Public Watchdog.org

Hock’s Negotiation Guidelines A “How Not To” (Updated 02.28.12)

02.27.12

There are a few matters of interest on tonight’s City Council COW agenda, including the “transparency” of the backgrounds and qualifications of all those appointed City officials sitting on boards, commissions and task forces.  That’s one that’s near and dear to our hearts, as our posts on 01.17.12 and 02.20.12 confirm. 

But a more immediate and, arguably, more consequential matter on the agenda is billed as “Labor Negotiation Guidelines.”  City Mgr. Jim Hock has prepared (with the help of temporary “HR Consultant” Mike Suppan) a document by that name filled with a lot of typical HR feel-good mumbo-jumbo that looks as if it was designed to bamboozle the simpler-minded folks around The Horseshoe while keeping the actual negotiations themselves away from the mayor and the aldermen.

If the Council approves these guidelines, it will be demonstrating that it learned nothing from the Hock/Fire Chief Zywanski/atty. Dina Kapernekas fiasco of the just-resolved firefighters union contract, which we addressed in several posts, including “The City’s Three Amnesiacs…Or Three Liars” (05.19.11)“One Bite At A Time” (05.23.11) and  “Firemen Renege, Hock Conceals, Council Hides, Taxpayers Pay” (1207.11).

Why?

Let’s start with Hock’s provision (in paragraph 3) that “[t]he Human Resources Manager and at times, any labor attorney approved by the City Council will represent the City at the negotiation table.”  That’s eerily similar to the model that gave us the Chief Z/Kapernekas tag team and the decidedly taxpayer-unfriendly firefighters contract. 

And if that paradigm isn’t enough, by itself, to justify nuking those guidelines, let’s try the fact that Hock just appointed a new Human Resources Manager, former Community Preservation & Development Manager Cathy Doczekalski, who appears to have no meaningful human resources education, training or background experience – much like her predecessor, who recently resigned her City position after a botched attempt to manipulate salary brackets to increase the compensation of the non-union City employees.

That means the City’s negotiating team will be headed by someone woefully inexperienced in such negotiations.  But it gets worse. 

Hock wants the negotiations to be “confidential” – meaning that the mayor and the aldermen cannot “publicly discuss any contract issues…unless a formal declaration of impasse has been made.”  And just to be sure that such information stays secret, Hock includes a provision that not only permits closed session discussions of the negotiations, but that also requires that such “closed session discussions must remain confidential” – which sure sounds like a violation of the Illinois Open Meetings Act to us!

But that’s indicative of the way Hock, and most bureaucrats, view “transparency”: if there’s a way to get around it so that the public remains in the dark, so much the better.   Just ask D-64 Board president John Heyde, who reportedly has the teacher union negotiations so locked down that no D-64 board members other than he and fellow “negotiating team” member Pat Fioretto are permitted even to attend the negotiations.

And when it comes to labor negotiations, the last thing the unions want is to have all their demands displayed before the taxpayers in real time.  That might put a smudge or two on the angelic personae they all try to cultivate in the public’s mind, whether they be “first responders” or “for the kids”-committed teachers.

That’s why we previously proposed (in “One Bite At A Time”) that all City labor negotiations be conducted in open meetings subject to full public scrutiny:

Let the City decide, as part of its very public budget process, what wage and benefit terms are affordable and in the best interest of the taxpayers for the coming year, and only for the coming year.  The City should then publicly offer those exact terms to the union representing the particular bargaining unit; and then let that union make its case, equally publicly, to those same taxpayers if it thinks its members deserve more than what the City offered. 

That way, it wouldn’t matter nearly as much which bureaucrat is chosen to “lead” the City’s negotiating team (except, of course, for the irredeemable Chief Z), although that team still should have at least one elected City official – either the mayor or a capable alderman – to represent and be accountable to the taxpayers in the ways most bureaucrats can’t or won’t. 

But for now, the City Council should tell Hock in no uncertain terms that his “Labor Negotiation guidelines” are non-starters so long as they contain anything that would prevent City officials from treating the details of all future negotiations like an open book.

Or, better yet, like an open City meeting video.

UPDATE:  Listening to Hock last night defend his “guidelines,” it was difficult to tell whether he is totally clueless or a shameless dissembler. 

Either he still doesn’t understand the workings of the Illinois Open Meetings Act, especially the “closed session” provisions, or he’s so concerned about secrecy that he doesn’t care about violating IOMA – which observing his “guidelines” would definitely do.  And, interestingly enough, whenever the discussion moved in the direction of opening up and shedding more light on the negotiations process, Hock would try to stop it by chirping “unfair labor practice” (“ULP”) – as if he were a trained parrot…perched on the shoulder of a union negotiator. 

Or like the little boy who cried “Wolf!”

Query for Mr. Hock: If conducting collective bargaining in an open forum in front of the public really is a ULP, then why do you need “guidelines” that expressly provide for all these confidentiality requirements?  Wouldn’t the “guidelines” actually give the unions the basis for a ULP claim where currently there is none?

Fortunately, Mayor Schmidt called Hock on his ULP invocations and requested the City Attorney to look into exactly how much open-ness could be applied to negotiations without the City’s committing a ULP.  We can’t wait to hear Buzz Hill’s answer(s).

