A Saturday Special


Center of Concern Could Learn A Lesson From Misericordia:  If you were out and about Park Ridge today you likely saw a number of people in red and white pull-over vests collecting donations in front of Starbucks and various other local establishments for Misericordia/Heart of Mercy.  Obviously, the supporters of that institution are willing to walk their fundraising talk – unlike, for example, our community’s Center of Concern, whose primary fundraising seems to consist of coming to the City of Park Ridge for its annual $49,500 handout.

In a letter to the editor in this week’s edition of the Park Ridge Journal, CofC Finance Chair (and former 4th Ward Park Ridge alderman) Jim Radermacher ripped into Mayor Dave Schmidt for vetoing CofC’s 2012-13 line item budget handout, and branded as “shameful” Schmidt’s call for CofC to “increase its efforts” at fundraising directly from the taxpayers rather than through the City.  

But a look at Schedule G to CofC’s latest IRS Form 990 tax return for the fiscal year ending 06/30/11 reveals a measly $59,873 in gross receipts from its “Fundraising Events” (a “Dinner/Auction,” a “Holiday Party” and an event identified only as “2”) that produced…a $9,186 loss!  Unless that’s the product of lackadaisical effort or incompetent execution, such a pathetic showing belies CofC’s claim to widespread community support.

Perhaps Mr. Radermacher and all the other current and former local politicians that fill CofC’s board of directors and advisory board might want to consider taking a page from Misericordia’s fundraising playbook and hit the streets of Park Ridge with their own vests and contribution cans.  Whether they could collect enough to make up for the loss of the City annual handout is hard to say, but at least they wouldn’t lose $9 grand.

Fallico Puts Sleeper Hold On Truth:  This week’s Journal also contains a letter from Maine South’s outstanding wrestling coach, Craig Fallico, bemoaning what he calls “teacher bashing” and its discouraging effect on “good teachers and, in turn, good teaching.”

Fallico notes as “fact” that Maine South’s average ACT score is 25 (which he rightfully applauds as “excellent!”) but then inexplicably follows it with the “fact” that a recent NY Times article pegs the average starting salary for a U.S. teacher at $39,000, going up to “a whopping $67,000” for a U.S. teacher after 25 years of service. 

Speaking about Maine South ACT scores in the context of national average teacher salaries, however, is kind of like comparing Dan Gable to Hulk Hogan.  On the other hand, maybe Fallico figured that the point he was trying to make would suffer if he used actual District 207 teacher salaries. 

That’s because, as reported on the “Illinois Interactive Report Card” published by Northern Illinois University, in 2011 the salary for the average Maine Twp. H.S. teacher with 15.1 years of experience was a whopping $108,336.  And according to the teacher salary database of the Family Taxpayers Foundation website, Fallico himself makes a $123,242 salary after 20 years of service – without even getting into the wonderful pension benefits of as much as 75% of salary that can kick in as early as age 55.

That’s enough to make Park Ridge taxpayers feel like they’ve been put in a Full Nelson.

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D-64 – Teachers Union Bargaining A Broken System


Once upon a time public sector employment in the State of Illinois was generally – with certain notable exceptions – less coveted than private sector employment. 

The private sector generally paid better.  It generally offered better pension and health benefits.  And it usually provided more stability than the public sector, where the political whims of certain elected or appointed officials could derail the careers of the competent-but-unconnected because “who you knew” usually meant more in the public sector than what you knew.

But public-sector employment has become the place to go if you want good pay, great benefits, plenty of time off, early retirement, minimal accountability, and job security.  One reason is because, while private-sector employment has become increasingly susceptible to the vagaries of competition and a world labor market, public employment is effectively insulated from those same vagaries. 

Just as significantly, many of our politicians – especially those who aspire to become career politicians – figured out that pandering to public employees and the unions that represent them could facilitate those aspirations. That has created a political-legal landscape which places the taxpayers at risk of being fleeced every time one of their governmental bodies enters into negotiations with a public employee union. 

As we’ve seen even in our sleepy little burg, public-sector unions seem to consistently outfox the City’s well-paid negotiators and their even better-paid outside labor lawyers who “specialize” in public-sector matters and have learned from years of experience what kind of wage and benefit increases they can give away while keeping the politicians sedated, the public somnolent, and the legal fees rolling in.

That’s one big reason why public employee wages have continued to increase by percentages that often exceed both the cost of living and what their private-sector peers get.  Public-sector pension and health benefits have become the envy of those very private-sector folks who are footing the bill for those benefits while trying to figure out how to keep their own 401(k)s from becoming 41(k)s.  And let’s not forget all those holidays and other days off (MLK’s Birthday, Casimir Pulaski Day…) that most private-sector employees haven’t enjoyed since grammar school.

