“Youth Campus Park”?


With the announcement that the Park Ridge Youth Campus is closing down, the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District has expressed interest in acquiring all or part of the almost 12 acre parcel for as-yet unspecified recreational purposes.

That brings back memories of November 1996, when the Park District attempted to acquire another large parcel of non-profit land: the 14-acre Edison Park Home property along Canfield south of Talcott.  The District needed approximately $8 million to buy the land from Cambridge Homes, which already had acquired it from Lutheran Social Services but admirably put its development plans on hold until the bond-debt authorization referendum could be held.

Such a referendum was needed because the Park District had foolishly used up all its non-referendum borrowing ability a few years earlier to build the Community Center on land it acquired from the YMCA after that organization decided to close down its Park Ridge facility.    

Unfortunately for the Park District and its referendum, the City wanted the extra tax revenue that would come from the 50+ single-family homes that were contemplated for what is now Brickton Place – which would come with virtually no additional costs to the City, as Cambridge would be installing all the needed infrastructure; and no additional police or fire personnel were expected to be necessary.

Supporters of School District 64’s April 1997 “Yes/Yes” referendum to build a new Emerson Middle School didn’t want the passage of an $8 million referendum by the Park District in November 1996 to jeopardize the success of D-64’s $20 million+ plans, even though adding all the homes planned for that site was projected to generate more than $100,000 a year in operating deficits for D-64, based on the number of students those homes would add and the cost of educating them compared to the tax revenue they would generate for D-64.

So the Park District was left to sell that referendum on its own, using a “Keep the ‘Park’ In Park Ridge” slogan.  And it failed, costing the District the 2 baseball fields, 2 soccer fields, 1 football field, and the tennis, volleyball and basketball courts that were included in the plans devised by the District’s consultant.

Despite the current recession, we have to believe that the price for the Youth Campus will be higher than the $8 million Edison Park Home went for 16 years ago, especially given the Youth Campus’ “Country Club” location.

Which leaves us unsurprised to hear that the Park District may be looking into partnering with a private developer – Mark Elliott? – to split up the Youth Campus land, with roughly half of it being privately developed into single-family homes while the remainder goes for parks and recreation.  That could be a win-win situation: converting half of a currently tax-exempt property into taxable property, while at the same time reducing the community’s shortage of park and recreation land.

But although the District can always use more acreage – according to generally accepted standards, Park Ridge arguably is scores of acres short of the parks and recreation space recommended for a community its size – any major capital expenditure like this deserves to go to referendum in order to ascertain and enlist the support of the taxpayers, even if the District has sufficient non-referendum bonding power to do the deal without voter approval. 

This is especially important in light of the recent discovery that Centennial Pools are in need of imminent replacement after 60 years of faithful service.  With Oakton Pool gone, the District is no longer over-saturated (pun intended) with outdoor water for a community our size in a northerly climate such as ours. 

It’s with that last point in mind, however, that we hope the Park District seriously considers a design and/or features for any new Centennial pool complex that would permit the new facility to operate for at least double the customary 3-month outdoor pool season. Perhaps some form of indoor/outdoor facility (such as is available from companies like the Berndorf Baderbau Group) might be the answer, although it will require a little outside-the-box thinking and greater initial expense.

But it beats committing several million dollars of capital, or issuing an equivalent amount of bonded debt and then servicing it for 5-15 years thereafter, for a facility usable a mere 3 months per year.

That doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense, even for government.

To read or post comments, click on title.

D-64’s Subsidized Babysitting To Continue


As regular readers of this blog know, we tend to devote a majority of our posts to the operation of City government.  In large part that’s because City government directly affects all Park Ridge residents in a variety of ways, while the other governmental bodies impact most residents more indirectly by their effect on our pocketbooks through their ever-increasing tax assessments.

But our postings also reflect the fact that the City Council appears to be the most transparent of all of our local governmental bodies – with its meetings broadcast live on WOW, the meeting videos posted on the City’s website, and the meetings regularly covered by on-site reporters from both local newspapers and the TribLocal.  City Council meetings also regularly feature the most vigorous public policy debates.

Nevertheless, we try not to ignore the other local governmental bodies.  And a report in last week’s edition of the Park Ridge Journal (“Dist. 64 Fine Tuning After School Costs,” 05.23.12) about the fees for D-64’s “after-school program” at Jefferson School caught our attention, especially the part about how D-64 is attempting to fine-tune that program to reflect parents’ complaints…about the cost of the program! 

Many/most taxpayers might expect parents who already are getting $10,000+ per year, per kid, of what amounts to “free” education not to beef about paying the fully-loaded costs of the after-school program (a/k/a babysitting) that enables them to work and afford the property taxes to obtain that almost-free education for their kids in the first place.  Unfortunately, such an expectation would be wrong, at least as to those shameless-but-vocal parents who seem able to make a relatively spineless administration and school board quake in their boots.

So, as reported by the Journal, a 6-1 vote of the D-64 Board ensured that those parents will continue to get dependable, well-supervised after-school babysitting for the low, low price of $5/hour – less than most of them pay the neighbor kid for less-dependable services when they go out to dinner and/or a movie on Saturday night.  And because of those low, low rates, the District projects a $5,866.93 loss for FY 2011-12, and a $17,540 loss for FY 2012-13.

