensation piece of the contract for that final year, to reflect whatever the economic conditions might be at that time.

Ironically, all six of the aldermen who approved this contract claim to be “fiscal conservatives” which, in light of their votes, may have further debased the meaning of that term.  And none of them, save for Bernick, gave much of an explanation for his vote, although Bernick’s explanation was uber-lame:  if the City didn’t approve the contract, the union could demand arbitration that would take the decision out of the City’s hands and cost the City even more legal fees.

That’s the kind of spineless attitude public officials employ to hold themselves hostage to shameless demands, whether from the public employee unions or the business community.  And it reminds us, in a pathetic rather than humorous way, of the scene in the movie “Blazing Saddles” where the black sheriff holds a gun to his own head and warns all the lily-white citizens of Rock Ridge, sotto voce: “Next man makes a move, the nigger gets it!”

Worse yet, by voting for the no-layoff provision, Bernick and his fellow aldermen actually gave away their primary weapon for dealing with an extreme award by a rogue/union-biased arbitrator: layoffs of union personnel to free up the money to pay the increased wages and benefits.  Neither he nor his colleagues seem to grasp Albert Einstein’s maxim: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”  

Which is even more amazing, considering that all six aldermen who voted “yes” on that contract could be characterized as “business people.” 

Do any of them have 3-year employment contracts?  Do any of them have guaranteed wages and guaranteed increases in those wages?  Do any of them have defined benefit retirement plans?  Do any of them have the Civil Service and contractual job protections they once again gave the firefighters?  Do any of them provide this array of benefits to their own employees or subordinates in the private sector?  We’re guessing “no.”

Fortunately, because Mayor Schmidt has indicated he will veto this contract, those six aldermen and Maloney will get another opportunity to vote on this issue.

So, in anticipation of that veto vote, we’re extending the following invitation to all of those aldermen:  Send us your explanations for your votes on the firefighters contract by 5:00 p.m. next Tuesday (Sept. 27) and we will publish them in their entirety (other than for any per se libelous content) as the featured text of next Wednesday’s post (and, if you prefer, also as comments to this post). 

Be forewarned, however, that we reserve the right to comment on your explanations, although that should not deter you if you truly believe your reasoning is sound.

Let’s hear from you guys!

To read or post comments, click on title.

Just Another Manic Monday


Because there are some “hot” items on the agenda’s of both the Park Ridge City Council and Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Board who are meeting TONIGHT, we’ve got our quick takes on a few of them for your consideration:

City Firefighters’ Contract: On tonight’s City Council agenda is approval of a new 3-year firefighters’ union contract.  As we’ve said before, we believe multi-year contracts that effectively try to predict future local and national economic conditions by locking-in increases in compensation and/or benefits are foolish; and across-the-board compensation increases not based on greater productivity or other merit are idiotic.   Worse yet, in a separate memorandum (“Appendix E”) attached to the proposed agreement, the City is being asked to give up its right to lay off any current firefighters for the three years the contract is in effect, until April 30, 2014.  That means that, should the economy take a turn for the worse during the next three years, the City will be contractually forbidden from laying off firefighters irrespective of its financial circumstances!

This is bad economics and bad government, but what can you expect from a contract that was negotiated in secret because the union requested secrecy, and City Mgr. Jim Hock and Fire Chief Mike Zywanski agreed to that secrecy without even consulting the mayor or the Council?  That secrecy in the negotiating process becomes even more troubling when you look at the red-lined version of the proposed contract on the City’s website and see a number of changes from the previous agreement, the reasons for most of which are not apparent on their face and are not explained anywhere in that document or otherwise.  That’s just more bad government by the bureaucrats (Hock, Zywanski, et al.) for a special interest (the firefighters’ union). 

Under these circumstances, any alderman who votes to approve such an irresponsible and anti-taxpayer agreement should have the decency to accompany his vote with either a public admission that he is not being fiscally responsible, and/or a public confession that he doesn’t even understand what being “fiscally responsible” means.

