Is Economic Change Finally Coming To City Hall?


It’s way too early to say that meaningful change is finally coming to the economic mindset at 505 Butler Place.  But a hint of change does seem to be in the air.

After finally deciding to put Taste of Park Ridge out “to bid” (technically, an RFP is not a “bid,” but that’s the drift of it) and requiring the winning proposal to reimburse the City for its approx. $20,000 in annual service costs, at last Wednesday’s 2012-13 budget workshop a slim majority of the Park Ridge City Council – Alds. Jim Smith (3rd), Sal Raspanti (4th), Dan Knight (5th) and Marty Maloney (7th) – preliminarily rejected any more handouts of public funds to those 3 private “sacred cow” corporations who have been feeding at the public trough without a shred of credible proof that they have been providing essential services to Park Ridge residents: Center of Concern, Maine Center for Mental Health, and Meals on Wheels, which together will receive $61,776 this current fiscal year.

We realize that’s a small amount, considering the size of the City’s budget.  But it’s the principle that counts.

Even semi-regular readers of this blog know our objections to these giveaways, which we articulated in posts on 04/05/1008/23/1005/16/11 and 12/14/11: these corporations don’t provide services the City is required to provide; the City Council has never satisfied the requirements of Council Policy No. 6 for giving public funds to private entities; and these corporations don’t provide meaningful transparency and accountability to the taxpayers.  These reasons alone should be enough to prevent these giveaways.

But the other factor that may have swayed one or more of the four majority aldermen is that the City just doesn’t have the money, irrespective of whether or not those three “principle” objections could be satisfied.

That’s because, per City fund policy, the City’s General Fund should have a fund balance in the neighborhood of $7 million.  Instead, it is limping along at a level approximately $4 million south of there with no plan yet in place to increase it significantly – one of the main contributing factors to Moody’s recent downgrade of the City’s bond rating.

Meanwhile, the City has numerous infrastructure needs that have been “deferred” – in reality, just plain neglected – over the past 10 years.  Just the short list would include sewer maintenance, repair and replacement; water main replacement; tree trimming and reforestation; and street/parking lot re-surfacing.  The City also is looking at vehicle replacement and technology replacement needs for the coming years that will carry a significant price tag.

Makes you wonder what the heck has been happening at City Hall for the last decade, doesn’t it?  Maybe Ald. Rich DiPietro (2nd) can explain it, since he’s been there since 1995.

And let’s not forget that the City already is planning to raise sewer rates to fund the first phase of the flood remediation project, and planning to raise water rates to cover the City of Chicago’s latest price increase.  Given how mismanaged that city’s government has been for decades, we have to assume that Mayor Rahm will increasingly jack up the cost of water to Park Ridge and other water-dependent suburbs.  

Before Wednesday night’s preliminary show of hands on cutting community group funding, one of the Council’s two Center of Concern advocates, Ald. Tom Bernick (6th) – DiPietro is the other – may have sensed the direction the debate was heading.  Bernick began referring to CofC and the other two groups as a low-cost, outsourced equivalent of other municipalities’ “human services” departments, even while acknowledging that the actual benefits of those services couldn’t really be measured. 

He even went so far as to propose service contracts between those groups and the City – further proof that even a blind squirrel can find the occasional acorn.  Or that Bernick simply “borrowed” one of our ideas for dealing with these giveaways, albeit without attribution.  We’ll consider it flattery instead of plagiarism.

It must be remembered, however, that last Wednesday night’s Council action was just preliminary.  There’s still a long way to go before the 2012-13 budget is finalized. 

And we’re hearing that those community groups and their advocates – including current and former Park Ridge elected officials, such as all those on CofC’s Board of Directors and its Advisory Board, and even some state-level elected officials – are already burning up the phone lines and demanding face time with the aldermen in a full-court press to change the minds of the four “majority” aldermen.  They’ve learned over the years that it’s a lot easier to get taxpayer money out of compliant elected City officials than out of the taxpayers directly.  

Hopefully, our aldermen are finally learning that if the Council keeps doing what it has been doing economically, the City will keep getting the same unsatisfactory economic results it has been getting.

To read or post comments, click on title.

City’s RFP Doesn’t TCB


When is an RFP (Request for Proposal) process really just a charade?

When it’s drafted in such a loosey goosey way that it practically invites non-compliant responses.  And then when it is administered in a way that makes the whole process look like nothing more than cover for an already done deal.

That appears to be the case with the City’s first-ever RFP process for the 2012 iteration of that certain 3-day food, music and shopping event which can’t even be called “Taste of Park Ridge” (“TOPR”) anymore unless it’s run by that merry band of brazen opportunists behind private corporation Taste of Park Ridge NFP (“Taste Inc.”).
How did Park Ridge lose control of the TOPR name?
Last year, when it started to look like the new City Council might actually consider putting the event out for bid/RFP, Taste Inc.’s sharpies quickly and quietly trademarked the TOPR name.  Their strategy was pretty transparent, perhaps the most transparent thing about Taste Inc. since it was handed its no-bid, no-accountability monopoly by then-mayor Howard Frimark and a compliant City Council back in June 2005: discourage any potential competitors from bidding for a TOPR by preventing them from calling it TOPR.
And the Tastees were right.  Only two other organizations out of the 10-plus who obtained RFP packages submitted proposals, and one of those was immediately – and properly – disqualified because it sought a significant up-front cash contribution by the City, contrary to the express terms of the RFP.  So far, so good.

But things took a turn for the kinky when Hock (and, purportedly, his staff) concluded that Taste Inc. provided a better proposal than runner-up Absolute Productions Services, even though an examination of both proposals reveals that neither of them fully complied with the RFP; and that Taste Inc.’s proposal actually fell short of Absolute’s on three of the most important RFP requirements.

Instead of the required $100,000 Letter of Credit to secure the contractor’s performance, Taste Inc. offered only a $20,000 LC; and Taste Inc. did not unequivocally commit to reimbursing the City for the estimated $20,000 of service costs contained in the RFP’s, instead proposing to “meet with the event manager and/or the heads of each of [the City] departments in an effort to itemize and reduce these costs.”  Absolute, on the other hand, agreed to both requirements unconditionally.

