“I’d Rather Persuade 8 Than 8,000”


Those words were spoken by then-city manager Tim Schuenke a little over a decade ago when he was telling the then-Library board and staff how they could get a new library as part of the Uptown TIF.

The “8” represented a majority of the City Council back then.  The “8,000” was a convenient symbol for the number of voters it might take to win a referendum.

Back then the Council had 14 members – 2 from each ward – before master manipulator Howard Frimark was elected mayor and decided to go Schuenke one better.  Frimark sponsored and passed a referendum in November 2006 to cut the Council from 14 to 7.

Because, of course, it’s easier to convince (and elect) 4 than it is to elect and convince 8.  And with the “right” 4, you can pretty much tell the 8,000 to pound sand.

The relevance of Schuenke’s pithy statement comes to mind now that two referendums are being discussed.

One of those is for an increased tax levy targeted to providing more money on an annual basis for the Park Ridge Library to replace the extra funding – above and beyond the base funding prescribed by Illinois law – the City used to voluntarily give the Library back when “tax, borrow and spend” was the unofficial motto of City government.

The other is for a multi-million dollar bond issue to pay for the cost of flood remediation for 2-3 distinct sections of the City.

Those who want to take more out of government than they pay in didn’t mind a bit when the City was deficit spending to the point where its General (operating) Fund balance dropped so low that occasionally money to cover the City’s payroll had to be borrowed from one of the City’s enterprise funds, like the Sewer Fund or the Water Fund.  Nor did they care all that much, if at all, that such reckless management, along with the Uptown TIF debt, was leading to the downgrading of the City’s credit rating that continues to this day – as noted in City Finance Director Ken Oliven’s April 11, 2014 TIF Update Memorandum:

“The Uptown TIF obligations caused the City’s debt rating to be both downgraded and put on negative outlook in 2012.  This increased City borrowing costs for debt issued that year.”

Notably, Oliven’s memo goes on to quote a Moody’s rating report that “[a]lthough management is implementing the necessary policies to balance the TIF operations and rebuild General Fund liquidity, the positive results have yet to be demonstrated in audited results.”  That’s a pointed reference to the efforts Mayor Dave Schmidt and the Council have made to reduce spending while keeping annual tax increases in the moderate 3-4% range.

But Moody’s goes on to warn that “[i]f actual operating results in fiscal 2013, 2014 and 2015 negatively deviate from current expectations by a significant magnitude, the city’s credit rating will likely face downward pressure.”

That means higher borrowing costs for the City, especially if/when it issues the tens of millions of dollars of bonds it will need to pay for the flood control projects currently being debated.  And which should go to referendum.

Not surprisingly, these kinds of ominous warnings from bond rating agencies don’t faze the folks who think their own particular one-trick ponies are entitled to special funding treatment by the taxpayers.  They know that their best chance for getting such special treatment is convincing 4 of the 7 people sitting around The Horseshoe at City Hall instead of having to go to referendum and convince 8,000 voters– as they might need to do for any referendum issue on the November general election ballot.

Like the referendum the City Council gave a preliminary green light to at last night’s City Council COW (Committee Of the Whole) meeting.

The basic concept of going to referendum for a separate Library tax levy increase was approved by a vote of 5 (Alds. Milissis, Shubert, Knight, Mazzuca and Maloney) to 2 (Alds. Sweeney and Smith).  Nevertheless, the idea of a binding referendum rather than a merely advisory one passed unanimously.  And going to referendum this November passed 6-1, with Ald. Smith voting “no.”

That decision, having passed through the COW, still has to be approved by the full Council on two readings.  Meanwhile, the actual text of the referendum question and the dollar amount of the levy increase will need to be determined.

That’s a blow for the Library Staff and a majority of the Library Board who didn’t want a referendum of any kind.  They had hoped to pressure at least 4 aldermen into handing over an extra half-million dollars or more a year of unmarked City funds than to ask the taxpayers directly for those funds earmarked expressly for the Library.  That way, they never would have to find out by actual vote count how many taxpayers really wanted the Library to get all the funds the Staff and Board majority insist they do.

But if a referendum couldn’t be avoided, they preferred the April ballot to November’s.

