Public Watchdog.org

Let’s Pretend…That The D-64 Board Was Transparent To Its Taxpayers (Updated)

09.25.15

Today we’re going to play a game of “Let’s Pretend.”

Let’s pretend you’re a member of the board of directors of a $70 million service company that employs a few hundred people.

One day someone at the company discovers that a particular employee “engaged in dishonest and unprofessional conduct” during a one-year period that cost the company thousands of dollars. And upon this discovery being made, the company conducts an internal investigation that confirms the employee’s dishonesty and extent of the company’s loss.

And let’s pretend that, upon receiving the investigator’s report, the company’s CEO – whom you and your fellow board members consider such a superstar that, after only one year into her original 3-year contract, you unanimously extend her contract another year at its $250,000-plus salary – recommends the employee be fired.

Would you review the investigation report, accept your superstar CEO’s recommendation, and authorize the firing of that dishonest employee?

If you said “No!” then you’re qualified to be Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Board member.

Because, as reported in an online Park Ridge Herald-Advocate story (“School officials mum on Park Ridge teacher’s $16,500 fine.” September 22, 2015), that $70 million “company” is D-64; the employee reportedly is D-64 middle-school teacher Kate De La Pasqua; and the superstar CEO is Supt. Laurie Heinz.

Since this was a D-64 Board decision, you don’t have to read the H-A story to know that every important discussion and decision related to it was held in closed session.

When it comes to hiding from the taxpayers, Board president Tony Borrelli’s transformation into predecessor John Heyde is almost complete: watch the opening minutes of a few Board meeting videos and you can almost feel Borrelli’s delight over running into closed session – which seems to have become a permanent feature of every Board meeting – so that he and his backbone-challenged fellow Board members [Mark Eggemann cast the only “no” vote on this closed session] can talk with the kind of candor they’re afraid to express in open session.

Or maybe they just don’t want a public record of their cluelessness and/or spinelessness.

According to the H-A article, the District cut a deal with De La Pasqua that includes a “remedial warning” and a $16,500 “fine.” And because the deal was cut in D-64’s Star Chamber, not only did the District fail to post even a redacted copy of the settlement agreement or any details of the settlement on the District’s website prior to the August 27th meeting when the deal was approved, but it made sure the settlement agreement contained a confidentiality clause.

The better to make sure that not only would no member of the press or public get any advance warning of this latest pre-cooked morsel of Board business-as-usual, but that they would have trouble learning about it even after the deal was done.

To its credit, however, the H-A issued a FOIA request and, in response, D-64’s minister of propaganda and disinformation, Bernadette Tramm, produced a highly-redacted copy of the agreement and notice of remedial warning that blacked out any information about the charges against De La Pasqua – other than that she “failed to adhere” to a D-64 employee ethics policy and some unspecified Board policy.

So if you pretend you’re a D-64 Board member who actually believes in honesty, integrity, transparency and accountability in D-64 governance, would you say: “Gee, Ms. Tramm, can’t you publish the redacted version of the settlement agreement on the City’s website so that no FOIA request is required?”

Apparently not.

And when the H-A asked for an un-redacted copy of the settlement, Tramm pled privacy concerns and cited the Illinois School Student Records Act, 105 ILCS 10, et seq.  So the H-A reportedly is taking its case to the Illinois Attorney General. And good for it.

Naturally, this kind of backroom deal-making has led to a lot of speculation and rumors, with the most interesting one being that De La Pasqua and her hubby may have scammed D-64 out of thousands of dollars in tuition by lying about the residency of some un-named (wink, wink) student(s).

Based on the 2-year old D-64 salary data we could find, De La Pasqua should be making over $100,000. And she is listed as the owner of a condo at 1301 W. Touhy Avenue that she purchased for $125,000 in 2014. But public records also show a “Katherine De La Pasqua” at 5024 Nagle Ave., Chicago.

Hmmm….

We also find it interesting that the settlement included a $16,500 “fine” which – SURPRISE!– D-64 apparently has not explained. Does that amount represent D-64’s total loss from whatever “dishonest and unprofessional conduct” De La Pasqua allegedly engaged in, or just a small fraction of it – with the remainder having been negotiated away by the Board and, consequently, eaten by the D-64 taxpayers?

And if she ripped off D-64’s taxpayers for that much, is she being charged interest for the one year (until June 2016) she and her hubby are getting to pay it back?