One other crucial RFP requirement was “Revenue Sharing,” which the RFP ineptly described as: “Contractor shall abide by a revenue sharing arrangement as agreed upon by both parties (to be determined).”  While Absolute’s proposal offered a vague “mutually agreed amount based on the gross earnings” that it subsquently clarified as starting with the first dollar of profit,  Taste Inc.’s proposal stated its “plans to share with the City of Park Ridge 50% of any Revenue over Expenses,” but only “[a]fter event perpetuation has been funded.” [Emphasis added].

“Event perpetuation,” as contemplated by Taste Inc., means the first $20,000 of profit which it plans to add to its already-hefty $80,000 bankroll – most of which apparently was accumulated during its first four years running TOPR (from 2005 through 2008) when it was operating as a for-profit corporation even as it was insisting to the City and the public that it was a not-for-profit.  So before the City gets its first-ever taste (pun intended) of TOPR profits, Taste Inc. will have amassed a cool $100 grand that it can spend on future TOPRs…or on such things as lobbying, promotions and even political campaigns.

The practical effect of Taste’s own “event perpetuation” requirement is revealed in a December 29, 2011 e-mail to Hock from Taste Inc.’s latest spokesman, Mel P. Thillens, in which Thillens admits that any 50/50 profit-sharing is unlikely to happen because “revenue over expenses and perpetuation should be close to zero” – an assertion corroborated by Taste Inc.’s 2010 revenues over expenses that showed a “net” profit (without the $20,000 taken out) of only $8,398.

In other words, Taste Inc.’s 2012 projections and its 2010 historicals demonstrate that its revenue sharing proposal is just one big puff of smoke, without the customary mirrors.

On Monday night, however, a lack of mirrors didn’t stop Alds. Sweeney (1st), DiPietro (2nd), Smith (3rd) and Bernick (6th) from aiding and abetting Hock’s orchestration of the RFP process for Taste Inc.’s benefit, as the smoke alone was sufficient to obscure any tell-tale, Chicago-style winks or nods.  Despite the glaring flaws in Taste Inc.’s proposal, those four overcame the opposition of Alds. Raspanti (4th), Knight (5th) and Maloney (7th) and authorized Hock to negotiate a contract with Taste Inc. – which, in this case, seems like authorizing Elmer Fudd to negotiate a carrot contract with Bugs Bunny. 

After the way Hock botched the RFP, we can’t wait to see what his contract will look like.

But the good news is that, unless Hock negotiates it away, the City should finally get reimbursed for the approximately $20,000 in annual police, fire and public works services it has been contributing to Taste Inc.’s private treasury for the past seven summers so that Taste Inc. could build its $80,000 fund. 

So getting Park Ridge taxpayers this $20,000 expense reimbursement from a heretofore intransigent Taste Inc. took 8 years, a reduction in the size of the Council from 14 to 7 aldermen, a change of mayors, and the replacement of a majority of aldermen.  Oh, yeah…and a federal gun charge against one of Taste Inc.’s founders and leaders.

There’s got to be a better way.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Is More “Bad” Government On Tap For Tonight At City Hall?


Tonight’s Park Ridge City Council Committee of the Whole (“COW”) meeting has a few interesting agenda items, if only because all of them have the the ability to raise additional questions about how credibly and competently the City makes decisions on basic management matters.

The first of those items is a revision to City Council Policy No. 43, which governs how the City manages its litigation.  According to City Manager Jim Hock’s Agenda Cover Memorandum, the City has used two law firms for its litigation despite there never having been “an official Council action designating those firms to represent the City in litigation, so staff added some proposed language regarding the issue” for the Council’s consideration.

The lack of any “official Council action” on selecting law firms is especially troubling in light of the fact that the City spent in excess of $400,000 on attorneys’ fees during FY2010-11. 

Unfortunately, this situation had to be raised by the Council – in this case, Ald. Jim Smith (3rd) – because City staff, starting with the City Mgr., apparently didn’t seem to realize there even was any problem.  Equally unfortunately, there’s nothing in the proposed new policy that requires the City to utilize an RFP process to see how good a deal it can get on legal services from firms other than the two who have enjoyed their no-bid monopoly on City business all these years.  

Even more problematic is that the new policy still seems to contemplate the City’s using more than one law firm, with Hock making the decision on which firm to use – despite no evidence Hock has any expertise whatsoever in that regard, and despite the lack of any express, objective criteria in the policy for selecting the firm(s) who will be assigned what work. 

Let’s call that a big mistake and a bad idea.   

The second item of interest is an oldie but not so goodie: the approval of more payments of public funds to private corporations for various poorly-described services at undisclosed prices.

According to Hock’s Agenda Cover Memorandum, he “requested information from each of the groups identifying the number of Park Ridge residents served by [these] organizations thus far this year.”  That’s a typical half-baked Hock game plan, and it got a typical response from those private groups who seem more concerned about getting public funds from the City trough than about actually delivering provable cost-effective results to provable Park Ridge residents – as demonstrated by even a cursory look at the information those organizations provided, which fails miserably when it comes to providing the City with the information necessary to determining exactly what services Park Ridge residents are getting and what the City is paying for each type and delivery of those services.

The Maine Center for Mental Health claims that it treated 398 Park Ridge residents for a variety of maladies, 144 of which are for something called “Other conditions that may be the focus of treatment” and 87 of which are “Other/not classified in database.”  In other words, the Maine Center wants the City to continue committing thousands of tax dollars to pay for some undisclosed treatment of undefined conditions allegedly suffered by unidentified Park Ridge residents.  Brilliant!

Not to be outdone, Advocate Health Center’s meals-on-wheels program claims to be serving “25-30 people daily in the Park Ridge area.”  Not necessarily in Park Ridge itself but just in the “Park Ridge area” – which could mean unincorporated Maine Township, Des Plaines or Niles.  Consequently, the meals-on-wheels program doesn’t provide the necessary information by which the City can conclusively determine how many meals are going to Park Ridge residents and what the City is actually paying per meal.

