Wacky Wednesday


A few random rim-shots and quick-hits for your mid-week edification, in no particular order of importance:

Unaccountable ComEd.  At Monday night’s City Council COW meeting, two ComEd reps showed up with a variety of non-explanations of recent power outages throughout the City.  Alibis ranged from a “big tree falling in the Forest Preserve” to smaller trees and/or limbs causing local “pocket reliability issues” within and without ComEd’s “tree zone.”  They also described one of ComEd’s key diagnostic techniques as “walking the line”; i.e., walking along the ground looking up at the power line for problems.  How 21st Century! 

A more detailed “report” from ComEd can be found here, and ComEd’s reps are scheduled to be back before the Council on September 17 at 7:00 p.m.

What we’ve concluded – although we hope we’re wrong – is that ComEd’s got so much juice (pun intended) in Springfield that they basically can do whatever they want.  So while the City should continue to be as squeaky a wheel as possible re these outages, about all it can do from a practical standpoint is: (a) try to keep our trees trimmed away from power lines; and (b) keep giving an earful to our state legislators (Sen. Dan Kotowski, Rep. Rosemary Mulligan) for letting ComEd continue to get away with being too big to give a rat’s derriere about dependable power for Park Ridge.

City Council Policy No. 6 On Way Out?  Council Policy No. 6 is the one that deals with “regulating the use of City funds for the support of private non-governmental organizations. It is the basis for years of arbitrary, unaccountable donations to private community groups – something we’ve been critical of for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it appears to violate Article VIII, Section 1 of the Illinois Constitution: “Public funds, property or credit shall be used only for public purposes.”

From what was said at Monday night’s COW meeting, it looks like Policy No. 6 will either be modified or perhaps eliminated.  As Ald. Marty Maloney (7th) correctly noted, for years the City has been “writing blank checks” to community groups without a strong sense of what the City is getting for its money.  Ald. Joe Sweeney suggested an advisory referendum on whether the taxpayers want to see $250,000 a year budgeted for handouts to these community groups.

As we’ve said before, if these private community groups want public funding of the services they provide, such funding should be under a contract with the City like every other vendor – with fixed prices for the various identifiable units of services and documentary proof that those services are going to Park Ridge residents.  Maybe, just maybe, our City officials finally are getting the message.

New D-64 “Changes” Frivolous?  An article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“District 64 welcomes new year with changes,” 08.23.12) announces three changes for the new D-64 school year, two of which are more students riding buses, and more students eating lunch at school.  Big whoop.

According to the H-A article, the bus-riding results from the borderline bankrupt State of Illinois deciding that D-64 deserves state funding so that Lincoln and Emerson 7th and 8th graders can get free busing through “so-called hazardous crossings that students encounter two [sic] and from school.”  No mention in the article of what those “hazardous crossings” are so that the rest of us can be extra careful when we cross there.  Also no mention of whether the free busing will be based on economic need, so we’ll assume need is not a criterion unless and until we hear otherwise.

And elementary students will be required to stay at school for lunch, with the elimination of the lunch supervision fee.  That begs the question of who pays for the lunch supervision that used to come out of the pockets of the parents whose kids lunched at school rather than went home to eat.

“Free” bus service should require a showing of need – otherwise it just shifts the costs (and the inconvenience) of getting one’s kid to school from the parent to the taxpayers.  The same goes for lunch supervision: making stay-at-school lunching mandatory doesn’t magically make the supervision costs disappear, does it?

A Sign.  Our post of 08.03.12, “’Management By Walking Around’ Should Start With Stroll Along Summit,” complained about how City government seems to have a hard time making sure that even the little things – like posting a sign on the paybox for Summit parking that actually tells parkers what the daily fee is – are getting done right.  Well, somebody finally got around to that: and a new sign is up announcing the $1.50 per diem.

In Neil Armstrong’s honor, we’ll call that “one small step for some bureaucrat, one small leap for City government.”

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Iglow, Taste Inc. Are Right…About Pizza Fest


If the title of this post didn’t jolt you, you haven’t been reading this blog very long – because it’s about as close as we’ve ever come to “man bites dog.”