That should be unacceptable to the taxpayers who already are subsidizing the vast majority of the cost of a D-64 education. 

If one believes in the value of public education – as we do – one also has to accept the fact that there are limits on what that “public education” covers, and at what cost.  The first phase of our research on the origins of public education in this country has led us to conclude that taxpayer-funded “public” education was intended to include nothing more than the basic classroom education: the old “readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic.”

Yet currently, in addition to the after-school babysitting program, D-64 offers a variety of “elective” extracurricular activities, such as athletics and music, for which it does not even attempt to recover the fully-loaded costs.  Instead, those activities are designed only to cover supply expenses, not the expenses for the personnel who teach/coach/administer them.

A report dated May 21, 2012, from the D-64 Community Finance Committee “Community Coordinators” Ares Dalianis and Genie Taddeo (both former D-64 Board members) shows that the CFC appears to be making some progress in getting a handle on the true costs of providing these activities.  More importantly, as noted on Page 4 of Attachment 1 to that report, the CFC is proposing “investigating the true costs of these electives, plus any other clubs or activities, and increasing elective fees to accurately cover all costs associated with the elective programs.”

All we can say is: “Bravo!”  And: “It’s about time!”

We are big fans of user fees, primarily because they are one of the most effective ways – if not the most effective way – of restricting discretionary, unnecessary and/or excessive use of public services whose costs are both significant and reasonably allocable.  Elementary school elective and extracurricular activities fit that bill to a “t,” which is why it is refreshing to see somebody associated with the D-64 administration actually talking about recovering those costs.    

Now we just need to see whether the CFC, and the D-64 Administration and Board, can walk that talk.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Does Somebody Have “A Guy” At Park Ridge’s “Hall”?


In the political cesspool known as Chicago, kinkiness in enforcement of the building code, the zoning code, and virtually every other code is a longstanding tradition.

Almost every builder, remodeler and handyman claims to have “a guy” who can do miraculous things to expedite projects and eliminate code problems.  And the best of those “guys” usually work at “the Hall” – as in City Hall, until recently the ancestral home and domain of the Daleys

But naïve as we try not to be, we never thought those kinds of Chicago-style goings on happened in our sleepy little town.

At Monday night’s City Council meeting, however, 5th Ward resident Jeff Getz recounted an 11-minute tale of woe – which can be seen and heard from 1:03:45 to 1:14:55 of the Council meeting video on the City’s website – concerning his neighbor’s property at 322 Vine that has mysteriously defied or evaded numerous attempts by the City over the past 3 years to address as many as 15 building code violations.

According to Getz and other neighbors, some of those violations should have prevented occupancy, including 8 listed on an undated City “Building Inspection Report Form” reportedly issued on June 18, 2009 by City Building Administrator Steven L. Cutaia that includes the unequivocal admonition: “There shall be no occupancy until these issues are resolved.”

But June-July 2009 e-mail traffic between and among Cutaia, 322 owner/builder/resident Philip Spagnolo, P.E., John Zimmermann, P.E. of Terra Consulting Group, then-City Mgr. Jim Hock and Bernie Bono, P.E., of Bono Consulting, reveals something else.  They show that the very same day Cutaia issued his written “no occupancy” decree, he also assured Spagnolo “that he will not enforce the issue” or keep Spagnolo and his family from moving in.  And the day after that, Hock assured Spagnolo that the City (a/k/a, the taxpayers) “will take care of any billing from Mr. Bono” that the City apparently had initially assessed against Spagnolo.   

That’s starting to sound Chicago-style kinky to us.

The 322 Vine neighbors contend that not only did Spagnolo move into that residence on the 4th of July 2009 weekend, before all the violations were corrected and an occupancy permit lawfully issued, but he has been thumbing his nose at the City and his neighbors ever since, even as flooding regularly occurs from “overland” water running off the 322 parcel that was elevated between 1 and 2 feet prior to construction of what some might call a “McMansion,” contrary to building code restrictions.

All of which may make Bono the single most intriguing figure in this saga, if only because he reputedly worked for Spagnolo before being hired by the City to advise it on the enforcement (or non-enforcement) of the 322 Vine building code violations against Spagnolo.  That sounds like some sort of conflict of interest to us, but apparently it didn’t stop whoever at City Hall recommended and approved his hiring.  Nor did it stop Bono from accepting the engagement.

Paging Steve Cutaia?

In a July 6, 2009 e-mail to Getz and fellow 322 Vine neighbor Cliff Kowalski, Cutaia cites “the sensitivity of this matter” as the reason “the City had hired a state licensed civil engineer to perform the final inspection” needed for the issuance of an occupancy permit.  We understand that engineer was Bono, even though Cutaia was apparently keeping Bono’s identity close to his vest back then.

Almost 3 years later, however, and notwithstanding intervening citations issued to 322 Vine by the City, City Attorney Everette “Buzz” Hill sent a May 11, 2012 letter to Mr. & Mrs. Getz, advising them that, despite the fact that Spagnolo “had not made the changes that the [City’s 01.13.12 Notice of Violation] letter demanded,” he had recommended to the City that it not proceed with the prosecution of that violation.

