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.

To read or post comments, click on title.

14 comments so far

“Mazzuca also lauded the Council for its handling of Gilmore’s new contract.”

Mayor Dave appointed Mazzuca, so the alderman should know better than to pat himself and the rest of the Council on the back for hiding their policy deliberations (4-year contract, COLA raises) in closed session. Maybe H.I.T.A. works for him only when it is convenient.

Like you, PW, I worry that H.I.T.A. is becoming something these aldermen say but don’t believe, and that the “bad old days” may be returning.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Secrecy is always easier and more convenient than Transparency, if only because the latter comes with Accountability and the former does not.

I did not get your point until i re-read the post. Are you saying that the discussion to hire him (the pros and cons of Gilmore’s performance to date) could be done in closed session because of PRRA but that whether to give him a four-year contract, whether to give him COLA raises, whether to give him use of a car, and how much to pay him, should have been discussed openly?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Yep.

The choice of Gilmore sounds like a good one, so why the closed session about the terms?

EDITOR’S NOTE: You’ll need to ask the aldermen who moved and seconded, respectively, the closed-session motions on both June 5 and June 19: Ald. Moran (1st) and Ald. Shubert (4th).

I hope he continues to do an excellent job. Seems like it would be a very stressful environment.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Public employment locally is “very stressful” only for incompetents and snowflakes.

I guess we should be grateful that they got the right result despite a bad process.

Transparency may become a thing of the past if they keep this attitude.

Sorry but a little disappointed with you Bob for handling this uncharacteristically with white gloves….not what we’re accustomed to from the PWD and not sure why! Realize you are a supporter of Mayor Marty, but if it were Frimark or Wietecha you would have blown a gasket over the process and wouldn’t have let up until it was addressed accordingly. Don’t get soft on your tone!…and compromise what you stand for..HITA. Come on! Don’t let them (the mayor and aldermen) off the hook so easily!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Point taken, but note that 13 of the post’s 23 total paragraphs discussed or criticized the Council’s patently dishonest lack of transparency on this one deal.

And let’s also compare apples to apples: Wietecha’s and Frimark’s secret wheelings and dealings involved scams like the multi-million dollar Uptown boondoggle, a bogus $650,000 “investment” in a Peotone airport, a kinky real estate deal for the former ankle surgeons building, and an $18-20 million new library (Wietecha); and the back-door attempted purchase of 720 Garden at a few hundred thousand dollars above the appraised value, a $400K windfall to Napleton Cadillac after it decided to close its doors, and a special deal for Norwood Builders that would have put condos where Whole Foods now sits (Frimark).

So, bad as this error in judgment by the current Council may have been, it’s just an aberration – at least for the time being, unless and until it becomes a habit. With Wietecha and Frimark, secret kinkys were the rule rather than the exception.

Transparency is a delicate thing that can disappear before you know it.

Mayor Dave would not have allowed this travesty, and neither would Ald. Knight. Alds. Moran and Shubert did not do right by us taxpayers and neither did the rest of the aldermen who went along to get along.

Shame on you, lady and gentlemen. we deserve better than this.

I either read or heard that one of the aldermen made a crack about this being a better process than Mayor Schmidt’s hiring of Shawn Hamilton because this was done with a real contract while Schmidt and Hamilton’s deal was written on a napkin.

Do you agree with that?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Yes and no.

As a general rule – and because this editor is an attorney who both drafts contracts and litigates contract disputes – formal contracts are better than terms scrawled on a cocktail napkin. But a number of contracts scrawled on napkins (cocktail or other) have been enforced by American courts and courts in other countries. See, e.g., Lucy v. Zehmer (1954) re sale of a farm based on napkin contract; Lionel Messi’s first soccer contract with FC Barcelona in 2000; and the reported divide-profits-equally contract by the Black Crowes.