A few years ago we published a post about how D-64’s botching of small tasks – at that time, the school lunch supervision program – very well may portend the botching of much bigger tasks. This $16,500 backroom deal with De la Pasqua is another one of those small tasks.

Meanwhile, the same Board members who just a few months ago unanimously proclaimed Heinz a superstar, and extended her contract like one, have signaled that on a small matter such as this they might not really trust her judgment.

With teacher union contract negotiations on the horizon, that does not bode well for D-64 taxpayers who can count on nothing more than being kept in the dark by this decidedly non-transparent Board.

UPDATED 09.27.15.  On of our readers in the real estate business has advised us that Ms. De La Pasqua sold the Nagle property in 2010 and purchased 6234 N. Olcott (Norwood Park, Chicago) that same year.

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A Valedictory Address Worth Watching

09.21.15

In our last post we wrote about how the Park Ridge Library Board was enhancing its transparency and accountability by broadcasting its meetings live on WOW and posting the videotape on its website.

Little did we know that the very first televised meeting last Tuesday (09.15.15) would provide such a wonderful teaching moment, compliments of the departing Children’s Dept. Service Mgr., Kelly Durov – whose valedictory address (starting at the 17:35 mark of the meeting video)

illustrates a number of the things about the Library and local government generally that need to be changed and corrected if local government facilities and services are going to improve to where they should be.

The main premise of Ms. Durov’s remarks was that she would have preferred to have continued adding to her “longevity” at our Library but that “[t]here are some real issues that made leaving [her] job, a job that [she] loved, a reality.”

Whenever you hear public employees (or their union reps) talk about how much they “love” their jobs, you can be pretty sure they’re talking about the pay, the constitutionally-guaranteed pension that they often take years earlier than Social Security kicks in for the rest of us, the lack of accountability, the virtual inability to be fired, the virtual certainty their employer won’t pack up and move to Indiana or Guadalajara, or various other advantages they have over private employees.

And Ms. Durov didn’t disappoint.

“It would be disingenuous for me to say that salary were not a large part of my decision to leave.“

You’ll note that Ms. Durov didn’t say what her current salary is, how much she will be getting at her new job, or how many more Benjamins in her pay envelope would have persuaded her to stay. That wouldn’t have fit into her anti-Library Board narrative.

Similarly, while she applauded Director Janet Van De Carr’s “strong leadership,” she curiously forgot to mention that it is Ms. Van De Carr – and not the Library Board – who has full authority over all employees’ raises, including Ms. Durov’s. Nor did she mention whether she even asked Ms. Van De Carr for a raise, or whether she was turned down.

That wouldn’t have fit into her anti-Board narrative, either.

Fortunately for anyone looking to understand the true priorities of many public employees, Ms. Durov didn’t stop after having expressed the primacy of her pay check.

“I would urge the Library Board…to respect the management of the Library to set goals for our staff that will better the Library and the community, and to trust us when we deem those goals have been achieved.”

In other words, the Library Board should see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil – but just let “management” (a/k/a, Ms. Van De Carr) continue to do whatever it darn well pleases, at whatever cost and to whatever effect. And then the Board should let Staff decide for itself how good a job it’s doing.

Yes, folks, that IS the inmates running the asylum.

In Ms. Durov’s bureaucrats-gone-wild world, that means rejecting “squishy numbers such as circulation and door count” and embracing whatever un-measurable warm-and-fuzzies make Staff less accountable while also boosting its self-esteem – even as a metric like “circulation” (how many books and other items are checked out, so how “squishy” can that number be?) is at its lowest level since FY2007-08, down more than 112,000 items from its FY2012-13 high; and a metric like “door count”(how many patrons physically visit the Library, which IS a “squishy” number because management and Staff want it that way) is at its lowest level in at least a decade, down almost 115,000 from its FY2009-10 high.

But, bless her, Ms. Durov didn’t stop there, either.

“My integrity as a librarian has been compromised as we have implemented user fees, stopped supporting Food for Fines, and now are examining charging people to use Library space.”

Ironically, each of those three things Ms. Durov criticized was intended to make more non-tax dollars available for Library use, and they have done so – two facts that also didn’t fit into her narrative. More importantly, none of those three things implicates her actual “librarian” duties, although we confess to having no knowledge of any code of librarian “integrity” and couldn’t find one with a quick Google search.