As if that weren’t enough, the chances that our teachers and our police and fire personnel might get fired, or see their jobs moved to another state or outsourced to Mexico, are virtually non-existent.

All of which is an admittedly longish lead-in to our question: What’s going on with the teacher negotiations over at Park Ridge-Niles Elementary School District 64?

D-64 gets a full one-third, and then some, of our property tax payments, but it may be the most adept of all our local governmental bodies in avoiding serious scrutiny and keeping meaningful information under wraps.  Heck, it didn’t even start videotaping its meetings until last summer, 3 years after the City started and more than a decade after the Park District initiated that practice.

As we understand it, the current contract between D-64 and the teachers union – benignly calling itself the “Park Ridge Education Association” (“PREA”) because, presumably, something with “education” in it is much more marketable than “teachers union” – expires this summer.  Yet from what we hear the negotiations haven’t even begun.

From the perspective of bargaining strategy and tactics, that already gives a 15-love advantage to the PREA – because the closer it can drag out the negotiations to the beginning of the next school year, the better the odds of its being able to stampede D-64 parents and the lightweight D-64 School Board majority into wage and benefit concessions so as to ensure that the schools open on time; or, in other words, to avoid any teacher strike that might play havoc with the work and social schedules of so many D-64 parents.

And that delay also earns PREA a 30-love advantage by eliminating lay-offs (or “RIF”s, in school district parlance) as a D-64 bargaining tool.  That’s because, as we understand it, staffing decisions for next school year effectively became locked in as of April 1 – meaning that every teacher staffing position provided for at that time is guaranteed for next school year.

Although lay-offs have more power in negotiations with police and fire employees whose statutory collective bargaining process includes mandatory binding arbitration if agreement can’t be reached, the threat of layoffs can still be a powerful reality check when employee demands become unreasonable or onerous.  The PREA’s ability to delay the negotiations beyond the lay-off deadline, however, took that tool out of D-64’s toolbox.

But where the PREA takes game, set and match is the provision it was able to finagle into the current contract (and possibly previous ones) that requires secrecy about the negotiations until the parties reach a tentative agreement or formal impasse – the same kind of bargaining arrangement that Park Ridge City Mgr. Jim Hock and both the City’s regular and labor attorneys tried to sucker the City Council into adopting as Hock’s ridiculous Council Policy No. 8. 

Being able to insist on “secret” collective bargaining not only enables but actually emboldens the unions to make outrageous demands, knowing that the public won’t hear about those demands until after the deal is done, if ever.  In closed sessions, union negotiators can be uncompromising, dismissive and even belligerent with impunity, and then put on their very best “Eddie Haskell” persona when they finally emerge into public view.

For teachers, that persona is the well-burnished “for the kids” trope; for police and fire personnel, it’s the heroic “first responders” image.  Either way, those personae have been crafted to appeal to, and to exploit, the ignorance, the naivete, and the goodwill of the average taxpaying citizen.  And it’s those personae that have greased the way for the growth in public-sector wages and benefits to where they have become unsustainable.

But don’t expect the public employees, their unions, or most of our politicians to do anything about it…other than to continue to hide what they’re doing from the taxpayers until the deals are done.

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Of NIMBYs And Whole Foods


We first professed our appreciation of NIMBYs (“Not In My Back Yard”) four years ago, in our post of 04.21.08 addressing an attempt to open a PADS homeless shelter.

Back then a group of local church officials and some City politicians, led by then-mayor Howard Frimark, wanted to ignore the City’s Zoning Code and stick the shelter in the basement of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.  But a group of NIMBYs loudly challenged that plan (and a subsequent one for St. Paul of the Cross school) on a variety of grounds, including zoning considerations; and their efforts quickly captured the attention and support of residents throughout the City for enforcement of the zoning requirements that ultimately kept the PADS shelter out of Park Ridge.

Now a new NIMBY cause celebre has arisen in response to the Whole Foods store planned for the corner of Touhy and Washington. 

The NIMBYs oppose the zoning change known as a “map amendment” – from R-5 (multi-family residential) to B-1 (retail and office) – that passed through the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission last Tuesday night by a vote of 9-0, and which now moves to the City Council for final approval.  The site is currently occupied by: (a) a long-time vacant, 2-story 76,000 square foot office building at 225 W. Touhy Ave.; (b) a long-time vacant 2-story 30,000 square foot office building at 1 S. Washington Ave.; and (c) 269 parking spaces. 

