Public Watchdog.org

Gilmore The Right Choice From A Wrong Council Process

07.26.17

Back in 2012 when the Park Ridge City Council sacked then-city mgr. Jim Hock for not performing up to expectations, the chirping began about how the City was getting the reputation as being bureaucrat-unfriendly because Mayor Dave Schmidt and that Council dared to actually demand high performance from the City’s top employee.

The chirping got louder in May 2016 when Hock’s replacement, Shawn Hamilton, resigned rather than be subjected to what was likely to be an unsatisfactory performance review by then-Acting Mayor Marty Maloney and a slightly different Council from the one that launched Hock.

The chirpers made even more dire predictions about how nobody from the “city manager” class of public employees would apply for the job and subject themselves to…um…er…well, objectively measurable performance standards and a Council willing to demand they be met.

Maloney and the Council chose to make relatively new City Finance Director Joe Gilmore (he didn’t join City staff until early 2015) the acting City Mgr. The appointment was intended to be temporary, primarily because Gilmore saw himself as a “finance guy” and didn’t believe he had the chops for the top job.

It actually took some heavy-duty lobbying by Maloney and the late Ald. Dan Knight, the Council’s then-Finance Committee chairman, to persuade Gilmore to accept the position, even on a temporary basis.

But right out of the blocks Gilmore began showing that he could do the job, in large part by eschewing the political maneuvering and gamesmanship that Hock and Hamilton could not resist and, instead, focusing on the nuts and bolts of his own and City staff’s work product. In so doing he provided the Council with what it needed to do its job better. And on those rare occasions when something did not meet the Council’s standards, Gilmore immediately owned the error and promptly made sure it was corrected.

So we applaud the Council for unanimously removing the “acting” part of Gilmore’s title, which it did at its July 10, 2017 meeting. And we fully expect that Gilmore will prove himself to be a significant improvement over his three predecessors: Hamilton, Hock and Schuenke.

As reported in a July 12 article in the Park Ridge Journal (“It’s Official: Gilmore Named City Manager”), Gilmore’s starting salary as City Mgr. is $171,000 – which Ald. Marc Mazzuca (6th Ward) observed, for some unknown reason, was  approaching the $174,000 salary of a U.S. Senator.

Irrespective of what a U.S. Senator is paid, we believe $171,000 is a reasonable salary for someone in charge of a $70 million-plus enterprise, especially if he does his job better than his three most recent predecessors.

Mazzuca also lauded the Council for its handling of Gilmore’s new contract. But after reading the Journal story and checking some past Council meeting minutes, we have to disagree with Mazzuca and wonder whether this Council is already starting to walk itself back from Mayor Dave Schmidt’s H.I.T.A. (“Honesty. Integrity. Transparency. Accountability.) doctrine.

Let’s start with the Council’s decision to give Gilmore a four-year contract with annual raises based on increases in the cost of living (i.e., a COLA, or a non merit-based raise), which we believe to be unprecedented for a Park Ridge City official. But the real problem is that it appears to have been discussed entirely in closed sessions.

Although the Journal reported “closed session meetings every week to discuss the city manager position and terms of a job offer” since Marty Joyce’s appointment as 7th Ward alderman, our review of the meeting minutes since Joyce’s appointment show only two closed sessions “to discuss the appointment employment, compensation, discipline, performance or dismissal of specific employee(s)” prior to the announcement of Gilmore’s contract: At the June 5 and June 19 meetings.

We know that the City’s attorneys from Ancel Glink consistently panic-peddle their opinion that the Public Records Review Act (“PRRA”) – which expressly applies only to Freedom Of Information Act (“FOIA”) requests for documents – also prohibits any discussion of performance reviews in Council meetings governed by the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”). We took issue with that opinion in our 05.27.16 post, and we still don’t believe that opinion has been endorsed by even one Illinois court. We have to assume, therefore, that the Ancel Glink attorneys assured the aldermen that they could lawfully hide any discussion of Gilmore’s performance in closed session.

