Public Watchdog.org

“Boss” Borrelli Making Sure Taxpayers Get Fooled Again

07.26.16

Last week the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate published an article (“District 64 board president: ‘Significant progress’ on negotiations with teachers,” July 19) consisting almost entirely of unfiltered propaganda from Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 about the interminable contract negotiations between D-64 (a/k/a the taxpayers) and the Park Ridge Education Association (the “PREA”), a/k/a, the teachers union. 

We’ve come to expect our local media serving as unquestioning conduits for whatever half-truths, misinformation and disinformation D-64 and Maine Twp. School District 207 disseminate in their quest to preserve their Teflon coatings. The next time the H-A or the Park Ridge Journal conducts any investigative reporting about either school district will be the first.

But we did get a kick out of the H-A article’s reporting Board president Tony “Who’s The Boss?” Borrelli’s proclamation that “significant progress” has occurred in the negotiations, especially given how those negotiations commenced way back on January 19 yet we’re barely a month before the expiration of the existing contract and the start of the new school year without a new contract.

It took the U.S. and North Vietnam around eight months just to agree on the shape of the bargaining table for their negotiations to end the Vietnam War, so by that pathetic benchmark these D-64 and PREA negotiators are crushing it. But by any reasonable standard, they’ve already been lapped at least twice by Team Escargot.

If D-64 and the PREA were making even half an effort, they would have met more than twice a month; and these negotiations would have been wrapped up in a couple of months. That would have given D-64 plenty of time to publish the proposed contract so that it could receive ample taxpayer scrutiny and public comment. Heck, there’s even a miniscule chance it could have been sent back for further negotiations over the more ridiculous provisions.

But among all the things on which the D-64 Board/Administration and the PREA march in lockstep, nothing surpasses their mutual dislike for public scrutiny – especially if that scrutiny reveals how irresponsibly and unaccountably the Board members are discharging their stewardship of the $70 million-plus the taxpayers give them each year.

It’s that mutual distaste for scrutiny which suggests the most likely explanation for such a glacial pace of negotiations, an explanation as nefarious as it is opaque to those on the outside of these secretive, closed-session negotiations: D-64 and the PREA have been colluding to intentionally delay the process in order to create a crisis.

By deliberately stalling the process of getting to “yes” until right before the current contract expires and school resumes, the D-64 Board and the PREA can cynically insist on lickety-split approval of whatever taxpayer-unfriendly deal they’ve cooked up – with no time left on the clock for the contract’s terms to be disclosed to the taxpayers and a meaningful opportunity given those taxpayers to question, comment on, and/or debate those terms prior to the Board’s approval of them.

It’s a strategy as clever as it is dishonest, a charade pretty much guaranteed to deceive and neuter the taxpayers while benefiting the PREA and covering – at least temporarily – the derrieres of the eight members of the D-64 negotiating team.

That way, Borrelli and his fellow bobble-heads won’t have to explain to taxpayers why they agreed to renew the current contract’s anti-transparent, anti-accountability (Article III, Section B(3)) – a provision which doesn’t expressly prohibit open-session negotiations but which uses just enough weasel-words (“Public releases must have prior mutual consent until either the Board or the PREA declares impasse…[after which] public releases or statements may be made without mutual consent provided the other party is given 48 hours’ advance notice.”) to encourage the PREA to file an unfair labor practice charge if D-64 actually tried to inform the taxpayers of the PREA’s demands and negotiating tactics.

It also means Borelli et al. will be tying the hands of the next D-64 contract negotiating team and once again keeping the taxpayers in the dark – just like Borrelli’s predecessor, John Heyde, did four years ago.

And it means the D-64 Board can approve the new contract without even showing it to the taxpayers, like Heyde and his Heydettes did four years ago.

That also means that Borrelli and the bobble-heads can renew the current contract’s “spike” provision that jacks up the salaries of near-retirement teachers by an additional 6% per year to fatten their pensions by tens (hundreds?) of thousands of dollars over their retirement– as Borrelli seemed to suggest in response to a question from resident Peter Karas at the July 18 Board meeting – with the taxpayers being none the wiser until the new contract has been approved and that spike provision has become a fait accompli.

You can watch the Karas-Borrelli colloquy, and Supt. Laurie Heinz inviting Karas to e-mail her or finance guru Luann Kolstad his questions (so that the answers never make it into the public record?), from 6:20 to 14:30 of the meeting video.