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Center Of Concern Funding Still A “Special” Deal (Updated 02.25.12)

02.24.12

The public comment segment of Wednesday night’s City Council’s budget workshop – addressing whether the City should budget $49,500 for the Center of Concern (CofC) in FY 2012-13 – ran over an hour, even though only a fraction of the 50+ CofC supporters in the audience actually spoke to the Council.  

When the smoke cleared, 3 aldermen (Joe Sweeney, Rich DiPietro and Jim Smith) voted to add that $49,500 into the budget, while the other 3 aldermen present (Sal Raspanti, Dan Knight and Marty Maloney) voted to uphold its exclusion that they, along with Smith, had approved at an earlier budget workshop.  That tie, created because Ald. Tom Bernick was once again MIA, meant the budget will come up for final approval without money for CofC – although DiPietro basically promised an amendment to include CofC funding when the final vote is taken.

As we predicted in Wednesday’s post, emotional buzzwords and phrases abounded. 

Former 4th Ward alderman (and current CofC director) John Kerin told the Council to “take off the…blinders” and not “kick our seniors to the curb,” while former 6th Ward alderman Mary Wynn Ryan warned that “We the People get to say what the business of our government is.”  And former 4th Ward alderman (and current CofC treasurer) Jim Radermacher suggested that eliminating City funding of CofC would make Park Ridge no longer “A wonderful place.”

Other CofC supporters floated fantastic financial claims, like former 5th Ward alderman Rich Whalen’s magic act that had CofC returning $3 of value “tomorrow” for every $1 of City funding “today.”  But that Ponzi-like promise actually paled in comparison to the “fabulous” return on investment of “5 times, 10 times, 500 to 1,000%” that former mayor (and current CofC advisory board member) Mike Marous projected for City funding of CofC.

Heck, if that were remotely close to provable fact, the City might be able to solve most of its financial woes by “investing” a few million in CofC.  But from the few specks of verifiable data CofC has provided about the services it actually performs for Park Ridge residents, MegaMillions might be a surer bet.

Although the CofC folks hate to hear it, CofC is just another private vendor of services.  Kerin admitted as much Wednesday night when he referred to the City’s having “outsourced” its human services function to CofC. 

But because of its clout – a board of directors and advisory board so loaded with current and former officeholders that Marous could proudly note how there were more aldermen in the audience than sitting around The Horseshoe – it has NEVER been held to ANY of the procurement or performance standards to which other City vendors are subjected.

That makes CofC perhaps the ultimate “special interest” vendor:  no uncertainty of competitive bidding, no bothersome RFPs, no annoying RFQs, no pesky contracts, not even a price list.  In other words, CofC is excused from providing anything by which an ordinary taxpayer – or the aldermen allegedly representing him – could judge whether the City truly is getting at least a dollar’s worth of service for every tax dollar paid out.

If the City bought any other of its goods or services in this cockamamie fashion, somebody would (or, at least, should) be fired.  And maybe even sued for what the legendary Mike Royko called: “Aggravated mopery with intent to gawk.”

Would the taxpayers tolerate a procurement process for street paving services whereby the City would send $49,500 to a paving contractor with the understanding that the contractor, and not the City, will decide how many streets it will pave, which ones it will pave (even if they aren’t in Park Ridge), when it will pave them, and the price it will charge per block?

Not for a New York minute.

But that’s exactly the kind of absurd arrangement the City has maintained with CofC for years.  And that’s exactly the deal Alds. Sweeney, DiPietro, Smith (and Bernick, if/when he deigns to return?) want to keep in place, notwithstanding City Council Policy No. 6 which has never been complied with since it was last amended in 1991…and maybe since it was adopted in 1974.

Throw a few more zeroes in there and this could be the kind of deal that might get even Mike Madigan’s attention. 

UPDATE:  We addressed CofC’s failure to provide meaningful information about the services it allegedly provides to Park Ridge residents in our 05.16.11 post:  http://www.publicwatchdog.org/archives/2011/05/16/should-city-taxes-be-raised-to-fund-center-of-concern/ , noting that the most detailed information CofC ever has provided the City – its 2011 application for City funding – claimed 6,770 “Park Ridge residents served.”  If provably true, that would be 18% of all Park Ridge residents!  Even in these difficult economic times, that kind of claim deserves a serious credibility check. 

And nowhere in that report are there any numbers to establish how many man-hours, or cost-units, of services CofC allegedly provides to Park Ridge residents for the money it gets from the City.   As we pointed out then, transparency and accountability are foreign to CofC – and remain foreign to CofC to this day, as does the concept of actually entering into a contract with the City that requires CofC to provide X units of service for Y dollars of funding.

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“Adult” Decision-making Needed Tonight At City Hall

02.22.12

Conventional wisdom tells us that “no good deed goes unpunished.” 

And it looks like it will be demonstrated again at tonight’s City Council 2012-13 budget workshop, where the City Council’s 2-year old fiscal responsibility is expected to be challenged by staff and supporters of the private corporation (and consummate public trough feeder) Center of Concern (“CofC”); and by a group of citizens who want renovations and additions to the Park Ridge Police station.