Fair enough, at least for the time being – even if hearing how the Council came up with the $171,000 salary, the COLA raise and the car-use deal would probably be more than a little informative to the taxpayers who will be funding that package.

We are aware of nothing in the PRRA, IOMA or elsewhere, however, that would justify or even permit closed-session discussions of the public policy reasons the Council came up with for converting what historically had been a one-year contract (e.g., Jim Hock’s 07.14.08 Employment Agreement), a 2-year contract ( e.g., Hock’s 2010 renewal), or an “at will” employment arrangement (Shaw Hamilton’s) into the four-year contract offered Gilmore, as well as its automatic COLA-based raises.

And from some quick legal research it appears that limiting for-cause termination (other than for criminal or statutory official misconduct) solely to “nonfeasance” – rather than also to “misfeasance, malfeasance, insubordination or a documented pattern of unsatisfactory performance” – is virtually inviting a lawsuit should the City’s employment relationship with Gilmore sour. So it also would be interesting to hear who came up with “nonfeasance” as the operative “for-cause” termination standard, and why.

Yet all that was hidden from the City’s taxpayers – much like how the Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Board hides in closed sessions its annual discussions about why they keep adding another year to Supt. Laurie Heinz’s 3-year contract every time a year expires, and how they come up with her annual raises.

We never thought the City Council would compete with the D-64 Board in a lack-of-Transparency contest. Maybe it’s just the natural progression of what Charles Dudley Warner proclaimed as: “Politics makes strange bedfellows.”

If there were true justice in verbiage, however, “politician” would be a four-letter epithet; and there would be a sizable bounty on the head of every one of them.

If you’re one of those citizens who prefer that their units of local government treat them like mushrooms (i.e., kept in the dark and covered with manure), you probably find these kinds of closed-session deliberations welcome relief from the past seven years of Mayor Dave and post-Mayor Dave “Transparency” and “Accountability.” Such closed-session discussions harken back to the bad old days of Mayors Ron Wietecha, Mike Marous and Howard Frimark, where meetings weren’t televised or video-recorded, council meeting packets weren’t available in advance of the meeting so that the average citizen could knowledgeably participate in the meetings, and closed sessions were the rule rather than the exceptions.

Not surprisingly, Wietecha, Marous and Frimark endorsed Mayor Dave’s opponent in the 2013 election, as did about 25 of the former alder-creatures who couldn’t spell H.I.T.A. if you spotted them both consonants and let them buy a couple of vowels.

Nevertheless, the appointment of the reluctant Gilmore – who truly earned the City Manager job through 14 months of solid performance in his “acting” capacity – is a very positive move for the Council and its taxpayers.

Too bad such a positive move has to be tainted by the unnecessarily secretive and un-accountable way the Council went about it.

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Not-Really-Secured Vestibules No Match For 12-Year Olds With Guns

07.21.17

We’ve written several posts about what a stupid and money-wasting idea the “secured vestibules” for Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 schools are, including posts on 03.11.16, 03.29.16 and 04.04.16. The sad fact is that they are so stupid and ineffective that we took to calling them “not-really-secured” vestibules.

Which they are.

We also suggested that metal detectors and either police or security guards (off-duty police?) would be more effective and economical than those not-really-secured vestibules in dealing with any actual threats.

So we weren’t at all surprised to hear those not-really-secured vestibules talked up in response to the wailing and gnashing of teeth in the aftermath of the recent incident where one 12-year old Lincoln Middle School student, along with a 15-year old fellow knucklehead/delinquent, posted some kind of gun-related threat to Maine South summer school students on Snapchat.

It also came as no shock that D-64 Supt. Laurie Heinz, her puppet Board president Tony Borrelli, and a few School Board members reacted to this incident as if they had just woken up in the middle of a minefield without a minesweeper.

