Public Watchdog.org

“Politician-itis” An Insidious Disease

12.29.12

What kind of disease infects seemingly normal people after they get elected to public office, causing them to say and do really ridiculous things? 

We don’t know, but we suspect it involves the novelty of being able to tax, borrow and spend millions of dollars of other peoples’ money (“OPM”) with virtually no consequences – along with the novelty of being told by bureaucrats claiming to be “professionals” that such taxing, borrowing and spending OPM is what the officials “were elected to do.”  And maybe also the pats on the head from certain special interests who tell these officials how smart and wonderful they are for…wait for it…taxing, borrowing and spending. 

We’ll call it “politician-itis” until we hear a better explanation.  But it is frustrating. 

Take the Park Ridge Recreation & Park District, for example.  

We have endorsed the work of Board President Rick Biagi on various occasions, most recently for his sole dissenting vote against the PRRPD’s whopping 5.97% increase in its tax levy for 2012.  On a board made up of sheep who contentedly rubber-stamp whatever Executive Director Gayle Mountcastle tosses their way, Biagi has stood out as the only critically thinking voice for the average taxpayer. 

So it was disappointing to read his comments about last Thursday (12.20.12) night’s Park Board vote on the new aquatic facility at Centennial Park, where he threw in his lot with the rubber-stampers for a 6-0 (Commissioner Jim O’Brien MIA) vote to approve spending $7.1 million ($6.3 million to be borrowed over 15 years, adding another $1 million-plus of interest to the tab) on a third-rate outdoor aquatic facility that won’t even include the lazy river feature most desired by the District’s 682 survey respondents in its “Phase I.”  And all without the decency of giving the voters a voice in the decision via an April referendum. 

That will make this Centennial pool project the first new aquatic facility proposed for the District in the past 18 years that has not been the subject of a referendum.  Chalk that up to a Board and an executive director who can barely conceal their fear of, and contempt for, the taxpayers – which is the primary reason they pushed this decision through five days before Christmas, with the attention of the vast majority of taxpayers focused elsewhere. 

According to the article in this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“$7.1 million pool plan is a splash with Park Ridge Park Board”), Biagi compared the Board’s pool decision to replacing the roof on the Community Center: “If you want to redo the roof on the Community Center, that’s not a question to go before the voters. That’s what this board was elected to do.” 

Seriously, Mr. Biagi?  The new Centennial aquatic facility is little more than a roof redo?  Seriously? 

The H-A story also attributes to Biagi the view that, if the District were to place any advisory referendum on the ballot, it shouldn’t ask the voters about a specific project like the new $7.1 million Centennial aquatic facility but, instead, should ask them whether the voters want outdoor pools in Park Ridge at all. 

We sure hope he was misquoted by the H-A, because that’s an intellectually dishonest question if we’ve ever heard one – especially given that the District already has existing pools at Hinkley and South Park that, too our knowledge, nobody ever has asked to have shut down or removed.  There’s such a quantum leap of logic from spending millions of dollars on one new expanded pool facility to the question of whether there should be any outdoor pools in Park Ridge, that the mere juxtaposing of those two issues sounds positively daft.   

But assuming Biagi was quoted accurately, we question how he can justify his vote locking the taxpayers of Park Ridge into the new Centennial pool facility that can be expected to last 30-40-50 years before getting an answer to his “no pools for you” question.  And if that was such an important question, why didn’t he think of putting it on the November ballot – before his and his Board’s vote on the new Centennial pool project effectively rendered that question moot? 

C’mon, Rick, aren’t you better than those mindless rubber stamps that surround you?  Aren’t you too smart to be manipulated by bureaucrats whose only goal is to tax, borrow and spend more of the taxpayers’ money for their own personal aggrandizement, resume-building, and bragging rights at their conferences and conventions? 

Or was what we saw as your principled vote on the tax levy a few weeks ago just blind squirrel theory or, worse yet, an outright sham? 

To read or post comments, click on title.

What Would Ryles Do…About O’Hare Expansion?