Today’s Park Ridge Journal reports (“Center Of Concern Seeks Budget Backing”) that CofC “sent out an e-mail asking residents to attend [tonight’s] meeting and ask the city to continue its funding” to the tune of $49,000/year, or else CofC “would be forced to reduce programs or staff members that support residents.”  That’s the same tune CofC has been singing since the City started re-thinking its annual giveaway of arbitrary amounts of taxpayer funds to “local” private corporations/community groups a couple of years ago.

As we’ve repeatedly written, we are fans of private charities such as CofC.  We just don’t like them hitting up local taxing bodies like the City for funding simply because they know our local public officials are such soft touches when it comes to giving away other people’s (i.e., the taxpayers’) money for “feel good” reasons.  Of course, the City Council might one day actually do the right thing and comply with its own Policy No. 6 – and then contract with CofC and other private social service businesses for a specific quantity of specific services solely for Park Ridge residents at a specific price per unit of service.  But that would require more critical thinking and effort than the Council has appeared willing to invest, especially when a warm-and-fuzzy quick-fix is just a $49,000 “yes” vote away.

Interestingly enough, CofC has opposed that “contract” concept, balking at having to provide that kind of accountability for which it isn’t set up.  It also must not be set up for actual fundraising: its reported fundraising for FY 2009 (as disclosed in its most recent Form 990 tax return posted on GuideStar) is pathetic, accounting for only $75,482 of its $998,000 of total revenues, and netting it a ridiculous $37,600.

That dismal figure suggests that either the general public, left to its own devices, doesn’t wish to financially support CofC, or that CofC’s staff and politician-laden director and advisory boards aren’t even making any serious fundraising effort – presumably because they’ve found the public trough so much more inviting. 

The folks who want the cop shop renovation/additions, on the other hand, have the better argument for the $1-2 million of public funds the project is projected to cost over the next 3-4 years.  That’s because the cop shop is a public building run by public officials who – unlike the folks who run CofC – are accountable to the taxpayers/voters.  And the things they are proposing would no doubt improve the quality and efficiency of the police station, although not necessarily on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

But we have not seen nor heard anything close to a compelling case for the necessity of these renovations/additions, especially where the City’s finances remain in a figurative iron lung, and necessary infrastructure projects continue to be deferred or down-scaled despite annual property tax increases in the 3.5% range and a variety of fee increases.

While the Police Chief’s Advisory Task Force has raised all sorts of dire warnings and predictions about the criminal danger and civil liability festering in the current cop shop, we can find no hard evidence that the conditions and deficiencies of the cop shop: (a) jeopardized any criminal investigation; (b) jeopardized any criminal prosecution; or (c) resulted in any civil liability to any criminal, suspect, officer, employee, or citizen.  (In an upcoming post we will provide a critical analysis of the “Cost Effective Strategies to Address Risk Factors at the Police Facility,” the report/game plan for the renovations and additions to the cop shop being proposed).

As the City recently heard from Moody’s bond raters, the General Fund balance is unacceptably low and continues to decline because of the black hole effect of the Uptown TIF, which already has sucked almost $5 million out of the General Fund and is likely to continue doing so until FY 2023 – 5 years after the TIF is projected to bottom out at $14 million of total deficits. 

If that’s not bad enough, the to-date $5 million of TIF borrowing from the General Fund occurred (as we understand it) while the City was only paying interest on the general obligation bonds funding the TIF.  Unfortunately, starting next year, debt service will include principal repayments – which is why, for the years FY 2013-FY 2016, Revenue Director Allison Stutts is projecting year end deficits from the TIF totaling $3.1 million, which deficits will need to be covered by…wait for it…more loans from the General Fund. 

Call it déjà vu all over again.  Or further proof of Einstein’s definition of “insanity.”

The City didn’t get into this mess overnight.  It took more than a decade of feel-good-but-irresponsible management and whistle-past-the-graveyard financial obliviousness to produce this collection of problems.  Only In the past two years, however, has the City finally stopped digging and, instead, began filling in the hole – one small shovel-full at a time.  And it will take several more years of increasingly larger shovels-full of spending cuts and revenue increases (a/k/a, taxes and fees) just to get us anywhere close to where the City’s finances become stable enough to address infrastructure and unforeseen contingencies in a predictable, non-“crisis” mode.

Expect to hear shameless invocations of the “poor,” the “disabled,” “seniors,” “human suffering, “dignity,” “safety,” “efficiency,” “liability” and any other buzzwords that might tug at the heartstrings while clouding the mind on the real issues of transparency, accountability, fiscal responsibility and taxpayer choice.  That’s how this game is played, and those who play it for a living or a hobby have gotten quite good at it. 

But make no mistake about it: the folks who will show up tonight at City Hall with their hands full of “gimme” and their mouths full of “much obliged” see the modest surplus the City posted last year and the one it’s on track to post this current FY as nothing more than a pool of available cash just waiting to be tapped for their own personal hearts’ desires, the taxpayers and the City’s long-term economic health be damned. 

Will there be at least 4 “adults” sitting around The Horseshoe tonight with the discipline, the integrity, the vision and the courage to just say “no”?

To read or post comments, click on title.

Transparency On City Officials Need Be Neither Invasive Nor “Arduous” (Updated 02.21.12)

02.20.12

In our post “Time For Transparency On Both Elected And Appointed Officials” (01.17.12) we advocated the posting on the City’s website of more information about our public officials – especially our appointed ones on boards, commissions and task forces who don’t go through the electoral process and, consequently, can be pretty much unknown quantities to the people they represent and serve.