The proposed Whole Foods store would be a 1.5 story, 38,000 square foot structure.  According to the proposed site plan, the Advocate health care office building immediately east of the site on Touhy and the medical office building immediately south of the site on Washington would remain.

A number of neighborhood residents (i.e., the NIMBYs) and a few residents from outside the neighborhood have sounded the alarm on this project, raising concerns about traffic, congestion and safety – especially of the children who have to cross an already pedestrian un-friendly Touhy Ave. when walking to and from nearby St. Paul of the Cross elementary school.  Ironically, some of the opponents to this new zoning change from R-5 to B-1 opposed the change from B-1 to R-5 for the same site back in 2007, when this same developer, along with Norwood Builders, tried to construct a 4-building, 168-unit condominium complex there. 

But real estate market forces made that project unworkable, and so the developer is coming back to the well with a new concept believed to be better suited to the changed real estate market.

As we wrote in our 02.01.12: “[W]e 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.”  And, frankly, we see almost all pluses from replacing a total of 106,000 square feet of perennially-vacant office space with 38,000 square feet of retail space, especially the higher-end kind of retail that Whole Foods represents.

In response to NIMBY complaints, the developers claim to have looked at other sites in Park Ridge but that none would accommodate the kind of store Whole Foods wants for Park Ridge.  Assuming the developers are telling the truth, that casts the issue as a simple up-or-down one: Does Park Ridge want a Whole Foods or not?

Assuming the answer to that up-or-down question is “yes,” it should still be incumbent on the City to do whatever it can – notwithstanding the limitations that come from Touhy and Northwest Hwy. being state roads over which IDOT has principal authority – to address any real problems and dangers that arise from turning underperforming property into what we hope will become a thriving retail business.  That means analyzing and balancing all the competing interests in a deliberate, well-reasoned and wise manner, relying on facts rather than anecdotes and mere opinion whenever possible. 

Coping with increased traffic – both vehicular and pedestrian – in that area would appear to be the most significant challenge, one that will require a lot of attention and, perhaps, some innovation.

By raising these issues the Whole Foods NIMBYs already have provided a valuable service to the community.  But that shouldn’t be the end of it.  Should the project be approved by the City Council, we sincerely hope that the NIMBYs will work with the City and the developer to minimize those problems instead of simply taking their ball and going home.

Because, at the end of the day, we’re all in this together.  And the first order of business is to do what’s best for the community as a whole.

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Sweeney Odd


We’ve been trying to figure out Ald. Joe Sweeney (1st) since he took his seat on the City Council as newly-elected Mayor Dave Schmidt’s appointee to fill the Council seat Schmidt was vacating for the big chair at The Horseshoe.

Sweeney has called himself a “conservative.”  That term has become relatively meaningless over the years but, had it not, Sweeney’s brand of conservatism would have rendered it so – as his votes on various issues over the past three years seem about as “conservative” as…oh…a drunken Secret Service agent in a Colombian brothel?

For example, Sweeney seems to favor virtually unfettered spending on anything that smacks of “public safety,” whether it be raises and benefits for police and fire employees, an enlargement and renovation to the current police station, the latest railroad Crossing Cam, or everything in between.  He also has supported raises for non-safety, non-union City employees – perhaps because they provide handy in-house “comparables” that the collective bargaining agents for his favorite unionized public safety employees can use to leverage the same or higher raises from the City or an arbitrator. 

So when it came time Monday night (04/16/12) for the vote to sustain Schmidt’s veto of approx. $6,000 worth of firefighters contract amendments that were ostensibly entered into in order to settle a grievance over paid holidays provided by their new contract, we counted Sweeney as a sure vote – along with Ald. Rich DiPietro (2nd), who rarely has seen tax dollars he can’t find a way to spend – to over-ride that veto.  True to form, Sweeney blubbered about how the vetoed settlement would end up going to “no-win” arbitration and cost the City money. 

But then Sweeney kicked it up a notch with a petty political announcement that he would vote to sustain Schmidt’s veto…if Schmidt would agree to personally reimburse the City for any and all expenses the City incurs if it were to lose the arbitration.

Understandably, Schmidt declined.

But when Sweeney’s name was called first on the sustain/over-ride vote, he oddly invoked Roberts Rules of Order and passed on his vote.  DiPietro predictably voted to over-ride before Ald. Jim Smith (3rd) also passed, explaining later that he “just did it to annoy Joe.”  For reasons neither of them explained, Alds. Sal Raspanti (4th) and Marty Maloney (7th) also voted to over-ride, while Ald. Dan Knight (5th) predictably voted to sustain.