That leaves the Center of Concern, which claims to have provided a variety of services – including “Income Tax Preparation,” “Employment Counseling,” “Financial Counseling,” “Will Preparation” and “Legal Counseling” – to yet more alleged-but-unidentified Park Ridge residents, at no particular identifiable cost per service.

This is no way to responsibly fund services that only a vocal minority appears to consider “essential City services.”  Not only is it irresponsible, but it doesn’t even comply with City Council Policy No. 6, which imposes stringent requirements on the expenditure of public funds for private services that the Council never has satisfied when giving away hundreds of thousands of dollars to these organizations over the past several years. 

But, then again, why should the aldermen worry about adhering to the requirements of a Council policy when it’s so much fun to give away taxpayer money to private organizations without any meaningful accountability?

The third agenda item of interest is the RFP for the Taste of Park Ridge (“TOPR”), on which action was deferred by the COW two weeks ago because the matter was not posted on the agenda as an “action item” and, therefore, not appropriate for a COW decision on Hock’s and his compliant staff’s “done deal” giveaway of TOPR to the incumbent Taste of Park Ridge NFP (“Taste Inc.”) despite Taste Inc.’s proposal not being objectively as that of competitor Absolute Production Services (“Absolute”).

After the two-week hiatus, Hock and staff are still recommending Taste Inc. over Absolute even though neither proposal satisfied the City’s RFP requirements, and even though Taste Inc.’s proposal: (a) does not unequivocally agree to reimburse the City for all of the City’s approximately $20,000 of direct and indirect costs, unlike Absolute’s; (b) provides only a $20,000 bond instead of the $100,000 bond the RFP required, and which Absolute offers; and (c) provides a revenue-sharing proposal of a 50/50 split of net revenue, but only after Taste Inc. achieves its $20,000 contribution to its current $80,000 “event perpetuation fund,” a threshold which Taste Inc.’s Mel Thillens (in an e-mail to Hock back on December 29 which Hock may have kept secret even from the Council until now) admits is unlikely to be reached.

In other words, folks, this RFP process – as drawn up and administered by Hock – looks like a charade bordering on a fraud, with Taste Inc. as the “chosen” beneficiary notwithstanding the various shortcomings of its response to the City’s RFP when compared to Absolute’s, which itself is inadequate. 

If this were a legitimate process, all three proposals would be rejected as non-conforming;  the RFP would be revised to make it perfectly clear as to what terms are required and in what form; and it would be re-published with the mandate that any non-conformity will disqualify the respondent.   

But at 505 Butler Place, “legitimate” is a very subjective term.  And, as always, subjective terms rarely, if ever, benefit the taxpayers.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Has Senior Center Made Park District A “House Divided”?


We normally don’t comment on what other local blogs are publishing, if for no other reason that we don’t know of any other local blog besides Ken Butterly’s “Butterly On Senior Issues.”  

But his post dated 01/18/12 so clearly demonstrates just how dysfunctional and perverse the operation of the Park Ridge Park District’s Senior Center may have become that it virtually demands discussion here.

For those unaware of Butterly’s blog, it’s written by a Senior Center member who is part of what appears to be a small but vocal faction of that facility’s roughly 800-person membership.  That faction acts and sounds as if it believes that the Senior Center was officially handed over to private corporation Park Ridge Senior Services, Inc. (“SSI” or “Seniors Inc.”, our preference) around 30 years ago, but with some kind of understanding that the Park District (a/k/a, the taxpayers) would nevertheless still foot the bill.

Butterly’s post criticizes an anticipated request at tonight’s Park Board meeting by vice-president Rick Biagi that a $300,000+ bequest by the late Betty Kemnitz to “the Senior Center” be included as revenue in the District’s 2012-13 budget.  Butterly asserts that “the Kemnitz bequest money are [sic] dollars presently in the hands of Senior Services, Inc., the legal and financial arm of the Senior Center membership.”

Think about that for a minute: Seniors Inc. is the legal and financial arm of the Senior Center membership. 

Assuming that Mr. Butterly isn’t talking through his hat, how did the Park District get to the point where users of one of its facilities have a private corporation serving as their “legal and financial arm” seeking to keep control of that facility away from the Park District?

Remember, folks, that the Senior Center is a building owned by the Park District (i.e., the taxpayers).  For at least the past six years the Park District (i.e., the taxpayers) has poured almost $1 million of public funds into subsidizing the operations of that facility because Seniors Inc.’s leadership claims that the Center’s members shouldn’t have to pay more than the $45/year “dues” currently charged by the Park District – even as Seniors Inc. sits on a private treasury of over $240,000.

We’ve addressed this situation in several posts since December 2010, including those of  12/28/1112/12/1108/02/11 and 07/29/11.

But apparently even $160,000/year in taxpayer subsidies isn’t enough for Butterly and his fellow Seniors Inc. members.  Despite acknowledging that the Kemnitz bequest “was made to the Park Ridge Senior Center,” he seems to argue that it effectively belongs to Seniors Inc., which he describes as having “run” the Senior Center until January 2011, and which currently holds those funds as the result of conduct by the “trustee” of that bequest.

And who might be the “trustee” of that bequest who put the funds in the hands of Seniors Inc. in the first place?

If you guessed former Senior Center supervisor Teresa Grodsky – until 01/01/12, a Park District employee bound by the well-established legal duty of loyalty to her employer and its taxpayers – you’d be right.

From information recently revealed through Biagi’s whistle-blowing about Grodsky’s previously secret “retirement” deal – engineered by the District’s Exec. Director, Gayle Mountcastle, and apparently approved in secret by the Park Board, including Biagi – it looks and sounds as if Grodsky’s unauthorized handing over of the Kenmitz bequest to Seniors Inc. was one of several reasons why she “retired.”  

But in all fairness to Grodsky, her shall-we-say divided loyalty to the Park District wasn’t a solo act. 

