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.

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