Public Watchdog.org

Park District Endorses End-Run Around Competitive Bidding

11.28.15

It’s been awhile since we last checked in on what the Park Ridge Park District has been doing with its approximately $25 million annual budget.

As we’ve written previously, the Park District has done an exceptional job of generating non-tax (i.e., user fee-based) revenues to the point that they now exceed tax revenues. And that deserves kudos, because the path of least resistance is to underprice fees to keep the users happy while letting the all-too-silent taxpayers subsidize those users.

Unfortunately, it sounds like the District stumbled a bit in its contracting for the retrofitting of the buildings on the former Park Ridge Youth Campus – now known as “Prospect Park” – to accommodate a modern computer network and integrate it into the District’s existing system. Fortunately, it sounds as if the Park Board is taking reasonable measures to square that away.

The District’s administration apparently tried to steamroll a “bundled” contract for the purchase of IT services with the purchase of the hardware for the project. And that’s where the Board balked.

At its meeting on October 15, the Board – with president Jim O’Brien absent – deadlocked 3-3 on a vote to approve the integrated service/hardware contract. Commissioners Joan Bende, Jim Phillips and Cindy Grau voted for approval while Commissioners Rick Biagi, Mel Thillens and Richard Brandt voted against it.

Biagi and Thillens expressed their belief that the District might be able to get a better price than the approximately $80,000 quoted by IT consultants Sikitch LLP for the “equipment” (hardware and software) – along with its $30,000 of actual IT services – if the District went out to bid.

We don’t know if that’s true or not. But allowing consultants (like Sikitch) to bundle their professional services with a much larger dollar amount of products that customarily require such bidding is a common scam by government contractors, consultants and bureaucrats that often bamboozle the folks we elect to look out for the taxpayers’ interests.

That’s because the bureaucrats love it: it reduces their workload and greatly reduces the likelihood that they will be held accountable should something go wrong. But it improperly mixes the contracting for professional services that can legally be done (although it doesn’t have to be) on a no-bid basis with the purchases of commodities (hardware and software) that should be competitively bid.

According to the Park Ridge Journal article (“Park’s Computer Needs Concern Park Ridge Commissioners,” Nov. 11), a Sikitch rep and the District’s IT manager, Mark Somera, claimed that Sikitch could get reduced prices on the hardware/software from manufacturers like Hewlett-Pcckard through volume buying for Sikitch clients.

Not necessarily the best prices, mind you.  Just “reduced” prices.

But when Board members asked why the District couldn’t just take Sikitch’s list of components and shop around for the best deal, the Sikitch rep in attendance pled ignorance, claiming that wasn’t his area of expertise. Apparently Sikitch was so confident its no-bid deal had already been cooked to the right degree of doneness that it didn’t to send someone capable of answering what sounds like a pretty basic question.

Hence, the 3-3 tie that prevented the contract’s approval.

That reportedly torqued Exec. Director Gayle Mountcastle, who responded with a litany of delays and woes that would ensue from any type of competitive bidding on the computer hardware – including a further delay in the opening of Prospect Park.

Which, reportedly, already is a year behind the original target date.

And already hundreds of thousands of dollars over budget.

And already having cut some of those features the District used to sell the project to the voters in the April 2013 referendum.

Of course, any additional delay related to the IT contract might have been avoided if District staff didn’t try to play it too cute by half in the first place.

Or, actually, the 73% of the total contract price that the $80,000 of hardware represents.

But at the Board’s November 5, 2015 meeting, staff – primarily Finance Supt. Sandra DeAngelus, with a little help from Somera – came up with what sure sounded like a half-baked (at most) attempt at backfilling the omitted due diligence to justify the District’s original decision to give the whole deal to Sikitch, without bidding the approximately $80,000 hardware/software portion.

You can watch and listen to it starting at around the 10 minute mark of the meeting video, and continuing through the vote at the 17:43 mark.

As best as we can tell from that discussion, Somera got an incomplete (or inadequately detailed) product list from Sikitch and made some attempt to contact three suppliers, only one of which appears to have responded in whatever time frame was set. That alternate supplier’s bid was $20,000 higher than Sikitch’s, although it does not sound like an apples-to-apples situation because, among other things, Sikitch proposed a hardware-based firewall while the other vendor chose a software-based one.