That’s because, as also was disclosed by Biagi, she may have been assisted in her conflicted activities by Park Board member Stephen Vile, who also is a member of…wait for it…the Senior Center.  Vile himself seems to have had some difficulty deciding whether his loyalty belongs with the Park District, to which he swore his oath of office in May 2009, or to Seniors Inc, a conflict displayed in some e-mails that Biagi shared with the Herald-Advocate, the Journal, Butterly’s blog, and this blog as part of his whistle-blowing.   

For example, in an e-mail to Grodsky on 05/03/11, Vile (clearly speaking as a Seniors Inc. member rather than a Park Board member) observes that “we’ll be able to do [nothing] other than withhold any donations to the park board” [emphasis added].  And in a 05/15/11 “for your eyes only” one to Grodsky, Vile refers to Seniors Inc. as “we” and “our” when he writes: “We have tentetively [sic] agreed to relinquish our claims for previous investments” in the Senior Center.

Vile’s and Grodsky’s ambivalence is not just of recent vintage, either: it dates back almost a year earlier, as can be seen from a Grodsky e-mail exchange with Vile on 08/23/10, in which they both appear to be referring to Seniors Inc. as “we,” “our” and “us” while referring to the Park District or Park Board as “they’re,” “they” and “their.”

Not surprisingly, Butterly and Seniors Inc. are beating up on Biagi for outing both Grodsky and Vile.  And we wouldn’t be surprised if Biagi feels a bit of a chill over at the Maine Leisure Center (Park District HQ) when he arrives for tonight’s meeting, since neither Mountcastle nor his fellow Board members have expressed any public support so far for Biagi’s candor.  Which is not unexpected, considering how badly the District botched the Senior Center issue even before it totally mishandled the Grodsky “retirement.”

This bizarre saga, however, does provide several object lessons for how not to run a Park District (or any other branch of local government, for that matter), including:

(a) how the Park District allowed private corporation Seniors Inc. to effectively take over the Senior Center for its semi-private clubhouse;

(b) how Seniors Inc. took that opportunity to bleed the taxpayers, with the District’s acquiescence, and then shamelessly claim to be disrespected by the District when it wouldn’t agree to continue that status quo;

(c) how a trusted long-term employee (Grodsky) and a sworn elected official (Vile) seem to have lost track of their duty to all the District’s taxpayers, not just to 800 Senior Center members; and

(d) how a sworn appointed official/employee (Mountcastle) and sworn elected officials (the Park Board members) could somehow think that giving Grodsky a sweetheart “retirement” deal at the taxpayers’ expense, and then trying to keep it secret from the public, was somehow in the public’s best interest.

But perhaps the most notable lesson provided by this mess is how a “house” – in this case the Park District – can so easily become divided against itself when special interests combine with bad judgment and secrecy.  Hopefully, the folks who run the Park District for us taxpayers will learn a valuable lesson from this perverse experience.

Starting tonight.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Time For Transparency On Both Elected And Appointed Officials


If you asked most Park Ridge residents who the mayor was, would they answer “Dave Schmidt”? 


But if you asked those same residents who their alderman was, we suspect even many of those who got Schmidt right might not know the answer.  Heck, based on purely anecdotal evidence, a lot of them would be hard pressed to tell you what ward they lived in, much less who represents that ward on the City Council.

No matter how you look at it, that’s pretty pathetic.  And that explains a lot about why City government – and its local counterparts at the School Districts and the Park District – have not functioned as well as they could have, and as well as they should have, for the past 15-20 years, especially in delivering services cost-effectively.

But even those who might be able to name both the mayor and their alderman would be hard-pressed to tell you much more about those two elected officials, such as their occupations and similar background information.  That’s because the City’s website doesn’t disclose a whole lot of information about those elected officials.

The “City Council” page of the City’s website doesn’t reveal much more than their names, some basic contact information, and the general nature of their occupations.  So Mayor Schmidt is described as a “Law Partner Owner” rather than as a partner in the 17-attorney Loop law firm of Chittenden, Murday & Novotny, with a practice concentrated in the areas of ERISA and insurance coverage litigation.  And Ald. Rich DiPietro (2nd) is identified as a “Business Owner (graphics arts specialist company)” instead of as the owner of Loop-based CrossTech Communications, Inc.

Ald. Joe Sweeney (1st) is simply described as “Retired,” with no inkling of when he retired or what he did before retirement – as compared to Ald. Jim Smith (3rd), who at least is identified as a “Retired Computer Consultant.”

Sure, interested constituents could try to Google their way to more information.  But without some basic information about the subject official, that could be an onerous task.  Besides, why should they have to?  Why shouldn’t the City post a resume (or curriculum vitae for you Latinists) on the City’s website for each of those officials that contains a variety of useful information, including not only their employment backgrounds but also their educational backgrounds, organization memberships, etc.?

Not only would such information provide the voters/taxpayers with a better sense of who these elected officials are, it would also aid them in obtaining additional information about the officials through Google and other databases.

But information posted about our elected officials is voluminous compared to what the City publishes about the folks who fill its committees, commissions and task forces.  As can be seen from that list, all the public is told about them is their names, their term expirations and, on the rarest of occasions, their occupations (e.g., the Electrical Commission’s Ken Boyce is a “Professional Engineer”). 

Frankly, that’s unacceptable.

These people are charged by the City Council with a variety of duties, responsibilities and authority.  In the case of the Planning & Zoning Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals, those bodies actually have plenary authority over certain matters that cannot be reviewed and over-ridden by the Council.  That’s real power, yet what does the public know about them?

Next to nothing.

Because they are appointees, the public does not get the kind of information about them that it tends to get from the newspapers and the campaign literature of the people who run for elective office.  For that reason, one could even argue that the public deserves to have more information about these appointees on the City’s website than is disclosed about their elected counterparts. 

Fortunately, each of those appointees submits a fairly detailed application form when seeking their appointments.  The publication of just those forms alone would go a long way toward identifying the members of those committees, commissions and task forces, their backgrounds and their qualifications – while causing a minimum amount of work for City staff in charge of the website.  Just scan the applications and link the resulting pdf to the appointee’s name.

Transparency demands that kind of information.  And it’s well past time City Hall provided it.