When a parent of Washington and Lincoln school students showed up at last Monday (July 17) night’s School Board meeting and beefed about the four-day delay in the District’s notification of D-64 parents about the incident, then asked what plans were in place to prevent school shootings, Borrelli jumped at the opportunity to assure the woman and everyone else that the Administration has been so concerned about security that it is installing those not-really-secured vestibules – thereby “increasing the security atmosphere in all of our buildings to prevent these kinds of horrible events should they occur,” according to an article in this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Parents concerned after learning District 64 student was accused in Maine South threat,” July 18).

Note that bit of Orwellian Doublespeak: “[T]o prevent these kinds of horrible events should they occur.” [Emphasis added.]

President Borrelli, your Freudian slip is showing.

Making sport of Borrelli’s shortcomings as School Board president is not a fun assignment, but it’s something that needs to be done – if only as an object lesson in the kind of bad government we tend to get when we keep electing open-minded, non-judgmental, glad-handing “pleasers” who immediately “go native” and become witting or unwitting dupes of the bureaucrats we are paying quite handsomely to blow smoke up our kilts and mislead us while positioning themselves for their next job.

Can you say non-resident carpetbagger Laurie Heinz? We knew you could.

That’s why it’s so easy for Heinz to lead Borrelli and certain other Board members around by the nose, getting them to blow around $1 MILLION per school for these not-really-secured vestibules that are so worthless that…wait for it…they couldn’t have stopped either that 12-year old or his 15-year old partner had they shown up at any D-64 school with guns and ammo in their backpacks.

As we’ve pointed out many times before, the lack of metal detectors effectively gives students, parents, teachers, vendors, service people, etc. carte blanche to walk into any D-64 school “strapped,” “packing,” “heeled,” “heavy,” “Roscoed,” or any of the myriad other terms for walking around with a gun.

Nor will those vestibules stop those same people from bringing in knives, grenades, or ball bearing-laden suicide vests.

And for anybody hell-bent on shooting schoolkids, all they need do is drive by the playgrounds at recess, or the main entrances when school lets out and the schools themselves create target-rich environments.

So what’s the point of the not-really-secured vestibules?

Giving the Board and the administrators an excuse for spending millions of taxpayer dollars to create a façade of top-shelf security that merely conceals the vulnerability.

Not unlike their spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars creating a façade of top-shelf educational quality.

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“Impact Fees” Just More Snake Oil For The Masses

07.18.17

We rarely agree with anything Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Board member Tom Sotos says or does when it comes to the D-64 schools. But when “Tilted Kilt” Tommy gets something right – or even half-right – it deserves some recognition.

As reported in a current Park Ridge Herald-Advocate article (“Study to address proposed Park Ridge development’s impact on District 64,” 07.11.17), during a recent D-64 Board discussion of the City of Park Ridge’s possible assessment of “impact fees” on proposed new residential development on the current Mr. K’s site on Higgins just east of Dee, Sotos correctly observed that such fees aren’t “going to solve our problems” of more residences being constructed and burdening the schools with students who cost far more to educate than whatever taxes are paid on their parents’ residences.

Where Sotos missed the boat, however, was with his observation that “[i]f we assess an impact fee on the 31 units considered for the Mr. K site, that impact fee won’t be enough to help us potentially work around our particular problem if all 31 units end up having children in them.”

He’s right, but in the same way that getting the right answer on a math problem is undermined when you have to show your work and, in so doing, you demonstrate that you really don’t understand the applicable math concept.

That’s because the taxes on that 31-unit development can’t even cover the cost of 16 students attending D-64 schools, much less the cost of 31 school kids.

Let’s assume, just for Schlitz and Googles, that each of those 31 residences will have total RE tax bills of $20,000 per year – an unrealistically high assumption, for sure, because that would make them some of the highest-taxed residential real estate in the City. But it makes the math a little easier.

Of those $20K tax bills, roughly $8K per residence would go to D-64 each year. But the cost-per-student in D-64 is around $16K annually, so do the math: 31 units @ $8K/unit of RE taxes = $248,000 of revenue to D-64. Divide that by $16K per student and the whole development starts swimming in red ink if only 16 of the 31 units have just one student living in them.

Even if the developer were forced to pay an $8,000 per unit “impact fee,” the resulting revenue would barely cover the cost of 16 school kids.