We’ve hammered private corporation Taste of Park Ridge NFP (“Taste Inc.”), of which Dave Iglow is the Big Kahuna, for its 7 year no-bid, no-contract monopoly of the annual Taste of Park Ridge event (“TOPR”) that then-mayor Howard Frimark and a previous negligent City Council handed over to Taste Inc. back in 2005.  That monopoly has helped put close to $100,000 of net profits in Taste Inc.’s private bank account, almost all of which can be attributed to Taste Inc.’s stiffing Park Ridge taxpayers for the cost of the police, fire and public works services TOPR consumed.

But after a long and often rancorous battle, Mayor Dave Schmidt finally persuaded the current City Council to act responsibly and put TOPR out to bid.  And as the successful bidder, Taste Inc. was required to sign a contract that for the first time ensured it would provide full reimbursement of City expenses, along with insurance, a performance bond and an accounting.

Which is why we did a triple take at the August 24 on-line Park Ridge Herald-Advocate story about something called “Pizza Fest” that is scheduled to take place September 7-8 and which sounds like it will be an event on the scale of TOPR, albeit for one less day (“Pizza fest has easier path to permit than Taste of Park Ridge”).

According to the H-A article, the City hasn’t held Pizza Fest’s sponsor, the Park Ridge Chamber of Commerce, to the same contractual requirement as it held Taste Inc. just a couple of months ago.


We’re not sure.  And neither is Mayor Schmidt, who vowed to find out and added Pizza Fest as an item on the agenda of tonight’s City Council COW (Committee Of the Whole) meeting – 7:00 p.m. at 505 Butler Place.

The most likely reason Pizza Fest escaped a Taste Inc. contractual requirement is because former city manager Jim Hock and/or former acting city manager Juliana Maller may have decided that the Chamber of Commerce, for whatever strange reason, didn’t have to play by the same rules as Taste Inc.  Or maybe it was because, unlike Taste Inc., the Chamber reportedly offered to voluntarily reimburse the City for its expenses.

But neither of those reasons is a substitute for a clearly-expressed and consistently-enforced City policy that requires a legally-binding contractual arrangement between the City and any person or entity who wants to close streets or alter traffic for a profit-making activity like TOPR…or Pizza Fest.  Which is why we agree with the comment by Taste Inc.’s Iglow that “[o]ne would hope special events would be treated the same way”; and with his suggestion that the City establish a uniform policy for such public events.

Last time we looked, the Chamber of Commerce is no less a private corporation than Taste Inc.  And we can’t say with any confidence that the Chamber’s purpose is any more noble or altruistic than Taste Inc.’s so as to entitle the Chamber to less stringent requirements and accountability for its making a buck.

Contrary to the view of Taste Inc.’s 2012 TOPR chairman (and Park Ridge Recreation and Park District commissioner) Mel Thillens, this is about more than “just a difference of opinion that got blown out of proportion” – Thillens’ description of the “controversy” over TOPR’s 7 years of welfare.  This is a matter of basic public policy and of establishing uniform requirements that create and maintain a level playing field for anyone who wants to do this kind of “business” with the City.

That’s the best way to avoid “special” deals and the “controversy” that they ultimately generate.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Will August Spending Bring November Taxing?


Government, especially local government, tends to prove Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.”

Monday night, the Park Ridge City Council once again displayed its insanity when it approved raises for 32 employees represented by the Illinois Council of Police and Sheriffs (“ICOPS”) and 46 non-union salaried employees.  The non-union employees’ raises will cost the City $48,000 this year. 

Unfortunately, whether because of ineptitude, subterfuge, or a more benign reason, the Agenda Cover Memorandum for the ICOPS three-year contract doesn’t explain what “Salaries $1,436,052” means.  Is that the amount of just the raises for only this year?  Or the raises for the life of the contract?   Or the salaries for only this year?  Or some random number stuck there just to bedevil anybody who’s actually paying attention?

It’s a truism that when somebody says “It’s not the money, it’s the principle,” it’s really the money.  But in this case, it should be both – with principle the more important of the two.  That’s because $48,000 (the non-union employee raises) may be small potatoes when it comes to a $60 million annual budget, but it’s still $48,000 that could be used for something else that might be more essential to the well-being of the entire community. 

But as Finance Committee chairman Ald. Dan Knight (5th) pointed out in voting “no” on both sets of raises, the City has failed to conduct any comprehensive study of its various salary structures to determine their interplay and how they compare to equivalent private sector compensation.  “We have these discussions on a one-off basis,” Knight noted, “and it’s leading us down a bad path.”