And also well past time the same was provided by both school districts and the Park District.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Bond Rating Drop A Sign “Mayor No” Has Been Right (Updated 01.14.12)


Back on June 8, 2011, we published a post in which we referred to Mayor Dave Schmidt as “Mayor No” for his efforts to rein in irresponsible spending and restore fiscal integrity to a City government that had posted three straight years of deficits totaling approximately $6 million.

Schmidt caught plenty of flak from his critics, especially the special interests who didn’t much cotton to the notion that the City trough might be drying up.   But despite the first mayoral vetoes in memory, if not all of Park Ridge history, the aldermen of the previous Council – Joe Sweeney, Rich DiPietro, Don Bach, Jim Allegretti, Robert Ryan, Tom Carey and Frank Wsol – didn’t seem to comprehend the importance or the urgency of the City’s getting its financial house in order.

Instead, they raised taxes approx. 3.5% per year while keeping the spending spigot open.

They approved pay raises for City employees for no apparent reason other than it seemed like a good idea at the time, and/or other communities were doing it.  They threw arbitrary gobs of money – totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars a year – at private corporations (a/k/a “community groups”) who provided no transparency or accountability to the City for the money they received.  And they fattened the bankroll of Taste of Park Ridge’s private corporate operator, Taste of Park Ridge NFP (“Taste Inc.”), with more than $20,000/year of free City services, even as it became obvious Taste Inc. lied about being a not-for-profit when it was decidedly for-profit and pocketing undisclosed amounts of cash.

The new Council, unfortunately, has proved to be only marginally better so far.  Five of those aldermen have been in office a scant 9 months, however, so it’s still a bit early to lump them in with their predecessors.

But Schmidt’s uncompromising persistence had some positive effect: even those few vetoes which were sustained saved hundreds of thousands of dollars for the City – savings which manifested themselves in last year’s posting of an overall $2 million surplus, including (most importantly) a $35,000 surplus in the General Fund, the City’s operating fund where the fiscal rubber meets the road.

As we see it, kudos for that achievement go in no small part to new (in FY2010-11) Finance Director Allison Stutts, who not only brought an unprecedented level of professionalism to that office but also began conducting an aggressive review and analysis of the City’s financial operations.  The most notable result of those efforts was the discovery that the City was sitting on over $600,000 in uncollected fees and fines.

But it’s way too early to declare fiscal victory, especially if it such a declaration would encourage the return to the tax, borrow and spend ways that Schmidt had been battling alone since becoming mayor in May 2009.  Now, however, he seems to have an able ally in new Council Finance and Budget Committee Chairman, Ald. Dan Knight (5th); and they both benefit from Stutts’ finger on the financial pulse of City Hall. 

Stutts just presented the City Council with preliminary budget documents to initiate the 2012-13 budget process, which began with a meeting last night.  Those documents show a projected $37,000 deficit in the General Fund for FY2011-12, ending April 30.  With a little luck, the heretofore mild and snow-less winter might account for enough salt and manpower savings that, by itself, will more than cover that deficit. 

But there’s still a lot of winter ahead of us, starting with today’s expected snowstorm.  And there are still a lot of financial landmines that need continuing avoidance.

Much more troubling than that $37,000 projected deficit is the recent news that Moody’s just reduced the City’s bond rating one step – from Aa1 to Aa2, with a negative outlook.   The principal reasons given were all those past years of deficits in the General Fund, thanks in no small part to the multi-million dollar deficits rung up by the Uptown Redevelopment TIF Fund that the General Fund has had to cover. 

The practical effect of the downgrade is that any new City bond issues likely will need to offer investors a higher rate of interest, thereby diverting more tax dollars to debt service and away from essential services.  That doesn’t bode well for the taxpayers, especially given the big-ticket infrastructure projects like sewer repair and flood relief already in the planning stages.  That higher debt service could also make the City more vulnerable to deficits, layoffs, service reductions and further ratings downgrades – which, in turn, will increase pressure for more tax increases.

Can you say “spiraling problems”?

It should be noted that Schmidt was calling for spending cuts to bolster the weakened General Fund long before this unpleasant rating news broke.  The City Council, former and current, substantially disregarded those calls.  

Let’s see if they listen to Moody’s blues.

Update:  The following is the Moody’s opinion concerning the City’s bond rating downgrade.  For those of you who think this is all just a joke, note that the only two “Strengths” Moody’s identifies implicate the City’s ability to raise taxes because of its home-rule status and related exemption from tax caps.  Enjoy! 


Moody’s Investors Service has downgraded to Aa2 from Aa1 the city of Park Ridge’s (IL) general obligation unlimited tax debt and assigned a negative outlook. Concurrently, Moody’s assigns a Aa2 rating and negative outlook to the city’s $5.4 million General Obligation Bonds, Series 2012A and $2.1 million General Obligation Bonds, Taxable Series 2012B.The Aa2 rating and negative outlook apply to $45.6 million of outstanding GO debt, including the current offering.


Secured by the city’s general obligation unlimited tax pledge, the Series 2012A bonds will finance capital improvements to the city’s sewer system as part of a larger capital improvement plan to reduce flooding. The Series 2012B bonds will fund the outstanding liability of the city’s Early Retirement Incentive program, as well as pay the city’s underfunded balance with the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund. The downgrade to the Aa2 rating reflects the deteriorating health of the city’s General Fund, coupled with substantial General Fund support for other funds; large and mature suburban tax base with above average income levels; and a modest debt profile with an above-average repayment schedule. The negative outlook reflects the risks associated with the weakened liquidity position in the General Fund and the negative fund balances in the Uptown tax increment financing district (TIF) and Emergency Telephone Fund that require annual operating support from the General Fund.


– Large tax base with above average income indices advantageously located near Chicago border and O’Hare Airport

– Financial flexibility provided by the city’s Home Rule status


-Consecutive operating deficits resulting in substantial draw on General Fund reserves

-Deficit position in two funds that require ongoing General Fund support


The negative outlook reflects the risks associated with the weakened liquidity position in the General Fund and the negative fund balances in the Uptown TIF and Emergency Telephone Fund that require annual operating support from the General Fund.

