Public Watchdog.org

More Misdirection And Distractions From Pres. Heyde And D-64 (Corrected)

04.30.13

Although he has not yet even been sworn in as a D-64 School Board member, Dathan Paterno has become a subject of intense controversy in some quarters.

He’s been called, referred to, or compared with a “Creationist,” a “Bircher,” “racist,” “sexist,” “homophobic,” “zenophobic” [sic], “reflexively violent” and – perhaps worst of all – “not collegial in work style.”  All anonymously, of course, because folks lobbing those kinds of accusations tend to be reluctant to give their names.

Can you imagine the nerve of that guy, Paterno, running for public office while lacking “collegiality”!

Paterno, an unabashed conservative, and his ticket-mate, Ben Seib, reportedly a Libertarian, apparently inspired such fear and loathing in D-64 Board president John Heyde that, in the last 10 days before the recent election, he launched two e-mails to an unidentified group of recipients in which he not only endorsed his incumbent puppet Scott Zimmerman and challenger Terry Cameron, but also branded Paterno and Seib as having been “slated by the Park Ridge Republican Women’s Club, which circulated their petitions and is helping them raise money to campaign.”

Heyde makes it sound like that slating might be even worse than a lack of “collegiality.”

Not surprisingly, Heyde himself was lacking something a little more important than collegiality – specifically, any factual basis for his claim about Paterno’s and Seib’s backing by the Republican Women of Park Ridge (the “RWOPR”).  That became clear at the D-64 Board meeting on April 22, when RWOPR president Charlene Foss-Eggemann called him out for his false characterization of RWOPR’S activities.

Although Heyde admitted he didn’t really know whether the RWOPR board of directors took any action to authorize, as an official “club” activity, the conduct by a couple of its individual officers which Heyde attributed to the organization, he nevertheless brazenly asserted that he would “stand by the facts” of his e-mails.

“Facts”? 

As a prominent Loop lawyer with a degree from the uber-prestigious University of Chicago Law School, he should know better than to claim what he wrote was factual.  Or maybe he was doing some Clinton-esque parsing; i.e., he was standing by whatever “facts” were in his e-mails, but he wasn’t claiming that every bit of information in those e-mails was a “fact.” 

Whatever he was saying, it has led to the RWOPR issuing a press release identifying all of the ways in which Heyde’s e-mails were flat-out wrong.

While these little tete-a-tetes may be perversely entertaining, they should not be mistaken for anything but the meaningless sideshows they are, promulgated by Heyde and the D-64 usual suspects – i.e., Supt. Phil “Call me ‘Doctor!’” Bender, the PREA, Heyde’s fellow Board members (except Tony Borrelli), etc. – presumably to focus public attention on Paterno and away from D-64’s high-taxing, high-spending, mediocre-performing educational record.

Frankly, any D-64 taxpayer or D-64 parent who falls for that kind of misdirection is as stupid and superficial as Heyde et al. apparently believe him/her to be.

Despite all these years of D-64’s not teaching creationism or encouraging racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, reflexive violence or un-collegiality – and, instead, proudly “teaching the whole child” (Do all the other school districts that consistently out-perform D-64 teach only 11/16ths, or 23/27ths, or some other fractional portion of each of their children?) and being one of the higher-paying elementary/middle school districts in the Chicagoland area – it’s both amazing and disturbing that not even one D-64 school can crack the Chicago Sun-Times’ or Chicago Tribune’s annual ISAT-based “Top 50” rankings of Chicagoland elementary and middle schools.

Meanwhile, schools from Arlington Heights, Barrington, Buffalo Grove, Burr Ridge, Clarendon Hills, Elmhurst, Evanston, Glenview, Highland Park, Hinsdale, La Grange, Lake Forest, Lincolnshire, Long Grove, Naperville, Northbrook, Oak Brook, Palatine, River Forest, Schaumburg, Western Springs, Wheaton and Wilmette regularly place one or more schools in those rankings.  And several of those districts spend less than D-64, pay less than D-64, and have higher pupil-to-teacher ratios.  And they feed their kids into high schools that are increasingly ranked ahead of a declining Maine South.

So what gives, “Dr.” Phil?  What gives, Mr. Heyde?  What gives, PREA?

If you’re a D-64 parent, maybe you should start wondering exactly what kind of education your child is getting for what amounts to a full one-third of your property tax bill.  And if you’re a plain old taxpayer, maybe you should start wondering whether your property value is being eroded by the double whammy of high taxes and mediocre performance – at least as objectively measured by ISAT scores and rankings based on those scores.

Or you can ignore all that troubling stuff and worry instead about whether newly-elected Board member Dathan Paterno believes in God, fluoridated water and collegiality.

Or, for that matter, whether Elvis is still alive and hanging out at Waffle House No. 1277 in Bartlett, Tennessee.

CORRECTION (04.30.13): We hate mistakes, especially our own.  But a reader has pointed out that we completely missed Carpenter School’s No. 28 ranking on the Chicago Tribune’s “Top 50” elementary and middle school list for 2012.   We apologize for that oversight and are delighted to make that correction.

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City Council Makes Right Choice On Immigration Resolution

04.26.13

At this past Monday night’s Park Ridge City Council meeting, the Council did the right thing on a resolution that didn’t even deserve the dignity of a place on the Council’s agenda.

The Northwest Municipal Conference, one of the many clown cars masquerading as governmental or quasi-governmental organizations in the State of Illinois, promulgated a resolution supporting immigration reform for its members.  Or, more accurately, a resolution endorsing specific goals and processes that some people consider “immigration reform.”

Leave it to the mopes at the NWMC to find yet another thing outside their bailiwick on which to waste time while matters squarely in their collective wheelhouse are ignored or allowed to lie fallow.

NWMC bills itself as “one of the premier regional councils of government in the nation.”  If that’s so, we weep for the future of our nation…because by our reckoning the next thing NWMC does of major significance for most of its member communities will be its first.

This immigration resolution reportedly is intended to be sent to the president, vice-president, the majority and minority leaders of the Senate, the speaker and minority leader of the House, and to each member of Illinois’ Congressional delegation.