In reality, that one-off mentality already has led the City into a de facto policy of spiraling raises, with each group’s becoming the justification for another group’s; and so on, and so on, and so on.  Such a situation becomes even more problematic should the City ever actually try to hold the line on police and fire union increases, because those personnel are entitled to mandatory arbitration where one of the more significant factors arbitrators can look at is the increases received by other City employees.

But only Knight and Ald. Marc Mazzuca – who provided the other “no” vote on both sets of raises – seem to “get” this concept, along with Mayor Dave Schmidt, who has used his veto power to hold the line on employee compensation increases and a variety of other expenses, with mixed success.  That’s why, when newbie Acting City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton suggested that he and the City’s department heads could identify $48,000 of expenditure cuts to offset the non-union raises, Schmidt replied that if there still was $48,000 of fat in the budget it should be cut for economic reasons independent of enabling more spending on raises.


But none of the 5 aldermen voting for the ICOPS contract and the salaried-employee raises – Alds. Joe Sweeney (1st), Rich DiPietro (2nd), Jim Smith (3rd), Sal Raspanti (4th) and Marty Maloney (7th) – seem ready, willing or able to address employee compensation in anything other than a here-and-now basis.  Which causes us to wonder whether any of them understand Appendix A to the ICOPS contract; and, if so, can they explain how that compensation schedule compares to compensation paid for equivalent employment in the private sector – assuming anybody with equivalent private sector employment gets a whole month (“20 days after 11 years of service”) of annual vacation, which is, amazingly, “a reduction from 29 days after 15 years of service”!

Which begs the question of how they got to that point, which is partially answered by then-city manager Jim Hock’s August 11, 2011 Memorandum.   That memo, besides admitting to the “10%-15% [increases] most ICOPS employees received from movement through the steps during the 2008-2011 time period or the minimum 6% lump sum payments,” also provides a little insight into the “step increase” world of public sector union compensation that, according to Appendix A, ensures ICOPS employees between 2% and 2.8% per-step increases.   

We also look forward to what kind of explanations these same five aldermen will offer for their recent largesse this coming November, when they will vote to levy the taxes needed for the 2013-14 budget. 

Because of the continuing recession and the dismal performance of the Uptown TIF, there already have been vague mentions in Council meetings of 10-11% tax increases just to keep City finances from sliding back into the red after finally moving into the black the last two-three years.  Perhaps those five aldermen are counting on the taxpayers’ inability to remember this bit of August generosity or, even if they can remember it, on their inability to link it to tax levy hikes in November. 

After all, reliance on public ignorance and/or inattention is supported by the well-known H.L. Mencken’s quote: “No one in this world has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.”

And we’ve seen that exact situation play out so many times before with City government…and our other local governmental branches.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Youth Campus Referendum Deferral Could Be Lemonade For Voters


We’re not exactly sure how to take the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District’s announcement that it won’t be going to referendum this November for the bond financing it needs to acquire and develop the Park Ridge Youth Campus property for Park District purposes.

Our suspicious nature would cause us question whether this is a conscious attempt by the Park District to avoid the traditionally heavier presidential election turnout – and the anti-tax voters who just might come out in droves to barbecue that pack of losers commonly known as the Illinois General Assembly who are all up for re-election in November – by pushing the referendum to the April local election, where turnouts are always lighter.

But from what we’re reading and hearing, while avoiding the bigger November turnout certainly may have been a factor in the decision, the more significant factor(s) may well be some changes in how the project might get done.

For example, it sounds like residential developer Mark Elliott may be walking away from his “partnership” with the District and may actually be preparing to compete with it for the Youth Campus property.  Rumor has it that Elliott was trying to push more costs onto the District and the District, for a change, pushed back.

But unless the owners of the Youth Campus are willing to sell it in pieces – which we doubt is the case – that means the Park District will need to spend $6.4 million to acquire the whole parcel instead of the $4 million-plus it was planning to spend on roughly 60% of it.  And as the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate recently reported, the high-end costs might be moving into the $15 million range.


It’s too early to tell whether this Youth Campus plan will turn out to be  a sound “investment” or another publicly-funded goat rodeo.  We can see it both ways, although we’ll try to reserve judgment until the District figures out what it intends to do and then comes up with its business plan for how it intends to manage the new “campus” in an economically sustainable way.