WHAT COULD CHANGE THE RATING — UP (or removal of negative outlook)

-Improved reserve and liquidity levels in the General Fund, Uptown TIF Fund and Emergency Telephone Fund

-Reduction or elimination of General Fund support to other funds


-Continued draws on General Fund reserves, resulting in levels not commensurate with the current rating level

-Ongoing or increasing General Fund support for the Uptown TIF or Emergency Telephone Fund


The principal methodology used in this rating was General Obligation Bonds Issued by U.S. Local Governments published in October 2009. Please see the Credit Policy page on for a copy of this methodology.

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Mum’s Still The Word On Taste Of Park Ridge


After seven years of the City’s giving private corporation Taste of Park Ridge NFP (“Taste Inc.”) a no-bid, no contract, no transparency monopoly over the Taste of Park Ridge event (“TOPR”), the current City Council – breaking with the somnambulant tradition of its predecessor Councils – finally woke up and decided to invite proposals from other parties interested in running TOPR.


The good news is that, no matter who runs TOPR this year, it looks like the taxpayers won’t be footing the bill for the approximately $20,000 of police, fire and public works services the City has been donating annually to Taste Inc.’s bottom line.  Reimbursement of the City for those services is something we’ve been pushing for since July 2008, when we first started questioning the sweetheart deal former mayor Howard Frimark and the “Purple Ribbon”-phobic City Council gave Taste Inc. back in June 2005.


But there’s also some not-so-good news: the City Council turned the Request for Proposal (“RFP”) process over to City Mgr. Jim Hock, who – true to form – promptly found a way to throw a blanket of secrecy over the process by including the following language on Page 5 of the RFP:


Vendors are hereby notified that all information submitted as part of, or in support of, proposals will remain confidential until the date the date [sic] of award; thereafter the documents will be available for public inspection in compliance with Illinois State Statutes.


In other words, thanks to Hock, the taxpayers don’t get to know the contents of the three competing proposals until after the City Council awards this year’s TOPR, thereby producing the stereotypical “done deal.” 


Mr. Hock, can you spell “transparency”?  What if we spot you the “t,” the “r,” the “p,” and let you buy a couple of vowels? 


So when the City Council Committee of the Whole (“COW”) took up the matter near the end of last night’s meeting, nobody but the Council and the two applicants present (of the three who submitted proposals) had any clear idea of what was being discussed – although we did catch the part where Hock himself admitted that none of the three applicants submitted a proposal that fully complied with the RFP requirements.


After having reviewed the vague and slipshod RFP, we can see why.


But just because the RFP was poorly drawn didn’t prevent Hock and certain members of City Staff from recommending that the TOPR contract be awarded to Taste Inc., whose new designated spokesmodel appears to be Mel Thillens, now that former spokesmodel and founding Taste Inc. honcho Albert Galus reportedly has resigned under a cloud of “unusual” circumstances. 


Thillens continued Galus’ grand tradition of Taste Inc. self-aggrandizement while sounding like he expected the award of the TOPR contract right then and there.  Needless to say, his bragging about Taste Inc.’s being a not-for-profit corporation – in contrast to the other two for-profit applicants – conveniently omitted the inconvenient truth that Taste Inc. was a for-profit corporation from 2005 through 2008, which Thillens and his fellow Taste Inc. honchos wouldn’t even admit publicly until this past summer. 


Despite the Hock-imposed blackout, comments of both Thillens and the representatives of applicant Absolute Production Services suggested that: Taste Inc. wants to operate TOPR until 11:00 p.m. (v. the traditional 10:00 p.m. close); Absolute wants to run TOPR from Friday through Sunday afternoon (v. the traditional Thursday – Saturday night); Taste Inc. is offering the City a 50/50 share of any profits above $20,000; and Absolute is offering some undefined percentage of first-dollar profit-sharing.   


Not surprisingly, Mr. Thillens also failed to offer an explanation of whether Taste Inc.’s $20,000 threshold makes its profit-sharing offer illusory and a sham, in view of the measly $8,000 “profit” it reputedly reported in 2010, and no reporting of its “profit” in 2011.  


All that crude “money” talk offended City Clerk Betty Henneman, who recalled the good ol’ days when TOPR was just about “building community.”  Apparently lost on Betty is that Taste Inc. seems to have been so concerned with accumulating money that, instead of voluntarily reimbursing the City for all the services it has furnished TOPR over the past 7 years, it chose to both stiff the City while it built up what we understand to be a $70,000-plus bankroll and to refuse to open up its books and records for inspection by the City and its taxpayers.  


And if it wasn’t about the money, there wouldn’t even be any Taste Inc. – because TOPR would be run by a committee of the City, on the City’s dime and entirely for the City’s benefit, as it was proposed back in 2005. 


The Council thrashed around for about an hour and one-half wrestling with whether to: (a) direct staff to prepare a contract for Taste Inc.; (b) direct staff to prepare contracts for both Taste Inc. and Absolute; or (c) throw out the non-compliant proposals and re-start the RFP process.  In the end, it decided to defer any action on this bollixed process until the next COW meeting on January 23. 


Whether the three proposals will be made public before then is still an open question because – according to City attorney Kathie Henn – Hock’s secrecy provision must be waived by the applicants in writing before the City can publish those proposals on its website.  We’re not going to hold our breath on that, but we’ll be happy to be surprised.


Meanwhile, recalling political philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s warning that “Secrecy, being an instrument of conspiracy, ought never to be the system of a regular government,” we have to wonder what will be the next piece of City business Hock tries to hide from the taxpayers, and perhaps from their elected representatives on the City Council as well.


Care to spot us any letters, Mr. Hock? 


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Comm. Biagi Teaches IOMA Lesson To Park Board


Some scholars trace the concept of “transparency” in government to Jefferson’s famous quote:  “Enlighten the people, generally, and tyranny and oppression of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day.”

For a concept with such a noble origin, however, transparency sure has taken a long time to catch on with the political class.  In recent years, it has become almost a cliche with public officials at every level, most of whom act like they would rather conduct the public’s business from a secret bunker.  In Nepal.  Which is why, at the local level, there are a few – make that a very few – public officials who actually walk their “transparency” talk.   