Can you say: “Spit into the wind”?

The last thing Illinois needs is any more units of government – or quasi-governments like the NWMC, the Illinois Association of Park Districts, the Illinois Association of School Administrators, the Illinois City/County Management Association, Illinois Association of Municipal Management Assistants, etc.  These fluff and stroke societies are little/nothing more than networking opportunities for public officials exploring job openings, and occasions for discussing new and improved ways to bamboozle and fleece their respective bodies of taxpayers. 

But getting back to the NWMC resolution, it was such a brain-dead idea that even the Council’s gold-dust twins, Alds. Joe Sweeney (1st) and Jim Smith (3rd), could see the pure tomfoolery of it – with Sweeney suggesting the Council “dispose of it, get rid of it and forget about it”; and Smith calling it “none of our business” and something that neither the City Council nor the NWMC should “be wasting their time on.”

That’s exactly right, guys.

You’ve got more than enough on your plate dealing with 100% local Park Ridge issues.  And that’s what you were elected to deal with.  Those of us with strong opinions about immigration can send our own letters to our various federal officials without your – or the NWMC’s – help, thank you.

However, given what a dumb idea the resolution was, as evidenced by the Council’s ultra-quick and unanimous rejection of it, we have to wonder what was going through Acting City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton’s mind when he recommended the Council pass it.

Mr. Hamilton, you’ve also got enough on your plate that you have no need to concern yourself with resolutions dealing with federal issues.

Especially if they come from the Northwest Municipal Conference.

To read or post comments, click on title.

ELECTION 2013: Post-Mortem

04.22.13

We’ve already addressed the landslide victory by Mayor Dave Schmidt and the mandate that a 62% – 38% margin of victory suggests.  But what conclusions or inferences, if any, can be drawn from the results of the other races?

Park District Board:  This was billed as the local race where Park Ridge’s senior citizens were going to flex their political muscle and punish incumbent commissioners Rick Biagi, senior Steven Hunst and senior Richard Brandt, the “Top 3” ticket (for their first three ballot positions), for their perceived “anti-senior” attitudes and actions.

All three of them were roundly criticized by their opponents – a ticket calling itself the “Bottom 3” comprised of incumbent senior Steven Vile and two other seniors, Joan Bende and James Phillips – for: (a) their support for the District’s seizing control of the Senior Center from private corporation Park Ridge Senior Services, Inc. (“SSI”); and (b) the District’s litigating with SSI over a $330,000 bequest to the “Park Ridge Senior Center” that former Park District employee Teresa Grodsky unilaterally handed over to SSI before belatedly filing a lawsuit seeking a court declaration as to whom that money legally belonged.

“Seniors” – or at least SSI-sympathetic seniors – do not appear to have been the political force they claimed to be: two of the Top 3 (Brandt and Biagi, the latter of whom was virtually demonized by some SSI members) won, while the only incumbent on the “Bottom 3” ticket (Vile) lost with almost the same number of votes as the other losing incumbent and fellow senior, Hunst.

The only woman running, Joan Bende, got the most votes of any candidate, outpolling runner-up Biagi by 554 votes.  So if this election reveals any kind of political demographic, it’s probably that women are more likely to vote for women – a still controversial theory among political scientists and politicians generally because of the sexism such a theory implies.

If Ms. Bende is going to become anything more than merely the successful “token” woman candidate, we can’t wait to see what she (and Phillips) actually do about their four main campaign issues – especially the second and fourth items on their campaign flyer that address the new Centennial pool/aquatic center/water park boondoggle.

School District 207 Board: 

The good news for taxpayers is that Mary C. Childers led all vote-getters, garnering 515 votes more than runner-up incumbent Margaret McGrath; and that long-time teacher/administrator-advocate, taxpayer-unfriendly Eldon Burk lost.

A bit of unsettling news in this election, however, is the open and notorious intrusion of highly-partisan Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky via her endorsement of successful candidate Jin Lee, whom we opposed because of his embrace of deficit spending and of the Consumer Price Index (“CPI”) as a factor for determining teacher and administrator pay increases – which is ridiculous unless you believe it’s the taxpayers’ duty to ensure that the purchasing power of teacher and administrator salaries is fully hedged against inflation (i.e., increases in the CPI).

Given the way the rest of that Board – except for the departing Ed Mueller – has constantly rolled over when it comes to increases in teacher and administrator compensation despite the overall decline in D-207’s ranking vis-à-vis other Chicago-area public high schools, we don’t see any good coming out of either non-resident Schakowsky’s involvement in a local non-partisan election, or the election of one of her endorsees.

And if the rumor is true that both McGrath and successful quasi-incumbent Carla Owen boycotted the non-partisan candidates’ forum held on March 21 at South Park Fieldhouse because it was sponsored by the Park Ridge Republican Women, that adds further tarnish to the process

On the other hand, D-207 Board president (and former Maine Twp. Regular Republican Organization president) Sean Sullivan has been a dependable rubber-stamp for non merit-based pay increases, so disregard for the taxpayers appears to be truly bi-partisan at D-207.

School District 64 Board:  If you don’t think D-64 Board president John Heyde was extremely interested in the outcome of this election, think again.

Heyde made two e-mail appeals for the re-election of his right-hand man and potential heir apparent, incumbent Scott Zimmerman, and Zimmerman’s informal running mate, Terry Cameron, in the last 10 days of the campaign.

Not surprisingly, Heyde’s appeal on behalf of Zimmerman and Cameron also falsely labeled challengers Ben Seib and Dathan Paterno as “slated by the Park Ridge Republican Women’s Club” – even though that organization “slated” no candidates, and endorsed no candidates, in any non-partisan local election.  The fact that a couple/few members and/or officers of that organization, acting as individuals, supported Seib and Paterno wasn’t lost on Heyde, but just ignored in his efforts to make sure he and his pet superintendent, Phil Bender, wouldn’t have to deal with the only two candidates whose campaigns stressed accountability and fiscal prudence.