Why?  Hill had interviewed the City’s witnesses “whose testimony would be required” to prove the violation, but had determined from those interviews “that the City could not carry its burden of proof with respect to the proposed citations.”

Those witnesses?  Bono and Cutaia.

As Getz disgustedly asked the City Council Monday night: “Is it my problem that the City cannot trust its own employees and consultants to testify” in support of the City’s own code enforcement? 

No, it shouldn’t be.  And Cutaia shouldn’t be issuing written orders while giving wink-and-nod assurances that they won’t be enforced.  And these types of processes shouldn’t take 3 years to resolve, especially when the “resolution” ends up being the lawyer-written equivalent of “never mind.”

Monday night Ald. Dan Knight (5th), whose ward is the scene of this charade/farce, termed it “a 3-year travesty” while sternly admonishing City Staff to make certain it “can’t happen again.”  As can be seen in e-mail traffic as recently as last month, however, Knight still was being told by Cutaia that 322 Vine lacked the “acceptable swales” that Bono claimed “existed in 2008, when he performed and approved the final drainage design”; and that City code enforcement was still proceeding.   

The Mayor and the City Council should take this fiasco seriously and treat it as what it appears to be: hard evidence that something is very wrong in the City’s building department and won’t be going away on its own accord.  That something makes the City’s building code a joke, at least to some people – which is why a legitimate investigation needs to be conducted.

Of course there likely will be attempts at wholesale dumping of all responsibility on the recently-departed Hock and the less-recently departed Carrie Davis, who ostensibly supervised Cutaia in the early stages of this debacle.  That’s called the “empty chair” defense in legal circles, and it will be especially inviting here because Davis wae sacked by Hock, albeit belatedly and in one of his many incidents of mis-management that nevertheless earned him a new contract in late 2010 with a $120,000+ severance package.  Feel free to thank Alds. Joe Sweeney and Rich DiPietro for that waste of tax dollars.

But from the looks of just the information we’ve been able to review in recent days, Getz may not have been too far off the mark when he voiced his suspicions to the Council Monday night of “back-room deals” involving City employees and consultants.  Or, in Chicago parlance, the possibility that somebody may have “a guy” at “the Hall.”

Only this “Hall” is 505 Butler Place.

To read or post comments, click on title.

City Council Should Defer Decision On Whole Foods Re-Zoning (Updated 05.22.12)


Tonight the Park Ridge City Council will have another opportunity to strike a blow for sane, fiscally-responsible government for the second straight week, when the Zoning Code map amendment for the Whole Foods project comes up for a second reading.

We’ve got two words of advice for our aldermen: Defer it. 

And defer it with the express and unqualified direction to the developer (Park Ridge 2004 LLC) and/or Whole Foods that the map amendment will not be taken up again until they legally commit to doing this deal in a way that is acceptable to the Council – and that, unless the developer drops its demand for any bribe money whatsoever, what is “acceptable to the Council” will not be determined until the Council drafts and thoroughly debates a complete overhaul of the ridiculous City Council Policy No. 31. 

This particular developer bought this property several years ago as a speculative investment; i.e., accepting certain risks in return for the prospects of a substantial reward from developing the property.  The original plan was for a 168-unit condo complex to be built by then-mayor Howard Frimark’s campaign contributors Bruce Adreani and his Norwood Builders, which required a zoning map amendment to change the site to R-5 multi-family residential from…wait for it…B-1 commercial, the classification the same developer now wants restored. 

The City accommodated the developer back then with that change, and even agreed to let it build 8 units more than the Code permitted for the size of the site.  As we noted in our 10.19.07 post “An EOP Riddle,” those 8 extra units would have netted the developer and/or Norwood an estimated $600,000 of extra profit, but at least it wouldn’t have come directly out of the taxpayers’ pockets. 

The market for condos cratered, however, and the developer now wants to abandon that R-5 plan in favor of this B-1 opportunity.

Frankly, we vastly prefer B-1 over R-5 because we believe Park Ridge already has become over-dense, from the standpoint of housing units, for its over-taxed infrastructure.  And we think a Whole Foods would be an excellent addition to the City’s retail base, but not at any price.

From a public policy standpoint, we believe the only “acceptable” way to do this deal is with NO subsidy/incentive/bribe to the developer or to Whole Foods.  If our community needs to bribe businesses to get them to locate and invest here, we’ve got big problems that need to be addressed directly instead of papered over with cash handouts to those businesses. 

The more important reasons for our objection to such bribery, however, is our belief in fundamental fairness and a level playing field for all retailers, as well as our opposition to this kind of corporate welfare for the well-off (Whole Foods) and/or the risk taker (Park Ridge 2004 LLC).  As we understand it, the subsidy they are demanding from Park Ridge taxpayers will enable the developer to offer the rent deal Whole Foods wants while at the same time enabling the developer to increase the profit or reduce the loss on its speculative investment – which is just another variation on the “privatizing profits while socializing losses” theme.

That’s just plain wrong and should not be tolerated, even if it means Park Ridge’s “clean” eaters will need to continue burning fossil fuel traveling to a neighboring town to buy organic.