But so long as the plan is to keep the Youth Campus property pretty much “as is” without any expensive new construction of immediately-depreciating public buildings, it will retain most of its raw-land value.  That will enhance its salability should it not be able to generate a reasonable rate of return from its operations.

Some additional good news is coming from the Park Ridge Historical Society, which announced that it intends to retain its current Solomon Cottage headquarters.  If Elliott walks away from the project, the Society may not even need to move the building from its current southwest-corner of the property location to the northern portion, as it had been discussing.  But either way, the Society claims it won’t need funding from the Park District or the taxpayers.

Well done, you zany local historians!

While we prefer referenda to be held during elections that promise the highest possible turnouts, the deferral of this one from November to April may have one positive effect: it may increase turnout in April, when the mayo r is expected to be running for re-election against at least one declared challenger, while 3 aldermanic seats (Wards 2, 4 and 6) and various School Board (both D-64 and D-207) and Park Board seats will be contested.

So that might be making lemons into lemonade.

To read or post comments, click on title.  

Roosevelt PTO Demonstrates Track Fundraising Prowess


Today we’re going to depart from our usual complaining about local government screw ups and/or its robbing of the taxpayers and, instead, praise the brand-new athletic track at Roosevelt Elementary School. 

What’s so special about a new athletic track?  After all, it’s clearly an amenity rather than a necessity – so why all the fuss?

For us, it’s the fact that it cost Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 (a/k/a, its taxpayers) nothing.  Nada.  Zip. Nil.  According to the article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“New track at Park Ridge school fully funded by community donations,” 08.10.12), the construction of the $90,000 track was undertaken by the Roosevelt Parent-Teacher Organization (“PTO”) “fully funded through donations from Park Ridge families and area businesses.”


The planning for the project reportedly started two years ago.  In addition to the two lane, one-fifth mile asphalt track, the project features two “rain gardens” comprised of plants suited to utilizing the rain water run-off from the track.

Given its location, we imagine that it will draw most of its users from the Roosevelt School neighborhood rather than from the rest of the City.  Currently, runners from the southwest end of town seeking a track to run on have the use of the one at Maine South, and those on the northwest end have the Maine East track.  

Although the article didn’t give the details of the fundraising other than to note that a “track-a-thon” held in September 2011 pushed project funding over the top, the bottom line is that the PTO folks running this project didn’t just talk the talk, they walked the walk.

So kudos to the Roosevelt PTO.  Raising $90,000 of net funds in two years for a 2-lane asphalt running track in a bad economy is a significant accomplishment. 

Maybe some of our local community groups who constantly put the arm on City government for handouts should consider holding a track-a-thon or two.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Mayor’s & Alderman’s BBQ Out-Fundraises Center Of Concern


Corrections posted 08.13.12 (See footnote below)

Regular readers of this blog know how we feel about the City of Park Ridge giving away arbitrary amounts of tax dollars to private “community group” corporations who proclaim their “widespread community support” but who can’t seem to raise the funds they need directly from the members of that community and, instead, want to feed at the public trough.

Park Ridge Mayor Dave Schmidt and Ald. Dan Knight (5th Ward) not only have voiced their own objections to such public trough-feeding, but they have voted to deny tax dollars to those corporations.   That has earned them the ill-concealed enmity of the trough-feeders and their more vocal supporters, both on the Council and off – even though they have regularly encouraged their constituents to voluntarily support those community groups with direct donations. 

Last Friday, however, Schmidt and Knight – unlike the vast majority of their critics – walked their talk by putting on a barbecue fundraiser next to City Hall before the regularly-scheduled concert at Hodges Park.  And in a little over three hours, Mayor Dave and Alderman Dan, with the able assistance of the lovely Sue Knight and the talented Charlie Melidosian (or, for all you gender-equity types out there, the talented Sue and the lovely Charlie), raised around $1,200 for the Park Ridge Fine Arts Society that sponsors those summer concerts.

In the interest of accuracy, we note that Schmidt and Knight donated the roughly $200 of “fixins” – hot dogs and hamburgers, buns and condiments – so the net profit from their ‘cue was about $1,000.  There also was a little planning involved, although nothing like for Seal Team 6’s strike on Bin Laden’s compound.  Heck, Schmidt and Knight couldn’t even come up with pricing for their mutts and ‘burgers, instead accepting whatever customers wanted to toss in the open American Tourister that they employed as a cash register. 