12.26.12

To the chagrin of some of our critics, we didn’t get coal in our stocking this Christmas. 

But we also didn’t get one of the things we asked Santa for: some specific details about what mayoral challenger Larry Ryles would actually do about the various significant issues facing the City – the ones Ryles has spent the past few months making broad, nebulous pronouncements about without one lick of specifics as to what he personally would do if he were mayor.  Like the union and non-union employee wage increases Mayor Dave Schmidt vetoed, or the 2.15% real estate tax levy increase that the Council passed with Schmidt’s approval. 

Ryles acts like a throwback to the empty candidacies of almost a generation of folks running under the banner of the now-defunct Homeowners Party (the “HOs”).  The HOs degenerated from the dynamic political organization founded by Marty Butler into a vapid social club once Butler left City Hall for Springfield and turned the party over to his mayoral successor, Ron Wietecha, and a collection of milquetoast hangers-on who viewed themselves as Park Ridge’s “in” crowd and would rubber-stamp without question anything Wietecha wanted. 

So we read with interest the Christmas Eve “special” to the Chicago Tribune by freelance stringer Gail-Tzipporah Saunders titled “Park Ridge officials urge residents to make their opinions known about O’Hare expansion,” which contains comments from two “Park Ridge leaders” – the City’s O’Hare Airport Commission (“OAC”) members James Argionis and Pay Ryan – about the City’s attempt to get the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) to do an updated environmental study in response to the new East/West O’Hare runway that opened in November 2008 and added as many as 400 flights a day over Park Ridge airspace. 

Interestingly, the article doesn’t quote any other OAC members or OAC’s City Council liaison, Ald. Marty Maloney (7th).  Nor does it quote Schmidt (who promoted the creation of the OAC) or any other aldermen.  Instead, it quotes Ryles, who isn’t even on the OAC.  And Ryles doesn’t disappoint, offering more of the non-specific mush that is becoming his trademark:

“I keep telling [residents], don’t surrender.  There are some things that can be done.  Don’t quit.  Don’t give up on the folks that are fighting the good fight.”

Frankly, we generally like those sentiments, which sound almost Churchillian.  But where old Winston had a plan – actually, many plans – to go with the stirring rhetoric, Ryles seems to be plan-less.

So we think Mr. Ryles owes the voters of Park Ridge answers to the following questions about his O’Hare rhetoric:  What specifically are those “things that can be done”?  How many Park Ridge tax dollars are you willing to commit to the effort over how long a period of time?  What specific results do you expect from those efforts, and why?

The Tribune article points out that further O’Hare expansion will involve closing down certain runways over Arlington Heights.  Park Ridgians who wish to learn something from our City’s mistakes of the past should be reminded that Arlington Heights’ mayor, Arlene Mulder, jumped on then-Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley’s O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission (“ONCC”) bandwagon immediately after it was created in 1996, while then-Park Ridge mayor Ron Wietecha and the HO-dominated City Council chose instead to continue spending millions of our tax dollars on fighting Chicago, the FAA, and some of our neighboring communities, and on a $650,000 “investment” in a new Peotone airport that went the way of Enron stock even quicker than Enron stock. 

That waste of money continued from 1990 through May, 2003, when the Council, finally realizing that both the State and Federal governments had totally bought into the O’Hare expansion plan, voted to stop throwing good money after bad.

Make no mistake about it: we oppose further O’Hare expansion and any more runways that will bring more air traffic over our community.  But we also know – because we have watched and learned from what has happened over the past 16 years – that Chicago has too much money and political capital invested in that project to let itself get pushed around by our 37,000 resident community; that a complicit Federal Aviation Administration has been decidedly unsympathetic under both the George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama administrations; and even our neighboring communities seem happy to see Park Ridge get hit with extra air traffic.

So when candidate Ryles decides to play politics with his no retreat, no surrender rhertoric on this issue, it’s only fair for us and all other voters to ask him to explain exactly what he means and how much of the taxpayers’ money he’s willing to spend.

What would Ryles do about O’Hare expansion?