Which makes us wonder where Park Ridge’s “99%”-ers have been hiding during this debate. 

Why aren’t those residents who profess to abhor how the federal government has bailed out Wall Street and who have replaced Dick Cheney’s photo on their dart boards with Jamie Dimon’s showing up to “Occupy 505 Butler Place” in support of the Council’s not giving in to this local bit of crap-italism by a national retail giant?  Whole Foods Market Inc., No. 273 on the Fortune 500 list, is doing so well that near the end of last year it hiked its dividend 40% and announced a $200 million share-repurchase program.   Why should Park Ridge taxpayers subsidize that kind of performance?

We realize it’s much easier to sit around railing idly against NATO, Wall Street and the “one percent” – or to park oneself in front of MSNBC or FOX and shouting “Right on!” or “#$@% you!” at Lawrence O’Donnell or Sean Hannity – than it is to regularly show up at Park Ridge City Council meetings and actually try to do something to improve local government and the community, irrespective of how one might define “improve.”

But if you don’t accept “trickle-down,” then shouldn’t you start working from the “grass-roots” up.

UPDATE:  Last night the developer and Whole Foods blinked…and agreed to do the Whole Foods project without any tax-sharing subsidy/bribe from the taxpayers.  For those keeping score, that means the City will get an extra $2 million or more that otherwise would have gone to the developer and/or Whole Foods over the 20-year term of the proposed revenue-sharing agreement.

Well done, gentlemen!  For the second week in a row this Council showed that, unlike at least two decades of its predecessors, it actually has a spine and is willing to stand up to shameless demands of private special interests looking to feed from the public trough. 

Which proves, once again, that “no” is the most powerful tool in the negotiating toolbox – and a tool that boneheaded bureaucrats and clueless politicians usually keep in the box because they lack both the brains and the…guts to use them on behalf of the taxpayers.  And in addition to winning that battle of wills, the Council also voted 5-1 (Smith dissenting) to approve the zoning map amendment from R-5 to B-1, but with the proviso that it will revert back to R-5 if the developer doesnt’ t get a building permit in 12 months and an occupancy permit in 36 months.

In addition to a big shout-out to the Council for actually walking the walk, we also want to offer a shout-out of another type to those gutless wonders and self-serving whiners who bashed the Council for risking their supply of organic lemonade.  And chief among those naysayers are certain members of the City’s Economic Development Task Force who, at their meeting last week, barbecued Ald. Sal Raspanti (4th) for actually DOING HIS JOB and standing up for the taxpayers against corporate greed.  Those EDTFers let it be known that the Council’s “no” vote on the proposed tax-sharing arrangement irresponsibly jeopardized the chances of bringing Whole Foods to Park Ridge.

How does it feel to be proved almost immediately and totally wrong, folks?  

We suggest that every one of those EDTF chowderheads who ripped on the Council for taking its hard-line position against throwing away tax dollars RESIGN from the EDTF, because they have demonstrated both their incompetence and their lack of good judgment – which, if the Council had listened to it, would have cost us taxpayers over $2 million.  The City doesn’t need that kind of “citizen input,” even if it’s free.   

To read or post comments, click on title.

Council Says “No” (For Now) To Corporate Welfare For Whole Foods, Developer (Updated 05.18.12)


This past Monday night the Park Ridge City Council did something unusual.  It actually struck a blow for good government. 

Not that superficial, namby-pamby, lowest common denominator, compromise-your-principles-away-and-then-lie-about-it, kumbaya “good government” that most politicians practice, the kind that has put our local, state and federal government finances in iron lungs with no hope of exiting any time soon. 

We’re talking honest-to-goodness, principled government – the kind that looks out for the long-term well-being of the entire community instead of jumping at quick-fixes that grease the skids for some special interest or other. 

And they did it unanimously, with all six current aldermen voting to reject the tax-sharing proposal by the developer of the proposed Whole Foods site at Touhy and Washington.  Given the discordance usually displayed by this crew, that in itself is a minor miracle – although we’ll give a big assist to former ald. Tom Bernick, whose absence once again likely contributed more than his presence.

Our aldermen turned a deaf ear to the duet sung by Park Ridge 2004 LLC principal Lance Chody and his high-powered lawyer, about how they couldn’t close the “economic gap” between what they need to get out of the development deal and what Whole Foods wants to pay to lease the developed property from them.  They warned that, without some serious money from the City, Whole Foods would have to accept more of the “burden” of the deal.

Boo hoo.

Remember “gap” and “burden.”  Those were the two watchwords of Monday evening, and you can expect to hear them again and again as this Whole Foods deal continues to unfold.  Also expect to hear them if/when Mariano’s Fresh Market and its developer decide to make their move on their favored Touhy and Cumberland location.

Chody and Whole Foods want their money “gap” bridged by dumping the “burden” on the backs of Park Ridge taxpayers, while blowing smoke up the City’s kilt about all the money the propsed sales tax-sharing might/could/should/will provide in return.

As Gomer Pyle used to say: “Sur-prise, sur-prise, sur-prise.”