Fortunately, Paterno won.  That arguably gives the taxpayers two voices – Paterno’s and first-term Board member Anthony Borrelli’s – on a Board where they previously had only one, Borrelli’s.  Whether those two can develop any traction on a Board dominated by Heyde and Zimmerman will depend on how newbies Cameron and Vicki Lee, and first-term Board member Dan Collins, react to a slightly more balanced Board.

We endorsed Collins two years ago in the belief that he would bring some fresh and independent ideas to the Board.  Up until now, he has been little more than an empty suit and automatic vote for anything Bender, Heyde and Zimmerman want.  And while we hope we’re wrong about Lee, her ultra-lightweight campaign (mom, PTO president, works well in groups, wants positive change) gives every indication that she will be a reliable rubber-stamper in the tradition of the departing Sharon Lawson and the half-term removed Genie Taddeo.

Whether Cameron, now that he’s actually been elected, will be willing and able to climb out of Zimmerman’s shadow and start looking out for the District’s taxpayers – and its students – more than for the District’s teachers and administrators, will be a major point of interest over the next two years.

Park Ridge City Council:  We hope both Nick Milissis (2nd) and Roger Shubert (4th) will earn their Watchdog endorsements right out of the gate.

We also have high hopes that Ald. Marc Mazzuca (6th) will have learned a few lessons from his slender 20-point victory over Vinny LaVecchia – including that there’s more to City government than drilling down to the center of the earth on the issue of water rates, and that rubber-stamping every non merit-based pay increase that comes down the pike is horrible public policy.

And we hope LaVecchia maintains the level of interest and energy he displayed during the campaign, both in keeping an eye on Mazzuca’s performance and in promoting his ideas for improving Park Ridge’s retail base in ways that make sense and produce results.

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Tallest Midget In The Civic Circus

04.18.13

It didn’t take supporters of mayoral challenger Larry Ryles (or opponents of Park Ridge Mayor Dave Schmidt) even 24 hours to begin trying to diminish the mandate of Schmidt’s landslide victory as consisting of the votes of only 34.8% of the registered voters.

And they have a point…up to a point.  The fact that only 34.8% of all registered voters bothered to show up at the polls for a hotly-contested mayoral race and hotly-contested aldermanic, Park Board and School Board races, and a significant Park District referendum vote, is nothing short of pathetic and shameful.

So all you 65.2% of registered voters who didn’t bother to go to the polls, either on election day or during the two weeks of early voting: you suck at citizenship!  Fortunately, it’s likely that this community and all of its governmental units actually benefitted from being deprived of all your votes cast from ignorant apathy, thereby diluting the votes of people who actually care and who might even be informed about the candidates and the issues.

Notwithstanding that 65.2% of our registered voters were ignorant and apathetic last Tuesday, an article in yesterday’s Park Ridge Journal identifies Park Ridge as having the top turnout among a number of neighboring communities, ahead of Rosemont (24.5%), Niles (23.3%), Des Plaines (22.7%), Arlington Heights (20.9%), Wheeling (15.6%), Glenview (12.6%) and Mt. Prospect (11%).  For the sake of an apples-to-apples comparison, however, it should be noted that Rosemont, Glenview and Mt. Prospect did not have contested mayoral elections this year.

The Journal article also points out that Park Ridge led all those communities except Rosemont in turnout for the 2009 election, with our 2013 turnout even being 1.4 % higher than in 2009.

Generally speaking, the more contested elections any community has, the likelier the turnout will be bigger – especially if the competing candidates actually articulate significantly differing views on important issues.  That’s why throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, turnout was generally dismal as the post-Marty Butler Homeowner’s Party routinely ran unopposed slates of bland candidates for City offices, and similarly bland “shadow” candidates unopposed for the Park Board and the School District 64 Board.

Beginning in 1995, however, that began to change when a three-candidate slate successfully challenged three incumbents for Park Board seats.  That kind of change spread to City government in 2003 when four “independent” candidates successfully challenged the Homeowner’s Party candidates.  Two years ago change finally migrated to D-64 with the election of Tony Borrelli over insider Genie Taddeo, followed by the District’s finally joining those other two governmental bodies in televising/videotaping its meetings after a group of private citizens forced the Board’s hand.

As a result, each local unit of government is now far more transparent and accountable than a decade ago, although we realize that isn’t saying all that much when closed sessions still dominate certain discussions.  And it is still outrageous that labor negotiations – which make up such a large part of each governmental unit’s expenses, especially in connection with teachers contracts – are conducted in secret so that the ridiculous demands by the unions and the spineless responses by our elected and appointed officials remain hidden from scrutiny by the taxpayers who end up paying the freight.

Ironically, many registered Park Ridge voters seem to think that it’s more important to vote in national elections than in local ones, even though an individual voter’s impact on national elections is almost non-existent compared to local elections.  And let’s face it: Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner and the rest of their playmates in Washington don’t give a rat’s derriere what individual Park Ridge residents think about national and international issues; or whether we live or die, for that matter.

That’s why it’s almost impossible to get serious face-time with any of those Washington players unless you can bundle a few hundred thousand bucks in campaign contributions, or deliver a guaranteed 20-30,000 votes for them or their surrogates.  In contrast, you stand a pretty good chance of being able to have a meaningful conversation about community issues with the mayor, your alderman, or your Park Board and School Board members – usually for the bargain price of a cup of coffee.  Your own.

And unlike all the political hoops you generally need to jump through to get an appointment to a federal or state committee or commission, you’ve got a pretty good chance of being appointed to one of the City’s committees or commissions if you really want to serve in a non-elected capacity and have some basic qualifications unrelated to how much you contributed to somebody’s political campaign.

The local level is where real grass-roots government gets done by real people with real jobs and real lives – not the hyper-partisan cynical career politicians and their high-priced political whores (paging David Axelrod, paging Karl Rove) who live in a political fantasyland and who can’t seem to tear themselves away from their costly partisan political games to actually “govern.”

But while over 60% of Park Ridge’s registered voters turned out in November to cast ballots in partisan elections for the Obamas and Romneys whom they don’t know and who don’t know them, apparently only 34.8% of Park Ridge’s registered voters care about grass-roots local government and the issues it deals with.

So the tallest midget in the civic circus remains just a midget.