We realize, just as Schmidt and Knight do, that $1,200 isn’t going to fund even one concert in the park.  But the real value of their exercise is to demonstrate what can be accomplished if all those legendary Park Ridge “volunteers” – especially the ones who show up at City Hall once or twice a year to shake down the Council for tax dollars for their favorite community group – would get off their duffs and actually do some real fundraising.

Like our favorite “whipping boy,” the Center of Concern (“CofC”).

We endorse the work it does, really we do.  But we pick on it primarily because: (a) its Board of Directors and Advisory Board are loaded with former public officials in an obvious attempt to bond with, and influence, current public officials to throw tax dollars their way; (b) its supporters beef and whine more than the rest of the community groups combined when they don’t get what they want; and (c) it really seems to just plain suck on ice when it comes to fundraising.

For example, judging only by what it reported on Schedule G to its most recent (2010) IRS Form 990 filing, CofC ran four fundraising events between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2011 that grossed a combined $59,873.  As if that’s not embarrassing enough, those fundraisers actually lost $9,186!  

In other words, with one 3-hour barbecue Schmidt and Knight out-fundraised CofC’s entire organization for an entire year!

How flippin’ pathetic is that?

Such pathetic fundraising could well be a factor in the upcoming City Council debate over its Policy No. 6, which regulates the City’s contributions to private organizations but which hasn’t been revised in over 20 years; and which appears to have been consistently ignored by the Council in arbitrarily giving away millions of tax dollars, literally, to local community groups over the past decade.  Two of the four principal criteria for such contributions are the amount of “[p]rivate financial support” and “[c]ommunity volunteer support” for the services the private organization provides – both of which CofC appears to be sorely lacking, judging by its dismal private fundraising.  

But to show that we’re willing to offer solutions in addition to our criticisms, we’ve come up with a few fundraising ideas that CofC might try over the next twelve months. 

Building on Schmidt’s and Knight’s successful barbecue effort, and mindful of the Maine South football season fast approaching, how about CofC setting up a tent next to the Wilson Field concession stand and challenging the Hawks boosters to a “Battle of the Brats”?  Former alderman (and CofC treasurer) Jim Radermacher and former alderman (and CofC v.p.) Sue Beaumont could don their “Grill Sergeant” aprons and fire up some of Sheboygan’s finest. 

And for those “foodie” Hawks fans, how about having CofC Advisory Board member and current City Clerk “Betty the Hen” Henneman fry up batches of chicken tenders served with a choice of gourmet dipping sauces, while Advisory Board member and former mayor Mike Marous cooks up some stuffed portabella “Marous-shrooms”?  This kind of gastronomic extravaganza could put a grand or more in CofC’s coffers every game.

But we see the real cash cow as being former alderman (and current CofC director) Rich Whalen, who back in February showed up at City Hall with a display of legerdemain that convinced Aldermen Joe Sweeney (1st), Rich DiPietro (2nd) and Jim Smith (3rd) that CofC really can turn every $1 of City funding into $3 of value to the community.  If Whalen can do that to the $10s, $20s and $50s of Hawks’ fans instead of to just the City’s $1s, he could knock down $5-10,000 for CofC during half-times alone!

And come next summer, how about those uber-“volunteers” from Taste of Park Ridge NFP (“Taste Inc.”) designating the Saturday night session of Taste of Park Ridge as “CofC Night” – with all profits (after the City’s expenses are paid, of course) going to CofC?  That should fund a lot of those “wellness” calls CofC specializes in, especially if it includes the profits from “Bobby the Pro” Provenzano’s Maine Township Republicans’ beer tent.

Those are just a few ideas off the top of our heads, but we invite our readers to contribute CofC fundraising ideas of their very own, preferably involving folks like those listed on the CofC and Taste Inc. websites, or other local residents who regularly trumpet their volunteerism and/or support for throwing scarce taxpayer money at private corporations without demanding one whit of accountability for what they are doing with it.

Meanwhile, a wag of the Watchdog’s tail goes out to Schmidt and Knight for proving that not-for-profit fundraising isn’t just showing up at City Hall once or twice a year with a handful of “gimme” and a mouthful of “much obliged.”

CORRECTION:   A commentator pointed out an error in our presentation of CofC’s fundraising versus Mayor Schmidt’s and Ald. Knight’s barbecue.  On a net/net basis as reflected by Schedule G of CofC’s Form 990, it would appear that the latter out-fundraised the former because the latter had a net “profit” of $1,000 while the former had a net loss of $9,186. 

