Public Watchdog.org

“Frimark Backs Ryles”

11.28.12

That’s the front page headline of today’s Park Ridge Journal, and it appears to corroborate recent rumors that former Park Ridge Mayor Howard P. Frimark has been circulating announced mayoral candidate Larry Ryles’ nominating petitions. 

The taxpaying voters of Park Ridge should welcome this announcement because it adds some much-needed “meat” to the rather sparse “bones” of Ryles’ mayoral campaign to date – which had us asking “What Would Ryles Do” (“WWRD”) because the candidate had not articulated his views on current City policy and issues beyond the handful of warm and fuzzy tropes on his website.

According to the Journal article, Frimark is helping Ryles on his campaign because Frimark considers Ryles “a good man.” 

We don’t doubt that Ryles is “a good man” in the same sense that the vast majority of Park Ridge residents are “good” men and women.  But we also note that, historically, the term “a good man” has been a kind of political code in Crook County for “he’s an empty suit, but he’s our empty suit.”  The original “Boss” of Chicago, Richard J. Daley, used the embellishment “a good family man” to praise and eulogize his political lackeys – presumably because they were good at enriching their own families (and Daley’s) by helping the Boss shake the shekels out of the average Chicago taxpayer.

By branding Ryles “a good man,” Frimark also implies that his political nemesis, Mayor Dave Schmidt, is the converse: a “bad man.” 

In Frimark’s cockeyed view of City government, that’s probably true – going back to when then-ald. Schmidt repeatedly blew the whistle on, and publicly challenged, then-mayor Frimark’s brazen attempts at wasting multi-millions of tax dollars on buying land and building a new cop shop without a referendum, and at giving away millions of tax dollars to buddies like Bill Napleton even as Cadillac was closing down his dealership, and at exempting the PADS carpetbaggers from the City’s zoning ordinance, etc.

We’re also pretty sure that certain of Frimark’s (and Ryles’?) friends and acquaintances consider Schmidt a “bad man” for how he has frustrated all those private special interests who for so long had reaped the benefits of the perversion of the City’s power to squeeze involuntary tax-funded “donations” out of the same taxpayers from whom those special interests couldn’t coax voluntary contributions (Center of Concern, Meals on Wheels, Maine Center, etc.); or who had enjoyed lucrative no-bid monopolies on City events (Taste of Park Ridge NFP); or who had pocketed tax dollars for private property enhancement (through the façade improvement program and the Uptown underground parking garage). 

Knowing that Frimark is a Ryles campaign advisor, however, adds some clarity to Ryles’ heretofore vague and squishy “platform.”  It suggests that Ryles, no matter how he might spin it, is singing from the same “Let’s Make A Deal” political hymnal as Frimark – the one that gave us the financial black hole known as the Uptown TIF, and an overburdened but more easily-manipulated 7-person City Council, and several years of deficits totaling millions of dollars.

And Ryles already seems to be learning those tunes, as he demonstrated (according to another article in today’s Journal) by proclaiming the wasteful $300,000 “Phase I” of the planned $1.1 million cop shop upgrade as “an economical way to do it” – “it” being knocking down the City-owned house on Courtland and building a 1,500 square foot bike corral and evidence storage area.  Ryles went on to criticize Schmidt’s veto of that Phase I expense – which Schmidt based in large part on the current availability of over 6,000 square feet of existing City building space – as showing “a total lack of teamwork between the aldermen and the mayor” – “teamwork” apparently meaning mindlessly going-along-to-get-along.

Ryles’ also defended the cop shop upgrade plan recommended by the Police Chief’s Advisory Task Force, of which Ryles is a member, because “we worked really hard on this plan.”  “Working really hard” and similar terms (like “spending a lot of time” and “studying it at length”) are standard political code terms for “we know it’s a dumb idea, but give us props for our time and effort” – the government equivalent of a “participation” trophy.

Obviously, neither Ryles nor Frimark understand or subscribe to legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden’s maxim: “Don’t mistake activity for achievement.”  That’s just one of the reasons that the alliance of Frimark and Ryles portends an “interesting” mayoral campaign between now and April.

As in the Chinese wish: “May you live in interesting times”?