That made it 3-1 for over-ride when Sweeney cast his over-ride vote.

When Smith voted to sustain, however, the over-ride effort failed to get the necessary 5-vote super-majority because Ald Tom Bernick (6th), a certain over-ride vote, was…wait for it…absent yet again.

By our unofficial count, Bernick has been MIA from Council meetings significantly more in his first year in office than the previous record holder, former Ald. Robert Ryan (5th), had been when he was cited for excessive absenteeism by the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate in both an article and an editorial in its June 19, 2008, edition.  Bernick’s absences may leave the Sixth Ward unrepresented, but we happen to think that MIA Tommy contributes more by his absence than by his presence, as Schmidt’s sustained veto demonstrates.

But Sweeney’s crass political grandstanding was not just the mindless buffoonery it appeared at casual glance. 

His comments and his vote sent an unmistakable message to the City’s unionized employees that Sweeney will readily grab his ankles and vote to give those employees whatever they want, rather than risk going to arbitration.  And if Monday night’s veto vote and/or their prior support of a 2% across-the-board salary increase line-item in the new budget are any indication, so will DiPietro, Raspanti and Maloney.

Earlier Monday evening, Schmidt read his budget veto message that properly recognized this year’s budgetary accomplishments while wisely noting the many financial perils which remain.  That’s why, despite the new budget’s projection of the largest “real” surplus in at least a decade, $462,000, Schmidt felt compelled to line-item veto another $480,000 of non-essential spending, and then warned about that still not being enough.

Finance Director Allison Stutts, the diligent architect of this new budget (along with Council Finance & Budget Chair Knight), echoed Schmidt’s concerns, pointing out to TribLocal reporter Jon Davis that Schmidt’s vetoes will only help with one year and “won’t solve…any of the problems we have with the Uptown TIF.”

None of those discouraging words phased DiPietro, however.  After years of irresponsibly rubber-stamping deficits as both an alderman and the previous Finance & Budget chair, he promptly voiced his disagreement with all of Schmidt’s line-item vetoes, singling out that line item belonging to DiPietro’s favorite private charity, Center of Concern: “I think there is a legitimate responsibility for the community to help human-needs services like Center of Concern.”

So do we, Richie D.  Which is why it’s well past time you and your current and former politician buddies who fill the ranks of CofC’s board of directors and advisory board (including the newest addition, former 5th Ward ald. Rich Whalen) started running some real fundraisers instead of putting yet another involuntary and arbitrary CofC “donation” on the taxpayers’ tab.

As for Sweeney odd, we suggest he stop advertising his willingness to give away the store to the City’s employees.  While he’s at it, he should come up with some ways to save the taxpayers’ money instead of more ways to spend it.  And if he wants to prove how serious he was with his idea that City officials guarantee the adverse financial consequences of their erroneous decisions, he should put his own “John Hancock” behind each of the mayor’s line-item budget vetoes Sweeney intends to over-ride on May 7.

Or, if that’s too rich for starters, he can instead guarantee what should have been the City’s half of the first $20,000 of this year’s Taste of Park Ridge profits.

How about it, Sweens?

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No Need For Spineless Pk. Dist. To Litigate With Shameless Seniors


One of our favorite quotes is: “In a contest between the shameless and the spineless, the shameless always win.”  That might be because it applies to so many situations, especially ones involving local government.

It sure seems to describe the case certain Park Ridge senior citizens have against the Park Ridge Recreation & Park District.  And we do mean “case,” as in lawsuit: Teresa Grodsky, Trustee v. Park Ridge Recreation and Park District, et al., Case No. 12 CH 2032, currently pending before the Hon. Peter Flynn in the Circuit Court of Cook County, involving competing claims to an approx. $330,000 bequest by deceased Park Ridge Senior Center member Betty Kemnitz to “the Park Ridge Senior Center.”

Until now, “Park Ridge Senior Center” was commonly used to describe the Park District-owned building at 100 S. Western Avenue, not its “membership” of between 800 and 1,000 “seniors” at least 55 years of age.  Presumably because of a relationship Grodsky developed with Kemnitz through Grodsky’s many years as the Park District’s manager of the Senior Center – until she resigned at the end of last year, under pressure – Kemnitz named Grodsky the trustee of the trust from which the bequest is to be made.

We suspect it is due to competing claims to the money (as can be seen from the Park District’s “Answer” to the Complaint) that Grodsky is asking the court to tell her who to give it to – although we understand that Grodsky already may have distributed a good chunk of that cash to one or more entities other than the Park District.

So who are the shameless and who are the spineless?