And only for one year!

Add any more D-64 school kids above that 16 threshold and the District’s taxpayers will no longer be swimming in red ink, they’ll be drowning in the stuff.

So why is the D-64 Board even discussing such impact fees?

Ignorance and political posturing.

It seems and sounds like many/most of the D-64 Board members and Staff don’t really understand impact fees and how, historically, they have been used almost exclusively to address infrastructure problems anticipated from new development; e.g., the cost of sewer and water service improvements needed to handle increased demands from the new development, or the widening of nearby streets to add turn lanes and traffic lights for access and traffic flow, etc. Because that kind of infrastructure has predictable costs and lengthy useful lives, a municipality can calculate a one-time impact fee that puts the new development on the same financial footing – cost wise – as more established neighboring areas, and at no additional cost to the taxpayers.

Not so with the highly variable and annually recurring expenses of educating elementary school kids.

And that doesn’t even address the question of whether it would be legal for the City to impose impact fees on developers in order to obtain City approval of their developments, but then turn those impact fees over to D-64 or D-207.

As for political posturing, some of our local politicians are realizing that merely sounding fiscally conservative can fool many Park Ridge residents who desperately want to believe that their elected representatives truly are looking out for the interests of the taxpayers as much as (or more than) for the interests of the tax users. Spouting anything that sounds like it might save those taxpayers money, therefore, becomes a valuable political tool, especially for those politicians who don’t believe one word of their spiel but don’t have the honesty and integrity to publicly admit that they are big-government tax/borrow/spenders.

That makes a term like “impact fees” a wonderful substitute for real knowledge, understanding and principles.

So expect to hear the shallow-thinkers toss that term around for at least a little while longer, if only to avoid addressing the much more difficult problem of figuring out whether, and how, Park Ridge draws the line on allowing more housing for more residents who will drain the taxpayers’ pocketbooks with more and more kids using increasingly expensive public education.

And that’s irrespective of how good or mediocre the quality of that education might actually be.

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New Park Board Members Bid Adieu To Freebies (Updated)

07.07.17

Every so often one of our units of local government does something that is unequivocally good and right.

Today that accolade goes to the Park Ridge Park District for its June 15 vote to eliminate free use of the Park District’s facilities and programming by our elected District officials.

What a difference a change in Board membership makes!

Back at the Park Board’s November 19, 2015 meeting, Commissioner Mel Thillens was the only Board member in attendance (Commissioners Biagi and Phillips were absent) to vote against an amendment to the District’s Policy 3.03 – somewhat deceptively titled “Opportunities for Oversight of Park District Programs and Facilities” – that slightly modified, but nevertheless continued, the District’s policy of letting Commissioners use District facilities and programs free of charge.

Those kinds of benefits are known as perquisites, or “perks”: a privilege, gain, or profit incidental to the holding of office.

They very well also may be unlawful “compensation” because the Illinois Park District Code prohibits compensation of Park District commissioners.

But that didn’t stop then-Board member Joan Bende and Richard Brandt, along with still-Board members Cindy Grau and Jim O’Brien (Rick Biagi and Jim Phillips absent), to retain those perks back in November 2015. Only Mel Thillens voted “no” that night, stating (according to that meeting’s minutes) that “he believes the amount of free stuff Commissioners receive should be limited.”

Not a Lincolnesque statement, to be sure, but accurate nonetheless.

The leader of this successful effort to ban Commissioner freebies appears to have been new Board member Robert Leach, who was concerned about the perks being prohibited “compensation.” He was joined in his repeal vote by fellow Board newbies Jim Janak, Jim O’Donnell and Harmony Harrington (all of whom we endorsed in April) agreed, joined by veterans Thillens and O’Brien, the latter of whom apparently finally found religion.

Or maybe he just didn’t want to be the only dissenter, given that freebie-lover Cindy Grau was absent.

Perks had been a mainstay of the Park District for decades, interrupted only when a Park Board majority – of which this blog’ s editor was a member – voted to discontinue them in the late 1990s, before a new Board majority reinstated them.