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What Would Ryles Do…About Wage Increases And City Tax Levy? (Updated)

11.26.12

Several weeks ago we asked a simple question about Mayor Dave Schmidt’s veto of both the new ICOPS union contract and the raises for non-union, salaried City employees: “WWRD?” (09.05.12)

That question was directed to mayoral candidate Larry Ryles, who has been running a stealth-like campaign as the only announced challenger to Schmidt since he established a campaign fund and a website in September.  We offered Mr. Ryles 400-500 words to answer two questions:

“Would Ryles veto the ICOPS contract and/or the non-union employee raises?  And, if not, how would he come up with the money to pay for them?”

We were hoping to encourage Ryles – who claims to have a lot of ideas for running Park Ridge better than it has been run under Schmidt – to share some of them with the City Council and the taxpayers sooner rather than later.

But Ryles’ silence has been deafening.

Which is a curious approach, given that Ryles’ website promises that he “will take the lead on getting annual tax increases down below the annual rate of inflation or CPI” and the City is currently in the process of finalizing its 2012 property tax levy (for 2013) that Finance Director Alison Stutts and Council Finance Committee chairman Ald. Dan Knight (5th) have pared down from an anticipated 11.11% increase to the 2.15% increase that will be debated at tonight’s Council meeting.  That’s the lowest levy increase in memory.

Sadly, this will be Stutts’ curtain call as Finance Director, as she will be leaving the City at the end of December to open her own financial advisory firm.  Ironically, it also will be the first major project she has been able to manage without the inept interference of former city manager Jim Hock.  Until he was sacked in May by a unanimous vote of the Council, Hock’s penchant for facilitating the bad and impeding the good often seemed to force Stutts to choose between what’s best for the taxpayers and insubordination to Hock.

Hopefully, the newly-hired replacement for Ms. Stutts – Kent Oliven, whom Stutts helped select – will be able to fill Stutts’ figuratively “large” shoes, presumably with a distinctly lower and wider heel. 

But this proposed levy increase – which reportedly would raise the City’s property tax revenue by a total of $364,829 for the next fiscal year – provides another fine opportunity to ask the question: “What Would Ryles Do?”

That 2.15% levy increase, however, will still exceed the 1.9% increase in the Consumer Price Index (“CPI”) for the first 10 months of 2012, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  That doesn’t technically satisfy Ryles’ CPI-limited benchmark, so the first question we’d like to hear Ryles answer is: Does he support this 2.15% levy increase?  And if not, what planned spending would he propose the Council cut to bring the new levy in under the CPI? 

That second question becomes even more interesting when considering that Ryles is a member of the Police Chief’s Advisory Task Force which has championed the $1.1 million police station addition/renovation.  Schmidt vetoed the $290,000 first phase of that project at last Monday night’s Council meeting.  But if that $290,000 “Phase I” were deferred/cut, the levy increase could be reduced from the proposed 2.15% to almost zero – actually, an estimated 0.30% – well under Ryles’ tax levy cap.

So does Ryles support deferring/cutting Phase I of the cop shop project?  

Frankly, we suspect Ryles is just blowing smoke with his tax levy promises, and with his other campaign bluster as well.  But, once again, we’re willing to give him 400-500 words to tell the taxpayers of Park Ridge “What Would Ryles Do?” about the ICOPS and non-union salary increases; and about the tax levy increase, including the $290,000 Phase I cop shop project.

It’s time to come out of the political closet, Mr. Ryles.

UPDATE (11.27.12):  For the first time in months, Candidate Ryles was “in the house” last night for the Council’s tax levy discussion.  Unfortunately, Ryles (accompanied by one of his principal handlers, Paul Sheehan) offered nary a question nor comment.  So we still don’t know WWRD about the levy.  Or anything else.

Perhaps he’s just shy.

To read or post comments, click on title.

NIMBYS No Match For Arrogant Park Board (Updated)

11.20.12

We’ve reiterated over the years that NIMBYs provide a valuable service because they often point out problems that non-NIMBYs overlook.  Unfortunately, they also tend to be so focused on their own back yards that they fail to see the forest for the trees – and in so doing, invite their own marginalization. 

That appears to be what happened last Thursday night when the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District convened to once again sing the praises of its new Centennial Pools project, the one costing $7.1 million just for Phase I, of which $6.3 million will be financed with 15-year bonds – the non-referendum kind, because this Park Board doesn’t want to ask the taxpaying voters what they think of the idea by means of a binding referendum…or even a simple advisory one, which the Board would be free to disregard if it truly had the courage of its convictions.