However, it must be noted that although Schedule G requires the deduction of $27,756 in “charitable contributions,” those contributions, just like the $200 of “fixins” contributed by Schmidt and Knight, nevertheless were actually raised by CofC in connection with its fundraisers.  So when those contributions are added to CofC’s gross rather than subtracted, CofC actually raised $46,326 compared to Schmidt’s and Knight’s $1,200.   

We apologize for that error.

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Cue The “Injuns”


Back in the day when Westerns were all the rage on both the big screen and the small, it became almost a cliché to see a group of cowboys sitting around a campfire at night in the middle of nowhere when one of them would remark “It sure is quiet” – to which another would respond “Yeah, too quiet.” 

And then, almost immediately, that quiet would be shattered by a bunch of whooping “injuns” galloping in with arrows flying, or firing rifles purchased – often along with some “firewater” – from unscrupulous “white” traders. 

For some reason we find that old cliche a fitting metaphor for the dead silence surrounding the ongoing Park Ridge–Niles Elementary School District 64 teacher negotiations, with nary a whisper emerging about what kind of deal is being cut. 

From our observations of public sector union negotiations over the past couple of decades, any “too quiet” situation bodes ill for taxpayers.  That’s especially true with the scheduled commencement of the school year rapidly approaching and the prospects of a strike becoming more frightening by the day to those parents for whom the D-64 schools serve double duty as both education and day-care.  That invites manufactured “crises” giving rise to rushes to judgment that always involve throwing more money at the teachers. 

We’re not ready to cue the injuns just yet, but we also have no reason to believe that the Park Ridge Education Association (“PREA”), the teachers union, is asking for anything less than the moon – especially in view of the recent report from D-64 that it is anticipating 2.5% lower expenses this coming year, thereby arguably freeing up some additional cash for teacher raises and/or benefits.

We don’t know if that 2.5% in any way reflects a reduction in D-64’s Uptown TIF-related payment that we hear the City is going to try to negotiate because of continued dismal revenues from that financial white elephant, but that’s another variable that the D-64 negotiating team better be keeping in mind, along with the $14 million D-64 says it needs for immediate capital expenditures that are projected to eventually total $23 million, all-in.

We also hear that there was an acknowledgement at last night’s D-64 Board meeting that the rosy expense projection may already be history.  At any rate, that projection never factored in any of the increases in compensation for teachers, teachers aids, administrative staff or custodians that seem to be inevitable whenever the District and the PREA “negotiate” – as they are scheduled to do tonight.

And the Board is holding a closed-session “retreat” at Emerson School this Friday night – to engage in one of the many exceptions to the Illinois Open Meetings Act, 5 ILCS 120/2(c)(16): “Self evaluation, practices and procedures or professional ethics, when meeting with a representative of a statewide association of which the public body is a member.” 

The irony of their discussing surrender (to PREA) at a retreat – perhaps under the “practices and procedures” of submission – is almost too delicious…in a perverse way, of course.     

And let’s not forget skeevy Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s recent proposal to dump a good-sized chunk of the teachers’ pension funding into the laps of the local districts.  Frankly, that may be the most intelligent and fiscally responsible thing Madigan has proposed in his 30+ years as speaker – assuming it’s not just some cynical political ploy – because local school boards have been borderline criminally irresponsible in jacking-up, and then “spiking,” teacher and administrator salary to boost pensions, seemingly without regard for the consequences because those pensions are administered on a state-wide basis.

If the D-64 Board actually cared about the taxpayers and the long-term fiscal health of the District, the mere threat by Madigan of such a substantial expense being kicked back to local districts should be a major constraint on any raises.  But we’re talking about the same crew that has helped give this District the 4th highest-paid administrators and 25th highest-paid teachers in the state, so the only question about the current teacher negotiations would appear to be: “How much?”

We’ve previously expressed our strenuous opposition to any and all public-sector labor negotiations conducted in secret.  That opposition becomes even more strenuous when D-64’s lead negotiators are board president John Heyde and member Pat Fioretto.  Per our Western metaphor for the D-64/PREA negotiations, if the taxpayers need a John Wayne (think “Jake Cutter” in “The Comancheros”) standing tall and shooting it out, in Heyde and Fioretto they get the equivalent of chuckwagon cooks (think “Wishbone” and “Mushy” from “Rawhide”), slingin’ hash instead of flingin’ lead. 