Letting business shift its risk and economic burdens onto the taxpayers is what’s become known as “corporate welfare,” “crony capitalism,” or “crap-italism,” and it’s increasingly the rule rather than the exception whenever superficial bureaucrats conspire with gutless and unprincipled politicians to throw scarce tax dollars at any and every shameless business that threatens to go elsewhere unless it gets greased.

In the most polite or clueless quarters, that’s called “bargaining.”  In others, it’s a game of “chicken” or “blink first.”  In still others, “bribery” or “extortion.”  But whatever you choose to call it, it has worked like a charm for all those businesses that have gone on the public dole under the guise of “sales tax sharing” or “property tax abatements.”

Not surprisingly (at least to us), the Council’s decision immediately caught flak from the City’s new Economic Development Task Force, which reportedly barbecued Alds. Jim Smith and Sal Raspanti at its meeting Tuesday night (5/15/12).  At least one of the ED-ers reportedly demanded that Mayor Dave Schmidt make a pilgrimage to Chody and/or Whole Foods and seal a deal – even though none of those ED-ers were willing to say exactly how much of an “incentive” is enough and how much would be too much.

That would actually take some serious thinking, and thinking is hard.  Worse yet, someone might even try to hold them accountable for their opinion if it turned out to be wrong. 

The ED-ers and their Whole Foods sycophants want the City to figuratively grab its ankles, damn the cost.  No thought about the public policy consequences of giving Whole Foods a clear economic advantage over Jewel, Dominick’s and Trader Joe’s.  No thought about what these kinds of concessions will lock us into for new businesses considering Park Ridge (e.g., Mariano’s).  No thought to first establishing some type of benchmark or guideline to replace the worthless Council Policy No. 31 for objectively determining the kinds and amounts of incentives, if any, that would be acceptable; and under what specific circumstances.

And no thought whatsoever to why Whole Foods or developer Park Ridge 2004 LLC is deserving of what could end up being millions of dollars of taxpayer subsidies that other businesses – like the new locally-owned Garden on the Run – aren’t getting.  Or why City government should be using our tax dollars to effectively help pick and choose winners and losers in this marketplace.

Other than the idiotic: “That’s what everybody else is doing.”

We would like to see a Whole Foods in Park Ridge.  We’d also like to see it at the proposed site, even if other sites in town might be preferable.  But we think concessions like Chody and Whole Foods are demanding are a Pandora’s Box that, once opened, will not be able to be closed.

The City Council so far has gotten this nettlesome issue right.  Here’s hoping that it doesn’t get bull-rushed into selling out fundamental fairness and a level playing-field for thirty pieces of silver.

Or 20 years of sales tax revenue-sharing.

UPDATE:  One of the things we hope this blog does is cause people – including the folks over at 505 Butler Place – to actually think about the issues our community faces rather than just react in knee-jerk fashion, often based on minimal and incorrect information.  A good example of that is the number of comments this particular post already has received critical of the City Council’s vote on the Whole Foods sales tax revenue sharing proposal and its failure to “negotiate” or “compromise” with Whole Foods – but without offering any suggestion for what the “compromise” deal should look like, and how much “bribe” money should the City throw at these “crap-italists”…and all those who may follow with their hands out. 

That goes in spades for members of the City’s Economic Development Task Force who have come on like gangbusters in ripping the Council for saying “No” to Chody’s/Whole Foods proposal.  Yet none of these self-styled business people have, to our knowledge, offered any alternative to the Council’s “no” – other than just saying “yes” to whatever the crap-italists demand. 

Former British prime minister Tony Blair nailed it with: “The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes.  It is very easy to say yes.”

To read or post comments, click on title.

Whole Foods Development A Lesson In Zoning And Principle


About five years ago the owner/developer of what was then known as “Executive Office Plaza” (“EOP”) sought a map amendment to the City’s Zoning Code to change that property’s classification from B-1 to R-5, in order to construct 168 residential condominium units there.

The neighbors mobilized to oppose that effort, objecting to the height and density of those structures.  We here at PublicWatchdog joined in those objections.  But the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission recommended that change, and then-mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark and his City Council alderpuppet majority approved that recommendation for reasons that remain suspect to this day.

The recession, however, turned the condo market sour; and the developer – Park Ridge 2004, LLC – abandoned its EOP condo plan.

Now that same developer is back, this time with a plan for a Whole Foods grocery instead of 168 condos.  For this project, however, it needs to reverse the zoning back from R-5 to B-1.

And guess what?  Many of those very same folks who beefed about the residential development five years ago are beefing about this retail development.  This time, however, their main complaints are increased vehicle traffic and “grave concerns” about safety – primarily for the children who walk to St. Paul of the Cross school.

We’re grateful for these complaints.  You should be, too: that’s how this re-zoning process is supposed to work, protecting the community as a whole from willy-nilly land development deals intended primarily to put money in the pockets of profiteers with little concern for the long-term health of the community. 

But after listening to all the arguments raised against this zoning change, we think the objectors need to regain their credibility in opposing a project that we get a sense the vast majority of Park Ridge residents want.  To that end, we offer the following suggestions: 

1.  If you’re going to beef about the Traffic Impact Study done by the developer’s consultants, (KLOA, Inc.), you had better have a competing study of your own.  Because just scoffing at KLOA’s findings and conclusions isn’t going to get you very far.