About 25 NIMBYs sat together in solidarity during that meeting.  When they had their chance to speak, they talked about looking out their windows at tall water slides, or worrying about water run-off into their yards, or warning of more severe parking problems.  They sounded and acted as if they believed the Park Board and Staff really cared about their concerns.

But most of the Board members and Staff were just humoring the NIMBYs, because the decision to go ahead with the Centennial Pools project has already been made in their minds, if not officially for the record.  And a few handfuls of NIMBYs aren’t going to matter when those tightly-closed Park District minds don’t care what even a majority of all the taxpayers in the community think about this latest boondoggle.

That’s because the current executive director and the current superintendent of recreation want something to brag about when they network (and look for their next jobs?) at those parks and recreation conferences and conventions.  A big new multi-million dollar facility fits that bill to a “T.”  Many of our Park Board members, on the other hand, just want to be liked (and/or re-elected) by the people who want a new pool complex but don’t care what it costs.

The Staff and most Board members are very mindful of the fact that the last four times the District went to referendum on multi-million dollar outdoor aquatic facilities it claimed were “needed” – in November 1995, April 2005, March 2006 and November 2006 – it was told “no” by the voting taxpayers in no uncertain terms.  So this time the District is turning the tables and telling those voting taxpayers “no,” as in: “No, we’re not going to let you vote on this new Centennial pool project, because we know what you want better than you know what you want.”  So why bother wasting the time to ask us, via a referendum in April?

That sounds like the kind of arrogance you find in Chicago’s City Hall from little men with giant egos, like Richie Daley and Rahm Emanuel; and from other little men with giant egos by the name of Madigan and Cullerton down in Springfield.  That kind of arrogance from public officials is a dis-service to every Park Ridge resident.  

At last Thursday night’s meeting you could hear that arrogance in the voices of these District officials who spoke of the “power” they had to do this kind of project without putting it to referendum, and the ones who unblinkingly proclaimed how “the residents of this town have asked for this” –apparently based on how a mere 682 of them answered 31 warm-and-fuzzy questions in a “Community-Wide Survey” sent to 3,500 residents.

Not surprisingly, that survey didn’t mention the cost of any of the things about which it inquired.  That’s because the Park District honchos know that nothing’s more of a buzz-kill than mentioning the cost of all the things they’re trying to sell to a skeptical and already well-taxed public.  That’s also why the Park District prefers 682 responses to 31 questions rather than several thousand votes cast on a single referendum question like: “Should the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District issue $6.3 million of bonds to build a new $7.1 million outdoor aquatic facility at Centennial Park?”

And oh, by the way – did we mention that the survey was prepared by…wait for it…the same company that is designing the new Centennial pool facility: Stantec Consulting of Minneapolis, MN?  If you don’t believe us, check out the very first name under “Prepared by” on the survey reports cover page.  

How convenient!

The irony of this whole rigged kabuki, however, is that even the District’s cooked survey results don’t actually support the Park District’s Centennial plan.  Both page 24 and page 32 of the report show that of those 682 survey respondents, a full 9% prefer restrooms in the parks instead of a new aquatic center (34% to 24.9%).  And only a meager 0.6% prefer a new outdoor aquatic center to expanding the Community Center fitness area (24.9% to 24.3%).  When you add in the 17.2% who want the Community Center’s indoor pool expanded, that’s a 41.5% to 24.9% margin for expanding/improving the Community Center over rebuilding Centennial Pool. 

And the Community Center provides year-round usage, not the meager 3 month season that the new Centennial aquatic facility would provide.

But as we all know, to a hammer everything looks like a nail.  And to an arrogant – or is it actually a cowardly – Park Board and Staff that claims it already knows what the rest of us want for our community, everything looks like their new $7.1 million Centennial outdoor aquatic project.

So who needs even an advisory referendum?

UPDATE (11.23.12):   One of the things that the Park District Staff and Board stressed last Thursday night (11.15.12) was that the $6.3 million of non-referendum bonds for the proposed Centennial Pools wouldn’t cause an increase in the District’s share of our property taxes.  Could that be because the Park District is already trying to jack up its taxes so as to build in a sufficient cushion?

After most of the NIMBYs and other persons interested in Centennial Pool left the meeting, the District approved a 5.97% increase in its property tax levy for 2012 – which increase amounts to approximately $350,000.  Board president Rick Biagi, who seems to be the only fiscally responsible Park Board member, provided the only “no” vote against the levy increase, arguing that Staff had not provided adequate justification for the increase.