Washington Ave. Assisted-Living:  Also on the City Council’s agenda is another episode of “How the Group Homes Turns,” the continuing saga of developer Mark Elliott’s attempt to turn his bad investment in 3 single-home lots into three group homes, purportedly for “frail elderly…who can no longer live on their own without assistance from a care giver” according to Elliott’s most recent “Updated Application Statement” – even though Elliott insists that these homes are not “assisted living” facilities for purposes of City licensing and zoning.

It is becoming clearer as this saga continues that our Zoning Code, despite an extensive (and not inexpensive) re-write several years ago, is ill-equipped to deal directly and efficiently with issues such as are presented by this type of group home concept.  Which is why, if Elliott’s Updated Application Statement is factually accurate and truthful, it would appear that what he is trying to do with his property is lawful, albeit undesirable to many residents in that neighborhood who long have suffered from the anti-social behavior from residents of the adjacent Park Ridge Youth Campus.

What we need, at least for dealing with this current mess, is a formal and unequivocal legal opinion from the City Attorney stating whether the facts and the law support Elliott’s proposed use of his property or not.  If they do, then – like it or not – he has the right to do what he is trying to do with his own property; and he should be allowed to do so.  And then the City should get busy revising its Zoning Ordinance to correct what is looking more and more like the shoddy work product of our highly-paid zoning consultants (Camiros Ltd.) and the citizens who comprised our Zoning Re-Write Task Force.  

D-64 Budget Q & A: Over at Franklin School tonight, the Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Board will hold its 2011-12 budget “Q & A” session, a week in advance of the planned approval of that budget next Monday night (Sept. 26).  Whether this Q & A session is legitimate or just a perfunctory attempt to create the illusion of transparency and accountability in the budget process remains to be seen.  But, given its 6:00 p.m. start time before many residents are even home from work, much less able to grab a quick bite to eat and head back out the door, we have our doubts.

Of course, the 93-page draft budget is a pretty impenetrable document, even to accountants and attorneys trained and accustomed to dealing with such financial matters; and it lacks detailed explanations of all of the differences between the 2010-11 revenues and expenses versus those in the 2011-12 proposed budget .  So exactly what kind of Qs might be asked from whoever shows up remains to be seen.  But one question that comes to mind is: What specific expenses have gone up over last year (and by how much) so that an almost  $6 million decrease in proposed “Capital Outlay” still leaves only a $2 million reduction in overall budgeted expenses? 

But if you have any questions about the proposed budget, you had better get there on time.  Because once the Board and Administration are done with any pesky questions from the taxpayers, they will be running into closed session to plan how they’re going to give away more of our money when they “negotiate” the District’s upcoming collective bargaining agreement with the teachers union – despite the appearance that the proposed budget already will be giving those teachers more than $3.2 million in salary and benefit increases during the coming budget year.  And, must we remind you, that’s for only 8-9 months of actual work?


Perhaps one of these days the City and D-64 will put on their inter-governmental cooperation hats and agree to schedule their meetings so that they both don’t hold them on Mondays, thereby forcing interested taxpayers to have to choose which one to attend.  But we’re not going to hold our collective breath waiting for the D-64 Board to voluntarily do anything that might add to its transparency and accountability.

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Where Have We Seen This Particular Kabuki Before?


If you are a responsible homeowner, chances are you have a reasonably good idea of the condition of your house, especially if you have lived in it for awhile.

You know, for example, approximately how old your roof is and whether it’s leaking or not.  You pretty much know whether your furnace is on its last legs, and whether your air conditioner should make it through another summer.  And if your windows need replacement because they’re still single-pane and the wind blowing through the sash tickles the curtains. 

Given the knowledge the ordinary homeowner has about the house he/she owns, the comment Park Ridge-Niles School Dist.64 president John Heyde made at this past Monday night ‘s (Sept. 12) meeting about the condition of the District’s buildings was, in a word, stunning.

As reported in a Park Ridge Herald-Advocate story by Tracy Gruen (“District 64 consultant to finish building needs study half-year early,” Sept. 13), during a “Roles, Goals and Controls” workshop run by representatives of D-64’s new architect-of-record, Fanning Howey Associates (“FHA”), Mr. Heyde – in response to ongoing demands by Carpenter and Field school parents for air conditioning at those schools – explained his board’s refusal to put A/C at the top of the project priority list:

“I don’t want to advance those projects to the front of the line only to find out there’s a roof that’s going to collapse somewhere.”