On the other hand, Mayor Dave’s napkin contract with Shawn Hamilton – which provided for a $155,000 salary, without the $350,000 interest-free loan and six-figure severance given to Jim Hock, and which allowed the Council to terminate Hamilton “at will” without cause – seems a much better deal for the City AND ITS TAXPAYERS than the 4-year deal given to Gilmore, even though we’d much rather have Gilmore than Hamilton at this point.

Ironically, Ald. Mazzuca argued back then that Hamilton’s compensation should be benchmarked against the federal government’s civil service pay scale, which would have put Hamilton’s salary $20-30,000 lower. So maybe that explains Mazzuca’s U.S. Senator pay reference.

To be clear, this was a back and forth negotiation between the Mayor and Mr. Gilmore. There were 5-7 items that were up for negotiation and Mayor Maloney was asking the council (in closed session) to give him direction on what they would and would not like to see as part of the final contract. For example, the use of a vehicle is in the contract as granting him access to a fleet car for city business, while in town. His original ask was for a city owned vehicle to take home (about an 70 miles a day). The fleet vehicle was part of a compromise. Same for salary, COLA, vacation days, benefits etc.

As much as I like Mr. Gilmore, I’d hate to have to negotiate against him (on behalf of the taxpayers) if we had just discussed bargaining authority in open session the night before.

The next time you’re going to sell a property, a car or basically anything, do you want a perspective buyer knowing what your minimum acceptable offer is?

In my opinion, Joe Gilmore is an excellent hire and the terms of his contract are fair to all parties.

You can claim that Schmidt & Hamilton’s at will contract “seems a much better deal for the City AND ITS TAXPAYERS,” but it came at a very high cost… a terrible city manager.

EDITOR’S NOTE: To be equally clear, so what? If you folks needed or wanted “direction” on what deal to offer Mr. Gilmore, you should have asked the taxpayers, virtually none of whom have the security of multi-year contracts but will be picking up the cost of this one.

The point of this post is to spotlight the anti-transparency of this Council in failing to hold an open-session Council deliberation, BEFORE negotiations with Gilmore commenced, on the public policy reasons for even thinking about committing the City’s taxpayers to a multi-year employment contract; and, if so, the reason(s) for such a four-year contract.

And if “Transparency” and “Accountability” actually meant anything to this Council, not just the multi-year policy issue but that entire “back and forth negotiation” itself could and should have been conducted in a public meeting where those “ 5-7 items that were up for negotiation” – and the stewardship you aldermen allegedly exercised in negotiating them – could have been on display for your constituents to see, and video-recorded for posterity to prevent the revisionist history and “fake news” so popular today with politicians of all stripes.

Instead, it looks and sounds like this Council either is reverting back to the bad old ways of opaque, unaccountable City government under mayors Wietecha, Marous, Frimark and the sclerotic, policy-bereft Homeowners Party – or you folks are drinking the same Mike Madigan-brand “Public Employees Uber Alles!” Kool-Aid that is regularly guzzled by the likes of Tony “Who’s The Boss?” Borrelli and “Tilted Kilt” Tommy Sotos over at D-64, and by the revolving cast of teachers’ union lap-dogs who have populated the D-207 Board for the past two decades.

Secretive labor negotiations and sweetheart multi-year deals have screwed this state for the past 30+ years under Boss Madigan and the three RINO governors who conspired with him: “Big Jim” Thompson, “Slim Jim” Edgar, and George “No. 16627-424” Ryan. If this Gilmore contract process is a preview of how this Council is going to conduct future employment negotiations, however, you all had better start working on your Uttanasana yoga pose, with ankle grab.

Amen PW! Outside of Gilmore and all the unions, who from the taxpayer base in PR actually believes a four year contract is a good idea? or would love to hear how many of us in the private sector have the luxury of essentially guaranteed employment for the next four years? Unfortunately, those of us in the private sector who have to live in the real world don’t have the luxury of coasting with a four year contract and no “at will” employee status. Our performance is measured annually on crystal clear objectives and we’re either rewarded or held accountable based on our results with no guarantee for employment if we do not hit the mark. I guess for taxpayers living in Illinois we’ve just become accustom to these types of “deals/contracts”……which is ultimately why our state is in such a financial mess.