C’mon, Rick…you weren’t really expecting Staff to admit to padding the levy in anticipation of the Centennial Pool bonded debt increase, were you?

To read or post comments, click on title.

“Centennial Pool Night” At The Park District

11.15.12

We’ll make this as simple and straightforward as possible:

The Park Ridge Recreation and Park District’s plan to commit almost all of its non-referendum bonding authority to a new $7.1 million outdoor pool complex at Centennial Park that can be used only 3 months of the year is fiscally irresponsible without first asking the taxpayers/voters through an advisory referendum.  

Entiendes?  Verstehst du?  Ne comprenez-vous?  Czy rozumiesz?  Вы понимаете? Capito?  Got that?

That’s why we hope a lot of residents turn up at TONIGHT’s Park Board meeting, where this project is arguably the main event on the agenda.  Kick off is at 7:30 at the Maine Leisure Center, 2701 Sibley.

Our branding of this project as “fiscally irresponsible,” however, should not be taken as our saying that the current Centennial Pools aren’t finally at the end of their useful lives, 20 years after having been prematurely pronounced dead the last time the Park District wanted to use millions of dollars of its non-referendum bonding power to build a new aquatic facility at Centennial.  And we’re not suggesting that a pool complex different from the two main pools now on that site wouldn’t be a suitable replacement – although we do think the proposed design leaves a lot to be desired. 

But what kind of stewards of the public purse would exhaust all of the District’s non-referendum bonded debt, and another $800,000 of “earmarked” funds, for a facility that will be operated no more than 90 days each year, weather permitting – especially without having a detailed business plan locked and loaded that demonstrates how the operations costs of that new facility, along with the debt service, will be covered? 

Frankly, bad ones. 

Because this kind of “investment” and this kind of debt are – to quote Vice President Joe Biden, albeit in a very different context – “a big f-ing deal.”  And both its short and long-term effects on the Park District and its taxpayers will be so significant and substantial that an advisory referendum should be automatic for any Park District official who actually gives a rat’s derriere about what The People think. 

Not surprisingly, the District has already produced a nifty marketing handout, and it has begun the “fun with numbers” exercise to support its claim that this project – requiring $6.3 million of bonded debt at an assumed 2.93% interest rate for a 15-year term that will end up costing taxpayers approximately $8.2 million when the debt service/interest costs are figured in – “won’t raise taxes.”  To this latter point, the District has put out a kind of spread sheet filled with a bunch of numbers in columns under headings that don’t mean jack to most taxpayers.  

As best as we can tell from that jumble, the main economic theory behind the “no new taxes” claim is that, because there already are existing bonds that will be retired by 2017, the cost to the taxpayers of servicing the debt on those existing bonds (for which the taxpayers already are being taxed) will simply be extended for the last 11 years of the new bonds’ term.  In the bizarre world of government economics, that means no tax “INCREASE.”

In the real world, it means the taxpayers won’t be getting the tax DECREASE to which they should be entitled when the current bonds are retired – or at least some better maintenance and additional amenities from the the hundreds of thousands of dollars a year that is currently being paid on those existing bonds.

Noted philosopher George Santayana is known for his quote: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  And this latest Centennial Pool project takes us back to 1994, when the District last intended to use its non-referendum bonding power to build a “water park” to replace the “failing” Centennial Pools. 

Sound familiar?

Back then, the Park District executive director and the Park Board members – along with a number of resident aquatics advocates – insisted that “most people” wanted the water park.  But a group of NIMBYs and some community activists from other parts of town strenuously objected, blowing holes in the District’s “facts” and arguments, and demanding an advisory referendum. 

They got one, and the project was resoundingly defeated.

That little bit of history alone should be enough to wake up the current Board and Staff to the woeful wrongheadedness of exhausting the District’s non-referendum debt for this project without the legitimacy that a successful advisory referendum this April would provide.  And if the referendum should be unsuccessful but the Park Board members still believe the project is the right thing to do, they can display their individual profiles in courage by ignoring those referendum results and doing the project anyway.

One more blast-from-the-past is instructive.