That post received only 5 comments until this past Thursday (02.16.12), when a stream of critical comments commenced.  We can only assume that the new interest in this topic – primarily by one commentator posting under 2-3 monikers – was prompted by the City’s posting of its agenda for tonight’s City Council meeting, which includes both a “Transparency Report” item and the appointment/re-appointment of 11 persons to City boards and commissions.   

In the first portion of that Transparency Report, City Mgr. Jim Hock notes that the City’s performance on the Illinois Policy Institute’s transparency analysis is 68.5%, good for 24th place among the rated governmental bodies.  The City is the only governmental body from our community listed by IPI, so 24th place is better than a no-show, even if 68.5% tends to be a “D” in most grading systems.

City Information Director Diane Nelson’s portion of the Transparency Report, however, reveals her concerns that, as to the information about board, commission and task force appointees contained in their application forms, “the current form has information that would need to be redacted before posting”; and that, because “we didn’t tell applicants at the time of completion [and submission of the application forms] that they would be published, [the successful applicants] may have some objections or concerns.”

Such concerns are to be expected from local officials whose governmental bodies have operated for so long in secrecy and semi-secrecy.  Not surprisingly, and as is apparent from Nelson’s memorandum, even this modest effort at transparency came not from staff but “in response to the mayor’s request.”

If we can view this as a “teaching moment,” however, we would remind Ms. Nelson and all City officials of Jefferson’s admonition: “When a man assumes a public trust he should consider himself a public property.” 

All of these board, commission and task force members voluntarily sought appointment as public officials, with all the powers and the public trust that come with it.  While that doesn’t require them to open up their homes, refrigerators, sock drawers and tax returns to public scrutiny, even Atty. Gen. Madigan’s FOIA Guide states (at Page 17) that “basic identification” – such as names, addresses, and other information that is sufficiently well-known so as not to constitute “confidential or private” information – is not protected from disclosure by FOIA; nor is any other information “bearing on the public duties of public employees or officials…[to] be considered an invasion of personal privacy” (at Page 18).

The fact that all of the information requested by the City’s standard form Application is part of the process for assessing the applicant’s qualifications for appointment to public office suggests that such information “[bears] on the public duties of public…officials” within the disclosure provisions of FOIA.  And unless those applicants submitted their applications with a prior agreement from the City that the contents would be kept confidential, we are aware of nothing in FOIA or City ordinances requiring confidentiality.

That’s one problem solved.

As for Ms. Nelson’s more mundane concerns about the “extremely arduous task” of “[l]ocating, organizing, redacting, scanning and posting over 200 of these forms,” we would expect that somewhere over in City Hall is a drawer holding a file jacket with a label that reads “Boards & Commissions Applications” that should make the “locating” part a relatively non-“arduous” 10-second task.  And if there isn’t such a drawer or file, then somebody over at City Hall has some ‘splainin’ to do, because there darn well should be.   

With the “locating” part out of the way, in order to spare City staff the burdens of “organizing, redacting [and] scanning” those application forms (and spare the taxpayers the indirect costs thereof), this blog volunteers the services of its editor in that regard.  Given how Park Ridge simply adores volunteerism (isn’t that right, Taste Inc.?), how can the City not jump at this offer?  Heck, we won’t even try to skim the first $20,000 of savings for ourselves.

As for better information about the elected officials, let’s start with: name; residence address; City contact information (i.e., phone number and e-mail address); occupation; current/most recent employer; educational background (as on board/committee/commission application); and any prior City or local governmental position and experience.  That should provide the average citizen with far more relevant information about City officials than is currently available, accessible 24/7. 

And for those wanting even more information, there’s always the FOIA request.

BTW, how’s your FOIA request coming along, Ald. Bernick?

UPDATE:  Last night the City deferred discussion of the mayor’s “transparency” initiative to next Monday’s Council COW meeting.  Hopefully there will be a meaningful debate on this important issue, considering how many appointed officials fill the City’s boards, committees, commissions and task forces that wield some significant power over City issues and finances – despite literally nothing but their names currently posted on the City’s website.

Frankly, we look forward to hearing the objections from any officials who have a problem with the posting of the applications they filed with the City – albeit with their residence addresses and other contact information redacted, if they insist – in order to demonstrate their qualifications for appointment/reappointment.  And while they’re at it, hopefully those folks around The Horseshoe will discuss beefing up their own on-line resumes for public consumption.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Ald. Bernick Can’t Rain On Low Crime Parade

02.17.12

Want to know under what kind of weird-bordering-on-bizarre circumstances the announcement of the lowest Park Ridge crime rate in 5 years could provoke a grilling of the police chief by a Park Ridge alderman?

You’ll have to watch the City’s video of Monday night’s Council COW meeting (from 1:12:28 to approx. 1:21) to see for yourself, although don’t feel bad if you can’t quite figure out where that particular alderman is coming from.   

According to the Chief’s (Kaminski, not Illiniwek) 2011 Annual Report & Crime Comparison, Park Ridge’s “Index Crime Rate” for 2011 was the lowest it has been during the past five years, with a decline of 14.76% from 2010, and 12% less than in 2007.  That 2011 index rate is also 25% less than the high-crime year of 2008. 