Cut the crap, Ald. Moran. What you guys did with this hiring is anti-transparent, and linking it to the Hamilton hiring is dishonest because you have hindsight with Hamilton but not with Gilmore.

This looks to me like a way to buy four years of Gilmore’s allegiance to Maloney until he tries to hand off the mayor’s seat to you in 2021, at which point Gilmore becomes your guy. This is wrong.

Multiyear contracts are fine for professional athletes whose value can be monetized by either their performance or their trade value. Since we can’t trade our public employees, a multiyear contract is stupid.

Thanks for turning the City into District 64 and even beating the sweetheart deal it gave Heinz by a year. Idiots!

EDITOR’S NOTE: The saddest part about this is that it ends up reflecting poorly on Joe Gilmore, who we feel is the brightest hope to do a good job in that position since before that jackass Tim Schuenke was hired back in the 1980s.

Had this hiring process been done out in the open, that problem could have been completely alleviated. But just like in public corruption cases when it’s often not the crime but the cover-up that’s the real problem, here it’s the lack of transparency that now has become an issue to be defended by its perpetrators.

That’s most definitely NOT H.I.T.A.

“As much as I like Mr. Gilmore, I’d hate to have to negotiate against him (on behalf of the taxpayers) if we had just discussed bargaining authority in open session the night before.”

Ald. Moran:

On paper (i.e., the contract), the deal cut with Hamilton was much better for the taxpayers than the deal you and the rest of the Council cut with Gilmore, irrespective of how it panned out later.

By hiding this process from us, your constituents, you have prevented us from knowing whether only the 4-year duration was a giveaway, or whether those other compromises were also giveaways as the product of his ask and your “yes.”

I’ve seen how badly “just trust us” secretive local government has worked in Park Ridge, and going back to it is unacceptable. Gilmore’s contract process, therefore, is unacceptable.

To compare this process to the Heinz “rolling” contract” is not apples to apples. Also, this contract in it’s entirety was posted to the city website in advance of any finalization via council vote. How many citizens showed up to complain or ask questions about how were arrived at the proposed contract? How many emails did the council receive questioning the same? NONE We would have gladly explained how and why we came to the contract we did, but no one asked.

As for the 4 year contract, it is not a guaranteed 4 years he can be fired for cause or let go without cause, the later triggers a 4 month severance agreement, a fair deal, and not a windfall for Gilmore by any means(I’ve seen much longer deals in the private sector). Even the COLA only kicks in if the COL actually increases and we have a cap on it. If you are going to argue that it’s “guaranteed” in the fact that we can’t lower his salary, that is correct, but if his performance is so dismal that we want to lower his salary, I would argue we are better off firing him.

In my opinion, we simply could not discuss negotiation points on this matter in open session and still hope to get the best deal possible for the residents… you will only get the minimum acceptable deal.
As for the process the best analogy is this… Compare it to a game of Go Fish where one player has their cards face up and the other is playing them in hand.

There are very few times when the best interest of the taxpayer has to be handled in closed session, by the individuals who were elected to represent them. The council will be judged on the success or failure of the decisions like this. That is the nature of the position.

My comment about the Schmidt/Hamilton process (above) had less to do with the end result(shitty city manager) and more to do with the fact that Mayor Schmidt, the father of HITA, didn’t adhere to those principals when he and Hamilton negotiated on a cocktail napkin. Where was the public involvement there? So, why are we being held to a different standard on the process??

This was not a union negotiation, so again it’s not apples to apples. Labor negotiations can go to arbitration. The only 2 outcomes here were Joe Gilmore takes the job or he doesn’t. We identified him as a very desirable candidate and then attempted to obtain the best terms possible for the city. As for the hindsight on Hamilton vs Gilmore, in the 8 months(or so) he served as action city manager, Gilmore already had proven to be a more competent leader via the strategic planning and budget process.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re addressing this comment in our new post of August 3, 2017. Check it out.



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