In 1990 the Park District rushed to judgment on a plan to build the Community Center to replace the YMCA that was closing on that site.  The Park Board didn’t want to go to referendum on that project because, although it claimed it knew what “the people” wanted, it didn’t want to run the risk of being told “no” in the definitive manner elections tend to provide.  So it used up most of its non-referendum bonding power to do the project without a referendum, slapping together a variety of features, camel-like, to make sure it came in under the non-referendum debt ceiling. 

And what we got is the current structure: undersized from the moment it opened, with an indoor pool too short and too narrow to hold even kids’ swim meets, with a grossly insufficient work out area, and with such a dysfunctional design (e.g., the only way into the swimming area is by walking, literally, through the locker room showers) that a Bally’s manager who inspected the facility in 2004 stated that Bally’s wouldn’t agree to manage that facility even if it were given it for free.

But heedless of this history, the Park District wants to push this project through, hamstringing its finances for the next 15 years, without a referendum.  That’s wrong on basically every level. 

And tonight is an opportunity for the taxpayers of Park Ridge to let them know just how wrong, and how unacceptable, it is.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Remaining In Hock For A Fired City Manager

11.13.12

Last Wednesday night the Park Ridge City Council took its first stab at cleaning up a mess made in 2008 by previous mayor Howard Frimark and the two previous City Councils, which we first wrote about in our 05.30.08 post, “Going Into Hock For New City Manager.”

The mess?  A $350,000 interest-free loan to then-incoming city manager Jim Hock, on which Hock is now welshing. 

Back in 2008, some “genius” – we’re not quite sure who exactly, although a safe bet would be Frimark – apparently concluded that a $165,000 salary, health insurance, defined benefit pension, the use of a car, free gasoline and insurance, and a variety of other perks weren’t quite enough to lure Hock to our cozy bedroom community from his home in Michigan.  So the “genius” proposed a $350,000 interest-free loan with which Hock could buy a residence here.

We’ll call that “Mistake No. 1.”

That mistake was compounded when City Attorney Everett “Buzz” Hill drafted an “Employment Agreement” that provided for the interest-free loan but stated (on Page 3) only that the loan would be “secured by the home” – without specifying that the City’s security for the loan would be a “first mortgage” or “first position” security interest on that home.  Judging from excerpts of the May 5, 2008 Council meeting minutes, then-aldermen/now mayor Dave Schmidt and fellow Alds. Rich DiPietro, Don Bach, Jim Allegretti, Robert Ryan, Tom Carey and Frank Wsol unanimously rubber-stamped that agreement without discussion, even though there is nothing in those minutes or in the Council materials for that meeting to suggest they even saw or read the actual agreement.

We’ll call that “Mistake No. 2.”

When Hock decided to buy a $550,000 townhouse and wanted/needed additional financing from a private lender, however, that lender demanded a first mortgage – notwithstanding that it was financing less than half the amount of the City’s loan.  So the lender called City Attorney Hill with its demand that the City subordinate its security interest to the private lender’s. 

And guess what?

Instead of informing the City Council of that demand and seeking its input, Hill inexplicably went straight to Frimark, who – without advising the Council – told Hill to make it happen.  And Hill did so, with neither he nor Frimark giving the Council even the simple courtesy of an after-the-fact “here’s what we’ve done without consulting you” announcement.  

We’ll call that “Mistake No. 3,” even worse than the first two because of the disappointing way Frimark and Hill concealed this key information about Hock’s loan from the Council.

Under pointed questioning by Schmidt last Wednesday night, Hill explained his first-mortgage faux pas with an almost surreal matter-of-fact wrong-headedness: Hill believed Frimark had the authority to give away the City’s first-mortgage position because the Employment Agreement provision Hill drafted and the Council approved didn’t expressly require a first mortgage; so Frimark’s putting the City behind the private lender wasn’t technically a “change” in the terms of the Council-approved agreement that needed additional Council approval. 

None of this would have come to light but for the fact that Hock recently announced that he won’t be honoring his Employment Agreement commitment to repay the loan “within six (6) months of the date that [Hock] is no longer employed by the [City]” – because he hasn’t yet sold his townhouse.  Hock wants more time to sell before he has to repay the approximately $288,000 of remaining loan principal due the City.