Now we’re down to only 2 weeks until the first day of school, and the silence surrounding a new teachers contract is almost deafening. 

Okay, it’s time: Cue the injuns!

To read or post comment, click on title.

“Management By Walking Around” Should Start With Stroll Along Summit


There’s a style of business management called “management by walking around.” 

Among its notable proponents is management consultant Tom Peters, who wrote about it in his 1982 book “In Search of Excellence.”  Its premise is that a manager can learn many of the things he needs to know about his/her business simply by walking around and informally observing.

After strolling along Summit Avenue this morning from near St. Paul of the Cross School to the METRA station, we observed a few things that suggest our City is not being managed in the way it should be, as to matters both large and small.  And that suggests new Acting City Manager Shawn Hamilton and whoever becomes the permanent city manager may be inheriting more of a mess than they, or we taxpayers, have been led to believe.

The first observation we made in our stroll concerns what is commonly called “infrastructure.”  In this case, we’re talking about the condition of that 3-block long strip of 100+ perpendicular parking spaces on the South side of Summit along the railroad tracks, which could be considered of “Third-World quality” only if one stretches the meaning of the term “quality”…and doesn’t mind insulting the Third World. 

We don’t know how many years (decades?) it has been since that expanse of asphalt was last repaved, but judging by its overall appearance we’d be willing to bet it hasn’t been since at least Bill Clinton’s first term (i.e., 1992-96).  That stretch of pavement contains so many dangerous elevation changes, depressions, pockmarks and holes that we’re surprised some enterprising personal injury lawyer hasn’t set up shop out of the trunk of his BMW to sign up prospective plaintiffs near the pay-box at Summit and Euclid.

And speaking of that pay-box, does anybody on City staff realize that there’s no sign posted on that box to inform parkers about how much the daily parking fee is?  Just this morning we saw two consecutive parkers appear to stick only a single $1 bill in the slot, even though the charge has been $1.50 for quite awhile now.   How tough is it for one of our City employees – how about whoever collects the money from that pay-box? – to note the absence of a daily fee sign and report back to whoever’s job it is to post one?

On the other hand, parkers might very well be discouraged from putting any money in those pay-box slots if they are already filled because nobody is showing up to collect that money.  This morning we saw bills and coins already filling the slots for many of the higher-numbered spaces beyond the 40 or so cars actually parked there at the time – suggesting that nobody emptied the box yesterday.

How many parkers see their coin slot already filled and thank their lucky stars that “good enough for government work” just saved them $1.50?

With Park Ridge’s city-manager form of government, the “buck” for all of this supposedly stops at the city manager’s desk.  We realize that the firing of Jim Hock by a 6-0 vote of the Council this past May might represent a partial explanation for that kind of neglect over the past four years Hock was putatively at the helm. 

But the abysmal condition of the pavement along Summit predates Hock by a number of years, which raises a legitimate concern about how efficiently and well the City’s Public Works Dept. is functioning, especially given that we don’t recall anybody from that department pushing to give this Summit paving problem any kind of priority. 

That, in turn, makes us wonder how much money is being spent by the City to do “just enough” infrastructure maintenance, repair and replacement to create a kind of Potemkin village – or, if biblical references are more to your liking, “whited sepulchers” (Matthew 23:27) – that lead the taxpayers to believe things are a lot better than they really are?

Despite Mayor Dave Schmidt’s incessant calls for cutting expenses for everything other than infrastructure and essential City services, and even after years of annual property tax increases that have exceeded the rate of inflation, is the City effectively playing a shell-game to conceal or disguise infrastructure deficiencies that arose while Ron Wietecha devoted his 12-year mayoralty to jousting with former Chicago mayor Richie Daley over all things O’Hare, and that were compounded by the subsequent neglect of later mayors and aldermen preoccupied with TIFs, Uptown redevelopment, and other frolics and detours?

We already have heard rumblings about a 10-11% City property tax hike this November, and about the possibility of similar tax hikes needing to be repeated for several more years thereafter in order to pull the City’s finances out of the power dive they were in when Schmidt took over as mayor in May 2009.  We also get the sense that there are more than enough infrastruture and other “essential” projects to soak up that extra revenue if the City Council goes in that direction. 