Your guess is as good as ours.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Allison, We Hardly Knew Ye

12.21.12

Today is the last day of City employment for Finance Director Allison Stutts. 

She arrived at City Hall two years ago with the City’s finances in disarray, with over $1 million of ignored City fees and fines, with a budget “process” undeserving of that term; and with an Uptown TIF whose financial condition was so arcane the Rosetta Stone was needed to decipher it.

She leaves behind major improvements in every single one of those areas, with a budgetary process so much more disciplined, detailed and transparent that it should be basically fool-proof for her successor and the rest of City staff – assuming they don’t find a way to screw it up.

Stutts is, without a doubt, the single best hire by former City Manager Jim Hock – although he seemed to have tried his best to bungle that: he held off making a decision for almost a year after he interviewed her, until Mayor Dave Schmidt demanded that Hock hire a finance director as the 2010-11 budget cycle was about to commence, and it was clear that neither Hock nor the rest of the City Staff were up to the task after the previous year’s debacle.

Stutts, a CPA, proved that she knew her stuff right out of the blocks.  She jumped right in and made the budget process her own, overcoming interference and impediments from Hock and various special interests who were completely content with the City’s dysfunctional, deficit-producing financial system.

Her no-nonsense approach to City finances and overall management was like an Arctic blast to many of the City’s too-complacent staffers.  She also quickly demonstrated that she suffered fools not at all, which took her out of the running for Miss Congeniality even before the first round cut was made. 

For someone responsible for a municipality’s finances, however, that’s a good thing: the ability and willingness to take a hard-eyed look at every pet project, frill and outright waste that some special interest or another wants to label a “necessity” at the taxpayers’ expense, is a virtue rarely found in government.

And she was willing to go toe-to-toe not only with Hock but with Mayor Schmidt and the City Council, most notably this past September when she dressed them all down for sustaining Schmidt’s veto of the ICOPS contract, which nixed raises for five of her department’s employees whom, she noted, were doing the work of ten.  That, too, is a virtue rarely seen in the go-along-to-get-along, put-in-your-time-to-get-your-pension parallel universe of government. 

Stutts is leaving to start up her own financial planning business, a goal she already had in mind when she took the City job – and for which she recently earned the necessary credentials, despite working yeo-woman’s hours at City Hall while commuting from her home in Glen Ellyn.

She may not have been the all-time best City employee…but we’ve never seen a better one.  And the City and its taxpayers are so much the better for her all too short, but so very productive, tenure. 

Hail and farewell, Ms. Stutts!

To read or post comments, click on title.

Do “The People” Matter To Park Board, Staff?

12.19.12

“Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories.” Thomas Jefferson.

For those of you who like your “rulers” feeding you amenities funded by the rest of us taxpayers, without us taxpayers having a real voice in the decision-making process, tomorrow night’s meeting of the Park Ridge Recreation & Park District Board of Commissioners meeting (7:30 p.m., Maine Leisure Center, 4801 Sibley) should warm your holiday hearts.

The Park Board is expected to pass its 2013 budget that will be financed with a 5.97% property tax levy increase, the highest increase of any of our local governmental bodies this year.  Although the Park Board and Staff will deny it, we’d bet a crisp new $1 bill that the District is trying to stockpile extra cash (in this case, an extra $354,100 next year alone) to cover the debt service for its new Centennial Pool project, thereby providing those officials with plausible deniability for their claim that the project will not increase taxes.

The Board also will be discussing its resolution to put its $14 million Youth Campus acquisition/development project referendum on the April 2013 ballot – but only because the District doesn’t have the non-referendum bonding power to do that project without bonding authority from the taxpayers via referendum.  Otherwise, you can be sure this bunch of Park Board members would be telling us no referendum was needed because: (a) they were elected to make these decisions; and (b) everybody wants the Youth Campus property turned into a park. 

Just like they’re doing with the Centennial Pool project.