Not surprisingly, only one Board member questioned that apples-to-oranges choice: Rick Biagi.

But by that point the charade was convincing enough for the other six Board members to approve the pre-cooked deal with “best boy” Sikitch by a vote of 6-1.

And the no-bid scams continue.

To read or post comments, click on title.

“Secured Vestibules” Will Not Make D-64 Schools $5 Million Safer

11.23.15

No less a genius than Benjamin Franklin once opined that: “He who chooses security over freedom deserves neither.”

And no less a wartime leader than Franklin Delano Roosevelt noted that: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

But both of those sentiments were MIA last Monday (11.16.15) night at the Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Board meeting, and apparently at the last several Board meetings, as the D-64 “Chicken Littles” – a/k/a, the D-64 Board and administration members – tried to convince whomever would listen that each of the District’s seven schools and everyone inside them are in imminent danger from (pick your favorite paranoia): ISIS suicide bombers, unstable non-custodial parents, bullied introverts with access to semi-automatic weapons, or miscellaneous unidentified bogeymen.

Instead, we got repeated displays of what no less a political philosopher than Edmund Burke warned about: “No passion so effectively robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.”

And, yes, the fearmongers did invoke “Sandy Hook.” More than once.

But, better yet, they also invoked the image of Laurie Dann – the emotionally-troubled young woman who, in 1988, walked into the Hubbard Woods Elementary School in Winnetka with three pistols tucked into her clothing and proceeded to shoot one child to death and wound five others.

But the D-64 tag team of Board president Tony Borrelli and Supt. Laurie Heinz – seemingly operating from Rahm Emanuel’s playbook – don’t appear to want to let any crisis, real or imagined, go to waste.  So they are doing their best to stampede the herd (a/k/a the rest of the D-64 Board) into throwing multi-millions of taxpayer dollars at “security” projects that won’t really make our schools secure, including the “secured vestibules” that have now come down in price to a bargain-basement $5.1 million.

Why spend $5.1 million when, as we understand it, each school is currently supposed to be on lockdown during the school day, with the only entry point being a locked main entrance through which only approved visitors can be “buzzed in.”

What’s “insecure” about that?

We’re still not sure, even after watching the “secured vestibules” portion – from 57:15 to 3:24:35 – of the meeting video. But from the gist of the comments made by the Chicken Littles, the schools aren’t the fortresses some folks might like them to be.

But here’s a most curious fact: despite D-64’s teachers being, along with the children, the most direct beneficiaries of whatever “security” the $5.1 million secured vestibules can provide, their union – a/k/a the Park Ridge Education Association (“PREA”) – has failed/refused to formally endorse them.

Without explanation.

You can watch (at 2:11:00 – 2:11:47 of the meeting video) the current president of the PREA, Erin Breen, say that the PREA has no official position on the plan. And several minutes later you can watch the most recent PREA past president (and current Lincoln Middle School teacher) Andy Duerkop state that schools can’t be made “safe” before questioning whether secured vestibules are the best way to spend $5 million.

Gee, do you think the PREA’s refusal to go on record in support of $5 million worth of half-baked secured vestibules has anything to do with the fact that it’s going to be asking taxpayers for a new multi-year, multi-million dollar contract next year?

If so, you may be starting to understand how local government works.

But if the teachers give so little concern to the secured vestibules that they aren’t willing to jeopardize their next contract by formally supporting them, why did a 4 (Borrelli, Zimmerman, Lee and Johnson) to 3 (Paterno, Eggemann and Sotos) majority vote to spend $600,000 to move forward on their design and whatever building additions/renovations may be needed to accommodate them?

Could it be because the D-64 Board and Administration has been so unsuccessful in moving the needle of objectively-measurable student performance that they need a “Look, there goes Elvis!” distraction?

If so, what could be a better distraction than panic-peddling various forms of domestic terrorism (Sandy Hook, Laurie Dann, etc.), especially when you’ve got parents like Jeff Schneider telling the Board to “Do anything in your power, regardless of cost, to protect these schools and our children”; and Paul Sheehan asking the Board to adopt a policy of “Zero tolerance for risk to our babies while within our schools”?