2.  In that same vein, where is your data proving that the traffic-light regulated intersections of Washington & Touhy and Washington & NW Hwy already are unreasonably hazardous?  The IDOT records cited in the KLOA report identify a cumulative total of 19 accidents at those two intersections in the past 5 years, only 1 involving a pedestrian – and none of which produced a fatality or incapacitating injury.  It seems like you’ve got a better chance of being hit in the Jewel or Dominick’s parking lot than at those intersections, so how “scary” and “deadly” – two terms we’ve heard used to describe those intersections – can they really be?

3.  Don’t try to tell Whole Foods or the developer that the former Napleton car dealership site at Greenwood and Busse (across from the Jewel), or any other site in town, would be a “better” location.  If either of them actually believed it, and if those alternate properties actually were available at a comparable price, you can be certain that’s where they’d already be looking.

4.  Don’t argue for new office buildings at Touhy and Washington.  Seven years of vacant office buildings on that site is Exhibit A for the folly of believing a high demand for office space on that site currently exists. 

5.  Don’t buy into the argument that Whole Foods will either fail or cause one of our other existing grocery stores to fail.  That very well may be true, but City government has no business substituting its bureaucratic judgment for that of the marketplace when it comes to things like retail competition.  And a self-proclaimed Libertarian like Ald. Jim Smith (3rd) should know better than to suggest otherwise.

So if you NIMBYs want to make this process as good as it can be, you’ve got to raise your game a couple of notches as this issue enters its stretch drive.

And talking about raising one’s game, the City Council and Staff had better raise their own games several notches when it comes to the rumored request/demand by the developer and/or Whole Foods for tax breaks as a condition of the development moving forward. 

Let’s start by calling those kinds of requests/demands what they are: legalized extortion.

Before the City Council even begins to considers bribing this particular developer and this particular retailer with already-scarce tax dollars, it had better also figure out how it’s going to do the same for all the other developers and retailers already here, or who may come here in the future.  Because one thing this City owes everybody – businesses and residents alike – is a fair shake and a level playing field.

Neither the developer nor the retailer need or deserve corporate welfare from the City’s taxpayers when their City government, despite wisely cutting expenses and non-essential services to an unprecedented degree, still faces million dollar deficits in the coming years because of its latest corporate welfare boondoggle: the Uptown TIF.  That lesson should already have been learned, in spades.

And we don’t need to do business with bait-and-switch artists.  If Park Ridge 2004 LLC really wants to develop that property, and if Whole Foods really wants to be in Park Ridge, then the economics of the deal are what they are – take ‘em or leave ‘em.  And if they are going to leave ‘em, then they should do so now, before the City squanders any more time, money, effort and resident good-will walking down a dead-end street.

As a community, we definitely have our challenges – which makes it all that much more important that we also have our principles.

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Latest “Mayor No” Vetoes Save Taxpayers Another $120,000


If you’re some entitlement-addicted special interest or a mindless disciple of tax-borrow-and-spend economists like Paul Krugman, Park Ridge City Hall was not the place to be last night.

That’s because the Park Ridge City Council saved the taxpayers another $120,620 by sustaining 3 of 4 line-item budget vetoes issued by Mayor Dave Schmidt, whom we dubbed “Mayor No” in our 06.08.11 post for his wielding of the previously-moribund mayoral veto to lead a sometimes fractious and unfocused Council further down the road to fiscal sanity and stability.  

The only one of Schmidt’s vetoes not sustained was the biggest one: $361,500 budgeted for “Phase I” of what has been labeled the “police facility project” – a project seemingly designed, in significant part, to remedy years (if not a decade or more) of what appears to be gross neglect in basic cleaning, maintenance and repair of the police station.  That veto was over-ridden by 5 votes (Alds. Rich DiPietro, Jim Smith, Sal Raspanti, Marty Maloney and Joe Sweeney) to 1 (Ald. Dan Knight), with 1 vote MIA as 6th Ward Ald. Tom Bernick’s previously-reported resignation became official moments before the meeting was convened.

Notwithstanding the inability of any of that project’s supporters to refute Schmidt’s assertion that the City has plenty of available storage and other types of usable space at the old Public Works complex at Elm and Greenwood, the aldermanic majority couldn’t seem to resist Police Chief Task Force member Paul Sheehan’s apples-and-oranges comparison of the project’s $1.2 million cost to the tens of millions spent by Skokie, Glenview and other suburbs on brand new cop shops; or Task Force member Ralph Cincinelli’s fear of losing a $40,000 state grant as justification for spending $1.2 million on the project.

If neither one of those arguments sounds all that convincing, join the club.  We’re chalking it up as further proof that, to a hammer, everything looks like a nail. 

From that point on, however, the rest of Schmidt’s vetoes were sustained, starting with the $69,375 line item for across-the-board raises for non-union employee payable out of the General Fund (with Knight, Maloney and Smith voting to sustain v. Sweeney, DiPietro and Raspanti voting to over-ride) and continuing with the $1,745 line item for across-the-board raises for non-union employees payable out of the Water Fund (with only Raspanti voting to over-ride).