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Big Win By Schmidt A Mandate…For The Taxpayers

04.12.13

Question:  What do three former mayors, twenty-five former aldermen, a former City treasurer, a sham “political party,” the unions who represent City employees, and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky all have in common?

Answer:  They all tried to prevent Mayor Dave Schmidt from being re-elected to another four-year term, and lost.

By a veritable landslide of 5,597 (62.06%) for Schmidt to 3,422 (37.94%) for challenger Larry Ryles, the largest margin of victory since Park Ridge resumed contested mayoral elections in 2005.

What brought this rather eclectic collection of people together for such an effort?  What bizarre force of nature put the likes of former mayor Howard Frimark and former ald. Don Bach on the same political team as former alds. Jim Radermacher and Jeannie Markech?

Perhaps those ex-City officials were embarrassed by how Schmidt spent his first four-year term fighting, and winning, a number of battles on behalf of that beleaguered and forgotten class of citizens known as “taxpayers” – the folks who pay the bills for City government but who, while governed by those former City officials, always seemed to take a back seat to the money-grubbing special interests, whether they be City employees, their unions, private “community group” corporations, developers, or certain favored businesses.

Or perhaps those former officials were sick of hearing Schmidt talk candidly about the messes left behind in the wake of their mismanagement of the City on their respective watches.

Take the Uptown TIF, for example, in which many of them had a hand.  It’s an attractive development, all right, but did we really have to sell off prime City land at what appears to have been a sweetheart price without even having it appraised?  Did we have to foolishly mortgage $40+ million and 23 years of the City’s future so that some of those former officials’ buddies – like PRC’s owners, investors and contractors – could profit at the taxpayers’ expense?

In stark contrast, Schmidt and the current Council refused the demands of Whole Foods and developer Lance Chody for in excess of $2.5 million of sales tax revenue sharing.  And guess what?  Whole Foods and Chody blinked, and that “destination” retailer is scheduled to be open for business at Touhy and Washington by year’s end.  Go figure.

Whatever the reasons for that unholy alliance of former City officials, unions and Jan Schak, however, Frimark and some of Park Ridge’s political “usual suspects” – Paul Sheehan, Dick Barton, John & Kate Kerin, Mary Ann Irvine, etc. – banded together in an informal pact to “Beat Schmidt.”  And depending on whom you talk to, it sounds as if they actually may have recruited Ryles as a malleable nice guy and political empty-suit with an almost embarrassing lack of knowledge about the history and workings of City government.

The captains of Team Ryles did their best to hide his shortcomings by crafting a campaign strategy emphasizing “government by personality” instead of government by policy and performance.  They did their best to turn the mayoral race into a Miss Congeniality competition, and Ryles into a “hug and a handshake” wind-up doll.

Team Ryles found the unions that represent City employees willing accomplices in trying to dump a mayor who was completely unlike the previous Mayor Gumbys who would twist themselves into pretzels to keep the unions happy.  Team Ryles got $1,000 out of the Public Works employees’ union, and it also squeezed $10,000 out of Citizens for Non-Partisan Local Elections, a shadowy political “party” fronted by former ald. John English that inherited the balance of the old Homeowner’s Party treasury when the HOs pulled the plug on their own life support a few years ago.

Team Ryles assembled that “100+ years of City Council Experience” contingent to sign onto the Ryles “Clear Voice, Big Heart” campaign.  And it even secured a last-minute blitz of e-mail and letter endorsements from Schakowsky, which suggests that the City’s non-partisan politics may be taking on a decidedly partisan edge going forward.

Fortunately, none of it worked.   As best as we can tell, Ryles won only one precinct – his home precinct in the Roosevelt School neighborhood.  And even that was only by a handful of votes.

What does such a beat-down suggest about City government, or local government generally?

The anti-Schmidt crowd already is spinning the results as a loss by Ryles rather than a win for Schmidt, placing blame on Ryles for being a “weak” candidate who got outworked by Schmidt; on his political gadfly/campaign manager, Sheehan, for being out-strategized; on Frimark for anointing Ryles with his greasy thumb-print early in the campaign; on Kerin and the other former HOs who thought “100+ years” of irresponsible incompetence would impress voters; and on whoever thought that taking $1,000 from the union trying to pickpocket the taxpayers was a good idea.

Not surprisingly, these personality cultists can’t or won’t accept the fact that the outcome may have been based more on Schmidt’s performance than on his personality, or that the political paradigm in Park Ridge is changing, albeit slowly, from the old-style Cult of Personality to a more policy-oriented style where the message is as important, if not more important, than the messenger.  It’s a maturation process not unlike what children go through when they move from obeying their parents because they have to, to taking their parents’ advice because they finally can appreciate its wisdom.

But old habits die hard.

There are still way too many voters in this town who cast their ballots for the guy who coached their kid in soccer, or the gal who was in the Field School V-Show with them five years ago, irrespective of what those candidates’ political philosophies and views on the issues may be.  And almost 65% of the registered voters didn’t care enough to vote at all, despite two whole weeks of early voting and polls being open 13 hours on election day.  The 35% of Park Ridgians who did vote, however, not only beat the 19% county-wide average for this election, but also beat the turnouts in the 2009 and 2005 contested mayoral elections.  So at least we’re moving in the right direction in that regard.

It looks like we’re also moving in the right direction on policy over personality.

In 2005, Frimark received 4,889 votes in a winning effort, but the same Frimark “personality” received only 3,801 votes in his losing effort in 2009.  And Frimark protégé Ryles – with arguably a better “personality” than his mentor but most of the same discredited policy positions – received only 3,424 votes in 2013.  Meanwhile, Schmidt’s vote totals went up from 4,897 in 2009 to 5,601 in 2013, with a “personality” that remained constant.

That might suggest more people are expressing a preference for Schmidt’s policies and the record he built on them than for the policies and the record of Frimark, Ryles and the “usual suspects.”  And that would make Tuesday’s mayoral election result an even bigger win for the taxpayers.

If so, let that maturation process continue!

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VOTE!

04.09.13

“Every election is determined by the people who show up.” 