There were a few voices of reason, however, including residents Joan Sandrik and Diane Bresler; and Board member Dathan Paterno, who raised enough questions about the process, the data, the “expert” opinions, and the manipulativeness of the secured vestibule advocates to stop any such project dead in its tracks if making the right long-term, cost-effective decision was the principal goal.

But it’s not.  And it rarely has been at D-64.

Ironically, the kind of spare-no-expense/accept-no-risk nuttiness voiced by Board members, administrators, the District’s architects, and some of those citizen speakers ignores the fact that the $5 million spent on secured vestibules is basically WASTED if not accompanied by metal detectors.

Without metal detectors at every secured vestibule, any bullied student can walk into the school with a backpack loaded with the same three handguns that Laurie Dann carried into that Winnetka school.

Any over-stressed, homicidal non-custodial dad can walk in with the same Bushmaster XM15-E2S stashed under his trench coat, and the same Glock 20SF stuck in his waistband, that Adam Lanza carried into Sandy Hook Elementary.

And any disaffected soccer mom with too many toys in her attic can stroll right in wearing a suicide vest under her North Face parka filled with ten or twenty pounds of ball bearings, like Hasna Ait Boulahcen may (or may not) have been wearing when she was killed in that Saint-Denis apartment.

But none of the Chicken Littles want to discuss making metal detectors part of the secured vestibule project. Metal detectors are serious business, a lot more serious than this Board and this Administration is willing to get about “security.”

Look! There goes Elvis!

Again.

To read or post comments, click on title.

 

Library Chair Procurement: No-Can-Do Diligence

11.16.15

This blog doesn’t regularly quote scripture.

And when it does, it’s usually the gospel according to Franklin, Adams, Jefferson and Lincoln instead of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

But in our post of 03.17.11, we used the words of Luke 16:10 to describe how our public officials’ ability to handle important and expensive tasks is often revealed by how they handle the smaller tasks:

“He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much.”

And that principle is at the heart of the article in last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate about the Park Ridge Library Board’s rejection of a proposal to purchase $19,232 worth of high-density stackable event chairs, primarily for use in the Library’s first-floor meeting/activity room (“Park Ridge Library Board rejects $19,232 chair purchase,” November 10) – even though the article pretty much misses that principle entirely.

First and foremost (although overlooked in the article), NO Trustee objected to the purchase of new chairs. The current ones are reportedly 35 years old and anybody who has seen them knows they are more than showing their age.

Also missing from the article was any reference to the fact that the Library’s purchasing policy, which requires the Library Director to “secure informal written proposals from suppliers…when an expenditure for a single item” – in this case, 125 stackable chairs – “…is expected to be over $5,000.00 but less than $20,000.00,” was totally ignored.

Instead, the Library Director initially came to the Board on August 5, 2015 with ONE proposal for one particular chair: the KI “Opt4.”

Just that one.

Why?

Because, according to her 08.05.15 memo, that’s a chair that is “comfortable, lightweight and can be stacked up to 40 high,” has a “10 year warranty,” weighs “less than 8 pounds each” and are “in use at several area libraries that report they are very satisfied with their performance.”

“Comfortable” based on what objectively measurable standards? The memo doesn’t say.

“Lightweight”? Why does it matter whether they’re 8 lbs., 11 lbs. or 14 lbs.? How much more “lightweight” than comparable chairs? The memo doesn’t say.

“In use at several area libraries”? Which ones? For how long? The memo doesn’t say.

“[Those libraries] report they are very satisfied with their performance” but how do they “report” it? What does “very satisfied” mean”? What “performance” standards are they applying? The memo doesn’t say.

Yet notwithstanding those 8 unanswered – actually, UN-ASKED – questions, the Library Director inexplicably requested the Library Board to blindly approve those $135.72 chairs. In other words, a rubber-stamp approval without ANY comparables. And without ANY specifications from which such comparables might be objectively determined.

None! Zero! Zip! Nada!