We’re going to give Mr. Heyde a couple of hyperbole points, if only because even we can’t quite force ourselves to believe such a Chicken Little comment was entirely serious.  

But unless it was utter nonsense, the thought that all those well-paid administrators and the seven people whom we’ve elected to be stewards of this community’s elementary education – which includes the condition of all the District’s school buildings – might not know with reasonable certainty the condition of those structures is troubling.  And even the merest suspicion that a dangerous condition might exist is just plain irresponsible.

We’ve been critical of D-64’s board and administration for figuratively fiddling while the District’s standardized test scores and other objective measures of achievement burn.  And we’ve been critical of the overcompensation of the District’s teachers and administrators, given the money the District spends on what appears by objective measures to be mediocre student achievement, despite all the subjective accolades and back-patting in which the District specializes. 

The science and art of educating children, however, is a far more complex endeavor than simply keeping tabs on the condition of buildings.  So we have to wonder just how clueless or outright negligent those administrators and school board members have been about repair and maintenance of those buildings over the past 5-10 years that Mr. Heyde might even think about something like a roof collapse? 

During that entire time period the District’s architect-of-record was the supposedly well-regarded Green Associates, which was brought in back in 1996 to help then-Supt. Fred Schroeder stampede gullible voters into replacing what was then the District’s newest school building, the “old” Emerson Junior High, with the “new” Emerson Middle Schoo; and to adopt the then-newly fashionable middle-school model of elementary education.  Almost 15 years later, neither that building nor that model appears to have measurably improved the quality of education, despite the $20 million-plus it cost the taxpayers.  

So why wasn’t the District using Green Associates’ services to keep abreast of the condition of all its facilities during that time?  Could it be that the board and the administration didn’t want to know about any facilities issues that might demand the expenditure of funds those school officials preferred spending on other things?

As we wrote in our post “D-64 Board Stealthily Picks Architect Of Record” (05.13.11), FHA seems to have been brought in as much for its referendum-facilitating expertise as for its architecture and engineering ability – not unlike Green Associates 15 years ago.  And from the looks and sounds of things so far, that’s exactly the direction in which this particular train is heading, with Heyde talking about roof collapses; his right-hand man, board vice-president Scott Zimmerman, claiming he wants to “understand the use of real estate across the district”; and FHA promoting the need to create “21st century spaces” for students. 

As the notorious Illinois Secretary of State Paul Powell used to say, gleefully: “I can smell the meat a-cookin’.”

So can we, and it smells like a major (and expensive) facility repair, maintenance and renovation “master plan” that will be pushed with a crisis-like sense of urgency – but not until that “master plan” is presented in June 2013.  And those of you who have been paying attention might notice that June 2013 just happens to be about a year after the taxpayers’ representatives (chortle, chortle) on the school board will have conspired with the former teachers union members/now administrators to give the teachers another expectedly-sweet new multi-year contract.

Isn’t that an interesting coincidence?

Shoveling Through D-64’s Budget Process A Herculean Task


Tonight begins Park Ridge-Niles School District 64’s two-week sprint towards adoption of a new budget.  And, in typical District 64 fashion, the average taxpayer/voter is once again being treated like a mushroom: kept in the dark and covered with manure.

The most notable example is that, as of 7:00 a.m. this morning, D-64 still had not posted on its website any “reports” for tonight’s planned 3 hour-plus meeting to be held in the Emerson Middle School multi-purpose room.   By keeping the meeting materials un-posted until the day of the meeting, the Board and administration ensures that most residents won’t have any meaningful time to review whatever materials the District may end up posting later today.   Which is exactly the way this Board – and its predecessor boards, for that matter – seems to like it.

(Contrast that with the City of Park Ridge, whose materials for tonight’s meeting were posted last Friday.)