Because they’d rather persuade 4,000 voters in April than 8,000 in November.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Public Ignorance And A $6.1 Million Deficit Budget


Two items in this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate, although seemingly unrelated, demonstrate why too many Park Ridge residents seem to be so blithely ignorant of what their City government is doing.

The first is an article titled “Despite cuts, Park Ridge City Council passes budget with $6.1 million deficit” (April 23, 2014),  which reported the vote taken at this past Monday night’s Council meeting.

That headline is almost accurate, which is a good thing.  And the article that follows almost accurately points out, in the third paragraph, that the $6.1 million deficit (actually, $6.0507 million, rounded upward to the nearest $100,000th) is the product of 61.7 million (actually, $61.6737 million) of projected revenue and $67.7 million (actually, $67.7245 million) of projected expenses.

But a reader needs to make it down to the tenth paragraph before beginning to be informed that the deficit is being created not from ordinary operations – the day-to-day business of keeping the City running – but from what amount to capital projects with long-term benefit, such as the $2.1 million deficit in the “Sewer Construction Fund” created by expenditures for sewer construction and improvement projects.

Such deficits, although sounding bad, can reflect the simple reality that expenditures for such capital projects tend to involve boxcar numbers that regularly exceed the amount collected for such projects in that same year.  Often money is accumulated in a particular fund over several years, during which time that fund might post annual surpluses.  But in the specific year in which, say, $3 million is spent for capital improvements, and only $1 million in taxes may have been collected for that fund, it appears that the City is deficit spending by $2 million – which it is, but only in an apples-to-oranges sort of way.

But as we pointed out in our last post, that’s not really explained in the budget summary provided by the City’s Finance Director.  And it’s not explained in the H-A article.  So the average reader is left with the literally accurate but functionally ignorant misimpression that the City is planning to overspend its income by $6.1 million in the coming fiscal year.

The taxpayers are owed a solid, clearly-understandable OFFICIAL City explanation of why the Council just passed a new budget with a $6.1 million deficit.  And they are owed that explanation by the Finance Director; by the City Manager, who is responsible for overseeing the Finance Director’s work; and by the Mayor and the City Council, who are responsible for making sure that the other two well-paid guys do their jobs properly.

And that explanation is already OVERDUE, because the Council already has approved the budget and misimpressions have already been created.

The second dose of ignorance is provided by a letter to the editor from prolific letter writer Jack Spatafora.

Titled “Park Ridge lucky to be where it is” (April 23, 2014), Spatafora’s letter attributes whatever success Park Ridge is experiencing – “today’s happy constellation of new supermarkets, food specialty shops, upscale restaurants, and pedigree school faculties” – primarily to its “being in the right location at the right time,” rather than to the efforts of “our hard-working City Council.”

We previously called out Mr. Spatafora on his ignorance of local government matters in our 08.14.09 post.  Since then (as best as we can tell) he has stayed within his happy-talk “those-were-the-days” wheelhouse and left the business of local government to the folks who do it, and to those who actually care enough to pay attention to and inform themselves about it.

Too bad he couldn’t have left well enough alone, because the existing level of public ignorance about local government needs no enhancements.

We may not agree with the views and decisions of some of our current and former elected City officials, or with their philosophies of government and local public policy, but Spatafora’s dismissal of them and their efforts as virtually irrelevant to whatever good things may currently be happening in Park Ridge demeans both those officials and their efforts.  And perhaps even worse, it could be viewed as effectively excusing the lazy and boneheaded efforts of mayors and councils past.

For example, we actually agree with Spatafora’s “right location at the right time” characterization for Whole Foods (assuming that’s one of those “new supermarkets” Spatafora places in his “happy constellation”).  But without the hard line taken by Mayor Schmidt and the previous Council – Alds. Sweeney (1st), DiPietro (2nd), Smith (3rd), Raspanti (4th), Knight (5th) and Maloney (7th), with then-ald. Tom Bernick (6th) MIA – against the demand by developer Lance Chody for tax revenue sharing, the City would be out $2 million of sales tax revenue.