And an inexplicably accommodating City Attorney Hill promptly drafted – on the City’s (a/k/a, the taxpayers’) dime, not on Hock’s – a “Forbearance Agreement” which could give Hock up to an extra year to sell his townhouse, presumably at a higher price that would let him recoup more of his heretofore unsuccessful townhouse “investment.”  But the terms of this new agreement are so squishy that even its arguably “toughest” provision (Paragraph 4, ostensibly giving the City the right to force Hock to accept or reject an offer) contains the squishy qualifier “reasonable,” thereby giving Hock plenty of legal wiggle room should push come to shove.

Call it Hock’s customized individual Troubled Asset Relief Program (“TARP”) bailout, compliments of City Attorney Hill and all us Park Ridge taxpayers whom Hock served with such distinction during his four year tenure that he was fired this past May by a unanimous vote of the Council.   

After almost 50 minutes of discussion (from 0:50:30 to 1:40:44 of the City’s meeting video) during which the Council couldn’t even get a straight answer about whether what’s left of Hock’s $100,000-plus severance is legally considered “wages” that can’t be forfeited to further reduce his outstanding loan principal – a question that should have been answered back in 2008, and/or again when his new contract was signed in 2010 – a decision on signing the Forbearance Agreement was properly deferred.

That’s a good thing, because although Hock reportedly owes the City $288,000 and his private lender $133,000, neither Hill nor Acting City Manager Shawn Hamilton were able to produce any authoritative documentation of those purported facts.  Meanwhile, Hock continues to live in his taxpayer-financed townhouse which is reportedly listed for $459,000 with no takers.   

So a bad idea from 4 years ago, kept secret from the Council by Frimark and Hill until now, continues to insult us taxpayers.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Veterans Day 2012

11.11.12

The following is a 2007 letter to the editor of our local newspapers, by Park Ridge resident Joseph “Jay” Hirst.  It speaks volumes about the essence of military service that most of us never have experienced, but that we honor and celebrate today; and we thank the author for permission to republish it here. 

*          *          *

As Veterans Day approaches each year, it typically causes me to pause and consider my service in the Army, particularly my time in Vietnam.  However, unlike previous Veterans Days, the approach of this date has caused me to spend significantly more time in contemplation than I normally have done in the past.   

Moreover, I know why.  For me, this Veterans Day represents a significant anniversary.   

On November 11, 1967, elements of my unit (including me), Company C of the 75th Rangers, was sent into the highlands to be attached to and support the 173rd Airborne Brigade in securing a hill not quite 3,000 feet high (875 meters).  What is so hard for me to believe sometimes is that what was barely-out-of-high-school back then is, for me, now 40 years ago.    

For those next 12 days, Hill 875 became a battleground unlike any other in Vietnam as the 66th Regiment of the North Vietnamese Army – with its Chinese advisors – stood their ground and fought a battle of trenches and fortified bunkers more like World War I or II than Vietnam.  The network of tunnels used by the NVA throughout the area made any semblance of a “front” frustratingly fluid.

With the 2/503d Battalion of the 173rd leading the way, we initiated the final push for the top of the hill on November 19th.  Over the next 5 days the 173rd lost 279 souls killed in action, suffered over 900 wounded, and reported 33 MIA’s.

Can you imagine the outcry and uproar if those casualty numbers were reported out of Iraq today?

On the morning of Thanksgiving Day 1967, “The Hill” was finally taken in a cold steady monsoonal downpour made worse by the devastated terrain, the despair over the losses experienced, and just pure exhaustion.  Thanksgiving dinner that last day was one of the most miserable meals I ever ate.  

I was alive, in large part because of the heroism of Carlos Lozada.  Carlos, despite being out-manned and out-flanked, was able to maintain a rate of machine gun fire that disrupted an attack of superior forces set to overrun our sector, enabling the rest of us to withdraw with five of our severely wounded.  The attack had broken off when “Moose” and I went back up the slope the last time, where we found Carlos mortally wounded.

Despite the medic’s best efforts, Carlos died before he could be medi-vac’ed. 

PFC Carlos Lozada was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions that day, a richly deserved honor.  I wish I could say that I knew Carlos well and for a longer period, but in truth I knew him barely more than a week.  He came across as an ordinary kid from the Bronx who ultimately made a most extraordinary and selfless sacrifice.  And because of the extraordinary acts of this ordinary man, today – 40 years later – I still am able to say how proud I am to have even briefly served with him.

Forty years is a long time and the Vietnam of then is now a long way away.  Yet sometimes, when I close my eyes in quiet reflection, those events happened but a moment ago.