With that in mind, maybe new ACM Hamilton, Council Public Works Committee chair Ald. Marty Maloney, and Public Works Director Wayne Zingsheim should try some of management by walking around.  And we encourage Mayor Schmidt to join them, if only to point out the things that many inhabitants of City Hall apparently have trouble seeing. 

They can start with a stroll along Summit.

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Will Interim ACM Create New City Manager Paradigm?


A little over four years ago, then-mayor Howard Frimark welcomed new city manager Jim Hock by announcing that Hock wasn’t Frimark’s first choice.  In retrospect, that might have been one of the few things Frimark actually got right as mayor – even if most of us didn’t realize it at the time. 

By contrast, Monday night current Mayor Dave Schmidt got his first choice for interim Acting City Manager.  Well, maybe not quite his first choice – because Schmidt and a majority of aldermen reportedly were ready to offer the post to Finance Director Alison Stutts before a consensus was reached that the Finance Department needed her services more than did the city manager’s office.

But once the position was publicly advertised and resumes of 12 applicants were received and reviewed, Shawn Hamilton became Schmidt’s top choice.  And he was approved at Monday night’s “special” Council meeting, after a lengthy closed session, by a vote of 5 (Alds. Sweeney, DiPietro, Smith, Knight and Mazzuca) to 2 (Alds. Raspanti and Maloney).

Hamilton, an interim choice hired under a contract that extends only through this coming April, might be considered a high-risk, high-reward selection. 

The high-risk part comes from the fact that he has less than a year of public-sector experience under his belt, as Grundy County Administrator running an annual budget of only $14 million – less than a quarter the size of Park Ridge’s.  For those of you who subscribe to the theory that top-level public sector positions must be filled by career bureaucrats, Hamilton is clearly not your man.

But as we often have argued, we think that such a bureaucrat-centric theory is largely responsible for the widespread (although not without significant exceptions) mediocrity that afflicts government service today, driving up the cost to the taxpayers without commensurate increases in service.

Hamilton’s resume reflects a varied background in banking and management consulting that should come in handy in the not-so-brave new world of municipal government, where economic and personnel issues have assumed increasingly prominent, if not dominant, roles.  And his 10+ years of service as an elected member of the Coal City School Board suggests that he will have a better understanding than his predecessors of the mindset and concerns of the elected officials arrayed around The Horseshoe.

This creates the opportunity for a new paradigm for how the City is managed and City services administered.  That’s the potentially high-reward part of the equation.  And given the fact that Hamilton’s appointment is only for 9 months, we have almost-laboratory quality conditions for conducting this kind of private-to-public-sector experiment. 

If Hamilton is up to the challenge – as the mayor and 5 alderman appear to believe he is – the City will have 9 months of solid ACM service and a real-time audition for the permanent city manager position in which Hamilton has expressed interest.  If not, the City will have nine months to conduct a more thorough and deliberate search for a permanent replacement for the departed Hock and Juliana Maller.

Under these circumstances, the “no” votes on Hamilton’s appointment by Alds. Raspanti and Maloney are both noteworthy and instructive. 

Both of them professed unhappiness with the selection process – especially with what they viewed as a too-small pool of candidates.  And we would agree with them …IF this had been the hiring process for a permanent city manager, or if the City was given more time than the approximately one-month fire drill that resulted from Maller’s announcing her departure for scenic Hanover Park on July 5, a month before her last day as Park Ridge ACM.

According to articles appearing in this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate and Park Ridge Journal, Raspanti “would have liked to have seen [the City] get 100 resumes and really broaden the search,” while Maloney complained about the Council’s doing nothing about finding a new permanent city manager after it terminated Hock back on May 4th.

We can’t find any record of how many resumes the City received when it used a professional search firm to conduct the “nation-wide” hunt that spirited Hock away from the wolverines in Michigan.  Both Raspanti and Maloney voted to sack him in May – without either of them clamoring at that time for the immediate commencement of an interview and hiring process for his replacement.  And as best as we can tell, neither of them started beating the drum for an expedited comprehensive search process until now.

But we’ll take their words and their motives at face value, while offering the mayor and the rest of the Council the following bit of advice: No matter how much you guys may like Hamilton and think he might fill the bill for the permanent slot, begin a search process for the permanent slot now.

And to ensure that process is as good as it can be, we suggest that Schmidt and the Council deputize Raspanti and Maloney to run it.

Let the quest for 100 resumes begin! 

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