The “shameless” undoubtedly are that vocal minority of Senior Center members who want to retain the Park District’s (a/k/a the taxpayers’) building as their semi-private clubhouse while continuing to pay their paltry annual dues of only $45 – even as annual Community Center memberships are several times that, and Park District-affiliated kids sports programs are double that price for only a 3-4 month season. 

Depending on the day and the circumstance, those seniors might claim to be members of Park Ridge Senior Services, Inc., a private 501(c)(3) corporation (“Seniors Inc.”) that isn’t even legally affiliated with the Park District.  Or they might claim to be members of something called the “Senior Senate” (the “SS”), to which the Park District seems to have given an unofficial advisory voice in Senior Center affairs even though, as Helen Roppel insisted in last week’s Park Ridge Journal, “we are not part of the Park District.” 

And now, seemingly in order to gain extra leverage in the lawsuit, the Senior Inc/SS folks reportedly are claiming to be an unincorporated association called…wait for it…“Park Ridge Senior Center” (the “Association”), which has hired its own attorneys (using Kemnitz funds?) and will reportedly ask Judge Flynn to declare that the Kemnitz bequest belongs to…wait for it…Seniors Inc.  

Irrespective of whatever they choose to call themselves, however, what these seniors appear to be is just plain greedy.  And decidedly ungrateful to the taxpayers.

As we’ve written in many previous posts, these seniors seem to share the mindset that because they are older and have been paying taxes for years, they somehow have accrued an entitlement to taxpayer subsidization of their semi-private clubhouse free from interference by the very Park District which owns the building and squeezes those subsidies out of the taxpayers.  Again, quoth Roppel (per the Journal): “We set the dues, we set the programs, we enter into lease agreements and any kind of contracts.”  Or, in case that isn’t clear enough:

“It’s not their place,” says Roppel, referring to the Park District. “[T]hey are not the Park Ridge Senior Center.”

Which, by process of elimination, makes the folks at the Park District the “spineless” ones for having allowed this ridiculous charade to continue for the past 18 months – if not for the past several years that the Senior Center has been booking $150,000-plus annual operating deficits that the Park District taxpayers have subsidized.  We have tracked those deficits back to at least 2005, and since then they total approx. $1 million.  Since those deficits first became publicized a couple years ago, the Senior Center dues have been raised from $22 to the current $45, generating as much as an additional $23,000 annually, or approx. $127,000 less than the average annual Senior Center deficit.

Big whoop.

For the past 18 months Park District management – both Board and Staff – has diddled itself silly while responding fecklessly to Seniors Inc./SS/Association demands, as it once again demonstrated just last Wednesday night at a “special” meeting called for the purpose of….well…um…er…making a motion to make another motion at this coming Thursday night’s “regular” meeting to create a Senior Center Advisory Committee to replace the SS as the District’s advisory body for the Senior Center.

Feel free to laugh in lieu of crying.  

Worse yet, that feckless Park District management has begun throwing good tax dollars after bad in litigating with Grodsky, Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan (who, by law, must be named in suits involving charitable trusts), Seniors Inc. and perhaps the Association over the diminishing Kemnitz bequest.  Sad to say, there’s no reason to believe that the shameless won’t defeat the spineless in that litigation, either, even if the shameless’ “victory” does nothing more than consume a substantial portion of the Kemnitz bequest in legal fees.

So here’s an idea, Park District: throw in the towel now rather than later.

Let the greedy seniors have the Kemnitz dough, irrespective of what Betty K may have wanted.  No need to spend tens of thousands of additional tax dollars litigating when you know Grodsky is going to testify against the Park District’s getting it, and this situation is sufficiently bollixed, both factually and legally, that there’s no telling how the judge may ultimately rule.   

Instead of litigating, do what should have been done at least 7 years ago: figure out the fully-loaded cost to operate the Senior Center and start charging annual membership dues that can be expected to cover that cost.  If the greedy seniors don’t want to pay those higher dues, let them join one of those neighboring communities’ senior centers they’ve been bragging about as being so much cheaper and better than this one.

Or let them start their own “Senior Center.”  As Roppel was quoted in last week’s Herald-Advocate story: “We can take our Senior Center and move it any place we want.”

Vaya con Dios, Helen.

But while you’re at it, Park District, you also might want to re-visit the rules and regulations for your “affiliated” organizations – at least some of which are private 501(c)(3) corporations like Seniors Inc. – to make sure those organizations are paying their fully-loaded costs; and to prevent what happened with the Kemnitz bequest from happening with any future bequest to one of those affiliates.

Because when it comes to taking advantage of government, the “shameless” come in a variety of packages besides “seniors.”