You can also watch – from 3:58 to 6:15 of that same video – how Borrelli, Heinz and the rest of that assembled multitude fail to engage taxpayer and education advocate, Joan Sandrik, when she asks them to remove the closed-session bargaining provision from the new contract. Heinz didn’t even invite Sandrik to correspond by e-mail.

That’s the way the D-64 Board operates under “Boss” Borrelli, much the same way it operated under “Boss” Heyde.

Which calls to mind a lyric from The Who’s rock anthem, “Won’t Get Fooled Again”:

“Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.”

Sadly, Borrelli has proved that painfully true.

And that taxpayers are getting fooled again.

To read or post comments, click on title.

TOPR An Object Lesson In Going From Wrong To Right

07.21.16

Back on July 7, 2008 we published a post proclaiming “Time For A Transparent ‘Taste’ “ – which we followed up with “Time For A Transparent ‘Taste’ – Part 2” two days later, and with “After The Taste: The Culture Of Secrecy Continues” several weeks after that.

In those posts we questioned the secrecy related to what was supposed to be some sort of a public-private partnership between the City of Park Ridge and what ultimately was discovered to be a private corporation – Taste of Park Ridge NFP (“Taste Inc.”) – that appeared to be profiting from its no-bid monopoly of that event and thousands of dollars a year of free City services, which we wrote about in a variety of subsequent posts, including on 07.13.09, 08.24.09, 08.03.10, 08.17.11 and 08.27.12.

Those early posts stirred up a lot of comments, most of which were anonymous and presumably came from Taste Inc. officials, friends and apologists – and maybe from a few of those aldermen who foolishly/negligently/corruptly(?) succumbed to then-mayor Howard Frimark’s self-serving lobbying and gave away the TOPR event back in 2005.

But eventually Frimark’s successor, mayor Dave Schmidt, and a more responsible city council demanded transparency and accountability from Taste Inc., and began charging it for the City services it used.

And guess what?

Despite all the dire warnings and veiled threats from some of the folks running Taste Inc., nothing changed beyond the new transparency and accountability. And beyond the tens of thousands of extra dollars finding their way into City coffers instead of Taste Inc.’s bank account.

This past weekend residents and non-residents alike saw that for themselves as another good time was had by all – despite the notable absence of TOPR founder and stalwart Dean Patras, who passed away weeks before this year’s event after battling cancer.

Patras was a hale fellow well met, a solid citizen who appeared to give far more than he took from this community and from City government. Yet even he seemingly fell under the spell of those who view government, including at its most basic local level, as a soft-touch rich uncle – always ready with a handout – and not like an empty vessel deriving virtually every penny of its “wealth” by squeezing it out of the taxpayers.

It’s a tribute to Patras’ character, therefore, that he and several other Taste Inc. leaders chose to change from part of the problem into part of the solution. And this community, and the TOPR event, became better for the transformation.

Which illustrates once again how government – especially at the local level – really is pretty easy when you choose to be honest and transparent, to pay your own way, and to be personally accountable for your acts and omissions; and to demand the same from your fellow citizens and from your government.

It also helps to cast a keen and suspicious eye on those who prefer secrecy, look for others to pay their way (i.e., “freeloaders”), point fingers everywhere but at themselves, and alibi about how “complicated” and “complex” it all is. After all, they seem to be saying, how can they be expected to do the “right” thing when the “right” thing is so complicated, complex and just plain hard?

They still haven’t learned, and likely don’t want to learn, the simplest yet wisest answer to that age-old question: “How do you eat a whole elephant?”

One bite at a time.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Is “Big Brother” Watching The Corner Of Oakton And Northwest Hwy?

07.13.16

This week’s edition of the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate contains an article (“Park Ridge City Council says no to red-light camera removal,” July 11) about the Park Ridge City Council’s decision last month to keep the red light camera at the corner of Northwest Highway and Oakton, which was installed in 2010.

The decision was in response to complaints by several business owners in that area that the red-light camera was hurting their businesses.

Did we miss the memo saying that drivers need to obey stoplights only when police are physically present? Or that stopping is optional if you’re on your way to buy something?

Frankly, we don’t like the Big Brother approach to law enforcement, with cameras seemingly capturing our every move from the moment we leave our houses until we return. And, given the technology that exists and the government’s (NSA, anyone?) penchant for “intelligence-gathering,” maybe even our homes are no longer sanctuaries.

So we subscribe to Ben Franklin’s view that trading liberty for safety makes one deserving of neither.