That’s very good news, no matter how one looks at it.

While the crime rate declined, Kaminski reported a 9.7% increase in calls for police service, which he attributed to the department’s proactive community-policing initiative and an increase in public trust of the department.  That’s also a good thing.

Not surprisingly, six of our seven aldermen in attendance accepted that report with what seemed like quiet approbation. But one sounded like he was caught somewhere between disbelief and distrust.

Guess who?

If your answer was “Ald. Tom Bernick (6th),” smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.

First Bernick challenged Kaminski on what his department planned to do to address property crimes, which represent 95% of all Park Ridge crime.  Kaminski’s answer: get residents to lock their doors, because many of the burglaries reported involve thefts from unlocked homes and vehicles.

D’oh!

From there, Bernick questioned the reported reduction of drug crime, asking whether that’s the result of less enforcement.  Kaminski responded that there is not that much “street level” drug dealing and, therefore, fewer of those types of arrests.  Frankly, we would have expected Bernick’s inquiring mind to have followed up that answer with a question or two about drug enforcement in our schools. 

But Little Tommy was already off and running on his next topic: whether arrests are down because of a less-vigilant, less-efficient police department.  Kaminski rebutted that one by reiterating that arrests are down because crime is down, not only in Park Ridge but nationally.

Memo to Ald. Bernick: That’s not a “chicken and egg” situation.

After being rebuffed at every attempt to rain on Kaminski’s reduced crime parade, Bernick ended his mini-inquisition by explaining: “I didn’t want to look at these figures and then get the wrong perception that crime is down when, in reality, we weren’t making the arrests.”

We suspect there’s a clue or two in that statement about the real motivation behind Bernick’s questioning of the report.  And we suspect it has something to do with his “perception” about the police station and spending $1-plus million – or $2-3 million, when all is said and done ? – to address various “safety” concerns which, fortunately, don’t seem to be adversely affecting local crime or punishment.

Bernick’s bizarre reaction notwithstanding, Chief Kaminski’s report is not only welcome news, but it confirms what most Park Ridge residents already knew, or at least believed: that despite the pair of corpses that recently turned up, we live in a relatively safe and secure community.

And it would be even more secure if only we started locking our doors.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Private Philanthropy Preferable To Government Handouts

02.13.12

We have consistently argued that it isn’t the job of our City officials to confiscate money from Park Ridge taxpayers so that it can be given to certain “charitable” causes – private “community groups” like Center of Concern – favored by those City officials.  

Although we have taken a good bit of criticism for that position, Mayor Dave Schmidt and a majority of the City Council seem to have come over to that same viewpoint, as evidenced by the fact that they cut back those handouts from $190,000 to 13 community groups in 2010 to a shade under $62,000 to only 4 groups the current fiscal year.  And they have tentatively cut that to zero for the 2012-13 budget, although we understand Ald. Rich DiPietro – in response to heavy-duty lobbying from those 4 groups – is asking to re-open that part of the budget discussion.

But at least one such organization has found a way to obtain funding without putting the arm on the taxpayers through the “soft touch” that City government historically had been.

As reported in last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Park Ridge Teen Center to get boost from local nonprofit,” Feb. 9), that local philanthropic group known as the Park Ridge Juniors has designated the Park Ridge Teen Center as its “major recipient” of its 59th annual fundraiser, scheduled for March 10 at the Park Ridge Country Club.

We applaud the Juniors for doing so.  That should be the paradigm for private community group funding.

The Teen Center was one of 9 community groups that lost their City funding in 2010, with the Teen Center losing $22,000.  One reason cutting the Teen Center’s funding was the correct decision by the City Council is that, like so many other of these private corporations who pass themselves off as “Park Ridge” groups, the Teen Center reportedly serves a significant number non-Park Ridge residents. 

That apparently goes over well with the teens who want to hang out with their friends, irrespective of whether those friends’ parents pay Park Ridge property taxes; and with the adults who run the Teen Center out of the basement of the First United Methodist Church on Touhy, who seem to prefer whining about the lack of City handouts than figuring out how to keep their pet “charity” operating without bellying up to the public trough.

But that’s bad public policy, pure and simple, which we criticized it in our 12.29.10 post, “Learning A Lesson From The Teen Center”

Interestingly enough, the concept of “public charity” was recognized as bad policy by none other than political philosopher Alexis De Tocqueville – the acclaimed author of “Democracy in America” (1835) – in his “Memoir on Pauperism,” also published in 1835.  De Tocqueville saw it as something that actually tore at the social fabric:  

[I]ndividual alms-giving established valuable ties between the rich and the poor.  The deed itself involves the giver in the fate of the one whose poverty he has undertaken to alleviate.  The latter, supported by aid which he had no right to demand and which he had no hope to getting, feels inspired by gratitude.  A moral tie is established between those two classes whose interests and passions so often conspire to separate them from each other, and although divided by circumstance they are willingly reconciled.  This is not the case with legal charity.  The latter allows the alms to persist but removes its morality.  The law strips the man of wealth of a part of his surplus without consulting him, and he sees the poor man only as a greedy stranger invited by the legislator to share his wealth.  The poor man, on the other hand, feels no gratitude for a benefit that no one can refuse him and that could not satisfy him in any case. 