I think I am like most other veterans, with their own tales to tell and their own memories to share or keep to themselves as they choose. Like most other veterans, I must admit that some of those memories are painful, some humorous, some happy and others melancholy. That is why I personally think the Canadians calling their 11th of November “A Day of Remembrance” is so appropriate.  

On the 11th of this month, Veterans Day, if you are related to a veteran, know a veteran, or even see a veteran, please take a moment from your busy life and thank them for their service to our country.  Some of these veterans are still kids, freshly home from the Middle East, while others of us served a long time ago.  And a quickly diminishing few even longer ago.  They all richly deserve credit for what they did, are doing, and will continue to do so Americans like you and I – our children and grandchildren – can have the opportunity to do what we do and be what we are.

However, if you do not happen to know or see a “Vet”, I offer an alternative – pause for a moment to reflect on PFC Carlos Lozada’s ultimate sacrifice for his unit and the “troopers” of a very proud Brigade.   

To all my fellow “Vets” – Thank you for your service and your personal investment in what makes this country so unique in this world. 

To read or post comments, click on title.

Making Madigan Ex-Speaker No. 1 Election Goal

11.05.12

Today we’re doing something we’ve never done before: publishing a post that involves politics and government beyond the Park Ridge community.  Actually, it involves our entire State of Illinois. 

We’re encouraging you to vote against long-time Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, Michael Madigan. 

Madigan has been Speaker since 1983 – that’s right, 1983 – except for 1995-96, when Republicans briefly became the majority party in the House and that majority voted Republican Lee Daniels the Speaker.   As Speaker, Madigan effectively controls everything that goes on in the General Assembly, including what legislation comes up for a vote on the floor of the Illinois House.  That means that his fingerprints are on every piece of legislation that has passed the House during 27 of the last 29 years.

During those 27 years our state has spiraled downward from prosperity to the brink of bankruptcy.  Our pension system has become the most underfunded in the nation.  Our infrastructure has been terribly neglected.  Our bonds are approaching “junk” status.  Even our state motto, “Land of Lincoln,” has become a sad joke, with Illinois recognized as a perennial contender for the mythical national championship of public corruption – to the point where our most valuable public official for the past decade was U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.

All of those dubious “achievements” have been accomplished on Madigan’s watch, with his hands on the levers of power.  And that’s why Madigan must go if we hope to ever start turning this train-wreck of a state around. 

Now, we’re not naïve enough to suggest that just getting rid of Madigan will magically accomplish such a turn-around.  Madigan hasn’t tanked this state all by himself.  He has been ably assisted in his profligate and corrupt endeavors by Republican governors like “Big Jim” Thompson, “Slim Jim” Edgar, and George “Color him Convict Orange” Ryan.  In many respects, those three officials governed as despicably and destructively as Madigan. 

But only Madigan’s tenure encompassed and survived theirs.  And only Madigan remains in Springfield today, more powerful and wily than ever. 

Madigan’s name, however, won’t be on our ballots.  He’s on the ballot in another legislative district, one in which he’s been elected and re-elected since 1971 – that’s right, 1971!  He’s such a lock in that district that its voters will be trying  to cast votes for him years after his demise.

So the only way to strip Madigan of his Speaker’s power and his control over Springfield is to deprive him of the votes he needs to remain Speaker.   And the only way that can be done is by electing enough Republicans to the House that they gain a majority and vote for someone other than Madigan as Speaker.

Thanks to the 2011 Madigan/Democrat-controlled redistricting, Park Ridge was cut into parts of 3 House districts.  In the new District 15, there is no Republican candidate.  But in the new District 20, the Republican candidate is incumbent Michael McAuliffe; and in the new District 55, the Republican candidate is Park Ridge’s own Susan Sweeney.  So a vote for Democrat Bruce Randazzo in Dist. 20, or for Democrat Marty Moylan in Dist. 55, is in reality a vote to keep Madigan the Speaker, and to continue business-as-usual in Springfield.

Some voters might not want to vote for these Republican candidates because of their stances on abortion, guns, school funding, pension reform, or various other issues.  That’s all well and good if those voters truly believe that preserving abortion on demand, or further restricting gun ownership, or banning school vouchers, or preserving guaranteed defined benefit pensions and COLAs for government retirees, is more important than the state’s economic solvency. 