Freebie-loving Commissioners always have argued that free memberships and programs enable them to better observe and evaluate the facilities and programs. Not surprisingly, rarely if ever did any of the Commissioners partaking of those freebies report back to the Board or Staff on the facilities and programs they were using.

And since they weren’t paying for the perks, their ability to do any cost-benefit analyses was totally compromised.

The elimination of the perks was termed “a great idea” by veteran Park District attorney Thomas Hoffman – although he refused to opine on their legality, according to an article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Park Ridge Park District board ends free classes, memberships for elected commissioners,” June 27).

A spokeswoman for the Illinois Association of Park Districts (“IAPD”) – a shameless self-promoting, fluff-and-stroke organization that serves as a quasi-union and lobbying arm for career park district bureaucrats statewide – is quoted in the H-A story as justifying such perks as being “within the discretion of these elected boards.” Of course, the IAPD has never seen a taxpayer dollar it didn’t like or couldn’t find a way for its members to spend, so its attempt to justify perks of any and all stripes was to be expected.

But the good news is that we appear to have four new Park Board members – a majority – who may actually represent the taxpayers every bit as much as, if not more than, the tax spenders and tax consumers.

In the State of Corruption and profligacy that is Illinois this new jerk-the-perks policy, led by the newest Board members, is a good start.

Updated 07.14.17.  Glad to see the Chicago Tribune editorial board agrees: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/editorials/ct-park-ridge-perks-free-edit-0713-jm-20170712-story.html

Another group of freeloaders bites the dust.

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Fourth Of July 2017: Never Take Freedom For Granted

07.04.17

It has been 241 years since the Continental Congress ratified the revolutionary words of the Declaration of Independence penned by Thomas Jefferson – ably assisted by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.

At that time, “all men are created equal…[and] endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights…among [which] are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” was both novel and radical. So was declaring independence from a monarchy that commanded one of the world’s largest armies and its pre-eminent navy.

But perhaps the most courageous aspect of the Declaration was its signers’ mutual pledge of “[their] Lives, [their] Fortunes, and [their] sacred Honor.”

They knew that they were serving a purpose well beyond themselves, beyond their families, their friends, their businesses, and any provincial special interests – a purpose that defined them. Paradoxically, even for those who knew slavery firsthand (including the many who actually owned slaves), “liberty” was not some abstract concept.

They never took freedom for granted, Which is why they were so concerned about government power.

They understood, far better than most of us do today, that once you arm imperfect, fallible public officials with the power to protect you, those same imperfect, fallible officials can just as easily oppress you. See, e.g., James Madison’s warnings in Federalist No. 10: “It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.’

The Founders understood that because they themselves were imperfect, fallible individuals.

And because freedom and limitations on government power were so important to them, they often viewed their rivals as fundamental threats to the emerging nation.

Consequently, President Trump’s tweets had nothing on the Founders’ opinions of their opponents.

For example, Hamilton compared Jefferson and his followers to the French revolutionary extremists of the Jacobin Club. Adams described Hamilton as “[t]hat bastard brat of a Scottish peddler!” and suggested that Hamilton’s ambitions “all arose from a superabundance of secretions which he could not find whores enough to draw off!”

Crude and petty? Of course.

But they were the products of the deepest concerns about, and honest passions for, the future of our new Republic by giants like Thomas Paine, who observed that “[h]e who dares not offend cannot be honest”; and George Washington, who saw that government “is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force. Like fire it is a dangerous servant and a fearsome master.”

Unfortunately, those noble concerns and passions for the future of our Republic have been replaced by today’s politicians’ craven obsessions with being re-elected and retaining their membership in what has come to be known – with appropriate disgust – as the “political class” that operates with equivalent cowardice and duplicity in Washington as in Springfield.

On this Independence Day we need to realize that true patriotism requires more than mere flag waving. It requires our continuing dedication to this country’s founding principles and the courage to pledge our own “Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor” in furtherance of those principles.

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