 Larry J. Sabato

Mayor:                                Dave Schmidt

Alderman (2nd Ward):     Nicholas Milissis

Alderman (4th Ward):      Roger Shubert

School Dist. 64:                Dathan Paterno

                                           Benjamin Seib 

School Dist. 207:             Mary C. Childers

                                         Jeff Spero

Park District:                   Richard Biagi

                                         Richard Brandt

                                         Steven Hunst

“Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”
Abraham Lincoln

To read or post comments, click on title.

ELECTION 2013: City Council Endorsements

04.08.13

Three Park Ridge aldermanic seats are being contested on Tuesday, based on the staggered system that was implemented in the wake of former mayor Howard Frimark’s successful cut-the-Council referendum in November 2007.

Second Ward:   The announced retirement of Ald. Rich DiPietro has opened up that aldermanic seat for the first time in 18 years.  And the way the two Greek-American candidates are going at it suggests Athens v. Sparta 2,400 years ago.

George Korovilas has set his opposition to the 80-unit apartment complex proposed for the corner of Northwest Hwy. and Greenwood as the flagship issue of his campaign, along with his opposition to needless City regulations – two positions on which we heartily agree with him, although we don’t view them as anywhere near the top of the City’s priorities.  We’re also not quite sure what to make of his call for a “complete audit” of City finances, in part because that already occurs every year; and his call to “reduce wasteful spending” is undercut by his failure to identify specific items of waste, including no mention of how he would address the ever-increasing personnel costs.

Over the years we have been critical of Nick Milissis, going so far as to speculate – in a less-than-kind way – that he was being groomed by former mayor Howard Frimark for a Council seat.  Consequently, his endorsement by former alds. Curt Edlund and Maureen Strauts (rubber-stamp Homeowner’s Party aldermen in their day) who also have publicly endorsed hug-meister Larry Ryles over task-master Mayor Dave Schmidt, gives us a bit of pause…as does his endorsement by current High School District 207 board president Sean Sullivan, who has been a dependable advocate for every non merit-based pay increase for teachers and administrators that has come down the pike during his tenure.

So while it would be easy for us to be wary of Milissis, as we wrote in our post for our Park District endorsements: “easy” is often, if not usually, wrong.  And in this case, we believe his engagement in City issues over the past four years and the positions he has taken in this campaign have earned Milissis our endorsement, notwithstanding those particular endorsements.    

He has spoken publicly against spiraling personnel costs and other expenditures that appear more “want” than true “need,” like the police station expansion and renovation project that has pushed the number one “safety and health” issue – mold remediation – out to the third year of that three-year project while more office and storage space is treated as a priority over what Chief Kaminski and his Task Force branded a serious health issue.  Really…a bike corral over mold remediation?

Millisis’ presentations at both the Town Hall meeting in February and the Republican Women’s forum in March demonstrated a comprehensive view of Park Ridge issues that his opponent has not matched.  And we fully expect that, if elected, he will not be revealed as a Frimark disciple or the typical go-along-to-get-along guy that used to be the rule in City government – and still is the rule in school board governance.

Fourth Ward:     Current Ald. Sal Raspanti is retiring after one 2-year term because of work obligations.

One of the candidates vying for the open seat is J.B. Johnson, to our knowledge the first-ever black aldermanic candidate and wife of blood-drive organizer extraordinaire George Johnson.   She is opposed by Roger Shubert, who also has a well-known spouse: Amy DeGrazio, former owner of New Prospects.

Our endorsement goes to Shubert, primarily because of his emphasis on continuing “the positive fiscal momentum in the city of Park Ridge after years of budget deficits,” not only for its own sake but also because a financially-sound City enhances its ability to provide a more credible business-friendly environment without fiscally irresponsible gimmicks like TIFs and façade improvement subsidies.  We also believe he correctly has identified the new Centennial aquatic facility as the No. 1 “4th Ward” issue, and one about which that Ward’s alderman might actually be able to do something concrete for its residents.

Ms. Johnson is an engaging person who seems to be relying on personality instead of public policy to get herself elected.  Her campaign “platform” is a crazy-quilt of platitudes, generalities, personal anecdotes and name-dropping (e.g., Bill Gates, Rand Paul, “pal” Keith Olberman).  We also wonder why her number one issue is “[m]oving Public Safety of our citizens up a notch” – especially given that Park Ridge was recently recognized as one of the safest cities in America with populations over 25,000, with an already-low crime rate that keeps declining.

Sixth Ward:    The toughest decision of the three aldermanic races is in the 6th Ward, where appointee Ald. Marc Mazzuca is seeking his first full elective term against Vincent LaVecchia.

In the interest of full disclosure, this editor was a member of the four-person 6th Ward residents mayoral committee that interviewed Mazzuca and three other candidates for appointment last summer to fill the unexpired term of then-ald. Tom Bernick, who went “over the hill” after barely a year in office.  At that time, we had high hopes for someone with an economics degree from the U of I/Urbana-Champaign and an MBA from the University of Chicago, who seems to revel in drilling down into the most arcane data – as he demonstrated with his painstaking study of the City’s new water rate ordinance.

Unfortunately, in a couple of key respects those hopes have been dashed rather than realized, most significantly by Mazzuca’s rubber-stamping of the cop shop expansion/renovation plan that ignores the allegedly health-threatening mold problem for the next two years while new/additional office and storage space is being built; his request for a do-over and his subsequent flip-flop on the mayor’s veto of the across-the-board, non-merit based pay increases for the ICOPS; and his recent vote to give more non-merit based pay increases to the City’s Public Works employees.

Non-merit based raises are simply bad public policy, especially where each pay increase given without measurable linkage to improved efficiencies and/or enhanced employee performance actually encourages future non-merit based pay increases for other City employees, thereby perpetuating the upward spiral of the City’s personnel costs.  

On the other hand, his opponent, Vincent LaVecchia, is like a cat in heat when it comes to pursuing additional retail and overall economic development.  He has stated that the first thing he would like to do if elected is to lead an economic development team and sell unspecified retailers on Park Ridge’s “great demographics.”