Which is why there’s a resolution approving that project on tomorrow night’s agenda.  The Board and Staff desperately want to get that project locked up and under contract while most taxpayers are still distracted by the holidays and not paying attention to something that will cost over $7.1 million, require $6.3 million of 15-year bonded debt, and will only be usable 3 months of the year – and that won’t be on April’s ballot because the Board members are insisting that: (a) they were elected to make these decisions; and (b) everybody wants the new Centennial Pool plan. 

Most of these Board members insist they are so sure of popular support for the project that they don’t need a referendum to prove it.  Besides, they’ve already spent thousands of our tax dollars on a survey of 682 residents which confirms that the most desired new Park District capital project is…wait for it…restrooms in our parks.

That’s right: By a margin of 9% – 34% to 24.9% – real restrooms are more desired than the Centennial aquatic facility by those 682 survey respondents.

But this isn’t about what the residents want, otherwise the District would stop wasting time and money on surveys they disregard and go directly to The People via referendum. 

What this is about is giving a small special interest that has the ear of most Board members what it wants: a new outdoor aquatics facility at Centennial.  And it’s about giving those Board members a bronze plaque with their names on it.  And it’s about giving this executive director something to brag about at future parks and recreation conferences.  And it’s about the lack of integrity and outright cowardice of those Board and Staff members.

Lack of integrity?

Yep.  If those Board members (and the District’s executive director) truly believed that a majority of residents wanted this project, they would welcome an advisory referendum to prove it.  But they don’t believe that for a minute, which is why continuing to tell this particular big lie demonstrates their lack of integrity.

Outright cowardice?

Yep.  An advisory referendum isn’t binding, so the Board could go to referendum on this project, assess the results, and still do exactly what they want – while incurring whatever resident criticism and political backlash might come with such a decision.  But these cowards don’t have the courage to make that kind of decision.  So saying “no” to any referendum avoids that awkward situation.

No matter how many times they repeat their mantra that they were elected to make these kinds of decisions, they really weren’t.  They were elected to perform basic oversight of the bureaucrats and the ordinary operations of the District, including the preliminary work that brings us to the point where these kinds of decisions can be made – by the taxpayers, through a referendum vote. 

Nobody elected them to make a decision that will leave a substantial, indelible mark on this community for the next 30-40-50 years, as the new Centennial Pool will do; or that will burden the taxpayers of this community with multi-million dollar debt for the next 15 years.

That’s why the Board majority believes it needs to immediately authorize the Executive Director to sign a contract that locks the District into some major initial expenses for design and construction preparation.  That way, they can use such a contract and its costs to effectively foreclose the possibility that tomorrow night’s decision can be meaningfully reconsidered or reversed after the holidays, when the taxpayers start paying attention again.

When public officials lack integrity and courage, and don’t trust the people they were elected to represent, that kind of rush-to-judgment is an effective political strategy.

And a despicable abuse of government power.

To read or post comments, click on title.

What Would Ryles Do…About City R.E. Tax Levy? (Updated)

12.17.12

Tonight the City Council is scheduled to vote (7:00 p.m., 505 Butler Place) on adopting the 2012 property tax levy, which City Staff and the Council’s COW (Committee Of the Whole) reduced from an anticipated 11% to a modest 2.15% – the lowest percentage increase in at least the past 10 years.  

The levy increase could have been reduced down to almost zero had the Council sustained Mayor Dave Schmidt’s veto of the questionable $290,000-plus expenditure for Phase I of the cop shop expansion/renovation.  But it didn’t, and that’s the Council’s lawful prerogative.

As a result, however, the passage of the 2.15% increase presents an interesting question of City finances that will be central issue in the upcoming mayoral race between Mayor Dave Schmidt and his only announced challenger: Larry Ryles.

According to Ryles’ website, taxes are his No. 1 issue.  He claims that he “will take the lead on getting annual tax increases down below the annual rate of inflation or CPI” – which he identifies as the 2% purportedly forecast by the Federal Reserve.  So when it comes to the 2.15% levy increase that will be voted on tonight, we are compelled to ask: “What would Ryles do” about this tax levy? 