If there is such a thing as librarian “integrity,” however, we would have expected it to have been severely “compromised” when Ms. Durov’s favorite director and a previous library board of bobbleheaded rubber-stampers decided to close the Library on Sundays during summer 2014 as a political stunt to embarrass the City Council and enrage the citizenry into coercing the Council into giving the Library more money, thereby avoiding the referendum that the Council nevertheless thrust upon a reluctant and unappreciative director, Staff and board.

But neither Ms. Durov nor ANY of her fellow Library Staffers showed up at any Board meeting to voice even the slightest complaint or objection to locking out all those patrons who regularly made Sundays the Library ‘s single busiest day of the week, based on average per-hour attendance.

That’s because when one cuts through all the bogus rhetoric, the Library’s “patrons” are little more than props that employees like Ms. Durov use for their own purposes, like arguing for more money in their pockets. So invoking the welfare of the Library’s patrons is just empty lip service designed to sucker those patrons into thinking that many/most(?) Staff members aren’t just mercenaries.

And thanks to a small-but-vocal minority of easily-bamboozled patrons and a complicit local press, that tactic usually works…until someone like Ms. Durov shows her true colors, captured on video, before selling herself to a higher bidder.

As the fictional Vincent “Vinny” Gambini might say: “Thank you, Ms. Durov. You’ve been a lovely, lovely witness.”

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and publisher

Member, Park Ridge Library Board

To read or post comments, click on title.

Park Ridge Library Takes Another Step Toward Full Transparency And Accountability

09.14.15

Our 4th president, James Madison, wrote:

A popular Government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or perhaps both.  Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

A similar note was sounded by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis in his 1932 article “What Publicity Can Do”: “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” 

So it’s time that “light” – along with “camera” and “action” – is finally coming to the Park Ridge Library Board, starting tomorrow (Sept. 15) night at 7:00 p.m. when it holds its first-ever meeting in the City Council chambers at 505 Butler Place. 

One reason for moving Library Board meetings to the Council chambers is that a television-quality camera and sound system already is in place. So not only can those Board meetings be videotaped and archived on the Library’s web page, but they also can be broadcast live on the Wide Open West cable network. 

Nobody’s expecting a 30 share and a 20 Nielsen rating for these meeting videos. But some people – reportedly including former 2nd Ward ald. Rich DiPietro, until he moved to a WOW-less part of town – do watch the live WOW feeds of City Council meetings, so they might occasionally watch a Library Board meeting. And the ability to view an archived video to see and hear exactly who said what about a particular issue should also be a valuable asset for anybody who shares the wisdom of Monroe and Brandeis.

That televising and videotaping meetings is finally coming to the Library Board also speaks volumes about the current Library Board members’ commitment to transparency and accountability.

Although the Library Board is late to the video party, expect it to act more like the City Council – which didn’t start videotaping meetings until the late Mayor Dave Schmidt bought a camera with part of his first-year’s (2009’s) mayoral stipend and had friends run that camera and upload the videos to a YouTube site – than like the School Boards of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 and the Maine Township H.S. District 207, whose not-ready-for-prime-time-players look for every possible excuse to run and hide in secretive closed sessions whenever anything even remotely controversial is on the agenda.

Like giving their superintendents contract extensions and spending ever-greater sums of tax dollars on teacher and administrator salaries while academic performance and rankings remain stagnant or even decline.

But broadcasting and videotaping meetings is not the only thing that distinguishes the current Library Board from its predecessors.

The current Library Board majority, under the leadership of president Joe Egan, conducted a first-ever legitimate review of the Library’s director which actually took into consideration such objectively measurable performance factors as circulation (which last year dropped to its lowest level since FY2009), patron visits (which dropped to their lowest levels in at least a decade) and program attendance (ditto).

And those patron visits declined even with the Library giving at least 20 (and likely more) for-profit tutors thousands of hours of free “office space” that generate thousands of additional patron visits by students and their parents who might not otherwise use the Library.

No wonder the director and Staff are so indulgent with such tutors and their customers.

Under previous boards – who treated regular deficit spending almost as an art form – that kind of performance consistently drew “excellent” or “outstanding” ratings that were used to justify raises not only for the director but for staff members. And such deficit spending, the raises it funded, and the declining performance metrics easily flew under the radar of a disinterested local press which rarely even bothered to show up at Library Board meetings.

These days reporters from both the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate and the Park Ridge Journal are regulars at Library Board meetings. And they’ve also started taking in the occasional Committee Of the Whole meeting.

What a difference a couple of years and a competent, diligent Board make.