Actually, that’s not quite true: the Library Director tried to create the illusion of “comparables” by juxtaposing the $135.72 per chair cost of her preferred KI chairs with the estimated $110.00 “Cost to repair old chairs” – that NO Trustee suggested should be repaired.

An “irrelevant” non-comparable.

Translation: “I want these particular chairs and I don’t have to justify my wants to you Trustees or to the taxpayers you represent.”

Only after the Board balked at rubber-stamping that purchase did the Director come up with four alleged “comparables,” in a memo dated 09.08.15, despite no objective specifications to demonstrate whether and how those other four chairs might actually be “comparable” to the KI chair. Nor did she provide any objective “Consumer Reports”-style test results, evaluations or recommendations concerning quality, durability, or value of the KI chair or any of the four “comparables.”

Without such specs, test results, etc., the Board decided it should actually see and sit on some of those comparables.

So at the Planning & Operations portion of the October 14, 2015 Committee Of the Whole (“COW”) meeting, the Director provided samples of three allegedly comparable chairs while continuing to assert, as she did in the September 8 memo, that there weren’t many other comparables. Consequently, the minutes of that 10.14.15 meeting reflect that 5 of the 8 trustees present voted for the KI chair while 3 voted against it.

But when the KI chair came up for a final vote at the October 29 Board meeting and after further discussion ensued, a 5 (Egan, Dobrilovic, Foss-Eggemann, Reardon and Trizna) to 3 (Lamb, Parisi and Rayborn) majority voted to reject the Director’s chair recommendation for economic and procedural reasons – including that president Egan noted that he was able to find “many chairs” that appeared comparable to the KI simply through a 10-minute Google search.

You can read that discussion in the “draft” minutes of that portion of the meeting, or you can watch the meeting video, starting at the 54:17 mark and concluding at the 1:08:50 mark,

during which you can hear the Director admit that her principal “specifications” for the new chairs was simply “high density” – followed by a lot of vague and subjective pseudo-criteria that ignores the fact that both the KI and the Demco Compact are made primarily of polypropylene (“poly”).

Except that the Demco costs only $48 each, or 35% of the cost of the KI. With no objective proof that the KI is better constructed, is more comfortable, or will last longer.

That’s what happens when the Library’s top administrator ignores the Library’s purchasing policy in the first instance – and then compounds that failure with two months of obfuscation and attempts at circumventing that policy; and when the Library Board is not just a rubber-stamp for the Director.

Irrespective of whether the matter is big or small.

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and publisher

Member, Park Ridge Library Board

To read or post comments, click on title.

Paterno Right On “Secure Vestibules” – For What It’s Worth (Updated)

11.10.15

We haven’t had all that many good things to say about Dathan Paterno since he was elected to the School Board of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 in April 2013 – with our endorsement in which, among other things, we praised his view of 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.'”

Unfortunately, he has been a dependable vote for the secretive closed session meetings that have become routine under current Board president Tony Borrelli and his overpaid BFF superintendent.

And for each vote Paterno casts for the District’s taxpayers (e.g., his vote against giving Supt. Laurie Heinz an estimated $20K raise after just one year of unspectacular performance), he seems to cast at least two boneheaded spendthrift ones (e.g., his vote to give Heinz a one-year contract extension worth $250K after that same one year of unspectacular performance; and $500K to provide middle-schoolers with “free” Chromebooks).

Meanwhile, objectively-measurable educational performance at D-64 remains stagnant while costs continue to rise, and Paterno and his colleagues remain silent as church mice.

So despite D-64’s spending around $14,000 per pupil, per year, one of our community’s major growth industries has become tutoring – to compensate for the lack of learning actually taking place in those big-spending schools.

But Paterno appears to have found an acorn with his criticism of the District’s plan to spend $6 million to secure the vestibules of its school buildings, as expressed in his Letter to the Editor in last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“$6 million doors just a placebo for District 64,” Nov. 3).

As Paterno correctly points out, events like Sandy Hook are extreme rarities which become hyper-exaggerated primarily by a news media whose credo for too long has been: “If it bleeds, it leads” – and by all those “helicopter parents” who want no expense spared on their children, especially if that expense is paid for primarily with Other People’s Money (“OPM”); i.e., the taxpayers’ money.