Would he deem the 2.15% unacceptable because it is 0.15% above the forecast CPI?  If so, what would he cut from the budget – or what additional revenues would he raise – in order to cut the levy down to his 2% benchmark?

Good questions.  Too bad Ryles isn’t answering.

Which is interesting, because Ryles has repeatedly emphasized his “leadership” learned during 24 years in the military and 18 years in the insurance industry as another of the four main issues of his campaign.  He actually has a special “leadership” page on his website that notes how “Real leaders lead from the front.”  

Yet while this levy issue has been discussed by Schmidt and the Council for months, Ryles has been stone cold silent.  At a time when the Council and the taxpayers might benefit from whatever ideas or strategies Ryles might harbor on this issue, forget about leading “from the front.”  Ryles is MIA from the front, the rear, and the sides.

So we ask again: What would Ryles do? 

If this tax levy issue is any indication, the answer would appear to be: remain mute.

And hide.

Update (12.18.12)  The man who would be mayor, Larry Ryles, finally showed up at City Hall for last night’s Council meeting.  Actually, it seems that he showed up only for the “coin flip” (actually, a drawing) to determine whether his name or that of Mayor Dave Schmidt would be first on the ballot in April.  Schmidt won, and Ryles left – without sharing any of his thoughts or views on the 2.15% tax levy increase that was approved following his departure…or on any other City business on last night’s agenda.

This from the guy who claims he wants to be a “full-time” mayor?

To read or post comments, click on title.

Park Board “Despots” Do Founders – And Taxpayers – Wrong

12.13.12

“A republic, if you can keep it.” 

That’s the way Benjamin Franklin announced our new form of government upon emerging from Independence Hall in 1787.  The brevity of that statement belies its importance: democratic republics such as ours are founded upon the consent of the governed, which consent provides both the source and the legitimacy of the power our public officials exercise.

But Franklin, like the other Founders, believed that such a government would last only until “the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government.”  The corruption Franklin warned about, however, was not the criminal and quasi-criminal “politics” practiced here in Illinois, although that would surely qualify.  The corruption that concerned Franklin and the other Founders was a loss of the values on which the country was founded – such as hard work, truth, humility, trustworthiness, self-reliance, thrift, self-restraint, and sacrifice. 

Unfortunately, too many of our current public officials, both elected and appointed, treat “government” itself – not The People – as the source and repository of power.  Consequently, they see themselves as the instruments of that power, free to wield it however they choose without concern for the consent of the governed…until it’s time for their re-election, of course. 

In other words, arrogant despots practicing “despotic government.” 

The members of the Board of the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District have recently been demonstrating their own despotic streak.

After blithely passing a whopping 5.97% property tax levy increase (the largest levy increase, by far, of any of our local governmental bodies – with only Board Pres. Rick Biagi dissenting), they now are winding up their “public hearings” – the final one is tonight (7:30 p.m., South Park Fieldhouse, Cumberland and Talcott) – cynically-orchestrated to create political cover for their insistence that they know with absolute certainty that what’s best for this community is a new $7.1 million outdoor aquatic center at Centennial Park that will only be usable 3 months of each year but will burden the taxpayers with $6.3 million of new bonded debt for the next 15 years. 

And because they know it, there’s no reason to ask those taxpayers for their consent by taking the plan to an advisory referendum this April.

Ironically, a successful advisory referendum would add legitimacy to a project clearly lacking it.  And the beauty of such a referendum is that it provides a no-lose proposition for those pro-project Park Board members: if the project were to be defeated by referendum vote, they would still have that “authority” they keep bragging about to tell the voters how wrong they were in voting “no,” and to do the deal anyway.

Admittedly, that would take some courage.  And except for Biagi, we’ve seen very little of that from this Park District crowd.  Hence, the steam-rolling of this project without regard for the taxpayers, and with no referendum.

Also seemingly lost on these Board members is the fact that no Park Board in at least the past 18 years has demonstrated the arrogance or the disrespect of the taxpayers by attempting to build a new or significantly-expanded aquatics facility – or any new facility, for that matter – without a referendum, either binding or advisory.  That even includes projects that could have been built using non-referendum debt, like the 1996 Hinkley Pool house renovation costing $460,000.