This may not be a popular view among those private community groups who would rather accept public welfare than undertake the heavy lifting of getting their funding directly from the taxpayers through private donation, but we think it deserves more than passing consideration.  We’d like to hear the Council debate this issue for once.

Until that happens, however, we’ll be content with the Juniors’ private philanthropy.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Ald. Tom Bernick: Activity Instead Of Achievement

02.10.12

In the 1976 movie “Network,” iconic news anchor Howard Beale galvanizes a frustrated citizenry with the battle cry: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

“Network” screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky and actor Peter Finch, however, had nothing on Park Ridge’s own Sixth Ward Ald. Tom Bernick, who claims to have “had enough” of his fellow aldermen texting and e-mailing during Council meetings.  Bernick says he is going to file a FOIA request to find out what all that e-communication is about.

Bernick wants to get to the bottom of what he labels the “disturbing” possibility that aldermen are sending or receiving secret messages during meetings that might be affecting how they vote.  The mind reels at the possibility of George Soros or the Koch brothers surreptitiously influencing some alderman or other right before a crucial roll call vote on whether or not the Council should approve the next installment of Meals on Wheels funding, or raise water rates.

In his nine months on the Council, Bernick has shown a propensity for proclaiming himself “a businessman,” usually right before he argues or votes for spending taxpayer money in a decidedly non-businesslike fashion.  His most prominent legislative initiative to date has been an ordinance that would impose a dress code on taxi drivers – a proposal that produced a few humorous quips from his fellow aldermen about enforcement problems that so steamed Bernick, he accused them of mocking him.

Memo to Ald. Bernick: They weren’t mocking you, Tom, they were mocking your half-baked idea.  And if it makes you feel even better, those football players huddling between plays aren’t talking about you.

Bernick’s incipient paranoia doesn’t appear to be limited just to himself.  He recently suggested that certain aldermen’s objections to awarding a defective contract for the Taste of Park Ridge event might be motivated by “personal vendettas” against Taste Inc. and/or its operators.  Bernick didn’t name names, nor did he suggest the source or nature of those “vendettas” – probably because such details would reveal his already questionable suggestion to be just plain silly.

We’re not quite sure what will be involved in the City’s responding to Bernick’s FOIA request, if he actually launches it.  The only Illinois law on the matter is a November 2011 opinion by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan that governmental bodies are obligated to collect and treat as “public records” e-mails and text messages of public officials dealing with public business during meetings, even if that information is communicated through the officials’ private cell phones or computers. 

We expect that opinion to be challenged in court by some public official or governmental body, if only because of privacy issues and the expense of compliance/enforcement.  Until it is, however, we would expect any implementation by the City to involve City Attorney “Buzz” Hill’s spending a lot of time (and a lot of taxpayer money) sorting through hundreds/thousands of e-mails and text messages to determine which involve public business during public meetings. 

We also expect that the most likely result of that exercise will be nothing more than the kind of things Ald. Marty Maloney (7th) quipped about: e-mails from his wife asking him to stop for milk on his way home from the Council meeting.  Not surprisingly, Bernick didn’t see the humor in that, either.

Bernick’s recent displays of irritation with his fellow aldermen come in the wake of rumors that he was on the verge of resigning from the Council, ostensibly because of the demands of…wait for it…his business.  Those rumors had become so rampant that Sixth Ward activist and O’Hare Airport archenemy Gene Spanos was soliciting recommendations for mayoral appointees as Bernick’s replacement once he resigned.

We don’t know whether Bernick will stay or go.  But if he does stay, he should take a lesson from another iconic figure – the late, legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden – who famously instructed his All-American players:

“Don’t mistake activity for achievement.”

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Hock’s Draft TOPR Contract Carries Stink Of Kink (Updated 02.07.12)

02.06.12

Tonight the City Council is scheduled to approve the first-ever Taste of Park Ridge (“TOPR”) services contract resulting from the first-ever TOPR RFP process.

That contract has been negotiated by City Mgr. Jim Hock, who has been in charge of the entire RFP process since it was ordered by the Council at the request of Mayor Dave Schmidt to address private corporation Taste of Park Ridge NFP (“Taste Inc.”) having enjoyed a no-bid monopoly of the event for the past 7 years.  During that time, Taste Inc. did not reimburse the City for any of the costs of police, fire and public works services used by TOPR, which were running around $20,000 per year.

Even a cursory review of the draft contract, however, reveals a lack of…hmmmm…let’s call it integrity… in Hock’s process, which we first noted upon reviewing his RFP.

Why is that?

Start with the preamble to the contract, which boldly and unequivocally states: “The Contractor [Taste Inc.] has submitted the lowest and best bid for said Event.”

The fallacy, if not outright deceit, of that initial statement can be condensed into four points:

1. Hock’s RFP required expense reimbursement that reflected approximate costs of $20,000, yet he recommended Taste Inc. and drafted a contractual expense clause to accommodate Taste Inc.’s refusal to commit to those costs, even though the other applicant was willing to accept those costs as is.

2. Hock recommended Taste Inc. and drafted a contractual profit-sharing provision that doesn’t require Taste Inc. to share any profits with the City until it first achieves a subjective “internal fund balance equal to one full year’s expenses” – a standard that Taste Inc. has admitted won’t provide any profit-sharing to the City this year – even though the other applicant offered to negotiate a profit sharing percentage that would apply to the very first dollar of profit earned.