We say “3 hour-plus meeting” because the first 3 hours of the evening (from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.) will be dedicated to a catchy-sounding “Roles, Goals and Controls” workshop, followed by a “Final Budget Presentation” starting at 9:00 p.m.  For those who don’t yet understand D-64’s management tricks, these kinds of “workshops” are usually propaganda sessions – which would explain why the Board has scheduled this one for when any attendees are still wide awake, and puts off the real meat-and-potatoes part of the evening to when attendees either are heading for the exits or fatigued and half-asleep.  

We can’t even begin to imagine what kind of heifer-dust will be spread over the audience by the District’s new architect-of-record, who it appears will be in charge of the session designed to: (a) “expand community understanding of the [the District’s]master plan process” for maintaining, improving and/or increasing the District’s buildings and facilities (“D64 Plans Several Budget Meetings Next Month,” Journal, 8/31/11); and (b) explain “how plans for the future needs of our school buildings will be developed” (“District 64 board to talk finances, facilities at trio of meetings,” H-A, 9/8/11). 

But those hardy folks who can shovel their way through the opening 3 hours of shinola, or who choose to forego the propaganda and arrive bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the 9:00 p.m. session, may likely find themselves watching the Board tap-dance around some less-than-wonderful information in the proposed 2011-12 budget.

According to the proposed budget’s “Comparison of Expenditures by Objects,” salaries, which represent 74.8% of the Education Fund balance, are expected to increase by 5.5%, or over $2.1 million – which appears to be the product of a 2.5% overall increase (per the terms of the teachers’ 3-year contract) plus additional teachers’ “step” (and “lane”?) increases.   Meanwhile, the benefits component of that same Education Fund’s expenditures is expected to increase 24.2%, or $1,153,668. 

If those one-year numbers aren’t sweet enough, those increases beginning with the 2008-09 budget year are $7,010,364 in salaries (a whopping 20.43% over 2008-09) and $1,392,672 in benefits (an even more whopping 30.74%). 

And that’s during the worst economic period since The Great Depression!

To help pay for these increases, the “Comparison of Revenues by Objects” projects property taxes rising by 4.4%, or $2,490,56, although total revenues for the new budget year are projected as decreasing $5,521,328 to reflect an even larger decrease in federal aid. 

Interestingly, the District’s projected total expenditures are down by $2,148,333 from 2010-11: from $72,663,447 to $70,485,114. 

Normally, we would applaud such a cut.  This one, however, appears to an illusion because it looks to be the result of an almost $6 million decrease in “Capital Outlay” – from the almost $9 million of “actual” capital expenditures that occurred in 2010-11 to to a shade under $3 million – even as the District is again refusing to budget for the heating and cooling needs of Carpenter and Field schools.

Can you say “Fun with numbers”? 

Given what we already have heard about the suspect condition of at least some of the District’s buildings and facilities, this looks and sounds almost like conscious neglect – which is one tactic for creating the kinds of crises conditions that are optimal for stampeding voters into more tax increases and/or bond issues.  And more revenue for the new architect of record, of course.

The 93-page proposed budget (updated as of 9/12/11), with all its schedules and numbers, sure is a lot for the taxpayers to comprehend (or even meaningfully inquire about) over the next 7 days until the District’s “final” budget Q-and-A on September 19; and over the next 14 days until the official “public hearing” on the budget and planned Board vote to adopt it on September 26.

One of the legendary labors of the mythical Hercules was his shoveling out the Augean Stables.  With no Hercules to clean up the mess that is D-64’s budget, however, that task is left to the mere mortals who pay one-third of their property taxes to the District.  And, historically, they have not been up to the task – which is why the cost of D-64’s schools keeps going up while its measurable academic achievements don’t. 

That means more shovelers are needed.  With bigger shovels.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Let’s Be Smarter Than Neighboring Communities


We rarely comment about what the governments of neighboring communities are doing, in large part because the bureaucrats and politicians who run most local governments sing from the same hymn book of non-transparent, unaccountable and often just plain incompetent tax/borrow/spend management as do our own.