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Smile…You’re On Crossing Camera! (Updated 04.13.12)


To people with a monomaniacal “security” mindset, the surveillance described in George Orwell’s “1984” often tends to be viewed as little more than a good start.  

So we’re not surprised that those security-obsessed folks on the Police Chief’s Advisory Task Force wasted no time in coming up with knee-jerk preliminary support of the Union Pacific Rail Road’s proposal for a camera at the UP’s Greenwood Avenue crossing. 

Hopefully you’ll forgive us our first thought upon hearing of the “Crossing Cam” proposal: that the UP wants this camera added – at the City’s expense, of course – as a first step in a grand plan by the UP to have local governments implement system-wide camera surveillance to help the UP reduce its own legal liability for train accidents at all its “grade level” crossings.

On the flip side, the Park Ridge Police Dept. appears to be selling this as both a safety measure and a revenue raiser.  Officer Laura Kappler’s dog-and-pony show dangled the prospect of $92,000 per month in net revenue to the City if Crossing Cam generates 13 tickets a day – which she suggested is likely, based on a recent test which allegedly filmed 13 violations in just 3 hours. 

Kappler admitted that there is no record of a train accident at the Greenwood crossing, although there have been some car-on-car collisions when boneheaded drivers stop on the tracks and then have to take evasive action in response to approaching choo choos.

Mayor Dave Schmidt, after a little back-of-the-envelope ciphering, noted that 20,000 vehicles per day crossing the tracks at Greenwood over the past 15 years equals 110 million vehicle crossings with no accident.  He asked the obvious question that, nevertheless, apparently had eluded both the Police Dept. and those Chief’s Advisory Task Force-ers: “What problem are we addressing?”

Security, Mr. Mayor!  Or is it revenue?

Both Alds. Jim Smith (3rd) and Sal Raspanti (4th) also challenged the need for Crossing Cam. 

Smith  noted, in response to Police Chief Frank Kaminski’s comment that it would protect the school buses that cross the tracks there, that it’s S.O.P. (and maybe even state law?) that buses come to a complete stop before crossing railroad tracks, and not proceed until it’s safe to do so.  And Raspanti reported that all the resident response to Crossing Cam he has received has been negative.

For the time being, Crossing Cam has gone back to the Chief’s Task Force for “vetting.”  We expect that process will be a lot like vetting the Cookie Monster about Oreos.

We’re all for the City coming up with ways to raise needed revenue – but only after thorough vetting of those processes and only in conjunction with controlling expenses.  If the Chief’s Task Force wants to approve Crossing Cam solely as a revenue raiser and the Council wants to go along with it for that reason, however, then just say so – loudly and publicly, so that there’s no mistaking what this latest Big Brother initiative is about.

And  while you’re at it, guys, why not throw some cameras at the Prospect, Dee Road and Oakton crossings, too. 

We’re not aware of any train accidents there, either, but why leave those potential revenues on the table?

UPDATE:  A happy 269th birthday to Founding Father Thomas Jefferson.  Anybody think TJ would be a fan of Crossing Cam? 

To read or post comments, click on title.

City Council Correctly Boots Hock’s Proposed Labor Policy


If you’ve been conscious and even marginally lucid for the past several years, you should realize by now that decades of an unholy alliance between public employee unions and the State of Illinois’ mostly Democratic politicians (but don’t forget Republican governors “Big Jim” Thompson and George “Crook” Ryan) has saddled us with high public sector labor costs and crushing pension obligations.

But last night at Park Ridge City Hall, City Mgr. Jim Hock once again trotted out his Council Policy No. 8, which seems expressly designed to enhance the bargaining position of the City’s unionized employees, to give Hock and City staffers more authority over negotiations, and to tie the hands of the Council with even more secrecy about those negotiations.

Fortunately, six members of the City Council told Hock to pound sand, while only one alderman voted for Hock’s ridiculous policy: Tom Bernick (6th), who tried his shameless best to wheedle even one solid reason to support that policy out of the City’s outside labor attorney, Bob Smith, by punctuating his questions with the disclaimer: “I’m not a labor attorney.”

We know that, Little Tommy.  You’re a “businessman,” as you keep reminding us every time you cast another one of your un-businesslike votes to spend money the City doesn’t have.

It appears Hock came up with Policy No. 8 as a diversion in response to Mayor Dave Schmidt’s scathing criticism of the firefighters negotiating “Ground Rules” that Fire Chief Mike Zywanski boneheaded-ly proposed last year without even consulting the mayor or the Council – and then took two weeks to summon up enough integrity to actually admit he did so.  That seems to have been the motivation behind Ald. Rich DiPietro’s (2nd) pointed comment to Hock that no “ground rules” will be adopted by any negotiating team without Council approval. 