But you can tell just by watching and listening to these Board members and Staff smugly dissemble about the wonders of this new plan and their “authority” to do it without any referendum, that they have no grasp of Daniel Webster’s concerns about those who govern us:

Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority. It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.

By denying Park Ridge taxpayers a real voice in this project via an advisory referendum, these Park Board members clearly are letting us know who are the masters…and, by implication, who are the serfs.

Just because they can.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Taste Inc., City Manager, Still Collaborating On TOPR Secrecy?

12.10.12

Beginning under former city manager Tim Schuenke and continuing under his successor, former city manager Jim Hock, it became a kind of game for city managers to try to conceal important information from our elected officials in City government (i.e., the mayor and/or the City Council).   

A prime example of that is the annual Taste of Park Ridge event (“TOPR”).  First Schuenke, and then Hock, aided and abetted the leaders of private corporation Taste of Park Ridge NFP (“Taste Inc.”) in keeping the Taste Inc.’s and TOPR’s financial information concealed from the taxpayers for several years after that event was handed over to Taste Inc. by then-mayor Howard Frimark and a rubber-stamp City Council on a no-bid, no contract, no accountability basis in June 2005.

So when the City of Park Ridge finally decided, earlier this year, to put TOPR out to bid, we were heartened that the City would finally start getting the tens of thousands of dollars of annual expense reimbursement – and the profit sharing – that its taxpayers had been denied for the seven years that Taste Inc.’s operations had been cloaked in such secrecy that its legal status as a “for profit” corporation masquerading as a non-profit one wasn’t even acknowledged until 2009.

Despite then-city manager Jim Hock’s best efforts to make a farce out of the bidding process – which ended up attracting only two conforming bids – we welcomed the fact that the winning bidder would, for the first time, actually have to sign a contract governing its and the City’s rights and obligations, two of which were expense reimbursement and revenue sharing.  And even though the TOPR contract approved by Hock and the City Council foolishly allowed winning bidder Taste Inc. to defer any revenue sharing obligation for TOPR 2012 until Taste Inc. earned enough profit to push its bank account over the $100,000 mark, we looked forward to a first-ever true accounting by Taste Inc. of its revenues and expenses – which it was contractually obligated to deliver to the City within 90 days of TOPR. 

By the time TOPR 2012 was held, Hock had been sacked; and by the time Taste Inc.’s accounting was due, Shawn Hamilton had been appointed Acting City Manager. 

Taste Inc. claims it submitted the required TOPR accounting to Hamilton back in September.  For some as-yet unexplained reason, however, Hamilton kept that accounting secret: as we understand it, he didn’t provide a copy to Mayor Dave Schmidt or the Council until the delivery of the Council agenda packet for tonight’s meeting, barely in advance of the January 1, 2013 deadline for a no-bid extension of Taste Inc.’s contract that is scheduled for discussion.  But even a cursory look  at that “accounting” suggests that the folks at Taste Inc. are back to their old Three Card Monty tricks again – with Hamilton seemingly an aider and abettor in the time-dishonored tradition of Schuenke and Hock. 

One of Hamilton’s duties as ACM is to ensure that Taste Inc. complied with its contractual obligations for an accounting.  And Hamilton’s Agenda Cover Memorandum accompanying Taste Inc.’s accounting fails to point out any compliance failures, just as it fails to explain why Hamilton kept the accounting secret for the past couple of months during which clock was ticking on that January 1, 2013, contractual deadline for the City and Taste Inc. to agree on whether to extend the 2012 contract on a no-bid basis for TOPR 2013 – something Taste Inc. covets notwithstanding that it claims to have lost in excess of $11,000 on TOPR 2012, presumably due to rain.

If that smells a little kinky to you, there’s no need to contact your ENT physician.  And the stink of kink becomes even stronger when one examines the types of non-compliance Hamilton overlooked…or is trying to conceal.