The Council’s rejection of these raises is significant on two levels.  First, as noted by Ald. Knight, they are the product of “lazy” management because they are virtually indiscriminate and fail to reward performance or productivity.  Second, they effectively serve as a gold-plated invitation to demands by unionized employees for similar, non-merit based raises – while at the same time undercutting the City’s ability to credibly argue that it can’t afford such raises for union employees.

The third and final veto-sustaining vote was for the $49,500 line-item donation to private corporation Center of Concern (with Knight, Maloney, Raspanti and Smith voting to sustain v. DiPietro and Sweeney voting to over-ride).

As has become S.O.P whenever Center of Concern makes a trip to the public trough, it was well-represented at last night’s meeting.  Both its current and former directors, John McNabola and Mary Schurder, spoke in favor of continuing the annual handout CofC has enjoyed for as long as anyone can remember, even though it never has provided any meaningful accounting of exactly how many of those tax dollars go for what particular services to which particular Park Ridge residents.   

Additional turns at the podium were taken by CofC Board members Rudy Smolka and former ald. Sue Beaumont, while former alds. John Kerin (also a CofC Board member) and Dawn Disher (CofC Finance & Development Dir.) lent moral support from their seats until getting up and leaving in barely-concealed disgust after the Council majority rejected their requests and sustained Schmidt’s veto.

Even former Park Ridge mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark added his faux-eminence to the CofC cause, although his remarks were limited to some stage-whispered aspersions cast on Schmidt’s character as he departed the Council chambers with the rest of the CofC migration – once again displaying the classless-act he’s always been.

But the most notable element of the CofC funding debate was provided by Ald. Maloney, whose succinct and pointed analysis of the policy and procedural shortcomings in the way the current and previous Councils have been funding CofC and other private community groups over the years was nothing less than a tour de force, deserving of a viewing whenever the meeting video is posted on the City’s website. 

Maloney’s comments seemed to confirm that Schmidt’s veto of the CofC funding would be sustained, which moved CofC’s premier apologist and cheerleader on the Council, DiPietro, to suddenly claim that CofC was willing to sign a contract with the City for the provision of its services – something we’ve been advocating for some time and which Maloney cited in his comments.  DiPietro’s credibility on this point, however, was compromised by the fact that none of the pro-CofC speakers, including its current and former directors, said one word about any such “contract” when they had addressed the Council earlier.

So that portion of the meeting ended with the total savings to the taxpayers, compliments of the Council-sustained Schmidt vetoes, being a tidy $120,620.  Not bad for government work.

Frankly, we would much prefer if basic fiscal responsibility didn’t have to be imposed by mayoral veto.  Unfortunately, a lack of fiscal discipline and foresight by past Councils, combined with some unsound and costly decisions like the Uptown TIF, has left the City behind the financial 8-ball despite all the recent expense-cutting and improved management efficiencies.  And this current Council, although decidedly better than its predecessors, still can’t be counted on for a consistent approach to the City’s continuing and prospective financial challenges – as evidenced by its original budget votes that necessitated Schmidt’s vetoes, and by its over-ride of the cop shop project veto.

Whether the City will be able to turn the corner on those challenges just by cutting expenses further, without significant tax increases, appears unlikely due to that Uptown TIF albatross, whose debt service requirements are scheduled to hang even heavier around the City’s neck for the next several years.

But by aggressively reducing existing non-essential services and foregoing the implementation of new ones, this City administration is building a bond of credibility and trust with taxpayers whose goodwill and pocketbooks have been taken for granted far too long.

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Hock’s Termination Should Be Teaching Moment For City Government


Last night the Park Ridge City Council – in a special session with Ald. Tom Bernick (6th) MIA and reportedly resigned – voted 6-0 to terminate City Mgr. Jim Hock.

When Hock arrived four years ago from Oak Park, Michigan, we were duly skeptical of what the taxpayers would get for the excessive compensation package negotiated by then-mayor Howard Frimark.  We ended our 05.30.08 post with the following: 

“So while we welcome Mr. Hock and hope that he earns all our hard-earned money he’s being paid, we have to wonder if this is yet another ‘sweetheart deal’ by Mayor Howard and his Alderpuppets?”

Unfortunately, despite some legitimate potential, Hock never really did earn his $200,000+, all-in, compensation. 

Presented at the outset with a choice of working at good government or playing at politics, Hock chose the latter.  He promptly hopped into the bad-government bed of Frimark and his Alderpuppets (Jim Allegretti, Don Bach, Tom Carey and Robert Ryan), serving as a willing accomplice to Frimark’s efforts to build a big new police station, finagle special deals for buddies like Bill Napleton, Bruce Adreani and the owner of 720 Garden, and spend the City into million dollar-plus deficits from which it is only now beginning to recover.

Even after Frimark was defeated by current Mayor Dave Schmidt in April 2009, Hock remained firmly tucked under the covers with the Alderpuppets.  And he was rewarded for his “loyalty” when they, along with current Alds. Joe Sweeney and Rich DiPietro, inexcusably gave him an even sweeter contract that included a ridiculous $120,000+ severance benefit that will now pay Hock more for not working than most Park Ridge taxpayers can earn in a given year.