A few other important points about labor negotiations were made last night, thanks to questions by Schmidt, that should start to level the playing field for the taxpayers in connection with the upcoming union negotiations.

The first is Attorney Smith’s acknowledgment that the City can publicly ask the various employee unions to conduct negotiations in “open” sessions which the public and press can attend and report about.  Of course, we don’t expect the unions to agree: the last thing they want is public scrutiny of their negotiating demands and tactics.

Which leads us to the second important point raised by Schmidt in a question to Attorney Smith: in the absence of any restrictive guidelines (like those proposed last year by Chief Z) or policies (like Policy No. 8 proposed by Hock), the City can report the details of the negotiations – including the various demands and offers by both sides – to the taxpayers, so long as it is done in a “neutral” fashion.


Now all we need is for the Council to insist that the members of the City’s negotiating team(s) truthfully and accurately report those negotiation details so that the Council and the taxpayers are properly informed on a timely basis.  Given past performance by certain members of City staff, however, that may pose a problem all its own.  

But at least the tide finally appears to be turning a bit in favor of transparency for the people who pay for City government.

To read or post comments, click on title.

FY 2012-13 Budget Recap


The good news about what happened at City Hall Monday night is that the City Council approved a FY 2012-13 budget that is projected to produce – if performance matches projection – what appears to be the largest surplus in the General Fund (the City’s main operating account) in more than a decade: approx. $450,000.

This watershed result can be attributed to the almost Herculean efforts of City Finance Director Allison Stutts and first-year Council Finance & Budget chair Ald. Dan Knight (5th), along with the fiscally-responsible leadership of Mayor Dave Schmidt and some fiscally-responsible followership by some of the new aldermen who, after only one year in office, already seem to “get” the budget process far better than any of their predecessors. 

What a difference a year makes!

Knight noted in his comments during the public hearing Monday night that, although the budget shows an overall deficit of approx. $4.37 million, virtually that entire deficit is the result of capital expenditures from individual funds (e.g., sewer, water, parking and library) in which substantial balances were accumulated over the years specifically for the purpose of financing such capital projects.  

But all that good news does not mean we’re out of the woods.  Not by a long shot.

As noted by Knight, the City posted a cumulative deficit of $10 million in 4 of the fiscal years since FY 2005-06 – during which time the City’s cash balance (in the General Fund) eroded by approximately $3.6 million, due to (a) past Councils’ refusal to hold down spending, or to increase taxes (and/or other revenues) to match those spending increases, and (b) the Uptown TIF’s continued cash-sucking underperformance.

In fact, the TIF is projected to suck another $773,000 out of the General Fund this coming year, effectively consuming that approx. $450,000 of operating surplus and draining an additional $310,000 in cash from the General Fund. 

That means that by FY 2012-13 year end, the General Fund cash balance will be approx. $2.74 million – or a mere one month of operating costs in reserve, compared to the City’s target of three months’ reserves.

Not surprisingly, Schmidt already has indicated he intends to veto some of the spending.  And with a little luck and the continued fortitude of Knight and at least two other aldermen, at least some of those vetoes might be sustained.

One of those vetoes will be the continued irresponsible handout of $49,500 to private corporation Center of Concern, which is such a “pet” charity of Ald. Rich DiPietro (2nd) that he – along with Alds. Joe Sweeney (1st), Jim Smith (3rd) and Tom Bernick (6th) – decided all of us taxpayers should be contributing to it with our tax dollars.  Joining DiPietro in his CofC advocacy this time around was City Clerk Betty Henneman, who must have forgotten to preface her comments with the disclosure that she is one of many local political figures on the CofC Advisory Board.

We particularly enjoyed Henneman’s claim that CofC has come forward “every year” with “full reports” of the services they are providing and the residents to whom they are providing services; and her insistence that CofC “raise[s] money in every way they can think of.”

CofC’s “full reports” are a joke, as we discussed and demonstrated in our 05.16.11 post about CofC’s 2011 application for City funding, which didn’t provide any cost per service unit figures or any identification (even to the City administration) of the alleged 6,770 City residents who received CofC services.  And an even bigger joke is CofC’s meager “fundraising” efforts, which we also wrote about in that same post.

Unfortunately, Park Ridge has a number of private “community groups” which seem to prefer living on the public dole while using their “private” status to keep most details of their operations secret.  As Knight correctly pointed out Monday night: “When any 501(c)(3) hangs out its shingle, I think the last place they should be depending on getting funding from…is government.”