Notably, Paterno’s opposition to spending $6 million to secure the schools’ vestibules does not seem to reflect an overall concern with D-64 spending $6 million. Given his record on the Board over the past two years, that means he’s already got one or more other places he’d rather spend it.

But improving education and the students’ performance metrics doesn’t appear to be one of them.

Not surprisingly, we couldn’t glean very much from the last couple of months of sketchy School Board meeting minutes and corresponding “Reports,” but we are hearing that the “vestibule” projects are actually school building additions that will contain and/or accommodate those secured vestibules – and which comprise a substantial portion of those “vestibule” costs.

In other words, it’s not just about “security” – something we would have expected Paterno to have mentioned in his letter if his goal was to play it totally straight with the taxpayers.

Speaking of playing it totally straight with the taxpayers, it looks and sounds like D-64’s Secrecy Patrol has done its typically excellent-but-deplorable job of keeping the taxpayers clueless not only about the building additions aspect of the “vestibule” work but, also, about the Board’s consideration – per “Appendix 3” of it’s November 5, 2015 meeting “Report” – of doing the $15-20 million of 2016 building work without referendum – by pulling $10 million out of the District’s semi-sacrosanct fund balance “and issuing in spring 2016 a small non-referendum bond issue of $5M-$10M.”

In other words, the Borrelli-led D-64 Board is seriously considering a plan that makes sure we taxpayers don’t even get a referendum vote on this first wave of $15-20 Million of spending – before they start dumping the next $12 Million, or $26 Million, of additional planned “health, life, safety” expenditures on us.

And because of his silence about this scheme, we have to question whether Paterno is merely asleep at the wheel or actually a co-conspirator in that scheme.

But asleep or co-conspiring, he nevertheless seems to have gotten it right with his observation that “secure vestibules would not appreciably reduce the risk of violence to our children and staff” because: (a) there appear to be no reports of attacks on American schools that were foiled by secure vestibules, and (b) an assailant bent on harming schoolchildren can find much easier targets on the playgrounds during recess, or walking out the doors at day’s end.

This community’s history demonstrates that school children are more at risk from crossing streets – either on foot or on bicycle – than from armed assailants. This new obsession with secured vestibules, however, reminds us of the anti-O’Hare Chicken Littles who’ve been warning of an imminent plane crash into Maine South for the past couple of decades, if not longer.

Not surprisingly, the District’s architect of record, FGM Architects, is 100% behind pushing forward with all this new construction. According to a Park Ridge Herald-Advocate story from October 13, 2015 (“Roofs, windows, doors targeted for repairs and upgrades in District 64”), just a preliminary study of these projects will put over $300K in FGM’s pocket. And then there is likely to be a percentage of the total cost of the projects FGM will grab for coordinating and/or overseeing them.

That’s because FGM gets paid for bricks and mortar, not for any improvements to the quality of education within the walls those bricks and mortar comprise.

So we’re grateful for Paterno’s having called attention to the likelihood that spending a whopping $6 million on “secured vestibules” – with or without the building additions he failed to mention – is far from the highest and best use of that money. Whether his silence about the Board’s looting of its own fund balance and its non-referendum borrowing calls into question the motive(s) and validity of his criticism, however, remains to be seen.

But for somebody who has pretty much been lost in the Borrelli’s/Heinz closed-session funhouse for the last two years, getting anything right deserves at least a qualified kudo.

Now, if only he can stay awake and attentive for the remaining two years of his term.

UPDATE (11.13.15)  This week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate is reporting (“District 64 board divided on $6 million secure doors,” Nov. 10) that Paterno was taken to task by at least a couple of his fellow Board members at the Nov. 5 Board meeting. And, not surprisingly, secrecy-uber-alles Board president Tony Borrelli was one of them.

“ ‘When these things are crafted, you have to be very careful,’ said Borrelli. ‘Any time after tonight would have been perfect.’ ”

Translation: When D-64 orchestrates a process to achieve a particular result, don’t screw up the orchestration! Or at least don’t screw it up until the fat lady’s done singing.