3. Hock’s RFP required a $100,000 irrevocable letter of credit “damage deposit/bond,” but he recommended Taste Inc. over the other applicant despite that other applicant’s offering the full $100,000 LC while Taste Inc. offered only a $20,000 LC; and Hock drafted the contractual damages provision for only $20,000.

4. Hock’s RFP required the production of financial records within 45 days of TOPR and payment of profit-sharing within 30 days after TOPR, yet he recommended Taste Inc. and drafted contractual provisions that permit Taste Inc. to produce records and pay profits (if any) 3 months after TOPR – despite the other applicant agreeing to the 45-day RFP requirements.

In view of these four significant deficiencies, we can’t begin to understand how even Hock, with a straight face, could call Taste Inc.’s proposal “the lowest and best bid.”

Will Hock be asked to explain all of these inconsistencies and accommodations running to Taste Inc.’s benefit at tonight’s meeting?

Don’t count on it.  At least 3 of the 7 aldermen – Sweeney, DiPietro and Bernick – would have given TOPR to Taste Inc. on another no-bid, no-contract, no-reimbursement basis if they had their way. The City’s getting reimbursed for its costs, or sharing in the profits of this signature event, or even running an RFP process with honesty and integrity, apparently isn’t high on their “to do” lists when it comes to the bread and circuses of TOPR.  They seem more concerned with putting on a sufficiently convincing charade so that the average uninformed citizen will believe the RFP process was legit and that Taste Inc. really was the lowest and best bidder. 

And that’s exactly the kind of charade Hock gave them.

What this obviously flawed process does accomplish, however, is it virtually ensures that nobody else will respond to any future RFPs for TOPR. When “the lowest and best bid” is not even close to being that on the most significant points of the RFP, it doesn’t take the nose of a perfumer to detect the stink of kink.

Since Hock and friends have found a way to taint the RFP process on its maiden voyage, we’ll raise a variation on an idea we proposed in our 11.04.11 post: Why doesn’t the City Council create a TOPR enterprise fund so that, like the sewer, water and parking enterprise funds, its monies can only be used for TOPR?

Once such a fund was set up, the Council could then insist that Taste Inc. turn over to that fund the $80,000+ currently in Taste Inc.’s treasury in return for allowing the Tastees (Dave Iglow, Sandy Svizzero, Barb Tyksinski, Dean Patras, John Warnimont, Jackie Mathews and Mel Thillens) to continue to run TOPR. The City could then use those funds to cover the expenses of TOPR and reap all of the profits.  And the Tastees could continue to do what they’ve been doing for the past 7 years.

We suspect the Tastees might be a tad reluctant to agree to that. After all, it took them several years just to admit that Taste Inc. really wasn’t a not-for-profit during the first four years they claimed it to be. And it took a City RFP just to get them to finally offer to reimburse the City for all its TOPR-related expenses.

But if the Tastees have been truthful about running TOPR solely as a labor of love for the benefit of the community, and about not having been stuffing their pockets all these years, why would they have any objection to doing that very same thing they’ve been doing, but on the City’s dime?  How about it, Dave, Sandy, Barb, Dean, John, Jackie and Mel? 

Or has that $80 grand got your tongues?

UPDATE:  Last night the City Council voted unanimously to send the TOPR contract back to City Mgr. Hock for revisions on several points.  We give the Council credit for having regained at least that much common sense after its questionable vote to have Hock prepare a contract for the decidedly not “lowest and best” bidder, Taste Inc.

The roughly 15 minute agenda segment, however, did have its interesting moments. 

A few were provided by Hock, whose response to pointed questions and criticisms about the contract he claims to have “negotiated” (more like “capitulated”) with Taste Inc. included his trademark blank “Am I lying or merely clueless?” expression, which probably won’t be visible from the permanent wide-angle shot of the City’s meeting video.  Given how he’s botched this RFP process up ‘til now, we can’t wait to see what kind of mess Hock makes of the contract “revision.”

A few more “moments” were provided by Taste Inc. spokesman Mel Thillens, who actually called TOPR an event that “makes this City a community worth living in” while expressing his “frustration” with the City Council for not rushing to approve the sweetheart contract Hock gave them.  Apparently it’s frustrating to Thillens that the Council isn’t jumping at the chance to accept the $20,000 letter of credit offered by Taste Inc. when the RFP required a $100,000 one as security for Taste Inc.’s performance; or to accept Taste Inc.’s offer of a 50/50 split of TOPR profits only after Taste Inc. pockets the first $20,000 of profits, which Thillens himself has acknowledged probably won’t leave anything left for the City. 

But the “moments” we most enjoyed were provided by Ald. Tom “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” Bernick (6th), whose commitment to service on the Council recently has been the subject of much speculation.  Bernick, one of the Council’s Taste Inc. apologists, tends to assert “I’m a businessman” to preface remarks that seem to need that kind of endorsement to compensate for their lack of merit, and he used it several times last night when questioning why Taste Inc. would continue to pursue the TOPR contract while getting “kick[ed] in the face” by the Council.

Hey, Tom…how about the $80,000 of net profits already in Taste Inc.’s bank account, with the prospect of adding another $20,000 this year?     