At the City level, Mayor Dave Schmidt, while still an alderman, outed then-mayor Howard Frimark’s attempts (in closed session meetings, naturally) to finagle the City’s purchase of 720 Garden, ostensibly for a new police station that hadn’t even been approved by the Council, at a price hundreds of thousands of dollars higher than the City’s own appraisal valued it.   More recently, Ald. Dan Knight (5th) led what is believed to be the first-ever defeat of a City Council motion to go into closed session.

At Elementary School District 64, only Board member Anthony Borrelli has shown signs of both understanding transparency and legitimately supporting it.  That’s in marked contrast to his fellow board members who do nothing more than pay lip service to it until it’s forced on them, as when D-64 began videotaping its meetings only after resident Marshall Warren began creating cinema verite with his own camera.  And we’ve seen no push for transparency at High School District 207.

But on January 3, 2012, Park Ridge Park District commissioner Rick Biagi kicked the concept of “transparency” up another notch when he issued his own press release blowing the whistle on a secret exit deal for recently-“retired” Senior Center supervisor Teresa Grodsky.

As can be seen from our recent posts (Dec. 12 and 28) about the Grodsky situation, we took what the Park District and Grodsky were saying about her “retirement” at face value.  We even scoffed as certain members of the Senior Center were claiming Grodsky was forced out. 

Silly us. 

According to Biagi’s press release, Grodsky was “strongly encouraged” to “retire” back in October/November for conduct which may well have justified her outright termination.  But in typical “it’s not our money” government style, PRPD Supt. Gayle Mountcastle allowed Grodsky to stay on the job until year-end, earning both her salary and enough pension credits to push her into a higher pension benefit bracket.  And, also in typical government style, that exit deal’s only discussion by the Park Board was in one or two…wait for it…closed sessions, out of public view.

Shame on them…especially given the contentiousness of the Senior Center issue and the “cult of personality” that had sprung up around Grodsky through the efforts of Senior Center members like Barbara Ingolia, Helen Roppel and Millie O’Brien, and which was only exacerbated by the Park District’s concealment of the exit deal.

And shame on them again for letting themselves be pushed into the deal by the Park District Risk Management Agency (“PDRMA”), the District’s insurer that would rather see the District bribe Grodsky with an exit deal funded by our tax dollars than run the risk of a lawsuit by her that, no matter how frivolous it might be, PDRMA would be obligated to defend on the District’s behalf, using some of the hefty premiums the District pays.

Another interesting twist to this tale is how Commissioner Steven Vile may have aided and abetted Grodsky’s alleged misconduct by, among other things, distributing Park District attorney-client privileged internal communications to certain officials of private corporation Park Ridge Senior Services, Inc. (“Seniors Inc.” or “SSI”), which has been battling the Park District for control over the Senior Center for more than the past year – and on whose board Vile sits.

Can you say “conflict of interest,” Mr. Vile?

The point of this post, however, isn’t just to criticize the foolish Grodsky deal.  It’s to point out how so much of that deal appears to have been done by Mountcastle and the Park Board under the radar.  That, in turn, causes us to wonder how many other such deals, or worse, have been concocted by the Park District, or by the City, or by School Districts 64 and 207, with at least the tacit approval of our elected officials after one or more closed session discussions, leaving the taxpayers none the wiser?

Frankly, we wish that Biagi had just said “no” to those closed sessions during which this whole Grodsky exit deal was hatched, like Ald. Knight did to the closed session motion at City Hall; and that, like Schmidt, Biagi had blown the whistle on the deal immediately after he found out about it.  But the bottom line is that Biagi, and only Biagi, blew the whistle on it.  And he did it big-time. 

Curiously, Biagi’s candor may have provoked the proposal for a new Park District ordinance that would impose a $1,000-per-violation fine for each disclosure of closed session information.   Fortunately, four of the five commissioners present at last night’s Park Board meeting reached a consensus not to pursue such an ordinance – which would violate the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”) because, according to Page 28 of Atty. General Lisa Madigan’s Guide to IOMA, no sanction against a public body member is permitted for disclosing information or issues discussed in a closed meeting. 

Ironically, that’s the very same lesson that all local public officials should have learned – but apparently didn’t – from the “Frimark” City Council’s failed attempt at sanctioning Schmidt’s whistle-blowing four years ago.

Can anybody lend Biagi a Telestrator?

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We Say “Goodbye” And We Say “Hello”


The New Year is a time of both goodbyes and hellos.  So without further ado, here are our thoughts on what things from 2011 we want to say goodbye to, and those things we hope to say hello to in 2012.

* Goodbye to Mayor Dave Schmidt’s vetoes of City Council actions that he viewed as fiscally irresponsible.  We applaud Schmidt for saying “no” even when he pretty much knew that the weak sisters on the City Council would over-ride his veto and say “yes, yes” to more irresponsible spending.

* Hello to more Schmidt vetoes in 2012 – if this Council continues to be as clueless as its predecessor and fails to realize that the U.S. Congress and the Illinois General Assembly aren’t models of fiscal responsibility.  The City already is increasing its share of the property tax at a rate that exceeds inflation, so it has to continue to work on figuring out how to wring more services out of what it’s taking in.

* Goodbye to giving Fire Chief Mike Zywanski authority to do anything more than manage Fire Dept. staff.  Because as a labor negotiator he was simply awful, starting with those ridiculous “Ground Rules” he proposed without even consulting the Mayor or the City Council, and which locked the City into a gag order preventing it from commenting on the firefighters union contract negotiations – and then didn’t even have the stones to admit to doing so when questioned by the Mayor. 

* Hello to what we hope will be a new era of openness in the labor negotiations for all branches of local government, starting with School District 64’s upcoming teachers union negotiations.  No negotiations should be commenced until the unit of local government decides, in meetings open to the public, how much it can afford to spend on those employees.  Whatever “negotiations” might still be needed after that exercise also should occur in meetings open to the public, so the taxpayers can see and hear for themselves whether their elected representatives or the employees – both unionized and non-unionized – are being unreasonable.