And Board member Bob Johnson didn’t seem to like the way Paterno took his case directly to the people rather than confining it to a Board meeting:

“I think that a much better forum for what had been written would be here,” Johnson is reported to have said.

Translation: If you only say it at a Board meeting, D-64’s propaganda minister, Bernadette Tramm, can have a chance to spin it, and maybe even keep it out of the newspaper so the public isn’t the wiser.

But we need to note that Board member Tom Sotos, himself not all that impressive since his election last April, appears to have stood up for Paterno and the transparency his comments added to the issue:

“I think actually [Paterno] stepped in the right direction….”

Exactly.

Now let’s see if Paterno can do that on other topics – and if Sotos starts stepping in the right direction himself.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Saying “Goodbye” To The Short-Lived Kemnitz Center

11.03.15

Simply saying “We told you so” would be too easy.

And not nearly enough to capture the pettiness, greed, stupidity and waste by the masterminds behind the private corporation called “Senior Services, Inc.” (“SSI” or “Seniors Inc.”) that founded something called “The Kemnitz Center for Active Adults” – the imminent demise of which has been reported in both the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“ ‘Senior-driven’ Kemnitz Center to close by end of year,” Oct. 26) and the Park Ridge Journal (“Kemnitz Center In Niles Closing At End Of This Year,” Oct. 21).

For those keeping score, that’s a mere 15 months between the Kemnitz Center’s September 2014 opening and its anticipated December 31, 2015 closing.

And, from the sound of things, they burned up approximately $300,000 in the process.

That $300 grand was a bequest from the late Betty Kemnitz to the “Park Ridge Senior Center” – which, at the time the bequest was made, just happened to be the name on the building at 100 S. Western owned and nominally operated by the Park Ridge Park District, and a place that Kemnitz frequented and apparently treasured.

But after Kemnitz died and her bequest “matured,” the Seniors Inc. crowd – already bristling at some Park Board members’ complaints about the $100,000-plus annual operating deficits the Senior Center was posting while charging members a paltry S43 in annual membership “dues”– collaborated with former Park District employee/Senior Center manager Teresa Grodsky (who had been sacked by the Park District about a year earlier) to file a lawsuit intended to make sure that Seniors Inc. could keep that $300K bequest for itself.

You can get all the background on this you need or want by checking out our 05.13.13 post “Good Riddance To Greedy Geezers” and the other posts referenced there.

But long story short, when the Park District decided to give up its fight for the Kemnitz bequest, the Seniors Inc. “leadership” – current D-207 School Board member Carla Owen, Grodsky, Barbara Ingolia, Helen Roppel, Millie O’Brien, and Ken Butterly – triumphantly packed up and moved to the former Our Lady of Ransom school building in Niles.

And fifteen months later, it sounds like they’re flat broke and busted.

But still remarkably shameless.

As quoted in the H-A article, Seniors Inc. chairman Ken Butterly is bragging that they “broke a barrier in the region” by allowing seniors from outside the District’s boundaries to belong – even though the Senior Center always allowed non-resident members, albeit at a higher price. And although the Kemnitz Center’s membership reportedly topped out at about 250 people ages 55 to 90, Seniors Inc. chairman Ken Butterly is bragging that: “It’s been a great run.”

Seriously.

Not surprisingly, the District is already welcoming back the secessionists with open arms – to a re-purposed and re-branded facility now known as the “Centennial Activity Center” from which it runs the “Seniors Together At Recreation” (STAR) program.

But apparently senior centers are bad investments irrespective of whether they’re publicly or privately run.

Even as Seniors Inc. was blowing $300,000 in less than two years, as best as we can tell from the District’s own reports the Centennial Activity Center lost a whopping $240,000 in 2014, and looks on track to lose around $190,000 this year. Those deficits have to be covered by…wait for it…the taxpayers. But in typical government fashion, we hear that District staff and certain Park Board members consider that “moving in the right direction.”

And in typical Good-Time Charlie fashion, Butterly and his Seniors Inc. buddies intend to “press on and have a good time until the last day.” And the last pennies of Kemnitz’s $300,000 get spent.

Before they come back onto the Park District dole.

To read or post comments, click on title.