While his energy and enthusiasm are laudable, we’ve been hearing that kind of talk for decades.  And we have to question how he realistically believes he will be successful when both the City’s old quasi-private Economic Development Corporation and, in more recent years, its six figure-salaried City E.D. Director, produced pitifully lackluster results in selling retailers on Park Ridge’s “great demographics.”  More importantly, he hasn’t explained the fact that the most significant retailer to locate in Park Ridge in years, Whole Foods, decided to come here while the City had no E.D. person or department in place – and despite the City’s outright refusal to give Whole Foods and/or its developer the financial incentives and concessions they requested.

Under these circumstances, although each of them brings certain assets to this endeavor, we can’t give either one a clear advantage over the other.  Consequently, this is a “you-pick-‘em” race, perhaps based on what we’ll call dueling flyers: Mazzuca’s versus LaVecchia’s.

Whatever you do, however, and irrespective of whom you support, make sure you get to the polls tomorrow if you haven’t already done so.  Otherwise you’re part of the problem – apathy – rather than part of the solution.

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ELECTION 2013: Re-Elect Mayor Dave Schmidt (Updated)

04.05.13

Four years ago, following then-Ald. Dave Schmidt’s defeat of then-mayor Howard Frimark, we congratulated Schmidt in our 04.09.09 post and identified five significant tasks facing the new mayor – given that he was going to be inheriting a Council majority of Frimark alderpuppets Jim Allegretti, Don Bach, Tom Carey and Robert Ryan.

Those five tasks were: (1) prevent the alderpuppets from moving ahead with Target Area 4 of the economically-debilitating Uptown TIF plan, using a mayoral veto if available; (2) stop the deficit spending and straighten out the finances; (3) change the Culture of Secrecy by cutting down on closed sessions; (4) make useful information more readily available to the taxpayers; and (5) make a “sound appointment” as his replacement First Ward Alderman.

Four years later, it’s clear that Schmidt has succeeded on the first three, partially succeeded on one, and had one mooted by First Ward voters who elected Schmidt pick Ald. Joe Sweeney to a full term in 2011.

And four years later, Frimark is back – this time with a surrogate in likeable puppet candidate Larry Ryles, who not only has never held elective office in Park Ridge but who hasn’t even run for one.

Ryles is such an empty suit when it comes to the substantive issues facing the City that even the Park Ridge Journal’s endorsement of Schmidt noted how Ryles was “not being willing to discuss with the Journal his positions on local issues in the same setting with Schmidt” – the first time we can think of where a challenger adopted a “rose-garden” strategy.  Ryles’ attempts to hide in plain sight – which included not even attending City Council meetings – were the main reason ran a series of “What Would Ryles Do” posts on 09.05.12, 11.26.12, 12.17.12, 12.26.12, 01.31.13, 02.13.13 and 03.13.13.

Not surprisingly for a candidate backed by Frimark, Ryles has picked up some interesting special-interest support – a couple of which deserve special mention.

The first is a $1,000 contribution from the Operating Engineers union that represented the City’s public works employees in the just-concluded contract negotiations.  Those negotiations resulted in yet another across-the-board, non merit-based wage increase that Schmidt has indicated he will veto.  As best as we can tell, that’s a first-ever attempt by a union representing City employees to get involved in City politics; and it suggests the union believes Ryles will be a much softer touch than Schmidt.

We’d bet on it!

The second is a $10,000 contribution from something called the “Citizens for Non-Partisan Local Elections,” a seemingly “shell” organization that received the $15,000 remaining in the treasury of the old Homeowner’s Party (the “HOs”) when it shut down a few years ago in the aftermath of its seven aldermanic candidates getting thrashed in the 2003 City elections, after years of piling up victories in uncontested ones.  As a result of that $15,000 bequest, from time to time we’ve referred to this new “party” as the “New HOs,” and we take a small amount of pride in having speculated on both the Frimark-backed Ryles candidacy and the New HOs’ involvement back in our 06.25.12 post.

Although the New HOs is nominally operated by former 1st Ward ald. (and old HO) John English, we hear its behind-the-scenes movers and shakers include: Frimark’s former alderpuppets Allegretti and Bach; former 4th Ward ald. (and Frimark backer) John Kerin; former 5th Ward ald. (and Frimark backer) Steve Huening; and former 7th Ward ald. (and Frimark backer) Frank Bartolone.  Whether their fingerprints ever actually show up on the New HOs paperwork remains to be seen.

While we could go on a lot longer about why Ryles is just Howard Frimark in a red beret, we won’t because Schmidt should win or lose based on his record, one that has been the most public and transparent of any mayor’s in Park Ridge’s history.  And on that basis alone, he’s earned our endorsement…and your vote.

UPDATED 04.05.13:  It looks like the Illinois “Combine” – that aggregation of Democrats and Republicans who share the same political bed and gorge at the same public trough – has found its way to Park Ridge.

According to a flyer e-mailed by Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky’s office, she has endorsed mayoral challenger Larry Ryles in what is legally a “non-partisan” election that historically has been considered out-of-bounds by the area’s Dems and GOPers.   Whether that’s what will become standard operating procedure from here on, or just a one-time deal for Rep. Schakowsky, remains to be seen.  But it speaks volumes about the importance of Tuesday’s mayoral election.

We wonder how cozy self-proclaimed “Republicans” like Howard Frimark, Don Bach, Dick Barton and Jim Allegretti are under the same covers with Democrat Schakowsky?  This being Illinois, we’re guessing their answer would be: “Very.”

Coming Next:  Aldermanic Endorsements.

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ELECTION 2013: Endorsements for Park Ridge Recreation & Park District Board

04.04.13

Anybody who reads this blog with any regularity knows how critical we have been of the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District’s recent handling of two significant issues: the Senior Center and the new Centennial Pool.

The whole Senior Center debacle (including the related Teresa Grodsky termination and Betty Kemnitz bequest litigation) was about as botched as a situation like that could be, with plenty of blame to go around – most of it well-earned by the handful or so of seniors running private corporation Park Ridge Senior Services, Inc. (“Seniors Inc.”) – and plenty of expense to show for it.