Similarly, only by the aggressive and sometimes-painful efforts by Schmidt, the previous council and the current Council to cut expenses and reduce deficits, while keeping annual property tax increases at less than 4%, has Park Ridge been able to keep itself a place “where people want to be.”  That most certainly would not be the case had the City chosen, instead, to maintain its former spending habits by 10% annual tax increases, an extra 1-2% local sales tax and gasoline tax, and/or even higher licensing, parking and permit fees.

Park Ridge had the same location during the 1990s when the City – under then-mayor Ron Wietecha and a bunch of bobble-head rubber-stamp Homeowners Party aldermen – stagnated.  That led to last decade’s “don’t-just-stand-there-do-something” boondoggle of the Uptown TIF and the $20 million-plus faux-“investment” handout to Uptown developer PRC that has jackpotted City finances ever since.

After almost two decades (1990 – 2008) of City government done wrong, we’re finally starting to see some of the positive effects of City government done right.  But those are the product of plenty of hard work and sound decision-making by our elected City officials.

Not simple geography or serendipity.

To read or post comments, click on title.

City Finance Director Fails Transparency 101


Mayor Dave Schmidt has made “transparency” a central theme of his, both during his 2-year tenure as 1st Ward alderman and in his 5-year tenure as mayor.  He has done so not just for transparency’s own sake but, also, because transparency is essential to accountability.

For information to be transparent, however, it has to be readily accessible in user-friendly form so that the ordinary taxpayer, as well as the ordinary alderman, can understand it and effectively use in understanding how City government is operating.

Which leads us to the subject of today’s post.

Tonight the Park Ridge City Council is scheduled to adopt the 2014-15 Budget.  Although that budget has to be approved prior to May 1, we’re hoping that doesn’t happen tonight, if only because the budget the Council has been given by City Staff – and which is still titled “preliminary” – projects a $6,050,768 overall deficit and calls for a 16.38% property tax levy increase.  Neither of those points sounds promising.

But arguably more problematic than those unpromising numbers is the way City Finance Director Kent Oliven is presenting them, specifically in his April 18, 2014 FY2015 Budget Summary Memorandum (the “Summary”).

The narrative in Oliven’s Summary contains good news: that the City’s General Fund from which it pays its day-to-day operating expenses is projecting a $581,877 surplus.  It also contains what sounds like bad news: that, overall, the City is projecting revenues of $61,673,703 but expenditures of $67,724,471, for a $6 million overal budget deficit.

But Oliven has made understanding why there is such a large deficit a significant challenge.  And in so doing, he pretty much undermines the value of his “summary” document for both the Council and for the ordinary citizen who might want to better understand City finances and how our City officials are dealing with them.

For example, Oliven reports that $2,131,612 of that $6 million overall deficit comes from bonded debt being incurred for relief sewers and high-capacity line connections during the last year of something called the “Sewer Construction Fund.”  That sounds like needed long-term capital improvements to us, but we’re just guessing because Oliven doesn’t make any attempt at explaining what the “Sewer Construction Fund” is, what it was created to do, and what it has done and spent in however many years prior to the upcoming final year.

Another $992,807 of the deficit is projected for the Water Fund, but the reason for that deficit is not described at all in Oliven’s narrative.  Another $601,208 deficit is projected for the Parking Fund, again with no explanation other than “the City Council decided to review parking rates in FY15.”  So not only aren’t the taxpayers being told why the Parking Fund is deficit spending, but we are being warned that WE may end up paying for that unexplained deficit spending through higher parking rates.


There also are no explanations in the Summary for the Municipal Waste (Refuse/Garbage) Fund projected deficit of $123,325, the Library’s projected $368,510 deficit, the Motor Equipment Replacement Fund deficit of $939,393 and the Technology Replacement Fund deficit of $401,901.

The financial black hole commonly known as the Uptown TIF Fund is budgeting for a $653,804 deficit, based on a reported “increase in bond payments.”  We can’t tell from Oliven’s  Summary narrative, however, the amount of that year-over-year increase; and whether that $653,804 is the entire bond payment or only the net payment after TIF revenues (also unidentified) are deducted.