But we were especially struck by two blatantly stupid ideas that appeared in the September 7th issue of the Daily-Herald: Des Plaines’ generator rebate program (“Des Plaines approves generator rebate program,” Section 1, Page 4) and Arlington Heights’ overhead sewer rebate program (“Village hall overflows with flood stories,” Section 1, Page 1).  And the reasons we were struck by them is that they both represent the exact same bad public policy of using public money for purely private benefit.

The Des Plaines program would use $22,500 of public funds to reimburse residents for 50% of the cost – up to $250 – of the price of a portable generator.  According to Des Plaines acting City Mgr. Jason Slowinski, the goal of that program is getting as many generators into the hands of residents who don’t currently have them.

What’s wrong with that picture?  In the first place, when did it become the job of local government to promote the sales of portable generators?  More objectionably, it effectively forces somebody who doesn’t want to buy a generator of his own to help pay for the generators of others who do – with any benefits being purely personal to the generator purchasers rather than to the public at large.  And by addressing a symptom rather than the root problem (an inadequate electric infrastructure), it simply kicks that can down the road.

The Arlington Heights program is an even bigger money pit, with the Village paying up to $5,000 per household toward the installation of overhead sewers – which, if they operate as intended, simply diverts one home’s flooding/backup to other homes and/or the public streets and alleys.


Both of these programs are the kind of warm-and-fuzzy, feel-good expenditures of public funds (or “OPM,” as in “other people’s money”) that bureaucrats and politicians love so much, in large part because it lets them further expand their local governments and play Santa Claus at the same time, with little to no cost to themselves.   And it’s the kind of pork-barrel politics that has put so many local governments in financial distress, and the State of Illinois in an economic iron lung.

Under the Illinois Constitution, public funds are supposed to be expended only where their primary objective is some clearly identified public purpose and where there is a reasonable expectation that the expenditure will substantially achieve that purpose; i.e., the City’s spending $100,000 on Powerball tickets probably wouldn’t satisfy the “reasonable expectation” test.

But those programs by Des Plaines and Arlington Heights aren’t just bad public policy.  They’re the equivalent of putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound, seemingly intended to mask the bureaucrats’ and politicians’ inability to effectively address the underlying problems without having to publicly admit to that inability.

In other words, it’s a kind of fraud on taxpayers.

And it teaches us one other important lesson: when Park Ridge is faced with a problem, looking at what neighboring communities are doing is no substitute for doing the heavy lifting of thinking through our own solution.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Business-Unfriendly, Or Just Not Business’ Patsy?


Is Park Ridge business-unfriendly? 

We’ve heard such accusations over the past decade or so, both about the City’s ordinances and about the less-than-motivated way some members of City Staff – or, at least, some former City Staff members – respond to the desires of certain businesses and prospective businesses. 

At the same time, we have seen “business friendly” but just plain stupid City initiatives (like the facade improvement program) waste hundreds of thousands of dollars with little measurable return on investment. 

So we found it somewhat instructive to read a couple of recent letters to the editor in the Park Ridge Journal that  criticized City Hall’s anti-business attitude: “A Perfect Fit For Uptown,” by John McGinnis (8/19/11), and “Building Sits Vacant While Offers Come And Go,” by Mike and Maribeth Carroll (8/24/11).  Both of those letters, perhaps not so coincidentally, focused on the former Pioneer Press office building at 130 S. Prospect, which the Carrolls own and which has been vacant ever since Pioneer Press broke camp several years ago.

Let’s start with the McGinnis opus, which blames “city officials” for “killing the historic Uptown shopping district of Park Ridge.”  McGinnis’ postmortem is based on his assertion that City Hall rejected not one but two “upscale businesses” that were interested in that same Prospect address. 

The first, an unidentified “progressive health club” (compared to a “regressive” one?) was purportedly rejected because of “not enough parking” and the property “not [being] zoned for a health club” even though (according to McGinnis) it’s “the perfect location for a health club” – especially for someone like him who claims he “has to travel quite a distance to find a health club close to home.” 

Paging Yogi Berra!