The Centennial Pool fiasco, on the other hand, was basically about the arrogance of District director Gayle Mountcastle and the Park Board members who – in breaking with almost 18 years of Park District precedent – decided to commit $7.1 million (including $6.3 million financed by 15-year bonds) to build a third-rate, 3-months-per-year outdoor aquatic facility without the decency of at least consulting the taxpayers through a non-binding, advisory referendum, an affront made especially egregious in light of Mountcastle’s and the Board’s knowledge that the last three pool referenda had failed significantly.

Not asking the taxpayers a question because you think they’ll give you an answer you don’t want to hear is the height of cowardice; and claiming that you know what’s best for the community so much more than those taxpayers that you don’t even have to ask them, is the height of arrogance.

Given just those two events, it would be easy for us to say “Throw the bums out!” and endorse the two challengers to the four current Park Board members who are running for 4 seats on that 7-member Board.

But “easy” is often, if not usually, wrong.

Which is why, despite some trepidation, we endorse incumbent Board members Rick Biagi, Richard Brandt and Steven Hunst for re-election.  They are running as a ticket against incumbent Board member Steven Vile and challengers Joan Bende and James Phillips.

Biagi has been the leader of the Park Board for much of the past four years, irrespective of where around the Board table he has sat.  That means, however, that the “buck” stops at his chair when it comes to the two gaffes we discussed above; and we hold him accountable for them.  If those were even a majority of his body of work, he would not have earned this endorsement.

But while we vehemently disagree with him on the way he and the Board handled those situations, we respect the fact that he did not shrink from the slings and arrows directed his way by this blog, by Kenneth Butterly’s “Butterly On Senior Issues” blog, and by many members of the general public.  And unlike his fellow Board members, he seemed genuinely conflicted by the competing interests of voter empowerment and Board autonomy.  His leadership, combined with Mountcastle’s generally solid management, appears to have made the District a better and more cost-effective operation – which counts for a lot in our book.

One reason for some of that cost-effectiveness may well be Hunst.  Despite sporting more letters after his name than an unsolved Wheel of Fortune puzzle, Hunst provides a wealth of analytical skills that we believe have raised the Board’s understanding of various cost-benefit situations it has addressed, to the benefit of the taxpayers.  Every public body probably needs a person like Hunst, and he’s clearly the designated wonk on that Board.

Four years ago we refused to endorse Brandt, largely because of his support by the Service Employees International Union (“SEIU”) which represents some District workers.  We thought that created too great a prospect of a conflict of interest.  But in the intervening years we have seen no sign of union influence to concern us.  And except for his support of the no-referendum Centennial project, he’s been a pretty steady voice for fiscally conservative management.

That leaves one unfilled vacancy for which we cannot endorse a candidate from among the remaining three candidates, who are running as a ticket billing themselves as “The Last Three” due to their positions on the ballot.  The main theme of their candidacies, as noted on their website, is: “Our Park Ridge Seniors Deserve Better From Our Park District Board.”

That kind of special-interest entitlement mentality would be reason enough to refuse an endorsement of the entire ticket or any individual candidate on it, for all of the various factors identified in our posts of 01.27.11, 12.12.11, 01.19.12, 06.11.12 and 07.16.12.

But there are more reasons.

Incumbent Steven Vile has been an unswerving champion of tax, borrow and spend-style government.  Worse than that, however, was how he chose to work for the special interests of Seniors Inc. – of which he is a member and former board member – instead of looking out for the best interests of the Park District and the community as a whole in connection with the Senior Center/Grodsky/Kemnitz debacle.

Joan Bende is another advocate of special-interest tax, borrow and spend-style government.  She disingenuously argues for the District keeping legal fees down, knowing full well that a lot of those fees were generated by the District’s litigating over the $330,000 Kemnitz bequest that former employee (and Kemnitz trustee) Teresa Grodsky appears to have improperly diverted from the Park District to Seniors Inc. – and which the Seniors Inc. crowd refused to give back even after the District agreed to use that money solely and entirely for the Senior Center.

James Phillips is the third member of this triumvirate and he, too, is basically a Senior Center one-trick pony.  No matter where we look – his ticket’s website, their campaign literature, or his candidate profile in the March 20th edition of the Park Ridge Journal – can we find him offering any actual ideas about what exactly he would do about the issues he raises, which he does in a way that makes him sound like an old Jerry Seinfeld routine, but without the humor.

The Park District also has its Park Ridge Youth Campus acquisition referendum on the ballot.

That referendum asks District voters to approve the acquisition of 11.35 acres of land previously operated as a collection of group homes for troubled youths, at a cost of at least $13.2 million of  long-term bonded debt.

Persuasive arguments can be made for both sides of this issue.  A ‘yes” vote would mean that the Park District will have additional acreage for recreational activities it currently doesn’t offer, or for which it lacks optimal space, although the luxury of that additional space will continue to keep that property off the tax rolls indefinitely.  A “no” vote, on the other hand, will likely lead to residential development that will gain for the City all the property, water and sewer taxes that can be generated by putting that property back on the tax rolls through the construction of private homes – with a downside of more kids being added to the school population and greater demands on the City’s infrastructure.

Frankly, we see this as a coin flip question, a “Tastes great, less filling” kind of issue.  But while we endorse neither a “yes” nor a “no” vote, we are troubled by a few things done by the District that seem to be both deceptive and overtly political, the latter of which is improper under state law prohibiting use by the District of tax dollars to campaign for or against a referendum.

The first is the District’s failure to include the cost of the project or the amount of the bonds on the first page of its 2-page FAQ sheet.   Instead, the first page is brazenly devoted to selling the reader “good news” about the project before the reader gets the “bad news” of the cost.  And when the cost finally shows up on page two, there’s no mention of the total cost that figures in the debt service (i.e., bond principal and interest), which means the $13.2 million total is probably at least $1 million light.

The second is the comment on page two of that FAQ sheet that, should the referendum fail, the District “would not have the resources to purchase the property.”  Not surprisingly, the District fails to mention that, had it not committed $6.3 of its non-referendum bonding power and $800,000 of cash to build a new Centennial Pool just a few months ago, it would have more than enough money to pay the $6.4 million purchase price of the Youth Campus land.  Of course, that would require the Board and Staff to actually make value judgments and prioritize their wishes and dreams, rather than recklessly indulge all of them.