A majority of the current Board also proved to be the only adults in the room when they promptly reversed the previous board majority’s irresponsible decision – recommended by the director and tacitly endorsed by Staff despite their incessant faux-altruism, naturally – to close the Library on Sundays during Summer 2014 rather than defer $20,000 of raises to about 40 Staff members.

That’s right, folks: when the choice came down to the personal economic interests of the Library’s director and Staff versus keeping the doors open for the Library’s patrons on what often was the Library’s single busiest day of the week (based on visits-per-hour), the director and Staff gave those patrons the Rahm Emanuel finger.

And while the 2013 board majority members consistently deficit spent to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars and then attempted to badmouth the City Council – whom they derisively referred to as “the guys across the street” who didn’t use and didn’t care about the Library – into making up the difference out of the City’s already-tight budget, the current Board majority enthusiastically endorsed the Council’s decision to let the taxpayers vote on a referendum to raise their taxes for the Library.

Finally, this Library Board understands that our taxpayers have given the Library a 4-year and approximately $4 million window to get the Library’s finances in order and start turning a complacent institution into one ready, willing and able to successfully face the financial realities and operational challenges of becoming a self-sustainable, 21st Century library.

Which is no mean feat when you’re adjacent to a borderline-bankrupt city in a borderline-bankrupt county in a borderline-bankrupt state.

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and publisher

Member, Park Ridge Library Board

“Parking Problem” Not The Worst One To Have

09.09.15

From time to time we’ve expressed the sentiment that the public officials who run our local government units often make things a lot harder than they need to be – whether because they don’t think clearly, they are cowed by special interests, or they allow themselves to be bamboozled by so-called (and self-proclaimed) “experts” both within and without those units of government.

Those mistakes often multiply the problems.

A new problem recently has sprung up, however, that local government has not created but which it will need to confront: parking.

The commuters who have been parking in the lot at 36 S. Fairview the City has been leasing from AT&T for years will become nomads on October 1. That’s because AT&T is expanding its Park Ridge operations by about 100 employees and is reclaiming that lot from the City. That loss of parking spaces comes on the heels of the loss of another S. Fairview lot on which a new multi-family residential structure is being built.

One hundred new AT&T employees here is a small boon for Uptown merchants, especially those who expect to serve food and drink to those new employees. Similarly, the conversion of surface parking lots to developed property should substantially increase the real estate taxes the properties generate.

That comes with the loss of public parking spaces, primarily all-day commuter spaces. And as we have frequently pointed out in the past, more residential units may very well mean more school-aged children, which will substantially increase the burden on those taxpayers without schoolchildren who already subsidize more than 50% of the approximately $14,000 per D-64 student, and approximately $17,000 per D-207 student.

But back to the parking problem.

Actually, it’s two problems: a commuter parking shortage and a business parking shortage. The former requires spaces primarily between 6:30 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, while the latter requires more/most of its spaces evenings and weekends.

Evening and weekend parking demands will hopefully increase even more with the addition of the new “Pick” restaurant on the old Pickwick Restaurant site, the new “Holt’s” restaurant on the former Pines site, and the new Irish pub on the former Scharringhausen pharmacy site. And perhaps by a new sushi restaurant on S. Prospect in the former Pioneer Press office building near Hay Caramba.

Those staggered needs suggest that a solution may not be all that complicated. But that solution is looking more and more like a properly-sized parking garage.

Although we’ve already heard calls for a new “parking study,” the City Council and City Staff shouldn’t need yet another “parking study” to figure out that there are two prime sites in Uptown for such a garage that the City already owns: the surface parking lot at Summit and Euclid, and the Library lot. And from what we understand, either site can accommodate a 3-4 story deck that could hold about 125 vehicles per floor.

The main “devil” in the details of such a project is who will pay for it, especially if Public Works guru Wayne Zingsheim’s SWAG of 20,000 – $25,000 per space is in the ballpark.

As we wrote in our post of 06.25.15, if Park Ridge has real parking needs, they should generate interest from private developers who might be willing to pony up the construction costs in return for something like a low-cost, long-term ground lease from the City and the lion’s share of the parking fees.

Failing that, however, the City Council will have to give serious consideration to whether a parking garage is the kind of project, and provides the kind of service, that City government owes its residents and its merchants.

Meanwhile, the Council will need a plan for dealing with the near-term commuter parking shortage. That will likely require some on-street parking in the residential areas near the Uptown METRA station that will likely inconvenience commuters and almost certainly annoy residents in those affected neighborhoods.