The second of McGinnis’ prospects for Prospect was a Lettuce Entertain You restaurant, which he claims was rejected because of insufficient parking and “limited liquor licenses” and which he brands collectively as “irresponsible zoning hindrances.”  His solution: “Why doesn’t the city purchase or lease one of these [nearby parking] lots to help boost local business?”

Hey, Mr. McGinnis!  Did you ever think of asking the Carrolls and the other building and/or business owners in that area why they don’t purchase or lease one of those lots to help boost their own business, instead of looking for more handouts from the City, a/k/a the taxpayers? 

The City already leases parking space in that vicinity, including the Scharringhausen lot at 20 S. Fairview that Robert Ryan did his best to get the City to buy for $700,000-plus while he was 5th Ward alderman from 2007-11.  Maybe the Scharringhausens would be wiling to chip in that lot as their share of a joint venture parking deck to serve the existing businesses in that part of town and to attract new ones, assuming parking is an attraction and not just an excuse.

The Carrolls’ letter was partially an “us too” to McGinnis’ health club/restaurant anecdote, but with a kicker that raises at least one red flag. 

The Carrolls claim that the City “dismissed any potential tenants related to general office and the medical industry…even though there’s a dentist on one side of the building and Resurrection Medical Group on the other”; and two buildings owned by the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists further down that block.  And they further complain that their inquiries to Deputy City Mgr. Juliana Maller about “what kind of business is allowed” in 130 S. Prospect have gone unanswered, while she has told them that chances of a zoning variance “were very slim.”

We don’t know if what McGinnis and the Carrolls wrote is factually accurate or not.  But, frankly, it sounds a little soft and squishy to us, with more un-named “potential tenants” that don’t readily lend themselves to independent verification.   

Nevertheless, it does call into question whether City Staff – in this case, the Deputy City Mgr. whose job description includes economic development – is asleep at the wheel, if not actively discouraging business development.

We would hope that, if McGinnis’ and the Carrolls’ anecdotes are true and they are sincere about their concern for the Uptown business district, they will bring these matters formally to the City Council – via either Ald. DiPietro’s Policy & Procedures Committee, or Ald. Knight’s Finance & Budget Committee – so these matters can get a proper public airing.  But that means naming names other than just Lettuce Entertain You.

Only a few years ago a group of citizens and some well-paid consultants totally rewrote the City’s zoning ordinance, reportedly to reflect current economic reality and to enhance, within reason, the City’s ability to compete with neighboring communities for desirable businesses.  If that effort produced a hostile business climate that is inconsistent with the wishes of the majority of the City’s taxpayers, then it’s time for the City to acknowledge that and go about correcting the situation.

But if, on the other hand, these complaints are just hot air from special interests who want to off-load some of the risks and expense of doing business in Park Ridge on the City and its taxpayers, we should find that out sooner rather than later, too.

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Labor (And Capital) Day, 2011


On past Labor Days we often have invoked Thomas Jefferson’s quote about a limited “wise and frugal” government that “shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”

Jefferson belonged to what would become the Democratic Party.  We suspect, however, that if he had any idea what a big government-loving, special interest circus his party was to become, he would have taken up permanent residence outside Paris and applied for French citizenship.

So this Labor Day we’re crossing the aisle with some wisdom about labor from an iconic Republican, Abraham Lincoln.  And, not unlike Jefferson, we suspect that if Abe could have envisioned what a rudder-less, special interest circus his party has become, he would have painted a bulls-eye on the back of his head to assist Booth’s aim.

But back on December 3, 1861, with the Civil War raging, Lincoln gave his State of the Union address in which he explained the interdependence of labor and capital so simply and so directly that Theodore Roosevelt based his “New Nationalism” speech on it almost 50 years later.

Lincoln begins by recognizing the primacy of labor.

Labor is prior to and independent of capital.  Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed.  Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.

As Lincoln correctly noted in his own speech, ”that is the side the capitalist should hear,” before introducing the second half of Lincoln’s equation with: “Now, let the working man hear his side.”

Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights.  Nor is it denied that there is, and probably always will be, a relation between labor and capital producing mutual benefits.