Ironically, Frimark made a brief appearance at last night’s meeting and reportedly bent the ear of a couple of reporters before scooting away while the Council was in closed session debating Hock’s fate.  Rumor has it that ol’ “Let’s Make A Deal” has been talking about a rematch with Schmidt, claiming the support not only of old backers like DiPietro and the folks who run Taste of Park Ridge NFP, but also some old adversaries like Center of Concern treasurer (and 1/2-term 4th Ward Ald.) Jim Radermacher.

Frankly, we’d love to see Howard try to resurrect his what’s-in-it-for-me style of government and see whether the voters are gullible enough to buy into it a second time.  But until a formal announcement is forthcoming, it’s just rumor and idle speculation from the master of rumor and speculation himself.

Meanwhile, long-time Deputy City Mgr. Juliana Maller will take over as acting City Mgr. while the search is commenced for Hock’s replacement.  Although the temptation will be great to search for another public-sector bureaucrat to replace Hock, we hope the Council invites applications from people with private-sector experience as well.

And after two successive non-resident carpetbaggers (Michigander Hock and his predecessor, Wisconsinite Tim Schuenke), maybe it wouldn’t hurt to look for somebody who has a long-term stake in, and commitment to, this community, or at least this general area.

Oh yeah…and someone who’s more concerned about running honest, transparent, accountable, cost-effective government than with playing politics and pandering to the special interests.

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Bono Gives The Edge To 322 Vine…Will Hock Get The Boot?


The political “thermometer” at City Hall during Monday night’s special Council meeting indicated that the temperature was just about right for firing City Mgr. Jim Hock.

With five aldermen (Sweeney, Smith, Raspanti, Knight and Maloney) expressing significant dissatisfaction with Hock’s performance, only a procedural technicality – the posted meeting agenda described a discussion of Hock’s performance but no vote – appears to have kept Hock on the job for another few days, presumably until tomorrow night (7:00 p.m.) when the Council is supposed to reconvene with a properly descriptive agenda item.

Two members of the public in attendance addressed the Council in connection with Hock’s job performance.  One, a member of the City’s Zoning Board of Appeals, gave a scathing indictment of City’s staff’s performance (implicitly under Hock’s non-leadership) in connection with ZBA matters.  She branded certain staff work product as “trash” that reflected poorly on Hock.

But in our book the more damning indictment came from Cliff Kowalski, who lives next door to the mini-mansion at 322 Vine which has been the subject of an ongoing City regulatory process for the past few years that would give a Kafka novel a run for its money.

Kowalski could have criticized Hock and staff for being indecisive and ineffective in dealing with the building code violations and the resulting flooding attributed to that 322 Vine property.  But, instead, the heart of his complaint was that Hock and staff actively misled him and other affected neighbors into believing the City was actually going to take some action to remedy the problems with 322 Vine when it subsequently became clear they never had any intention of doing so.

Which points out a big problem with City government: getting a straight answer out of City Hall with Hock at the helm.

Just trying to get an accurate and complete understanding of this continuing 322 Vine saga is almost impossible because of the conflicting accounts of it – at least two or three of which seem to be coming from City Hall.  And almost all of this has gone on behind the scenes because Hock, like so many bureaucrats, acts like nothing good can come from telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth to the ordinary citizens – even about something as straightforward as the building code.

Nevetheless, there seems to be a consensus that the grade of the 322 Vine property was raised more than a foot above its neighboring properties during the construction of the mini-mansion.  Not only was that heightened elevation contrary to the plans for the construction approved by the City when it issued the building permit but, standing alone, it likely was a building code violation that could have earned the property owner a fine of between $50 and $2,500.  Per day.

When construction was substantially complete and the owner sought a Certificate of Occupancy (“CO”), we understand it was determined that the property’s drainage system built to accommodate the water that would be running of the substantial structure and its extensive paved areas did not conform to the engineering plans on for which the City issued the building permit.  At that time, however, a regulation on the books let the City accept an engineer’s opinion that the drainage system actually constructed was the effective equivalent of what had been approved on the plans that received the permit.

And here’s where the real intrigue begins and things start to get funky, if not a little kinky.   

If we understand it correctly, the City hired private engineer Bernie Bono, who opined that 322 Vine’s drainage system, as built, was the effective equivalent of the system provided for in the permitted plans.  On the basis of Bono’s certification, the City issued the CO and the owners moved in.  A question, however, has been raised about whether Bono may have had a conflict of interest because of services he allegedly performed for the property owner before undertaking his review of the situation for the City.

Frankly, we don’t have the space or the inclination to go into all the remaining details of what has happened since then, except to say that there are a lot of them and they involve an alternative drainage plan requiring swales whose locations and depths were both un-mapped and un-measured.  They also prominently feature Bono, Steve Cutaia (the City’s Building Administrator), Hock, and even the City Attorney – who is stuck trying to sort through the mess these others have made and then advise the City on whether, how, and at what cost the City might try to enforce its building code requirements against 322 Vine four years after the fact.

But the bottom line is that four years have gone by and Kowalski and the 322 Vine neighbors still don’t have a definitive answer from the City on what, if anything, can or will be done about this situation.

But it might not be Hock’s problem much longer.

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