* Goodbye to closed session meetings generally?  We can only hope that the Ald. Dan Knight-led City Council’s recent rejection of a closed session discussion of City Mgr. Jim Hock’s goals and objectives helps all our other elected officials finally realize that there is nothing – NOTHING – that the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”) requires be discussed in closed session, or anything discussed in closed session that IOMA requires be kept secret.  The question that should be asked and debated before any closed session is voted on is: “What harm to the taxpayers will occur if this matter is discussed in open session?”  And if the answer isn’t “a lot,” accompanied by a clear description of exactly what that harm consists of, the vote on closed session should be “no.” 

* Hello to the City starting to take some action to address the long-term power outages that seem to occur with virtually every storm that hits anywhere between the Wisconsin border and Kankakee.  Public Works Director Wayne Zingsheim was designated as the City’s liaison with Com Ed to hold the utilities’ feet to the fire on its promises – until now, purely hollow ones – to upgrade the City’s power grid.  Good luck, Zinger!

* Goodbye to a Senior Center run by a small group of seniors, for a small group of seniors, subsidized by all the District’s taxpayers.  Park Ridge Senior Services, Inc. (“Seniors Inc.” or “SSI”), that private corporation accountable to nobody but its own operators, has built up a $240,000 treasury while feeding at the public trough.  After 30 years, it’s time to change that perverse paradigm.

* Hello to a Senior Center that either attracts a larger number of seniors and/or expands its role to serve other segments of the District’s population, while at the same time eliminating – or at least substantially reducing – those six-figure deficits the Senior Center has been posting for too many years.  And the District should look to do the same thing with all its other facilities and programs.

* Can we say “goodbye” to School District 207’s financial problems for the foreseeable future, compliments of the new Rivers Casino in Des Plaines?  As reported in the November 9, 2011, edition of the Park Ridge Journal (“Casino A $40M Value For Dist. 207”), the District’s assistant superintendant for business, Mary Kalou, is quoted as saying that the Crook County Assessor’s office “is estimating the casino’s 2011 valuation at about $12 million…[which] translates to $40 million additional assessed value for the district when the equalized multiplier is factored in.”

* Hello to a new and improved City Mgr. Jim Hock?  If he takes seriously the City Council’s direction to up his performance to a level that warrants his approx. $215,000 in annual compensation, Park Ridge will take another big step toward becoming one of the better-managed municipalities in the Chicagoland area, especially considering its lack of commercial property to bolster its tax base.  If not, then it should be “goodbye” to Mr. Hock.

* Goodbye to hundreds of thousands of dollars of uncollected City fines and fees, thanks to the diligent work of the City’s new finance director Allison Stutts, who was hired by the City in November 2010 and has been nothing short of outstanding in her short time on staff.  Not only did she blow the whistle on the uncollected funds, but she also is implementing a new budget process.  And her efforts, combined with Mayor Schmidt’s relentless pursuit of fiscal responsibility, helped the City post a $2 million surplus for FY 2010-11 – only the second surplus in more than a decade, and the first since former mayor Howard Frimark’s cut-the-council referendum chopped the Council from 14 to 7 aldermen.

* Hello to the likelihood that Park Ridge someday will have a showcase for its artistic tradition, thanks to the Kalo Foundation’s successful efforts to save the building at Elm and Northwest Highway that once housed the studio of artist Alfonso Iannelli.  The members of that organization deserve a big shout-out for their efforts, which raised the funds necessary to purchase that property from a broad range of residents…and from an anonymous donor who agreed to provide the matching fund which sealed the deal.    

* Goodbye to Oakton Pool, which had served this community well for 41 years but fell victim to cultural and economic changes that substantially reduced the demand for a traditional outdoor swimming pool in a climate that permits such swimming for only a few months a year.  We won’t miss the $80-100,000 annual deficit that Oakton had become accustomed to posting; and, hopefully, the Park District will find another, better use for that piece of Oakton Park the pool previously occupied.  

* Hello to a plan to begin remedying the chronic flooding that has plagued Park Ridge for decades but seems to have increased in recent years as more and more multi-family residential development took over from this community’s traditional base of single-family homes.  The City has approved a $150,000 contract for the design of several sewer improvement projects, the first phase of what is expected to a multi-project remediation program that is already being estimated as costing upwards of $25 million.

* Goodbye to the no-bid, no accountability monopoly enjoyed by private corporation Taste of Park Ridge NFP (“Taste Inc.”) over the City’s signature Taste of Park Ridge event (“TOPR”) after 7 years.  During that time Taste Inc. generated hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenues and undisclosed profits, four years of which occurred while Taste Inc. was lying to the public about being a not-for-profit enterprise.  And during all 7 years of its existence, Taste Inc. refused to reimburse the City for approximately $20,000+ a year in free City services. 

* Hello to the RFP (bidding) procedure that the new City Council, at Mayor Schmidt’s request, has implemented for the 2012 TOPR.  Three entities, including Taste Inc., have submitted proposals, all of which are supposed to include making the City whole for all of its direct and indirect TOPR costs.

* Goodbye to criminal complaints filed by one of Taste Inc.’s long-time head honchos, Albert Galus, against Mayor Dave Schmidt, Ald. Dan Knight (5th) and the editor of this blog, Robert Trizna.  Galus waited over 2 years to file a battery complaint against Mayor Dave Schmidt over an incident that Galus claims occurred at the Mary Seat of Wisdom polling place in April, 2009, although his “cyber-stalking” beefs against Knight and Trizna were of more recent vintage.  All of those bogus complaints were recognized as such by the State’s Attorney’s office, which declined to prosecute.

* Ironically, Galus closed out 2011 by saying “hello” to the FBI’s Child Exploitation Unit, which reportedly served a search warrant at his Park Ridge residence the week before Christmas and found a cache of guns which Galus had no valid FOID to possess.  According to Galus’ former employer at the Academic Tutoring Center, the search was initiated on suspicion of child pornography possession, although no such charges have been brought.

Although that’s not all of the hellos and good-byes of note, that’s more than enough to usher in 2012. 

Happy New Year…and here’s hoping the Mayan’s are wrong.

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