That inconvenience and annoyance, however, might be substantially reduced by the City’s setting up – and scrupulously enforcing – marked commuter parking spaces that take up no more than half the available curb space on any given block. Or the City might consider some variation of alternate-side parking for commuters and residents; i.e., commuters will park on the north/east sides of those streets on the first and third weeks of the month, and the south/west sides of those streets on the second and fourth weeks.

The City might even consider pre-paid commuter permit parking in marked spaces on those residential streets.

The short-term fix, however, is the easy part. The tougher, and more important, piece of the parking problem is finding the private developer willing to build the garage.

But not repeating the ankle-grabbing Uptown TIF-style giveaways that will continue to screw our taxpayers for another 12 years.

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Labor Day 2014: The Difference Between Private And Public

09.07.15

Back when the State of Illinois actually had a “middle class” worthy of the name, most of its unionized employees worked in the private sector and were heirs to the proud tradition of private-sector trade unionists like William Sylvis (iron molders), Samuel Gompers (cigarmakers), John L. Lewis (mine workers), Walter Reuther (auto workers) and George Meany (plumbers).

But while Illinois ranks 7th (behind New York, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and California) in public-sector unionization with 54.7% of its public-sector employees belonging to unions – up from 38.4% in 1983 – less than 10% of Illinois’ private-sector workers are unionized, down from approximately 22% in 1983. And that’s even as private sector employment has grown by 30% versus only 3% in the public sector.

Meanwhile, the public sector expansionists and apologists bemoan the shrinking “middle class” – which in Illinois is generally described as a household income between $37,500 and $112,500.

Which means that here in Park Ridge many/most households with two public-sector incomes exceed “middle-class” status and become “upper-class” after only a few years.

If those incomes were all merit-based and the product of fair arm’s-length negotiations, we’d have no problem with them.

Unfortunately, the proud tradition of private-sector unions got lost in translation as the public-sector unions turned collusion with politicians of both Democrat and Republican stripes into a quasi-pornographic art form – while also becoming adept at manipulating soft-headed “non-partisan” local politicians who lack the backbone to aggressively negotiate contracts on behalf of their taxpayer-constituents.

Yes, invertebrate board members at School Districts 64 and 207…we mean you!

Fortunately, rookie Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s small but significant victory last week over Illinois’ Dark Lord of the Sith, Michael (“Darth”) Madigan, is the first sign in decades that an Illinois governor not only isn’t in the pocket of this state’s public-sector unions but, also, that he might be able to go toe-to-toe with those unions and their Sith co-conspirators.

Rauner was able to beat back Madigan’s and his Dem sycophants’ efforts to override Rauner’s veto of a bill that would have stripped the governor of the authority to negotiate contracts with Illinois public employee unions, particularly AFSCME, and would have empowered some unaccountable arbitrator (very likely a Madigan stooge) to impose on taxpayers his/her idea of what’s a “fair” deal for the unions.

Our local Dem puppet, Rep. Marty Moylan, voted for override while RINO Rep. Mike McAuliffe voted a gutless “Present.”

And that victory over Madigan was essential, considering that the Illinois Senate led by Madigan lackey, Illinois Senate president John Cullerton – assisted by his Senate sub-puppets like Park Ridge’s own, Sen. Dan Kotowski and Sen. John Mulroe, both Dems – had already overridden Rauner’s veto.

Rauner was right to fight that battle, and Illinois taxpayers are lucky he won it. Because every time Illinois’ public-sector employees have their compensation and benefits, including their $100 billion-plus underfunded pensions, juiced up without a commensurate increase in productivity, Illinois becomes less attractive to the private industry and investment needed to pay the taxes that fund such arguably overpriced employees.

But Rauner is dead wrong when he tries to lump private-sector unions together with the public-sector ones and treat them similarly. The former are bound by inherent capitalistic checks and balances of the free marketplace, including real risks such as termination, employer relocation and bankruptcy – while the latter operate on unchecked socialistic principles and captive markets with few, if any, of those risks.

And the longer the public sector continues to dominate the private sector, the tougher it will be for our children and their children to pursue the American Dream.

So as we wrote in our Labor Day 2013 post: “consider spending a few minutes contemplating how we can restore to prominence the private sector labor and management that built this country – while reducing the growing dominance of the collusive public sector labor and politics that is undermining it.

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