Finally, we have serious doubts about legitimacy and credibility of the “Operating Budget” for the Youth Campus the Park District has published on its website, which appears to be nothing more than meaningless fun with numbers – and missing so much necessary detail that it’s almost impossible to tell just how ridiculous those numbers might be.

For example, the budget predicts $23,770 of net income from Platform Tennis (Pages 5-6)  based in part on $15,000 of membership fees, $1,000 of daily fees and $5,000 of rental income – without any detail describing how many memberships, daily users and rentals would be needed to hit those revenue numbers.  So the ability of the average Park Ridge taxpayer to form an opinion of whether those revenues are legitimate or complete pie-in-the-sky bunkum is non-existent.  And the same goes for all the rest of the budget numbers.

So for all of you trusting souls who think you will be getting the Youth Campus park for a mere $72 a year of additional property taxes on your $458,000 home, don’t bet the ranch on it.  And don’t expect Mel Thlllens to write you a check.

Coming Next:  City of Park Ridge

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ELECTION 2013: Endorsements for Dist. 64 School Board

04.03.13

Since 1997, when the Park Ridge – Niles Elementary School District 64 Board bamboozled the public on its ridiculous proposal to tear down and replace the District’s newest school, no local governmental body has consistently done less with more.

For those of you without any historical memory, D-64’s then-Board members not only gave the taxpayers a foolish “new” Emerson, but followed that up with such financial mismanagement that the State Board of education was preparing to take over the District’s finances – until the District snuck through an eleventh-hour, $5 million “back-door” working-cash bond issue.  That funding ploy bought the District enough time to get to its 2007 “Strong Schools” super-funding referendum that replenished its coffers and preserved its status as the highest taxing body on our property tax bills.

Meanwhile, academic performance, as measured by ISAT scores, declined even as the District’s administrators actually bragged about not “teaching to the test.”  And everyone did their best to ignore the distinct possibility that the under-achieving D-64 kids feeding into Maine South began lowering that school’s performance, from among the Top 10-rated high schools in Illinois to 24th among Chicagoland public high schools, according to the 2012 Chicago Sun-Times analysis of ISAT scores.

In large part, the cause of this decline in economic value to the taxpayers and educational value to the students has been a succession of school boards packed with basically nice people who came to the Board ill-equipped to say “no” to teachers and administrators – and to the teachers’ union that controls all of them – or to hold those teachers and administrators accountable for their acts and omissions to the taxpayers who pay their ever-increasing salaries and benefits.  With one notable exception, Tony Borrelli, those are the kind of people who currently populate the Board.

Fortunately, three of them are leaving, and a fourth is being challenged in his re-election bid.  That means D-64 voters have an excellent opportunity to make some changes to a Board that, just a year ago, had the dubious distinction of making the District’s under-performing administrators the 4th highest-paid in the state, and its under-performing teachers the 25th highest-paid, despite having only one of its schools in the top 100, based on ISAT scores.

And, thankfully, two candidates seem intent on changing that, and they are running as a two-man ticket.

Dathan Paterno is a licensed clinical psychologist whose practice centers on children and adolescents.  He has expressed a refreshing willingness to address tough issues like the cost-benefit equation for D-64’s traditional special education programs, which he correctly notes are “enormously expensive” for the relatively small number of students served.  And unlike some of the other candidates, he views funding referendums not as last resorts in times of crisis but as proactive educational tools that “would afford voters/taxpayers a greater awareness of the financial woes of the district and the policies that contributed to those woes.”

Gee, fiscal responsibility and accountability…concepts heretofore foreign to the D-64 Board and administration.

His running mate, Benjamin Seib, the Vice President of Finance for Cancer Treatment Centers of America and the son of a southern Indiana math teacher, understands the need for public schools to provide measurable rather than just anecdotal value to the entire community.  He already has demonstrated his ability to put his University of Chicago MBA to the service of D-64 by drafting an executive memo pointing out two notable trends in the District – a report that, on one page, displays more analytical thinking and transparency about its topics than we’ve seen from either the current Board or the District’s highly-paid administrators.

We believe Paterno and Seib will become two of the most capable and effective advocates for the taxpayers and the students to sit on the D-64 Board in recent memory.  They are enthusiastically endorsed.

Terry Cameron brings some interesting attributes to his candidacy, including a strong finance and business management background.  And we like his idea about regularly budgeting to address infrastructure issues before they become critical and require yet another big tax-hike referendum.  Unfortunately, he seems to view the Consumer Price Index (“CPI”) as a valid benchmark and driver of cost increases – including teachers’ and administrators’ compensation.  That’s the same wrong-headed view that has caused teacher and administrator compensation increases to not only outpace the CPI but also to increase dramatically even as student performance stagnates.

Rick Van Roeyen is a special ed. teacher and wrestling coach for Leyden Twp.   His “platform” is the typical set of warm-and-fuzzy bon mots (e.g., “My interest in serving as a District 64 school board member is to honestly forward the ideals of the citizens of this community, and maintain the highest level of service practicable to our children.” Yada, yada, yada.) that appears to be missing only the tried-and-true “I want to give back to the community.”

Vicki Lee promotes her candidacy by noting that she is a “PTO President and an involved mother of two children in Park Ridge soccer, softball, Girl Scouts, and religious education” who has “always worked well in a group environment” and “strive[s] to communicate effectively and listen to all to make positive change.”  If Genie Taddeo was your kind of Board member, Lee is your cup of tea.

Finally, the chief accomplishment of incumbent Scott Zimmerman in his three years on the Board appear to be serving as a dependable “yes”-man for Board president John Heyde.  Whether Zimmerman can talk while Heyde is drinking water still remains to be seen, but neither the former nor the latter have ever seen a teacher’s or administrator’s salary they couldn’t raise, or some mediocre educational performance they couldn’t spin into something superficially-but-deceptively positive.  So unless you enjoy paying top-shelf taxes for second-shelf education, the simple rule when voting your D-64 ballot should be ABZ: “Anybody But Zimmerman.”

Coming Next:  The Park Ridge Recreation & Park District

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