Let’s start with Page 2, Para. 1.E of the TOPR Contract, which requires that Taste Inc. provide the City with its “certified financial records for the event.”  Not only are the financial records comprising Taste Inc.’s “accounting” not “certified,” but they don’t even identify who prepared them.  And even though each page of the accounting advises the reader to “[s]ee independent accountant’s compilation report,” no such report is included nor the name of that “independent accountant” disclosed.

That same contractual provision mandates that “[c]ompensation of any kind whatsoever to officers or families of the Contractor shall not be deemed an Event Expense.”  Yet none of the information in the accounting enables the City (or the taxpayers) to determine whether “officers or families” of the folks running Taste Inc. received any compensation, either as service providers or as vendors.

Hamilton has had almost three months to review this accounting, yet he apparently did nothing to obtain the kind of detailed financial information that Taste Inc. was obligated to provide – other than to recently request a Taste Inc. balance sheet.  Whether that’s because of negligence, incompetence, or collusion with that Taste Inc. honchos is unclear at this time.  Seeing how previous city managers played footsie with Taste Inc. to keep secret the details of how it runs TOPR, however, we tend to lean toward the third of those three unacceptable  alternatives. 

When Hamilton was hired as the ACM, we expressed hope that his “varied background in banking and management consulting” obtained in the private sector might create a “new paradigm for how the City is managed and City services administered.”  But it only took a couple of months for Hamilton to demonstrate his own ability to act secretively and play politics to the taxpayers’ detriment. 

This latest bit of game-playing by Hamilton again reflects poorly on his management ability, and raises a red flag about his integrity.  That’s not a good thing under any circumstances, but it’s extra bad if he harbors any reasonable expectation of removing the “Acting” from his job title.  

To read or post comments, click on title.

Will Park Board Lets Its Arrogance Show Again?

12.05.12

Tomorrow night (Dec. 6) at 7:30 p.m., the Park Ridge Park & Recreation District Board and Staff will hold  another hearing on its proposed $7.1 million Centennial Pool outdoor aquatic facility.

Whether the Board and Staff listens and, more importantly, actually hears what the taxpayers of the whole community – not just those who can show up tomorrow night or at the next scheduled hearing – have to say about this issue remains to be seen.  So far, the comments by individual Board members suggest an adamant insistence on moving forward with this project without an advisory referendum because, according to them, they already know what the residents want.

And besides, they were elected to make decisions like this…without consulting the taxpayers who elected them. 

Anyone who has read previous posts on this blog about this issue knows that we think building a multi-million dollar, entirely-outdoor aquatic facility that can be used only 3-months a year is that special kind of stupid and wasteful idea only a public official spending other people’s money could love. 

But that’s just our opinion.  There are plenty of other opinions out there, all of which deserve to be considered before the Park District commits $7.1 million (including $6.3 million of 15-year bonded debt) on a facility that will substantially encumber and affect Centennial Park and impact this community for the next 20-30-40 years.

Which is why we believe this project should go to referendum, even if it’s only a non-binding advisory one.  That way, the Park Board and Staff – who claim to be so very interested in finding out what The People want in the way of Centennial aquatics – can get an unequivocal “yeah” or “nay” on this project from the 8,000+ voters expected to go to the polls in April.   And if they don’t like what the voters have to say, they can turn around and do the project anyway, and take whatever political fallout may ensue. 

Unfortunately, that Board and Staff don’t seem to want to hear from 8,000+ voters.  Instead, they want to take their marching orders from a whopping 682 respondents to an expensive “survey” they commissioned, with questions seemingly designed to elicit the answers the Board and Staff wanted while avoiding any questions about costs.  Which must have been part of the plan, because the consultant they hired to provide this rigged survey just happens to be none other than…wait for it…Stantec Consulting, the District’s new aquatic facility’s designer.

Isn’t that special – a pool designer that also produces the justifications for its project! 

Over the past 20 years, each time the taxpayers were given a chance to vote on replacing Centennial Pools with a new aquatic complex, they voted “no.”  Whether they would do the same on the Park District’s proposed project is unclear.  Maybe they don’t like this design, or don’t like spending that kind of money, or don’t like spending that kind of money on this design.  Or maybe they think it’s a winner.