Curiously, Oliven projects “$200K for Court Fines, which is significantly above the $56,721 FY14 budget amount” due to “better enforcement and collections.”  Only a few years ago, however, Oliven’s predecessor discovered over $1 million in uncollected fines, including penalties and interest – which we wrote about in our 11.08.11 post – which is why we would have expected an explanation of how the City is planning to increase its fine “enforcement and collections” by approximately 350%.

We suspect that all those figures mentioned above as MIA are included somewhere in Oliven’s 210-page budget document.  One of the early lessons taught in “Bureaucrats 101” is how to hide information in plain sight by burying it in comprehensive that include as much information as possible, preferably indiscriminately and in a way that discourages casual readers from accessing it without enduring painful tedium.  That’s because so long as the information is somewhere in the report somewhere, the bureaucrat’s derriere is covered – and the taxpayers don’t get easy access to the kind of information that might lead to unpleasant questions.

Make no mistake about it: there are plenty of places to hide information in a 210-page budget document.

But, frankly, the ordinary taxpayer – or even the ordinary alderman – shouldn’t have to wade through 210 pages to find those figures and explanations missing from the Summary.  If the subject is important enough to be addressed in an executive-summary fashion, that executive summary should provide enough basic detail so that the issues can be understood from reading that summary, without diving into the 200 pages of back-up for each point made.

But Oliven doesn’t seem to get that.  And because it appears that simply leaving important numbers and explanations out of his Summary isn’t troublesome enough for ordinary citizens and aldermen alike, Oliven adds insult to injury by providing an “Index” of the entire budget document that lacks any page numbers.

So much for transparency.  And maybe for competence, too.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Library Officials’ Own Words…Almost…On Summer Sunday Closings


When I wrote the 04.04.14 post, I expected a hue and cry from the apologists for the Park Ridge Public Library’s business-as-usual deficit spending and its reluctance to generate revenue or ask the taxpayers directly for more money (through a referendum) when, instead, it can just blame the City Council for not giving it more tax dollars.   

And I wasn’t disappointed.

Ninety-five comments shattered the existing record for any one post.  And even if nineteen of those came from Library employee Laura L. Enright, both in her own name and by her initials (“LLE”), the remaining 76 comments alone show what a hot-button issue the Library can be – especially when its executive Staff and the Library Board’s majority (Margaret Harrison, John Benka, Audra Ebling, Dorothy Hynous, John Schmidt and Jerry White) wants to play politics rather than manage responsibly.

Not surprisingly, most critics of the post chose to ignore the economic issues raised in it.  Economics involves too many objective, measurable facts and basic mathematics.  Instead, the critics chose to advance subjective emotional appeals, while also rejecting any ulterior motives of the Library’s senior Staff and the Board majority.

The closing of the Library for 14 summer Sundays, recommended by the executive Staff and approved by the Board majority, stands as the single most egregious display of mismanagement and political gamesmanship perpetrated against anybody who uses the Library on summer Sundays, as well as against those Staff members who might end up losing more pay from closed Sundays than they will gain from the raises those closings arguably will be financing.  But the apologists for Library standard operating procedures and the political gamesmanship being used to preserve those SOPs can’t seem to fathom the facts about what’s going on.

So today’s post will recite actual statements about the summer Sunday closing as presented in their most tangible official form: the Library Board meeting minutes, which are intended to capture the substance of everything that is said during meetings, although not with verbatim accuracy. 

Minutes of December 17, 2013 Library Board Meeting

Board member Charlene Foss-Eggemann objected to summer Sunday closings, noting “that Sundays, even in the summer, are important to people, some of whom may work six days a week and Sundays may be the only day they can get to the Library.” (Minutes, Page 3)

Board member Joseph Egan “believes the Library should charge a nominal fee to come up with $20,000 to keep the Library open on Sundays in the summer.” (Minutes, Page 4)

Board member Robert Trizna “agrees with Mrs. Foss-Eggemann…[because] Sunday had the highest average visits per hour.” (Minutes, Page 3)

Board member John Schmidt “noted that his impression was that one of the reasons for closing on Sundays in the summer was to make a visible impact with the public; whereas the other cuts being made are not as visible to the public.” (Minutes, Page 3)