One hundred fifty years later, politicians of both the “red” and “blue” persuasions seem to find it more advantageous to their advancement and aggrandizement to disregard the “mutual benefits” of the relationship of labor and capital and, instead, to divide and polarize those two forces while ignoring the fundamental evolution Lincoln recognized back in 1861 that is a substantial element of what has come to be known as The American Dream:

Many independent men everywhere in these States a few years back in their lives were hired laborers.  The prudent, penniless beginner in the world labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself, then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him.  This is the just and generous and prosperous system which opens the way to all, gives hope to all, and consequent energy and progress and improvement of condition to all.

So this Labor Day, let us honor the fundamental value of labor, not only for its own intrinsic worth but also as the foundation of capital formation.  And let us treat both with the respect Lincoln wisely knew they deserve.

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The Second-Class Citizens Of School District 64


Hey, all you parents of children who attend Carpenter and Field elementary schools!  How do you like your kids being treated like second-class citizens?

Haven’t you wondered why Carpenter and Field are the only D-64 schools that aren’t air conditioned?  Or why there is no plan or contingency fund to deal with the possibility that Carpenter’s 56-year old boilers and/or Field’s 48-year old boilers might suddenly conk out in the dead of winter?

Let’s start with A/C, to which D-64 obviously made a commitment in most of its schools awhile back. Presumably A/C improves the learning environment by eliminating such distractions as outside noise from open windows.  And sweat dripping off foreheads onto book pages.  And the need for constant hydration.

So why do Carpenter and Field get “Excessive Heat ‘Interrupted Day’ Options at Carpenter & Field Schools” instead of A/C?  Could the District be trying to level the playing field?

After all, Carpenter recently made a first-time appearance on the Chicago Tribune’s Top 50 list of elementary school ISAT scores, tied for 49th place (although, mysteriously, it didn’t show up on the Sun-Times’ Top 100 list).  And Field kids might be suspected of enjoying some extra economic advantage by virtue of their more tony “Country  Club” neighborhood.  Are D-64 officials trying to act as “Handicapper Generals” and impose harsher learning environments on the Carpenter and Field children, mimicking the dystopian America of 2081 in Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron?

Or is this merely another example of incompetent D-64 financial management?

We first raised that question back in our December 7, 2010 post, “A Property Tax Increase To Air Condition And Heat Carpenter School?”  Since then, according to Elementary School District 64 Supt. Philip Bender in his recent interview by TribLocal’s Jennifer Delgado, the District’s brand new “architect of record,” Fanning Howey (“FH”), has completed a $100,000 evaluation of the District’s facilities as part of a “facility master plan.” 

And guess what?  Air conditioning and new boilers for Carpenter and Field have been identified as  needs…but not until next year’s (2012-13) budget, at the earliest.  And, apparently, that’s only because of the hell being raised by some active, vocal parents – a few of whom don’t even have kids at Carpenter or Field.

According to a story in this week’s Park Ridge Journal (“District 64’s Master Plan”), the District is relying on those whiz-bang FH architects and engineers to “teach the board, and educate the public, on how to go about this process of decision-making regarding all of our schools” – a process that is being planned to take until May 2012. 

Exactly how inept are our D-64 officials when they have to hire architects and engineers to provide lessons on public policy and decision-making? 

Frankly, it’s outrageous that Carpenter and Field have been neglected to the point where they have no A/C, and are limping along with boilers that sound like they could fail at any time.  And it’s obscene that the District appears to have neither the money nor a plan for addressing those situations immediately – while at the same time reportedly having the 4th highest compensated administrators and the 25th highest compensated teachers in the entire State of Illinois. 

We’re willing to cut Supt. Bender and School Board members Anthony Borrelli and Dan Collins a tiny bit of slack, given that they are the new kids on the block.  But what excuses do “senior” Board members John Heyde, Eric Uhlig, Sharon Lawson, Pat Fioretto and Scott Zimmerman have for this goat rodeo – other than to blame the departed Supt. “Mustang Sally” Pryor?   

Meanwhile, the District continues to muddle along with its second-class treatment of students whose parents basically pay the same property taxes as those whose kids don’t risk heat stroke or frostbite to get their educations.

Go figure.

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