And Knight also properly called out self-proclaimed “Libertarian” Ald. Smith for the incongruity of his branding the $49,500 for CofC as a “relatively small” amount of money while arguing that the General Fund needed the $14,000 the Council voted for the license-plate recognition camera the police department wanted. 

Meanwhile, Ald. Marty Maloney (7th) showed some flashes of the savvy that earned him our endorsement last April when he encouraged a comprehensive policy-based review of why the City gives money to certain community groups and not to others, noting that the only rationale seems to be “because we’ve always given money to these groups.”

No discussion of City Council business, however, would be complete without an anecdote or two about the Council’s self-appointed court jester, Bernick.  In response to comments about how human services are funded in the State of Michigan, Little Tommy called that state a “dump” and claimed he wouldn’t want to live in Indiana, either, despite both states’ better financial standing than Illinois’.   Oh, and neither of them have even one of their ex-governors ensconced in a federal Graybar Hotel.

Bernick also took a shot at Schmidt’s opposition to taxpayer funding of CofC when he questioned whether the mayor had personally contributed to CofC…before telling Schmidt not to answer when it was pointed out that such personal questions are out of order.

But by our scorecard Bernick got at least two votes “right” Monday night: his joining Knight and Maloney in a losing “no” vote on 2% pay increases for those non-union City employees who simply meet performance standards; and his winning “yes” vote – joining Knight, Sweeney and Smith – in favor of a remote water meter reading system that is supposed to address the loss of over $400,000 a year in water revenue. 

For Bernick, even just two “rights” in one night is an all-star performance.

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New City Budget The Main Event At Tonight’s Council Meeting


Tonight the Park Ridge City Council is supposed to adopt a budget for FY 2012-13, which begins on May 1.

For those of you who just started paying attention to the City’s budgets, you might find the process a bit arcane and confusing.  But don’t feel bad about that.  Many/most of our elected officials over the past decade (or two?) appear not to have understood it, either, which is why the City’s finances are in an iron lung and looking to get worse as the $39.8 million Uptown TIF debt begins to suck even more money out of the General Fund, beginning in 2013-14.

Take Ald. Rich DiPietro (2nd), for example.  He has been on the City Council since 1995 and has served as the Council’s Finance & Budget (“F&B”) chair as recently as last year.  He’s participated in, by our count, the creation and passage of 17 City budgets…and the property tax levies that help fund all those budgeted and unbudgeted expenditures.

And yet, when it comes to budgeting and levying taxes in an economically-sustainable manner, DiPietro talks, acts and votes like someone who is…well…clueless.

Which could explain why DiPietro consistently has voted for higher and higher expenditures without commensurate increases in revenues, causing an erosion in the General Fund balance to its current critical level.  Clueless would also explain why, as recently as last Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting, DiPietro was arguing for including in tonight’s vote on the FY 2012-13 budget a vote on the property tax levy…for FY 2013-14.

Despite explanations from Finance & Budget Chair Ald. Dan Knight (5th) and City Finance Director Allison Stutts, we’re not sure DiPietro is any clearer on the concept that budgets and tax levies are passed separately.  Or that he already voted on the property tax levy for the 2012-13 budget being approved tonight…back in December.

But ignorance about this process apparently can’t stop DiPietro from trying to add a couple of budget amendments to jack up spending: a $49,500 handout for one for his personal favorite private corporation “community groups,” Center of Concern; and $19,445 for raises for salaried City employees, based on some as-yet undetermined standard for measuring whether particular employees are “achieving or surpassing expectations.”

And where does DiPietro propose that extra money come from?  He doesn’t.  He’s just expecting City Mgr. Jim Hock to come up with the $68,945 total, presumably in other cuts.

Talk about the blind leading the blind.

Whether DiPietro can get the three additional votes he needs to pass these amendments remains to be seen.  We figure he can count on dependable spendthrift Ald. Tom “The Businessman” Bernick (6th), but whether he can pull two more votes may depend on how many Center of Concern supporters once again show up with their hands out to cajole and/or guilt the cash out of the Council.  

Meanwhile, the Council already is talking about increasing the City’s share of property taxes for FY 2013-14 by as much as an 11% – to be levied this coming December, Ald. DiPietro – and about a deceptively smaller tax increase combined with the institution of a separate charge for garbage collection.  Whatever form that increase takes, however, won’t even do anything to address the upcoming increase in Uptown TIF debt service costs.

Unfortunately for Park Ridge taxpayers, DiPietro and Bernick seem to be either in denial or just unconcerned.  The question tonight will be: how many other aldermen share those same problems?

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