Director Janet Van De Carr “noted that to Mr. Schmidt’s point, if the Board feels it is important for the community to be aware that the Library is definitely being negatively impacted by the decisions made by the City Council then having a visible reduction is one way of proceeding.” (Minutes, Page 3)

Board member Dorothy Hynous “stated that the most significant impact is to close on Sundays…[because] it is the thing Library-goers will notice.” (Minutes, Page 6)

Board member John Benka (in response to Board president Margaret Harrison’s suggestion that summer Sunday closing be re-visited) stated “it’s already done – it was decided at the Committee meeting…[and he] is not in favor of opening it up to another vote.” (Minutes, Page 6)

Ms. Hynous “agrees with Mr. Benka; that it was  voted on in Committee. (Minutes, Page 6)

Board member Jerry White “stated that [summer Sunday closing] was already passed in Committee and [he] doesn’t understand why it is being discussed at length tonight.” (Minutes, Page 6)

Board member Audra Ebling “stated that the Committee already discussed all of these matters and did all the work at the Committee meetings.” (Minutes, Page 5)

Minutes of January 21, 2014 Library Board Meeting

Mr. Trizna stated “[h]e believes the revenue from charging for computers will pay the $20,000 to keep the Library open on Sundays in the summer.” (Minutes, Page 8)

Ms. Hynous “asked then why not just charge $1.00 per book [use]?” (Minutes, Page 8)

Minutes of February 18, 2014 Library Board Meeting

Mr. Trizna “brought up the matter of closing on Sundays during the summer…thus depriving the people of service on a Sunday while a third of those [summer closed Sundays] could be opened if the Library was not forfeiting money” through the Food For Fines program. (Minutes, Page 4)

Mr. Schmidt “stated that the Library is ‘depriving’ people of service on Sundays because the City Council, which is voted in by the public, has reduced the amount of money the Library has to work with….” (Minutes, Page 4)

Minutes of March 18, 2014 Library Board Meeting

Mr. Trizna stated that “he doesn’t see the logic in closing on [summer] Sundays, on what appears to be the busiest day of the week.” (Minutes, Page 2)

“Mr. Egan asked Mr. Trizna if his is suggesting the Board bring the matter [of summer Sunday closings] back to a vote, to which Mr. Trizna said, ‘no, I can count heads’.” (Minutes, Page 2)

*                                             *                                             *

If you read through those Minutes you will find the foregoing excerpts highlighted in yellow.  One thing you will not find, however, is any Library Staff member or any member of the Board majority expressing his/her interest in discussing how to keep the Library open any of those 14 summer Sundays.  You also won’t find any of them proposing ways to raise revenues – or further cutting expenses – sufficient to keep the Library open those summer Sundays.  In fact, you’ll find that none of them voiced any real concern about the effect of those closings on the Sunday users or Sunday Staff.

And don’t expect to find any encouraging words about a referendum from that crowd.  Mr. Schmidt comes closest, on Page 6 of the March meeting Minutes, with a non-committal “at least now the discussion of the matter is on the record in the minutes” – such as it was.  But Mr. Benka deserves special mention for his conclusion (at Page 5 of the December 2013 Minutes), drawn from the results of the recent Community Health Survey, that voters might not vote to give the Library extra money via a referendum because “they are used to quality service for nothing.”

Can you say “freeloaders,” John?

What these meeting minutes demonstrate, in these public officials’ “own” words, is what we wrote in our previous post: managing the Library effectively has taken a back seat to the executive Staff’s and Board majority’s attempt to wage political war on City Hall for more money.  To that Staff and Board majority, Sunday Library users are mere pawns and acceptable collateral damage in that war

And you can now add the Library’s Sunday staff members to the “pawn” column, too, even if they don’t realize it.

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and publisher

Member, Park Ridge Library Board

To read or post comments, click on title.

Summer Sunday Library Closings Make Political Pawns Of Sunday Users


If you are a regular Sunday user of the Park Ridge Library, you’ve just become a pawn in a local political battle.

That’s because the Library is scheduled to be closed every Sunday this summer, from Memorial Day through Labor Day.  And that closing for 14 Sundays is being done purposely to anger you Sunday users enough to demand that Mayor Dave Schmidt and the City Council give the Library the hundreds of thousands of additional tax dollars the Library wants, but isn’t getting, from City Hall.