But whatever they thin, they deserve a chance to vote on this project for any of those three reasons, or dozens of others.

This Park Board and Staff, however, are dealing with that problematic pool history by adopting the cowardly and disingenuous strategy of “we’d rather ask for forgiveness than for permission” – effectively telling the taxpayers they don’t deserve a vote on this issue, while at the same time arrogantly assuming they can put this issue to bed quickly enough so that they can then embrace those same taxpayers and schmooze a “yes” vote out of them in the April referendum for the Youth Campus project.

That’s how little respect this Board and Staff have for the concerns, the attention span and the intelligence of the Park Ridge taxpayers: “If we can screw them quickly enough, they’ll have forgotten about it come April.” 

That’s pure arrogance talking.  And when the arrogance of public officials talks, there’s little chance the taxpayers can be heard.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Cop Shop Spending Blocks Further Reduction In Tax Levy Increase

12.03.12

Tonight’s Park Ridge City Council meeting agenda has at least on item worthy of some taxpayer interest. 

The first scheduled item is the Council’s vote to sustain or over-ride Mayor Dave Schmidt’s veto of the $290,170 purchase order for the design and construction of “Phase I” of a police station improvement plan – which we understand consists of a 1,500 square foot “outbuilding” (at a cost of approximately $165,000, not counting the allocable “soft” costs, furniture, equipment, etc.), a parking lot to hold 18 cars ($69,000) and a 600 square foot bike corral ($12,000).  According to Chief Kaminski’s report, the entire cost of Phase I will be approximately $360,670, but only the $290,170 P.O. was vetoed.

In his veto message given at the 11.19.12 Council meeting, Schmidt rightly pointed out that “the City currently has well over 6,000 square feet of vacant space in other [City-owned] buildings, the majority of which is in the former Public Works Service Center” at Greenwood and Elm that, until a few years ago, had been leased and operated by NICOR.  But, in our opinion, Schmidt let the Police Chief’s Advisory Task Force off the hook way too easily for exploring only “one possible solution” to certain problems with the current cop shop.

Since that Task Force was established in February 2010, ostensibly to assist Chief Kaminski in community reach-out to improve the reputation of the Police Department in the wake of the Ekl Report, the Task Force members have focused much of its attention on the cop shop’s physical plant.  And in the same way everything looks like a nail to a hammer, the Task Force seems to view construction as the solution to almost every “problem” with the PRPD. 

As best as we can tell – and despite Chief Kaminski’s claim that “I think the Task Force really spent a lot of time looking at the alternatives other than building a new facility or buying new property” – we can find no shred of evidence that the Task Force ever seriously looked at the City’s other available space before recommending the $1.1 million construction plan that will begin with Phase I.  For example, we can find no mention whatsoever of any evaluation of other available City space in the 75-page report produced by the Task Force last year, “Cost Effective Strategies to Address Risk Factors at the Police Facility.”    

Irrespective of the soundness of Schmidt’s arguments for using space the City already has instead of building new, we don’t expect three aldermen on this Council to sustain his veto. 

Which brings us to the second scheduled item of interest: the property tax levy increase.

The Council is scheduled to pass the new property tax levy increase which, at 2.15%, will be the lowest increase in at least 10 years – by more than an entire percent!  The irony is that the levy increase could drop all the way down to around 0.4% by the Council’s sustaining that veto and saving the City’s taxpayers the additional $290,000. 

But we’re guessing that’s way too radical for aldermen who seemed to be so mesmerized by the plans for Phase I that they could barely manage any questions of Chief Kaminski or the Task Force members each time this project was discussed, like: “Have you thoroughly evaluated all of the available space the City currently owns?” and “If not, why not?” 

With 6,000 square feet of space already available, spending $290,000+ (actually $360,000+) on 2,100 square feet of what amounts to storage space – and 18 parking slots – seems like both bad tax policy and bad management.

Or just another hammer looking for another nail.

To read or post comments, click on title.