That being said, we recall the determination being made when that red-light camera was installed that there were frequent traffic violations there; and the red-light camera was chosen as an alternative to having police officers devoting an inordinate amount of time to policing that intersection at the expense of other areas.

According to the H-A article, “the vast majority” of those violations (202 of 289 in June) are for improper right turns on red. We’re not exactly sure why that’s such a chronic problem, but a violation is a violation.

Is the revenue derived from that camera desirable? Absolutely! If June’s total of $16,000 in fines is a typical month’s haul, that’s almost $200,000 a year – or approaching the all-in cost of employing two police officers.

But should revenue be the primary decision-driver? Absolutely not.

If “safety” is the real reason the Police and Council implemented the red-light camera, its success in promoting safety should be the first and foremost consideration for keeping it.

As noted above, there are a variety of reasons for being suspicious of camera-based law enforcement. A principal one is spelled C-H-I-C-A-G-O, that almost-bankrupt banana republic on our southeastern border that seems willing to tax anything that moves…or stands still for too long…in order to feed its century-plus culture of corruption and its current generation(s) of incompetents, crooks and grifters.

Another even more ominous reason is depicted in Orwell’s “1984.”

But to remove the Oakton red-light camera because of complaints that business is being lost from customers ticked off about getting ticketed for blowing a red light in their pursuit of commerce is half-witted, bordering on crack-potted.

The beefers who raised this issue, however, have performed a public service irrespective of how nutty their complaints might sound. They caused the Council and Police Department to revisit the red-light camera issue and its continuing success in fulfilling its avowed purpose. That should be done from time to time with every program and practice.

And the Council got it right by keeping the camera where it is, at least for the time being.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Park Board Wimps Out On Challenge To “Prevailing Wage” Scam

07.07.16

Today’s topic is another way that Illinois fleeces its taxpayers: the “prevailing wage.” 

Once upon a time people sold their labor for what the market would bear. Not surprisingly, that resulted in many inequities sometimes manifested in what were called “slave” wages. But it also spurred the creation of guilds and trade unions that eventually expanded beyond the conventional trades into the labor unions we know today. 

Those unions have been responsible for virtually every benefit working people enjoy today, including the minimum wage, the 40-hour work week, vacation and sick days, etc. In short, unions succeeded in “better[ing] the standards of life for all who work for wages and…seek[ing] decency and justice and dignity for all Americans,” as AFL-CIO president George Meany described it back in the 1950s. 

In the free market, profit-driven real world of the private sector, union demands were moderated by market forces that generally tied increases in wages and/or benefits to increases in productivity and profits. Private-sector unions developed a realistic view of the interdependence of labor and capital, which kept their members’ labor profitable and competitive – at least until globalization re-introduced the concept of slave wages. 

Not so in the monopolistic, profit-free fantasyland of the public sector. There unions and politicians eagerly colluded – the former trading their political support of the latter in return for the latter’s loosening of the public purse-strings whenever it came to the former’s wages and benefits.

All at the taxpayers’ expense, of course.

Which is why the very same George Meany also said that although “[t]he main function of American trade unions is collective bargaining…[i]t is impossible to bargain collectively with the government” because governmental units have no profits in which labor can share. That means every wage or benefit increase comes not out of the value created by that labor (a/k/a, “profits”) but directly – and by the force of our tax laws – out of the taxpayers’ pockets.

Which brings us to the prevailing wage.

In this state of corruption known as Illinois, local governments hiring outside contractors are required by state law to pay those contractors the prevailing wage for such services in the county where the service is to be performed. Thanks to that union/politician collusion, the prevailing wage has been conveniently calculated (by the Democrat-dominated Illinois Department of Labor) to approximate union scale, even though much/most of such labor is done by non-union workers paid significantly less than union scale.

The result: government (a/k/a the taxpayers) ends up paying the highest labor rates instead of the lowest, or instead of even a blended rate of union and non-union wages. Which means tens and often hundreds of thousands of extra taxpayer dollars are unnecessarily spent on individual public projects – often at the expense of better quality materials or additional features in order to meet project budgets.

In the cock-eyed view of the Democrat-dominated Illinois General Assembly, the prevailing wage law ostensibly endeavors to mandate a “level playing field” that ends up reducing, if not eliminating, competition for the lowest bid. Indeed, under prevailing wage, non-union contractors who normally operate with lower overhead/labor costs are forced to artifically inflate their employees’ wages to the same level as their unionized competitors, thus taking away any potential competitive advantage that a non-union shop might have over a union shop.

As usual, the taxpayers are the losers. 