And we hope those voters remember to tell that to their kids and grandkids when those kids and grandkids ask what their pro-choice, anti-gun, anti-voucher, pro-pension parents and grandparents did to stop Illinois from becoming the kind of place where those younger generations can’t afford to, or don’t even want to, live and raise their own families.

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Park District Betting $76,000 On Its “Free” Referendum

11.01.12

This week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate contains a story (“Planning for Park Ridge Parks’ property-tax referendum has costs, too.”) about how the Park Ridge Recreation & Park District will be spending approximately $76,000 in connection with what should be a free referendum process.

As most sentient Park Ridge residents already know, the Park District is planning an April 2013 referendum seeking voter approval of the District’s issuing of as much as $13 million in bonds for the acquisition and conversion of the Park Ridge Youth Campus property into a parks and recreation complex.  That referendum process is essentially free: the Park Board simply has to pass a resolution prior to January 18, 2013, and the referendum issue will be part of the regularly-scheduled local election ballot on April 9.

But the Park District apparently isn’t waiting for voter approval to start spending money on this project.  According to the H-A article, the District already is buying a variety of project development services, such as architectural services “to develop conceptual design plans” for that 11.35 acre property.  Count on those plans being used as a sales/marketing tool to help convince voters that this is a wonderful project deserving of their votes…and their tax dollars.

We think that’s just plain wrong.

Merely by putting this project and its funding to a popular vote via referendum, the Park District is expressing its endorsement of the project.  That’s all it should do, both legally and ethically.  Spending money on the project before the referendum passes isn’t good government, although it most definitely is political – something public bodies often try to legitimize by tying the expenditures to the underlying project rather than to the political referendum campaign.

In this case, the District claims those expenditures are for “necessary steps we have to go through,” according to a quote by Executive Director Gayle Mountcastle, as reported in the H-A article.  The H-A article also listed structural studies of the existing Youth Campus buildings, the District’s review of environmental studies, and informational materials.

We don’t see how any of those expenses are “necessary” prior to the referendum’s passage.  So long as the referendum language simply authorizes the District to issue bonds but doesn’t commit it to do so, all of these “necessary” steps should be able to be done after the referendum passes – if it does, indeed, pass.

The politics and the marketing should be left to those private supporters of the project, like the “Our Parks Legacy” organization – which has been organized solely for the purpose of selling this referendum to the voters using private funds, not public tax dollars. That organization already is raising funds and has started both a website and a Facebook page .    

But if “conceptual design plans” are needed to sell the project to the voters, Our Parks Legacy is the organization to provide them, using…wait for it…private funds.

Frankly, if the Park Board and District Staff already haven’t been able to come up with a reasonable conceptual design plan for this property on their own, we have to question the “ready, fire, aim” process on which the District seems to have embarked.  Spending money on architects and other development costs when the voters have yet to approve the project’s bonded-debt financing is inviting the waste of that money – unless, of course, those costs are really intended to “sell” the project to the voters.

Back in the early 1990s, a previous Park Board and and the District’s then-executive director Steve Meyer spent over $100,000 on professional services for the design of a water park to replace Centennial Pool.  Those plans, assuming they ever ended up being delivered, presumably are still collecting dust on some shelf after the voters overwhelmingly rejected the project’s bond-financing via referendum.

We’re not saying that will happen here.  But why take the chance, unless $76,000 doesn’t matter all that much to the Park District?

Actually, that sounds like the District’s attitude, judging by a quote from Park Board member Jim O’Brien reported in the H-A article: “This isn’t board worthy” – apparently in reference to the $20,000-per-individual-expenditure discretionary authority Mountcastle has been given by the Board.   By comparison, the Park Ridge City Manager only has discretionary authority for $10,000 per individual expenditure.  Such limitations, however, can still be circumvented by breaking down aggregate “project” expenditures into smaller components.

Interestingly enough, this process has enabled individual Park Board members to escape direct accountability for these expenditures.  According to Mountcastle: “[The Board] gave consensus for me to expend these dollars.”

Consensus, noun: the cowardly politicians’ way of avoiding individual accountability by avoiding a roll-call vote.

With the Park District already committed to the $7.1 million first phase of a two-phase replacement of the Centennial pools with an aquatics complex that will consume almost all of the District’s non-referendum bonding power, the District doesn’t have any margin of error for the Youth Campus project: either the referendum passes, or the project dies.

And the Park District is betting $76,000 of our money on that outcome.

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