The customary five hours (from noon until 5:00 p.m.) you Sunday Library users have enjoyed for more than a decade have become acceptable collateral damage to Library Director Janet Van De Carr and her executive staff (“Staff”), and to Library Board members John Benka, Audra Ebling, Margaret Harrison, Dorothy Hynous, John Schmidt and Jerry White.  And you Sunday users have become cannon fodder in their political battle with City Hall, viewed by them the way King Edward Longshanks viewed the Irish in “Braveheart”: expendable.

Why the Sunday shutdowns?

First and foremost, because the Library Board and Staff want to cause pain to the group of Library users they consider least valuable and least dependent on the programs and services Staff is most concerned about preserving and expanding – the vast majority of which are offered during the week even though Sunday per-hour Library attendance is often higher than any other day of the week.

But what is most frustrating, dishonest and just plain wrong with the way the Library Board and Staff has gone about stiffing you Sunday users is the misinformation/disinformation campaign that is being employed to actually mislead the taxpayers on what the Library is doing, and why.

For example, The Board and Staff issued a January 23, 2014 Press Release about the Library’s finances and operations that is most notable for the information it omits.

Let’s start with the fact that it makes no mention whatsoever of the cost of keeping the Library open those 14 summer Sundays, which is believed to be only about $20,000.  Nor does it mention that roughly that same $20,000 will, instead, be spent on raises for Library employees.  This Board and Staff don’t want the Sunday users or the taxpayers to think that the Library will be closed 14 Sundays this summer just so Library employees can get raises.

The Board and Staff also don’t want you Sunday users or the taxpayers generally to know that, if the Library charged users of the Library’s computers a nominal $1 fee per log-in, the Library’s own computer usage figures through February 2014 suggest that such a charge could generate over $63,000 of new revenue on an annual basis.

That’s right, folks: over $63,000.  Three times the cost of keeping the Library open those 14 Sundays this summer.  Enough to keep the Library open and pay for those employee raises.

But as infomercial king Ron Popeil would say: “Wait, there’s more!”

The Library regularly shows movies and runs a variety of programs for which it charges nothing.  Yet based on the Library’s  program attendance figures, just a nominal $1 admission fee for those movies and programs could generate another $31,000.

Don’t expect to see those figures in any of the propaganda the Library is generating to goad its Sunday users into fighting its battle against City Hall.  The Library Board and Staff don’t want you Sunday users or the taxpayers generally to even consider the possibility that the way the Library currently is being run isn’t the only way, or even the best way.  And they hate any data that suggests otherwise.

Even if it’s their own.

Which is why those figures also don’t appear anywhere on the Library’s anonymous “survey” that asks the people who have been getting free programs whether they want to start paying for them.  That survey apparently does not prevent respondents from taking that survey as many times as they want, so “ballot box” stuffing is permitted if not tacitly encouraged (despite the perfunctory “Only one survey per person, please” request).  And the Board’s and Staff’s preferred answer to the pay-to-play questions is “no.”

The survey is the Board’s and Staff’s attempt to stave off any Library funding referendum, especially in light of the recent suggestion of such a referendum by Mayor Schmidt and Ald. Dan Knight (5th).  That’s because, despite their insistence that the Library is so beloved and treasured that the taxpayers want nothing less than for the Council to give the Library whatever additional funding it asks for, none of those Board or Staff members want to give those taxpayers an actual vote on that funding via a referendum question – especially on the November general election ballot when turnout is expected to be much heavier than for our local elections in April 2015.

An actual vote – democracy instead of bureaucracy, or oligarchy – on additional Library funding carries too great a risk of the Board and Staff being proved wrong.  They know (as did the Park Board when it arrogantly refused to ask the voters whether it should spend $8 million for the new Centennial water park) that the voting taxpayers often see “amenities” where bureaucrats and sycophantic public officials see “essentials.”

It’s one thing to manipulate pawns and a rig-able survey.  It’s quite another to manipulate a majority of the voters.

Especially when sombody else is counting the votes.

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and publisher

Member, Park Ridge Library Board

To read or post comments, click on title.