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Hiding In Plain Sight, Or Just Plain Hiding?

02.03.12

A new teachers union contract is supposedly being negotiated over at Park Ridge-Niles Elementary School District 64.  You’d be hard-pressed to prove it, though, given how typically stingy D-64 is with information concerning things that it can’t toot its own horn about.

Given the still-tough economy and the high level of compensation D-64 teachers and administrators already are receiving – last May, the Chicago Sun-Times pegged them as the 25th and 4th highest compensated, respectively, in all of Illinois – you might think that our elected School Board members would want to let the taxpayers know that they are committed to holding the line on compensation and benefits (i.e., pensions), especially with the District having recently identified $20 million+ in high-priority capital “needs.”

But if that’s what you thought, you’d be very wrong.

From what we can tell, the District’s minister of (dis)information, Bernadette Tramm, Supt. Philip Bender and Board president John Heyde are working together to keep the entire teachers negotiation process under a cone of silence.  So not only don’t the taxpayers know how the negotiations are going, we don’t know if those negotiations are even “going” at all. 

Kind of a variation on Brad Pitt’s admonition in “Fight Club”: The first rule of teacher negotiations is, you don’t talk about teacher negotiations. 

During budget talks last July, the District already was anticipating a FY 2011-12 increase of 6.28% in teacher and administrator salaries, totaling approximately $2.46 million; and a 20.71% increase in corresponding benefits, totaling approximately $1 million.  And if we recall the District’s policies and procedures correctly, once the District gets past a certain date (in early March?), its staffing for the next school year is basically locked in.  So if negotiations extend past that date, the District loses the leverage of potential layoffs when bargaining with the teachers union over salary and benefit increases.

All of that might explain the deafening silence on when those negotiations are going to commence.  It might also explain the rumor that District negotiators Heyde and private-sector union attorney/Board member Pat Fioretto don’t want any other Board members looking over their shoulders.

If you’re trying to hide in plain sight, you don’t want anybody looking too closely.

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Down-Zoning Of R-5 To B-1 A Welcome Development

02.01.12

As readers of this blog know, we view adding more multi-family residential (a/k/a condominiums and townhouses) structures to the Park Ridge landscape along the lines of trying to put 10 lbs of spuds in a 5 lb bag.

For one thing, residential density exponentially increases the demand on our antiquated and overburdened sewer system and other infrastructure. For another, Park Ridge’s identity is substantially tied to its single-family residential character. And if you need a third reason, residential property in Crook County is taxed at a lower rate than retail/commercial.

So we were not unhappy to read in yesterday’s on-line Park Ridge Herald-Advocate that owners of 111 S. Washington Avenue are seeking to down-zone that property from its current R-5, high-density multi-family status back to the B-1 retail and office status it held prior to 2007, when it was rezoned in anticipation of its acquisition and inclusion in a 168-unit condominium complex on what had come to be known as the Executive Office Plaza (“EOP”) site.

That rezoning was the subject of heated debate before both the Planning & Zoning Commission and the City Council, not only because of the change to R-5 but also because the developer – Norwood Builders – asked for and got an additional 8-unit variance over what the site could hold, even at the R-5 level. Those extra units could have put an estimated $600,000 of extra profit in the developer’s pocket without any commensurate benefits to the City treasury.

The tactic the developer used to get this extra bump was promising to make 50 of those 168 units as “senior housing,” although they would require only 1 “senior” (55 years old or older) resident per unit and allow an unlimited number of non-senior residents. Just that promise alone was enough to bring out some support among a particular “senior” faction that seems to embrace anything “for the seniors” in much the same simplistic way that another particular faction embraces anything “for the kids.”

Several years ago a citizen task force rewrote the City’s zoning code. Whether a reflection on the final work product or on the subsequent economic times, however, that re-write does not seem to have made the process that much clearer, or reduced the number of variances being sought.

For the past 10+ years, multi-family residential has been the low-hanging fruit throughout suburbia, with Park Ridge no exception. Meanwhile, retail has lagged – despite some ambitious projects like Uptown Redevelopment, which originally was discussed as retail-centric but almost immediately morphed into the TIF-financed, multi-family residential project that has saddled the City with tens of millions of dollars in bonded debt while sucking around $6 million out of the City’s General Fund to pay the debt service costs.

That’s one big reason why we welcome the idea of a Mariano’s and/or Whole Foods locating in areas that otherwise might prove alluring to yet more multi-family residential developers. Hopefully, the current City administration won’t impede those two retailers the way then-mayor Ron Wietecha and clueless then-city manager Tim Schuenke seemingly did to Walter E. Smithe, which back in 2001-02 was reportedly looking to acquire what was then the “reservoir block” from the City for its triumphal return to Park Ridge after leaving several years earlier when it could not negotiate a satisfactory deal for more space at 25 South Northwest Hwy.

In tough economic times with increasing drains on local government treasuries, there is a strong temptation for those local governmental bodies to embrace anything that provides an opportunity for additional tax revenue. Too often the Sirens’ song of multi-family residential proves irresistible to our public officials. And too often, like those hapless boats in Greek mythology whose sailors fell under that spell, we end up on the rocks with residential projects that don’t provide a net-gain to the community as a whole.

Like, perhaps, Brickton Place? Or The Residences of Uptown?

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