A 2014 study by the Anderson Economic Group, LLC for the Illinois Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors concluded that from 2002 through 2011, Illinois public schools spent approximately $29 billion on construction and repair projects; and that the prevailing wage ended up costing taxpayers an estimated $1.6 billion in extraordinary and unnecessary wages and benefits.

But at the June 16 meeting of the Park Ridge Park District Board, three Commissioners – Rick Biagi, Jim O’Brien and Mel Thillens – tried to do something about that. They just said “no,” arguing against the adoption of the Dept. of Labor’s skewed prevailing wage numbers. And they were joined by Commissioner Dick Brandt in out-voting “progressive” Commissioners Joan Bende, Cindy Grau and Jim Phillips.

That victory, however, was short-lived.

Just as soon as the dust settled on that vote, the District’s long-time attorney, Tom Hoffman, began issuing dire warnings about the potential litigation the District might face from either the Illinois Attorney General – whose daddy, Dark Lord of the Sith “Darth” Madigan, presumably has the prevailing wage law engraved on a stone tablet along with his other nine commandments of graft and corruption – or some of the affected unions.

Despite clearly being torqued-off by the prevailing wage costs, O’Brien promptly backed down, explaining that he didn’t want to cause the District to incur legal fees defending itself against such litigation. And Brandt followed suit, with only Biagi and Thillens holding their ground.

Defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory.

We are the last folks to suggest that any unit of government expose its taxpayers to frivolous and expensive litigation. But from what we understand about the prevailing wage law, it seems both arbitrary and anti-competitive – an exercise in political pandering that apparently has survived primarily because of the cowardice and/or stupidity of public officials who have been afraid to challenge it.

Perhaps the Park Board will try again next year to challenge the prevailing wage, only a little more aggressively.

Meanwhile, we pose the following question to Commissioners Bende, Brandt, Grau, O’Brien and Phillips:

How many hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars did you waste, WASTE, because of the prevailing wage, on labor costs for the Park District’s $8 million Centennial Water Park and it’s $13 million Prospect Park?

Can you say “penny wise and pound foolish,” Commissioners?

We didn’t think so.

To read or post comments, click on title.

4th Of July, 2016: A Rededication To Courage

07.04.16

Two hundred forty years ago the Founders of this country declared independence for the colonies.

It was not a safe act.

As many of us learned back in grade school civics, John Hancock reportedly signed the Declaration of Independence with so prominent a signature because he wanted King George III to be able to read it without his glasses. What many of us may have forgotten, however, is that Hancock’s signature was a declaration of war and an act of treason punishable by death – which Ben Franklin alluded to in his quote:

“We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

Those 56 men who signed the Declaration knew that they were putting not only their own lives in danger but, also, the lives of their families. All for the sake of the liberty we’ve enjoyed for 240 years. 

But for how many more? 

What those Founders did took a virtue that seems sorely lacking in government today, especially here in Illinois: courage. 

The role of courage as central to freedom and happiness is a recurring theme throughout history. 

The Greek historian Thucydides observed that: “The secret to happiness is freedom… And the secret to freedom is courage.” Twenty three centuries later, Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis attributed the same philosophy to the Founders, stating that they “believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty.” 

To Harry S Truman, “America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.” 

Even America’s most well-known duke, John Wayne, weighed in with: “Courage is being scared to death… and saddling up anyway.” 

Unfortunately, even back in the 1960s President John F. Kennedy warned that “a nation which has forgotten the quality of courage which in the past has been brought to public life is not as likely to insist upon or regard that quality in its chosen leaders today – and in fact we have forgotten.”

He was right…and prescient.

Today, when it comes to government at every level, courage seems to have been replaced by the three “C”s: conformity, cowardice and compromise.

Conformity, as demonstrated by public officials whose first question when confronted by a problem is a rote request: “What do other units of government do?”

Cowardice, as demonstrated by public officials constantly holding their moist fingers to the wind and seeking informal “consensus” rather than proposing their own fully-formed ideas for an up-down vote.

Compromise, because those officials know that the more sets of fingerprints on a bad idea, the more people there will be to share the deniability and blame.

Conformity, cowardice and compromise are not virtues but vices. And as Texas politician Jim Hightower once said: “Even a dead fish can go with the flow.”

On this day that we honor the monumental courage of the Founders, we should also dedicate ourselves to proving worthy of their courage with courage of our own – and to demanding the same from our public officials, while remembering Thomas Jefferson’s encouraging words: 

“One man with courage is a majority.” 

To read or post comments, click on title.